I was able to catch this great game last night between Virginia Tech and Penn State. The game came down to the final few possessions with missed free throws playing a big factor in the eventual VT win. But what I wanted to look at was the importance of transition defense, and in particular the importance of having a safety and that safety being in position as the ball transitions from offense to defense. Take a look at Penn State's first transition defensive sequence and contrast it with the second one,

In the first sequence, a couple of shots are taken after offensive rebounds, but what's key is that you can see that the safety breaks into a back pedal and is in perfect position to defend either wing,

Because the safety is in position, splitting the 2 wings, it allows for the second transition defender to sprint back and get into position. Also, the ball-handler has to pull up a little bit as he attempts to get the safety transition defender to commit to either the ball or the opposite wing,

As you can see from the video, the result of the play is that the ball-handler forces up a contested layup 2-on-2, and the safety is the one that ends up with the ball. Penn State goes back the other way and scores to go ahead by 1 in the game.

Contrast the previous sequence with this one here. The safety gets caught biting on the offensive rebound and takes 2 steps forward. Virginia Tech secures the rebound and you can see them already in transition into offense. All it took was 2 steps the wrong way for the whole play to go awry,

The safety makes another mistake by attempting to intercept the pass to the outlet instead of sprinting back. The far side defender attempts to sprint back to contest the ball-handler who is ahead of him,

The defender attempts a hard foul to prevent the easy layup but ends up with the intentional foul. Virginia Tech gets both free-throws and scores on the ensuing possession, which essentially seals the win for VT.

With more and more teams adopting run and gun, UNC style fast break, Phoenix Suns SSOL offense, transition defense has never been more important than ever in my opinion. For me, transition defense starts with your offense. Everything you do on offense should take into account the need to have the safety, and every player on the floor must know their responsibility as the safety at all times.

For more video info on transition defense, take a look at Kelvin Sampson's DVD on defensive transition drills. Coach Sampson is an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks.