B. Self's 4 out/1 in High Low Motion Offense

There has been a lot of discussion about Marquette's offense recently and one of our contributors, Bryan "MU Crisco" Nolasco put this piece together to try and give us a better understanding of the 4 out/1 in high low motion offense currently run by Marquette.

In 2005, I attended the Nike Championship Basketball Clinic which was at the Al McGuire Center. One of the speakers was Dennis Felton, who was the coach of Georgia at the time. The topic of his demonstration was, "Georgia's Four -Out One- in High-Low Offense." He had been a believer in a pure motion offense, but he found success with this one, which he got from Bill Self. When Buzz Williams was hired as the coach of Marquette, along with his assistant coach, Dale Layer, he installed the same offense. So, my goal is to break it down according to Dennis Felton so Marquette fans can get a better idea of what we are trying to accomplish on offense. Keep in mind that different coaches may emphasize different concepts. They may tweak the offense in order to fit their philosophy. Also, this is only our base offense. Most coaches like to have set plays or quick hitters that appear to be the offense, but there is a set pattern like a football play. They will either flow into the base offense or they will be used in the middle or end of the possession. Finally, since there is a lot of freedom in this offense and the players make the reads, the better players usually end up shining. As a result, this offense may appear to change from team to team, or even from year to year. This is an advantage, since you would not have to change the entire offense only to fit your talent. Instead, your talent dictates how you are able to score and who takes the shots.

Now, let's discuss the plus and minuses of the offense. There are a couple of disadvantages. First of all, one of your post players gets the ball fronting the rim on the perimeter. This is why it is important for your posts to have skills for the perimeter. You may get a player that is ineffective from the outside. As a result, teams have made their 4, more like what one would describe a small forward, a few years ago. If he can hit the three or handle the ball, now you've turned this into a position of strength, instead of a disadvantage. If 4's defender has to play tighter on him, that opens up space in the lane for your post player to get the ball and finish or for penetration.

The second disadvantage is that there may not be a lot of imagination within the offense. Mostly, success is dependent upon execution. However, this depends on what you are comparing this offense. If you judge it against a pure motion offense, then it absolutely has less options and less imagination as a result since there is more structure. However, compared to a strict continuity or a more patterned offense such as the flex, then there is more imagination.

On the flip side, there are several advantages to the offense. First of all, there is great spacing, which allows for things such as dribble penetration or post feeds. In addition, a player can't easily defend two people. Second, it isolates the low post. There is room for them to operate as a result and it would be difficult to trap the post. Third, this offense emphasizes attacking the rim. Fourth, after dribble penetration, you are able to continue the offense with ease. You don't have to give it to the point guard to "set it up" again. Fifth, you still are able to execute among others, two motion concepts in the offense, which are "screen the screener" and the "staggered screen". Finally, the ball is constantly in the high post. This is important because coaches always want to reverse the ball. The reason is that it gets the defense shifting. When you are a weak side defender, most coaches like to get their defender in the paint so that they can help on dribble penetration or posting up. When a team reverses the ball, this forces the help defender to close out on the person he is guard. "Close outs" are one of the most difficult things to do on defense because he isn't sure if the ball handler is going to shoot or penetrate. Since he is in motion, he is in a vulnerable position. He has to be able to challenge a shot, but also stay on the ground and be able to cut off penetration.

Before we get into the offense, we should develop a vocabulary. This is important for a coach to do this with his players. When he wants to describe something, having a good vocabulary will easily convey his message to a player. This is essential, especially during timeouts, but also in other situations. It makes it easier to coach. Let's take a look at Illustration A. There are a few things that we should recognize. First of all, take a look at the dotted lines. There are two that extend from the baseline to half court which are a little outside the free throw lane. This can be described as the free throw lane extended. It is a little outside the free throw lane because it is placed where the pro-line would be. Similarly, there is another dotted line that is the "free throw line extended". The PG, while bringing up the ball should try to be around the FT lane extended. The guards on the wings should try to receive the ball at the FT line extended. The weak side post should run up the floor on the opposite FT lane extended and the weak side guard should place himself on the weak side FT line extended. While looking at this picture, it is easy to recognize the spacing for penetration and how the low post is isolated. One of Dick Bennett's principles is that he never lets a post player beat him when he has the ball on the low block. So, he almost always "traps" or doubles the low post player. Since the low post is isolated, it is difficult to double him. There are two ways he can be trapped. It can either be a post to post double or a guard to post double. With the opposite post at the FT lane extended, that is too far for his defender to travel to double him. Once again, this is why coaches have gone towards having their 4 be more like a small forward. If he can hit 3's, his defender has to play tighter on him, which also can be described as "hugging" his player, when he doesn't have the ball. The weak side guard's defender also has a far distance to travel. His defender has to make a choice. If he "hugs" his player, it leaves room for the low post to operate. If he sags into the lane, the ball can easily be reversed to his player. Remember, ball reversals are what most coaches want.


