Column: Breaking down BC basketball’s defensive issues

(Photo by Graham Beck/Heights Editor)

By Austin Tedesco, Asst. Sports Editor

FIU’s style of play and Baylor’s high-skill level could’ve misconstrued where this Boston College basketball team is defensively, but, after falling 87-71 to Dayton on Friday afternoon, it’s pretty clear now. This squad just can’t guard consistently. It’s not that the players are bad defenders, because they aren’t, and it’s not that head coach Steve Donahue has a bad defensive scheme, because he doesn’t. On the court, it looks like a team that has made a really impressive leap offensively while still just not getting it on the defensive end of the court. Most of the players have the potential to be good defenders and Donahue is using typical man principles, but the execution just isn’t there and it will need to be fixed if BC is going to stop losing games it shouldn’t. Here’s a breakdown of what is happening in each aspect of the defense.

Pick-and-Roll:

This is easily the weakest aspect of BC’s defensive game, and all three opponents have attacked it well. The issues begin with the big men defending the screeners. Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford have not consistently been in the right position. The pick-and-roll defense is at its best when Clifford and Anderson step out with their hands up as the ball-handler uses the screen, and then immediately sprint back to their man without losing track of the ball. This has only happened on some occasions. Most of the time, the big man won’t show long enough or won’t show at all, and it leads to a wide open three or a drive to the rim. Andrew Van Nest has done an incredible job at this position, and it’s the reason he’s seeing more playing time.

Another issue in the pick-and-roll is the on-ball guard. Too often, the guard, whether it is Olivier Hanlan, Joe Rahon, or Lonnie Jackson, waits too long to start fighting over the screen. This puts the bigs, especially Clifford who lacks serious lateral quickness, in an awkward position because it means they have to defend a smaller guard for a longer period of time. Hanlan has been the defender in most pick-and-rolls so far since BC’s opponents have been running the play through the point guard. Hanlan has done a good job at times of picking a spot and forcing his way there as he fights over the pick. If the screener tries to keep him from getting there, it should be a foul, as most of these picks are being set while the screener is on the move. If Hanlan can eliminate possessions in which he does his work late and gets stuck chasing his man around the screen rather than cutting him off as he fights over it, then most of the pick-and-roll issues will start to go away. It’s a really difficult thing to do on every possession, but it’s the only way the defense is going to get cleaned up.

Defending the Post:

Post entry has also been a serious problem for the Eagles. For starters, the guards make it way too easy for the pass to get to the opponent’s big men. When BC defends the ball on the perimeter, there hasn’t been a lot of pressure and that has allowed for easy and composed passes to the block. The bigger issue, though, is where and how the BC bigs are defending the man posting up. Both Anderson and Clifford too often find themselves entirely on the back of the man they are defending. Other teams have done a good job of running their post players through some motion before settling on the block, but Anderson and Clifford have to be ready for this. They need to see the post up coming and get themselves in a three-quarter front. Both bigs do this when the post up is obviously coming, but, again, they lack consistency. The three-quarter front, making the entry pass possible only if it is low and near the baseline, takes away so many options for the opposing player in the post and it also makes the guard less comfortable throwing the pass inside. Clifford and Anderson are also not pushing their men off the block enough. This is a tough thing for two young, developing players to do on every possession, but if they keep allowing post players to catch the ball right on the block without pressure, then opponents will keep shooting at a high percentage.

Rotation from the Guards:

Hanlan and Jackson are the biggest culprits here, as Rahon is fundamentally sound on defense and doesn’t struggle with this as much. Both Hanlan and Jackson find themselves watching the ball way too often. They aren’t necessarily losing their men, but they don’t keep themselves in a position to easily help or easily recover. They are choosing one or the other. This leads to both players getting turned around and having to turn all the way back around as they close out to the perimeter. Easy three-point looks for the other team will decrease significantly once Hanlan and Jackson figure out the right position and stay there through each possession.

