Defending the Dribble Drive

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina's backcourt passed its first test of December against Michigan State on Tuesday, frustrating Kalin Lucas into a subpar performance. Next up is heralded freshman point guard John Wall and Kentucky's dribble-drive motion offense.

First-year Kentucky head coach John Calipari will tell you that his fifth-ranked Wildcats (7-0) are utilizing more low-post sets to emphasize the talents of Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins, but the dribble-drive offense that revitalized Memphis' basketball program is alive and well in Lexington.

After all, a player like John Wall – who Roy Williams described on Friday as the best point guard to come out of high school since Jason Kidd in 1991 – is the ideal weapon for the offense that Vance Walberg developed.

"[He's] as fast as you can possibly be – the closest thing I had seen to the speed that Ty Lawson pushed the ball with," Williams told reporters during his press conference.

The dribble-drive motion set is unique in that it moves the ball to the opposite side of the primary low-post player. By rarely utilizing ball screens and maximizing floor spacing, the guards thrive in straight-line penetration off the dribble into the lane. Once in the paint, the player can attack the basket, dish to the post option or kick the ball out to the handful of perimeter options.

Williams indicated the key to stopping Kentucky's dribble-drive offense is in part hoping that the Wildcats miss some shots.

"Do a good job of stopping the dribble penetration, which is a direct penetration in a straight line," Williams said. "And then keep them off the offensive backboards if they do miss a shot."

In other words, stop John Wall (18.5 ppg, 7.8 apg) at the point of attack on the perimeter, which is akin to tackling West Virginia speed back Noel Devine in open space on the football field. If the speedy point guard forces help defense to collapse, his outside options are two-guard Eric Bledsoe (12-of-23 from long range) and wing Darius Miller (12-of-30 from 3-point territory).

"John [Calipari] will tell you this – [the offense is] really good if you have really good players," Williams said. "That's the reason our offense is really good if we have Ty Lawson to push it and Tyler Zeller to run."

But No. 10 North Carolina (7-1) harassed Michigan State's Kalin Lucas (three points on 2-of-11 shooting in the first 26 minutes of Tuesday's win) by tiring him out with a barrage of defenders in Larry Drew, Dexter Strickland and Marcus Ginyard, as well as forcing the Spartan to hustle back on defense.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo's postgame comments about Lucas wearing down in 33 minutes of action presents an interesting parallel for how UNC will defend Wall on Saturday. The Raleigh, N.C. native joins Bledsoe as the only true Wildcat guard options.

In Kentucky's three close contests this season against Miami (OH), Sam Houston State and Stanford, Wall logged 120 of 125 possible minutes at the point.

While Wall's 6-foot-4 frame provides a two-inch advantage over Drew, Bledsoe is listed at 6-foot-1. That would seem to set the table for Drew or Strickland to man up with the off-guard position while 6-foot-5 Marcus Ginyard can focus on Wall.

"It's always been something that I've liked to be able to throw different looks, particularly at the point guard on the other team," Williams said. "Particularly at a guy who's got the ball in his hands a lot, because it's something different so that you don't get used to what's in front of you all of the time, so that you don't get used to how a player's playing you."

There's no doubting that Wall is a special breed of player, but even he knows that he has to play within his own capabilities and not get caught up in the excitement of his first big-time college basketball game.

"I think I might have a little bit of an edge but I can't let it overwhelm me and try get out of control and do stuff that I'm not supposed to do or try to do too much while I'm playing on Saturday," Wall said. "I've got to keep doing what I've been doing and get my teammates involved. If I have the opportunity to score that's what I do, but I think if I get out of control it's going to mess us up."

North Carolina's length at the 3-spot in 6-foot-10 John Henson, 6-foot-6 Will Graves and 6-foot-10 David Wear could pay significant dividends in defending Wall and his cohorts. If perimeter help is required to stop penetration, those long arms can help the Tar Heels reach their destination a little quicker, as well as returning to the perimeter on kick-outs to get a hand in a shooter's face.

Calipari's top-rated first recruiting class provides plenty of scoring options for Kentucky, but if North Carolina can frustrate Wall defensively, those other Wildcats will immediately lose some of the power behind their punch.


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