The Missing Bounce In UVa’s Step

Sylven Landesberg thrives with moves off the dribble.

When a basketball team is floundering around a .500 record, many things raise the ire of fans. In Virginia’s case this season, the struggles on offense frequently have been in the crosshairs. Simply put, the Hoos are not very consistent on offense, often going minutes at a time not only without scoring but also without producing any high quality opportunities.

Why? What happens when the Cavaliers’ version of a motion offense isn’t working?

The answer to that question is wrapped up in one key. Dribble penetration. Or to be more specific, the lack of dribble penetration. Running a version of Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen’s motion offense, the Cavaliers rely heavily on creating offense off the bounce. Check out the excerpt below from a recent article in The Daily Progress as a starting point, which mentions the prominent use of the dribble drive as something Memphis’ version of a motion offense also features heavily:

One of the biggest staples of Paulsen’s offense (and Virginia’s) is the reliance on dribble penetration. Paulsen feels that defending dribble penetration is the hardest task for an opposing defense because it forces players to rotate.

“When I was coming up through high school and college, I was told to use my dribble judiciously,” said Paulsen, who started his coaching career as a graduate assistant for former Michigan coach Steve Fisher. “We’re trying to tell our guys to use the dribble aggressively. I think that’s a big concept change.”

In other words, from a basketball philosophy standpoint, the system places a premium on an individual’s ability to use the dribble as a weapon of attack, either off of individual moves or off of two-man on-ball screen situations. It’s the very reason players like Sean Singletary , J.R. Reynolds, and now Sylven Landesberg are highly successful in this system – it allows them to use their ball skills to thrive. It’s why the Hoos made the NCAA Tournament two years ago; Singletary and Reynolds were so good off the dribble it created opportunities for everyone on the floor.

Working with all of that as our foundation, let’s work back to the original point: Virginia’s motion offense struggles when there is a lack of dribble penetration. The surface value here is clear. In fact, you’re probably saying ‘duh’ to yourself right now – as in ‘duh, of course an offense rooted in dribble penetration isn’t very good without it.’

OK fine. But why does dribble penetration disappear so often for the Cavaliers? The two main reasons are defensive scouting adjustments and a lack of dribble-drive style players. On UVa’s roster, I would consider Landesberg and Sammy Zeglinski to be the only two consistent threats using the bounce. Calvin Baker also has some success in this area, but often drives into trouble or loses vision of his teammates; Mustapha Farrakhan has trouble getting all the way to the rim or to the 15-foot range. Everyone else is sporadic in his ability to consistently create offense off the bounce.

Take two recent Virginia games for example. Against Xavier, the Cavaliers could not get into the paint with any success as the Musketeers prevented any moves toward the middle of the floor and clogged the lane when the Hoos managed to get by the first defender. As coach Sean Miller pointed out afterward, those rules were magnified for freshman Landesberg, though he still managed to score plenty of points. As a team, UVa hit just 5 3-pointers.

Sammy Zeglinski is one player that can attack consistently with the dribble.

At Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets struggled throughout to contain

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