The first thing you will notice about a Bill Self team is that he focuses on defense more than his offense. He believes a team that plays solid, hard-nosed defense will win games even if the offense is not stellar. His teams will rarely pressure the ball full court. They will play mainly a high pressure man-to-man defense in the half court, but he will switch it up into your traditional 3-2 zone as well gimick defenses, like box and one or triangle and two defenses.
In terms of half court defense, he preaches two different types - one for his post men and one for his perimeter players. On the perimeter, he prefers to use his teams speed to force offensive players into the middle where help defense can then sag on the ball. He makes sure that his teams pressure the three-point shot, as he likes to have a hand in the face of every shooter. For his post men, he prefers a more physical style that seems to cause more foul problems for his interior players, but he wants them to use their athleticism as well.
He seems to prefer doubling the post with the other post man from the backside, instead of from the guards like Roy Williams. This does leave open the interior for a dunk from the second post player, but most post players cannot make this pass in college so it is a solid risk to take.
Bill has always said that good defense creates quick offense, and he will preach that to these kids.
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Bill Self's bread and butter offense is the high-low. It is basically a motion offense that requires your big men to be able to pass the ball from the top of the key into the post. If they cannot do this, the offense does not work.
Self's Half Court Sets
At Illinois, there were basically two primary sets Self's second two teams ran.
The first set was known as Gator. The is the 1-4 with a point guard at the top, two post men at the free throw line elbows, and then the other two guards free throw line extended on the wing. The ball is supposed to go right into one of the post players. Then the back door happens for the easy layup for the guard. If the guard does not get the ball he continues through the lane to the opposite wing, the opposite post player drops down to the low post, and the other two guards rotate. The high-low motion offense continues as normal.
The second set was known as 2-game. This is his every play set. it basically has three initiations into the motion, but the rest is the motion. The point guard will select a side, and either pass the ball to the wing or the high post. This then starts the motion offense. If both of these men are covered, the high post man may give a ball screen to help reverse the ball, and the motion starts over as normal.
The one play that is not a set, was the alley-oop pass. Luther Head would bring the ball down the court, and pass the ball to Illinois' best passer. He would fake a cut to the post ball side of the big man, and then rub his man off a pick. This would then get the alley-oop pass if it was open. If not, the motion started.
Because Self preaches the motion offense, he needs his guards to be creative offensively. He wants his players to be true triple threats, and will ensure they can pass, drive, and shoot from anywhere on the court. He will not get mad at them for taking an open jump shot, nor will he get mad at them for driving the ball to the basket. He encourages both. He gets mad when his players do not use their complete offensive arsenal. He likes his guards to be able to create shots for other guards, so the shooters need to be ready to receive the ball from a driving teammate for an open shot. Screens are rare.
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*Editor's note: This is a reprint of an article done in May 2003. As the clock ticks ever closer to Late Night, a revisit of this work seemed quite worthy.