Also, in Illustration A, take a look how I've only designated three positions, PG, G, and P. The three guards are interchangeable in this offense and the two posts are interchangeable. The only thing that differentiates the PG from the other two guards is that he is the one who brings up the ball. What doesn't happen is that the two has to run to the right side, the 5 must be in the low post, the 3 on the weak side etc. After made baskets, the coach may designate these things to stay organized. However, in transition, it may not be that organized or the PG may not be able to enter the ball, so players can adjust.

If you look at Illustration B, the PG was not able to pass ahead to the G, so he dribbled him out and sent him to the other side of the floor. The High Post filled a spot over and the weak side guard filled a spot. From there, the High Post could set a cross screen for the guard on the FT lane extended. Now, they can initiate the offense from this setup (Illustration C) and nothing has changed.


Finally, you will notice the two phrases "single side" and "double side". The "single side" just means that there is one guard on that side. On the "double side" there are two guards. Do not get this confused with "strong side" or "weak side". The "strong side" is the half of the court where the ball is located. The "weak side" is the opposite side. At any given moment in the offense, the "strong side" could be the "single side or the "double side".

Before we get into the actual offense, let's discuss the multiple ways that we can get into the offense. At the start of the year last season, we started in a 1-4 high set.

When the ball was passed to the wing, we set a post to post cross screen. Then, we got into the 4 out 1 in set. Other ways to initiate the offense are from the box set with down screens or from a 1-4 low set.

There are several more ways to initiate the offense and this could change from game to game, half to half, or possession to possession. During dead ball situations, the defense is set up, so from these sets, it may be easier to make the initial pass. In transition after misses, these sets most likely are not necessary.

Now let's get to the good part, which is the actual movement of the offense. Like I said earlier, most coaches want ball reversals. Because of that, I will first describe what actions could happen when the ball is reversed. In this offense, unless the ball is skipped, most of the time, the ball is reversed through the high post. When the high post receives the pass, there is a progression he should go though. First, he should look to score. Next, he should look to dump it down to the low post. A term for this is the high/low pass. It comes from the High Post in the FT lane extended to the Low Post who is either on the low block or parked right in front of the rim. This is an excellent pass to make. If the ball is in the middle of the floor, and the low post can duck in and receive the ball, where will the double come from? The high post's defender is hugging because his player had the ball. The weak side guard defender is already closing out. The other's guards defender is probably in some form of denial since his man is one pass away. If the high post isn't able to "dump" it down low, he should reverse it. So, whenever the ball is passed from a guard to the high post, he should always think score, dump, reverse.

Now, there are two different scenarios that happen in which the ball is reversed. The first scenario is that the ball is reversed from the single side. When the High Post catches the ball and goes through his progression, the weak side double side should play the two man game.

In Illustration F, the 2 is setting a down screen from the 3. If the 3 sets a screen for the 2, that is called a flare screen. 2 could make a back door cut and 3 could fill in. 2 could fake a backdoor cut, then set a back screen for 3 to make a basket cut. There are many options here which are based upon how 2 and 3 read the defense.

The other scenario is that the ball is reversed to the single side. When this happens, some motion concepts are the result.

In Illustration G, the ball is reversed from the 1 to the 3 through the High Post. The Low Post chases the ball and cuts to the other side of the lane. From this, there are several options. One option is to set the staggered screen. We saw Marquette do this many times during the season, starting at Midnight Madness.

In Illustration H, the 2 sets up his defender. Coach Felton felt it was important to set the screens in the paint since that is where the help side defenders will be. Also, if the post sets his screen in the paint, it will leave space for the 3, which will be important later. The 2 then receives a screen from the 1 then the High Post. It is important in most staggered screens that the post player is the second screener. The reason is that if there is a switch on that last screen, then you have a mismatch with a big on a guard and a small on a post.

Another option is a screen the screener option. After the ball is reversed to the 3, the 2 could set a flare screen for the 1.

Right after that, the High Post screens for the 2. These screens are effective for a couple of reasons. If the defenders switch on the flare screen and all of a sudden another screen is set on him, there is some confusion there. Or, on the flare screen, 2's defender may sag and help in case there is a backdoor cut by 1. Then, when the High Post sets a screen on 2's defender, he will be lagging behind and 2 will get an open shot.