Transition:

Two issues stand out here. First, the ball is being stopped way too late. Rahon and Hanlan are both very quick and very talented at on-ball defense. They should feel comfortable picking up the dribbler around half court and they should make it their job to do this every time. Instead, the point guard or lead guard in transition is getting near the NBA three-point line before he is slowed down and this is causing too many fast breaks. The other issue is that too many players are finding their man in transition and sticking to him. This just can’t happen. With one or two players still running back on defense, whatever players are already below the three-point line need to favor the other team’s best shooter and buy time in whatever way they can as the other players get back. Transition is a team endeavor, it’s not the individual matching up that is happening too often right now.

Bob Picozzi, who called the game for ESPN with Jay Williams, accused BC of lacking fight and not wanting it as much as Dayton on Friday. That’s not what I saw at all. A team doesn’t take this many charges without fighting hard. There was probably an emotional letdown from the Baylor game and, with a short rotation, the back-to-back games couldn’t have been easy on the body. All four of these fixes on defense take a whole lot of effort on the court, and if the Eagles can fix all of them it wouldn’t just make a good defensive team, it would make them elite. That won’t happen in the next week or even month, but over the course of the season all of these concepts need to improve. The offense is finally getting there. It’s time for the defense to catch up.

Dennis Clifford Named Captain of BC Men’s Basketball Team

(Photo by Graham Beck, Heights Editor)

By Austin Tedesco, Asst. Sports Editor

Dennis Clifford has been voted the captain of the Boston College men’s basketball team for the 2012-2013 season. The sophomore appeared in all 31 games for the Eagles last year and started in 25. He averaged 9.1 points per game and 4.7 rebounds, and was also named ACC Rookie of the Week during January.

Clifford made huge strides during the summer according to head coach Steve Donahue and his teammates. He also played very well during the team’s trip to Spain in August.

"What I think you’re seeing from Dennis is, there’s maturation in every aspect of his game, but what he’s really starting to get comfortable with is really being a great finisher,” Donahue said. “A lot of his stuff came off of pick and rolls, pick and pops, driving to the basket, and he’s really finishing because he’s stronger, he’s more athletic, he’s more confident, slowing down, not being nervous and rushing his stuff in small areas, and he scored everything. I think he missed like three shots the whole night. So it was an impressive performance [the team’s first game in Spain].”

“He was just working,” said freshman guard Joe Rahon. “He came out from the start—and we didn’t play particularly well in that first game, but Dennis was phenomenal. He carried us in that first game. He was really our go-to guy all trip. Whenever we needed a bucket or anything, we’d throw him the ball in the post or give him the ball in the high post and let him facilitate and decide what to do with it. He never stopped working on the glass offensively, and defensively he was great. He’s been a great leader for us too this past summer.”

The Eagles open up their season 11 days from today against Florida International at home in Conte Forum.

Be sure to check out The Heights’ annual Basketball Preview, which comes out next Thursday, Nov. 8, jam-packed with features and analysis on the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Clifford’s Take: Day Seven In Spain

Yesterday we traveled to Barcelona, and on the way we stopped at Cambrils, a beach town.  The beach was really fun, AND I didn’t get sun burnt.  And no I wasn’t the guy with his shirt on in the water.  Once we got to Barcelona we got to take a quick tour of the city.  Last night we had a great dinner at a seafood restaurant in the port area of Barcelona.  This restaurant was authentic.  I mean straight up seafood - and they didn’t beat around the bush.  One of our appetizers was anchovies, served just as they were caught: eyes, fins and all.  Safe to say those weren’t a huge attraction, but I actually got Jordan to eat one, so I felt good about that.  He still tells me he doesn’t know how I did.
 
