A look back, a look ahead Part II

Let's take a look at the past season in San Jose State men's basketball with also a glance towards the future. There are five or so subjects/elements we will explore in no particular order. In the second segment of our series we look at: Defense


There are a litany of truisms regarding defensive play in sports. Take the best defense beats the best offense or good offense wins games; great defense wins championships or you've got to stop other teams in order to win. In basketball as well as with other athletic endeavors, it is critical to perform all the aspects of the sport well but making scoring as hard as possible for an opposing team is a necessity. Additionally, this is true not only throughout the game but especially so towards the end when the number of possessions are limited by the diminishing time on the game clock -- no stops means being forced to match basket for basket and doing just that only keeps the point diffential between the teams static. Plus, solid defensive play will not only reduce an opponent's point totals but produce more possessions and possibly 'easy' baskets -- thereby creating a greater possibility for scoring the higher number of points which equals winning.

For Spartan fans, or more importantly the players, the following says it all:


1 Nevada 16 362 881 .411
2 Utah State 16 352 825 .427
3 Idaho 16 356 819 .435
4 Boise State 16 393 900 .437
5 Louisiana Tech 16 347 793 .438
6 New Mexico State 16 422 959 .440
7 Hawaii 16 357 798 .447
8 Fresno State 16 422 920 .459
9 San Jose State 16 431 893 .483

Field goal percentage defense isn't always an accurate barometer for a team's won-loss record but it's a fairly good predictor. The first four finishers above almost matched the way the regular season ended up. Utah State was second in this most important of defensive statistics but actually finished first in the WAC while Nevada completed league play in second place. Idaho, Boise State and New Mexico State (plus LA TECH) were next in stopping the shooting of opponents and the Vandals, Broncos and Aggies each finished with 9-7 records.

So how does a player become a good defender and teams commendable defensive squads?

Here's a cut-n-paste from Kevin Eastman's blog. http://kevineastmanbasketball.com/ He is an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics:

"The Best Defenders Know the Game First
Feb 27, 2009

The best defenders in the NBA are not just the guys who get the steals and lead the league in blocked shots. In fact, they are usually the hardest working, most focused players that have a knack for "sniffing plays out." They have the ability to see a play begin and know what is likely to come next. It may be a play that our staff has never even gone over in a scouting report, but they still seem to have that sixth sense to know what is about to happen.

This does not come by accident. Kevin Garnett was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year last year. Here are some things that go into becoming the best in a league that has the world's best players — and what Kevin Garnett does consistently:

* thoroughly studies tape of his match up to find out tendencies of his man and the sets they run for him, i.e., how does he score? what can I take away from him?

* stays extremely focused during our walk throughs and scouting reports; he understands the importance of having this knowledge ahead of time

* stays extremely focused during pregame talks

* watches games all the time to learn and see what other teams are doing: what are their sets; what are the common actions they are running; what type of screens do they like to run

* studies the teams and the game so thoroughly that he can tell you many of the names of the sets that opponents run

* asks questions during the walk through until he knows exactly how Doc wants to guard something that night

* talks more on defense than most players in the league and this gives our entire team a head start on many of the actions that our opponent is running; this talk allows our team and Kevin to sniff things out before they occur and, most importantly, before those things can hurt us

Some will say that Kevin just has great instincts, but there was a tremendous amount of work that was done to develop those instincts. For the best defenders, it is the everyday discipline of studying the game, paying attention to coaches who are teaching them, and understanding that becoming the best in a league of the best is about constant and never-ending improvement."

Then there was this from a recent article http://blog.nola.com/hornetsbeat/2009/02/hornets_seek_better_efforts_on.html featuring New Orleans Hornet Coach Byron Scott talking about his team's defensive play:

"Defense is all about desire and wanting to do it. It has nothing to do with skill. So we've just got to get back to our defensive principles and understanding what we need to do on every play."

Forward James Posey, New Orleans' unquestioned defensive leader, couldn't put his finger on the reason for the Hornets' recent defensive misfortunes, other than to say he and his teammates must do a better job of communicating on the floor.

"And we have to do a better job on the weakside helping each other out, and anticipating what's going on, " he said. "That's something we have to do a better job at doing..."

So what's there to extrapolate about defending from these two cut-n-pastes? At the minimum, here's what we see:

*** desire
*** hard work
*** focus
*** studiousness (looking for tendencies and sets)
*** understanding
*** 'instinct' development
*** communication

Curiously, none of the seven factors above that contribute to good defensive play require athleticism. Granted, being quick, strong and a good leaper are obviously plusses but none in and of themselves make a solid defender. All the athletic ability in the world means nothing without the ambition to be a defensive factor.

So who will step forward as players on the SJSU roster and trend the team towards better defensive proficiency?

Plus, consider this: Tops-in-the-WAC defending Nevada had just one player on the 2008-2009 WAC All-Defensive Team -- guard Lyndale Burleson. The team that finish second in the WAC in field goal percentage defense -- Utah State -- had no one. What does this tell us? At least this: five individuals working purposefully and cohesively as a unit can perform greater than the sum of the parts.

UCLA's Ben Howland was quoted saying this http://www.dailybruin.ucla.edu/news/2009/feb/25/ucla-seeks-defense/ in late February: "When you get scored upon as an individual, it should be a very personal thing...at least that's the way I look at it."

That's the attitude to be demonstrated. Granted, it's nice to see a scored upon player go down the court and get the basket back but what needs demonstrating is not the trading of points but the desire and effort to prevail defensively -- an appetite for deterrence.

Such is a necessary factor for success in 2009-2010 San Jose State basketball.

For the first segment in this series, please click here.

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