When the ball is reversed to a guard, the worst thing that he could do is hold the ball. If this happens, the defense gets set easily. There are three things that he should do instead, which I'm sure everyone knows as the triple threat. Obviously, if he is open and he is a shooter, he can take the shot. Next, he should look to pass it. If he just came from a screen, he should reverse the ball from which he came. That way, the ball is moving from sideline to sideline. Or, he could feed the post. Another option is to dribble penetrate. Penetration is a key part of Felton's offense. However, the best spot on the floor for the ball is the middle of the floor. That is so the ball can "see". If the ball is in the corner for the majority of a possession, you could have some great screening action on the weak side, but the ball can't be delivered there since the ball can't "see" that cut. So, instead of penetrating baseline, the penetrator should attack the elbow, which is the spot that the FT lane meets the FT line. If there is dribble penetration, the low post should not chase the ball and post up on the strong side. He doesn't want to bring more bodies to the strong side which limits the space for the penetrator. When someone attacks the elbow off the bounce, he has many options. He can dump it to the low post, especially if his defender comes to help on penetration. He can draw a weak side guard's defender and kick it to an open shooter. Or he can score. A few years ago, the defensive philosophy has been that you don't want to give up baseline. Now, many coaches have changed that and would rather force a ball handler baseline and not give up middle. Obviously, he shouldn't open up a lane for an easy baseline drive, but that is where he wants to influence the penetrator.

There are several other options that can happen when the ball is reversed to the single side. Here, the guard and the Low Post can play the two man game. Perhaps, the guard isn't reversing the ball or attacking the elbow.

In Illustration J, while the screening action is happening on the weak side, the Low Post can come up and set a ball screen for the 3. Obviously, the 3 can feed the low post who can score or kick it out. Once again, this is based upon reads.


If the guard is not able to reverse the basketball, he can always dribble reverse. A guard with the ball at the FT lane extended can ask for a high ball screen from the High Post. By doing this, not only is he drawing defenders, but he is changing the strong side of the court to the other side. High ball screens are an effective way for a guard to penetrate into the lane.

By now, I'm sure you have noticed that the posts that have started as the High Post, remained there. However, there are options where the High Post becomes the Low Post. If you want to interchange the posts, the high post can dive low after ball reversals. When the Low Post sees this, he just cuts up to become the High Post. This does not have to happen. A team may have a dominant post player or he can only play in the post. Perhaps the next Shaq is playing for Marquette. If that is the case, the high post can dive down, set a cross screen for the Low Post, and come back up again on the perimeter.

Similarly, so far, we haven't seen the guards change sides of the floor yet, except when the point guard has dribbled out the wing since he couldn't get him the ball or through the dribble reverse. This could happen at any time. However, another rule allows guards to switch sides. A general rule could be that on the "double side" whenever the ball is passed to the corner, the passer should make a basket cut. There are options out of this. Perhaps the 1 forgot to make is basket cut. The Low Post can initiate that action by setting a UCLA screen, which is a back screen that allows the cutter to make a backdoor cut to the basket. When 1makes that cut, then the post sets a ball screen for the 2. This action is effective. When the low post sets his UCLA screen, his defender has to protect the basket when 1 cuts. Then, when the post sets his ball screen, his defender is still protecting the basket and can't hedge on the ball screen effectively.

There are other options that can come when the strong side is the double side. A triangle has been formed between the low post and the two guards. From this set, they can perform Tex Winter's triangle offense concepts. If the ball is fed into the low post, the guards could perform a scissors cut off the post.

From this, it is easy to see how many options the players have from the triangle that is formed.

Hopefully, Marquette fans now have a better idea of what the offense entails. It is a structured offense with some rules such as if you are a post player and the other post is low, you should be high. If the ball is passed to the corner, make a basket cut. If the ball is reversed from the single side to the post, there should be some screening action on the double side. These are only a few of the rules within the offense. Some coaches may differ on what they emphasize within the offense. Some rules may differ between coaches. So, there is structure in the offense. However, it isn't an offensive that constricts a player's options. He has also has some freedom where his decisions are based upon reading the defense. Players aren't robotic where they have to follow a pattern and the ball must be thrown to a spot. Finally, this offense can be tailored towards your talent. More importantly, your better players are the ones who are able to make the plays. If a guy can pass dribble and shoot effectively, he will be the one initiating the action, whether the shot is taken by him or he is setting up a teammate. If someone is a shooter, there are opportunities for him to shoot from the staggered screen, the flare screens, or penetration and kickouts. Post players have the opportunity to score from the post where he is isolated.

This offense is an equal opportunity offense that is based upon sharing the basketball and keeping it moving. Since it is an offense based upon reads, it takes time for a team to be able to not only learn the options, but react to what his teammate wants to accomplish. At the start of the season, players may appear to be robotic while remembering how he should be reacting. As the season progresses, the offense becomes part of the player. He isn't just recalling what he was taught to do. Instead, he automatically reacts without having to think about it.

With so many new players at Marquette, we will have to be especially patient if the offense isn't clicking initially. Over time, the players will be confident with it, he will know how his teammates react in a situation, and will become in harmony with the rest of the team.

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