This morning we went more in-depth and saw most of the city, and learned about its Olympic history.  It was awesome to see the Olympic Stadium and the other sites surrounding it - it was also a great opportunity for me to prove my skills as an elite photographer on Jordan’s sweet camera (I’m basically his personal photographer).  I made him take some pictures of me too because today was like the first time in seven years that I wore jeans, so I had to document it a few times for Mama Cliff.  We also visited more sites in Barcelona, a famous park with a huge, curvy bench.  That was really cool because I had always seen pictures of those but today I got to see them in person and get inside knowledge on them.  For example, I didn’t know that the bench was made out of all recycled materials, so the pattern on the exterior is completely original throughout.  Exiting the park I got my sister probably the best shirt that Spain has to offer, so I was excited about that.
 
After the bus tour of the city, we had about an hour to chill and then we made our way to where we were going to play our game.  At the venue, we did a clinic for the little kids who lived nearby.  It was awesome!  I really like doing the clinics and running around with the little kids, but it was even more entertaining because we didn’t speak their language.  At one point it seemed like everyone was just running around speaking their own language.  This was a challenge but Coach D directed us through some drills and we successfully relayed his message to the kids.  They love how tall we are. Our energy combined with their enthusiasm made it very fun, for fans and all.
 
The team then had a couple of hours before the game to chill and watch the Oregon women’s basketball team play a local professional team.  After that, it was time for battle.  We played Spain’s best team’s second team, if that makes sense.  We lost by 10 or so - they pulled away in the second quarter by about 20 or 25, and in the second half we cut the lead back down to eight.  Coach D kept us composed and led us back into the game in the second half, throwing different defenses at the opposing team which worked like you read about.  As bad as we played at some parts of the game (especially in the first half), we kept fighting and were very close to pulling off a “W.”  Despite shooting 2-of-20, we were in the game the whole second half and really played great basketball.  We keep showing great signs of improvement every game and now look forward to another few weeks to get ready for the season.

Clifford will be blogging daily for The Heights throughout the trip to Spain. Check back here for more insights during the 10-day trip.

Clifford’s Take: Day Five In Spain

This morning, I was glad to wake up more than a foot from Ryan’s face, so it is fair to say that it was a good start to the day.  Everyone had breakfast in the hotel and then we all got on the bus and made our way to the aquarium.  The aquarium was a big hit with our team - all of us spread out into mini groups and voyaged through the aquarium at our own pace all morning.  We got to see the Beluga whale - which was the main attraction - however the walruses were an even better catch.  All of us took turns clapping at the walrus, and with each person, the walrus then proceeded to clap its flippers.  After we realized this, it was a while before we walked away from that part of the aquarium, all taking turns at trying to train the walrus to do other stuff (like yell, dolphin flips, the usual).  The aquarium was really cool but I still think my favorite part of being here is interacting with the people.  We took more pictures and had a lot more conversations through ranging methods of communication.
 
These three people outside of the aquarium dressed as Spanish tribal people saw one of us dribbling a tennis ball and attacked us (in a jokingly manner).  They stole the ball from us and started to play what at first looked like hockey, using their staffs as sticks.  Me, being the fierce competitor that I am, immediately chased them down and stole the ball right back.  After chasing me for a while, we got to talk to them for a little bit with the little English that they knew and the little Spanish that we know.  That soon turned into them teaching us one of their tribal dances, which ended up being more of a warrior routine than a dance.  After our team circled up and did what they showed us, they demanded that we show them a dance from our culture.  Keep in mind this is basically in the middle of the hundreds of people waiting in line to get into the aquarium.  Without much thought we elected Ryan to show them his new “Donkey” dance (he made it up…it’s legendary), which was a huge hit this summer and continues to get more love every time he does it.  Therefore, it was only right that we show the people of Spain Ryan’s “Donkey” dance.  The one guy and one of the girls picked up the dance pretty quickly after seeing Ryan and I attack the dance floor, however the other girl with them was absolutely miserable - goes to show that this dance requires extreme technique and coordination. 
(Photo from BC Basketball’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/BCHoopNews)

After the aquarium it was time to get focused for our upcoming game.  We had a pre-game meal at the hotel, then headed to the stadium.  The stadium was a little bigger than a regular ACC stadium, but there was barely anyone there because the game was closed to the public.  The team we played tonight was very good.  We lost by about 20 points but everyone still felt confident and positive coming out of the game.  We got within five at one point and held our own for most of the game against the highest caliber team that we have played so far.  What hurt us the most was our turnovers - most of them coming from miscommunications due to the fact that we are still getting used to the new players on the team. All in all, we played very well against a very good professional team and we have a lot of good things to look forward to this season if we stay on this path and keep working hard.  Tomorrow morning we will head to Barcelona, and the rumor is we are stopping at the beach on the way, where I shall continue my endless battle with the sun, with or without sunscreen.

Clifford will be blogging daily for The Heights throughout the trip to Spain. Check back here for more insights during the 10-day trip.

Clifford’s Take: Day Four In Spain

Today the plan was to buy my older sister a sweet Spanish license plate that says “MADRID,” but I found out that most stores in Spain open at 10 a.m.  We left the hotel at around 9:30 in the morning so I was unable to purchase that license plate, but it’s the thought that counts.  I’m not sure telling that after coming home from Spain will suffice, so I am now on the prowl for more gifts.  We ventured to Valencia on a five-hour bus ride, which was actually much better than it sounds.  I was very excited to see the picturesque countryside without applying seven coats of sunscreen enforced by Mama-Cliff.  The team had a great time in the back of the bus playing cards and checking out the scenery on the way.  At one of our rest stops, I showed my dominance at the billiards table as I completely worked Olivier in a round of 8-ball.  Joe tried to challenge me as we were leaving but I decided to retire undefeated.
 
When we arrived in Valencia, we took a tour of the City of Arts and Sciences.  Although I have been making fun of our other guys for taking so many pictures, today I soon found out (while holding Jordan’s camera) that I have the skill set of a seasoned professional photographer, or paparazzi.  My action shots of the team with the buildings in the background were absolutely flawless; using the black and white effects like the instruments in my orchestra. The amount of gems that can be found in Jordan’s camera right now is overwhelming – I even received the praise of Lonnie and John Cain Carney about how my photos of the team were so electrifying.  I am going to continue taking photos while demanding that I get paid by the hour.  Ryan seems to be upset with my sudden breakout of photographing potential, as he was the only one unimpressed by my work.
 
All of that aside, Valencia is a beautiful city and the team really enjoyed our first day here, followed up by another great meal at a fine Spanish restaurant.  The team keeps stopping just to discuss how great of an opportunity this trip is and how much fun we are having together.  Part of this trip was to bond with each other and the coaches, and we certainly have not come short of that. Everyone seems to be having the time of their lives, including the coaches and managers.
 (Photo from BC Basketball’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/BCHoopNews)


Valencia seems to be a lot less active than Madrid, but it is much more modernized.  We are ending the night early tonight in our new hotel rooms - Ryan and I no longer have to practically share a twin-sized bed.  This hotel is much more spacious and less honeymoon-style, which for now is a plus in my book.  The rooms have bigger beds and are more spread out.  They also have showers that I can fit in, which is always a homerun for me.  That is all for tonight - looking forward to playing again tomorrow, see you amigos later.

Clifford will be blogging daily for The Heights throughout the trip to Spain. Check back here for more insights during the 10-day trip.

Clifford’s Take: Day Three In Spain

Today we visited Palacio Real de Madrid, which was yet another great opportunity for us to be introduced to the Spanish culture, including the food.  The food over here is very good, everyone takes their time to eat and prepare the meals.  Our restaurant experience has been awesome, except the portion of food is not as much as in the states. This is a big adjustment for Ryan [Anderson] and I, who are known to eat in large quantities.
 
