I'm posting in a little advance of my usual schedule mostly because the National Championship in football is being played tonight and I probably won't see much basketball action until tomorrow.

I didn't watch the Big East game between Pittsburgh and Villanova a couple of nights ago but I did see highlights and read the post-game comments. What I found interesting was the talk of the last play that Pitt ran to try to win the game in comparison to the last play that they ran to beat Duke earlier in the year. In fact, it was the same exact play, except with different personnel (Levance Fields is sidelined with an injury). Here is what was written after the game,

Against Duke, Fields pulled up and made a 3-pointer to give Pitt a 65-64 victory. If Ramon had scored, the final score would have been identical. But Villanova trapped Ramon at the top of the key, and he fumbled the ball away.

"It was the same play we ran in the Duke game, basically," senior guard Keith Benjamin explained.

"It's called five-up screen. Sometimes you get a hard hedge like they did, sometimes you don't. There's no way of knowing.

"That time they hedged much harder and trapped at the top. We just lost the ball. They just made a great adjustment. They snuffed it out. In instances like that, you have to think on the fly, and it just didn't work for us today."

After analyzing both the end of the Duke game and the end of the Villanova game, I think it's clear that what happened is that Ronald Ramon just lost the handle. Villanova didn't defend the play any differently than Duke did, in fact there was no trap by Duke or Villanova, just a hard switch with a slower defender on a quicker guard. See for yourself,

Pitt's "5-up" Game Winning Play:

Nothing special here. It's a play designed to force a hard switch to get a smaller guard going up against a bigger slower defender.

The screener needs to come hard then roll quickly.

Drive hard to the net then pull back for the jumper. It's really just a 1v1 play with a guard going against a forward.

The play works because in late-game situations, traditional thinking defensively is to switch on all picks. We do it, everyone does it, you always switch all picks late in games. So here, the "5 up" is designed to get a switch and the guard should be able to take the slower forward 1v1. Also, you have a mismatch down low for the offensive rebound with a bigger forward being guarded by a smaller guard.


In analyzing the plays, it's clear what the message here is. Players win games. You can have the best game winning play ever designed, but in the end, it's the guy that swishes the net that takes the glory if he hits it and the heat if he misses. One can always speculate that had Levance Fields been healthy, Pitt wins the game handily. And that's probably true.

Jamie Dixon, head coach at Pitt has a bunch of great new DVD's out. You can get the 5-pack or a hot item that you might want to look at is the 4-out 1-in Spread Motion offense. Don't forget to check out the X's and O's Basketball Forum to discuss this and any of your favorite basketball topics.