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A successful season depends on a return to defense

Florida State will open its two-game exhibition season as its plays host to Southeastern University tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Admission to the game, as well as parking at the Tucker Center, is free to all of fans attending the game.


The season kicks off tonight with the first of two exhibition games. This will be the first chance to see how the team is evolving. The key to the season, as Leonard Hamilton has been harping on for months, is a return to the Junkyard D mentality.

Two years ago FSU earned a 3-seed in the NCAA tourney with a team of seniors. That team had the 81st ranked offense in the nation. Last year a much less experienced club ended up in the NIT. That team had the 82nd ranked offense in the nation. So the difference between a 3-seed and the NIT was entirely on the defense.

But what does it mean to get back to the Junkyard D? A lot of fans tend to think of offense in basketball as execution, and defense as effort. In reality, they're both equal combinations of both.

So what should you be looking for? What are the core principles of Hamilton's defense?

For now I'll focus on half court defense, and defending the first shot. I'll save transition defense, rebounding, and turning defense to offense for later.

First, Hamilton never wants the ball handler to be comfortable. He pressures early, and he pressures much further away from the basket than a lot of coaches. For years, that job has largely fallen to Michael Snaer. Now he's gone, and his likely successor is Aaron Thomas. Thomas has similar size and toughness, so it will be a relatively smooth transition.

Here's an example.

If you want to get (slightly) more technical, watch the video again, but watch the four players who are not guarding the ball. The idea is to take all options away from the ballhandler, so that when one player does break free the defense can recognize that that is where the ball is going, and react a step quicker than if the ballhandler had multiple options. Their job is to overplay the pass, while also staying aware of the ball.

But no matter how good the defense is, the ball still gets inside the 3-point arc. The first way this happens is through post entry passes. FSU always fronts the post (the defender is between the ball and his man) which makes lob passes the most accessible entry point. This gives the defense a chance to execute the next principle, which is swarming to the ball (later on I'll show how to take away flashers and cutters).

The other way to get inside the defense is through dribble penetration. There are a lot of quick guards in the ACC, and inevitably, some beat their man. In these scenarios FSU has to pinch or shrink the gaps. In this video watch how the help defense is there on time to cut off all penetration to the rim.

And then there's the last line of defense. The good ole swat. This video also illustrates my pet peeve, which is failure to keep the ball in play on a block. If Turpin just obstructed the ball, it would almost certainly end up with one of his teammates. Instead it ends up with a fan.