My man Frederico took us through the palace and gave us the history of Spanish rulers throughout the ages.  The tour itself felt as long as the years that the palace has been used, but it was very cool to see the inside of such a beautiful creation that took 60 years to build - and my man Frederico knows his stuff.  We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the palace - this was upsetting because at this point we are all professional photographers.  Nevertheless, after journeying through about 100 of the palace’s 1,800 rooms, we were brought outside where we could “finally” take some more individual and team photos - because we surely haven’t had enough of those.  We have also taken a lot of photos with local Spanish residents and tourists of all kinds, which is very fun, especially interacting with them.  They always ask me how many meters in height I am, and my best answer so far is tapping my head with my hand and saying “Pau Gasol,” hopefully motioning that I am as tall as Pau Gasol.  Either that or my answer is so bad that they just give up and assume that I am 2.5 meters or so.  


It was an awesome day with the team and we were again blessed with beautiful weather.  Another good note: our fair skinned players, including myself (especially myself), survived another day without sunscreen.  Also, today we were much more prepared to play and better hydrated for the game (See highlights here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOw9uVg9Trs&feature=youtu.be).  We played a team that was better than last night’s team and beat them.  Everyone played very well through the entire game and really showed the adjustment to the Spanish style of play.  They hung with us until the end, but with some big shots from Ryan and huge plays by Jordan [Daniels], Joe [Rahon], Pat [Heckmann] and Olivier [Hanlan] we were able to keep the lead.  Believe it or not I fouled out with six fouls when you are only allowed five (still haven’t heard the end of that), so obviously I haven’t adjusted as much as I can. However, I am looking forward to Thursday’s game where we play a top tier team from Valencia.

Clifford will be blogging a few times for The Heights throughout the trip to Spain. Check back here for more insights during the 10-day trip.

Clifford’s Take: Day Two In Spain

Today was another fun day for the team.
 
This morning everyone woke up feeling as refreshed as ever after getting the first night’s sleep in what had seemed like forever, and then we all got on the bus for another tour of the city guided by our good friend Frederico.  Frederico gave us the inside scoop on all of the historic buildings in Spain, including when they were built and why, and what they mean to the people of Spain.  For the most part we were on the bus where we were all taking drive-by photos like the typical tourist bus that Americans usually frown upon.  We made a couple stops, our first being The Plaza de Toros, a famous bull fighting ring.  Then we went on to see the statue of Miguel Cervantes, who is the author of Don Quixote, where Frederico gave us his whole story and the sparknote version of his book.  Most of the stops, you could have found John Cain Carney and I desperately searching for shade while the rest of the team happily enjoyed the wrath of the Spanish sun.  I swear the sun out here is much worse than in Boston. I feel like I am walking on the sun’s surface every time I step outside.  There’s a good chance I come back very sun burnt, and that means my mom yelling at me, but at least I got my haircut so she can’t be too disappointed (for the record my mom’s the nicest lady east of the Mississippi, so her yelling at me isn’t yelling at all).  So anyways, our last stop was the Debod (an Egyptian Temple given to Spain as a gift), which was another chance for us to check out the cool ancient architecture of Spain.
 
After the sightseeing it was time to focus for tonight’s [Monday night] game.  We played on a blue, almost plastic floor, where our guys were slipping left and right.  Although we had a rough game tonight, it was our first game and we showed great potential for the upcoming season. The game was very close but not everyone’s legs were there, including mine, and we were not able to come out on top.  The first five to 10 minutes of the game were very messy due to the fact that we were getting used to the European style of play; the physicality, travel calls, etc. By the end of the game, everyone could tell we are ready for European play and ready to compete tomorrow night.  Tomorrow [Tuesday] we look forward to playing with each other again and continuing to improve as a unit. 

(Photo from BC Basketball’s Twitter account: https://twitter.com/BCHoopNews)

Now we have a team dinner at a nice restaurant outside of the hotel.  Even though it is 11:00 p.m. over here, people are still outside sitting down for nice meals with family and friends.
 
Hasta Luego!

Clifford will be blogging a few times for The Heights throughout the trip to Spain. Check back here for more insights during the 10-day trip.