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Focus On Defense: The Path To Success For Penn State Basketball

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The rise of the team has come with a better attention to detail on the defensive side of the ball.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

We enlisted the help of Mark Marinucci to break down the defense that has allowed the Lions to stay within range of gaining an NCAA Tournament bid. With Mark’s help, we’ll show some of the good, not so good and just plain Dreadful plays that took place during the win against Maryland.

Penn State has scored with other teams this year when needed but the defense is the foundation of their success. As we watch the team progress through the schedule, we may notice small details that create their defensive glory.

There have been times this season that the officials were blamed for making bad foul calls and on a couple of occasions there has been a valid argument. For the most part, the reason the Lions had so many foul calls early in the season was due to bad defensive technique. There was a lot of standing around, playing defense with their hands and late help. Penn State’s ability to stay out of foul trouble is because their defense has been much better; it has little to do with the way that the officials are calling the game.

Not So Good

Seth Lundy has been the target of some Penn State fans’ ire when it comes to his defense and there are times that they have a point. Other times it should be remembered that Lundy is playing out of position, being asked to guard power forwards when he is more suited to guard small forwards or the third guard of the opposing team.

Lundy is not a superb defender and it is not due to a lack of talent but rather his technique. We should remember that he is a sophomore being thrust into a full-time job, playing slightly out of position. It is possible that he will learn the finer points over the next couple of years, or few years if he opts to come back for a fifth season, as all players this year are granted a red-shirt opportunity should they choose one.

Good offensive players are taught to attack a defender’s front foot. Some are taught to use the jab and crossover move. Jab to one side, create a front or attack foot, then pull back, cross over that foot and go to the rim. In order to play defense against that, a defender must drop the front foot, then move that same foot a second time to stay in front of his player.

In the first half against Maryland, Lundy pulled a switch with Myles Dread. Lundy did Eric Ayala a favor by coming out with his right foot forward. He already gave Ayala the foot to attack without having to fake. Ayala went to his right. Lundy had to drop his right foot, but then moved his left foot instead, opening like a gate for Ayala to drive through. He took a full step and went nowhere and by that time Ayala had dribbled pass him and to the basket. Lundy was lucky he wasn’t called for a foul, as he did foul on the play.

Late in the first half Lundy’s footwork led to a poor outcome again. Lundy put his right foot forward. Not only did this give Scott a foot to attack, Lundy placed the foot in between Scott’s. Then to make things even worse he leaned hard to the inside of Scott. This allowed Scott an easy spin move to the basket. Once again Lundy dropped his right foot then moved his left foot, taking a full step and going nowhere. He trained Scott to the basket and gave up a 3 point play.

Donta Scott is ten pounds heavier and an inch taller than Lundy and so with good technique, he should be able to handle Scott. That may be the case in the future but it was not on Friday night.

Dreadful Defense

Myles Dread is a couple of inches shorter than Lundy but he has some of the best technique that we have seen in Happy Valley in a very long time. Take a look at how Dread was able to defend Scott.

Dread had to switch on Scott on the post. Dread has his feet parallel, his torso erect, and his balance centered in his stance. Since he hasn’t given Scott an attack foot Scott has to create one, but because Dread moved his feet quickly, always staying in front of Scott, keeping his weight centered he is able to prevent Scott from getting to the rim and backing him down.

Later in the game Dread had a square stance, moved the foot in the direction he wanted to go first and never got his feet too close together. These small quick steps allow him to not only stay in front of Scott, but pick up the offensive charge that was unfortunately not called.

Happy Feet

To illustrate why there have been fewer foul calls on the Lions lately we can see two examples of Sam Sessoms moving his feet nicely. Sessoms is listed at 6 feet tall and is often the smallest player on the court but still he is able to defend his position and even drive well into the lane on offense. Earlier in the season Sessoms was doing more reaching and less moving of his feet but his defensive resurgence has helped Penn State decrease the total number of fouls it has awarded opposing teams.

Wiggins, who is six inches taller than Sessoms, went to Sessom’s left in order to take him to the basket. Sessoms kept his feet square, stayed in front of Wiggins and did not put a hand on him. He played defense with his feet not his hands. Wiggins then decided to do a spin move. Sessoms anticipated it, took another step or two to get around Wiggins and almost came up with a steal. If he simply reached in to steal the ball, he would have been whistled for a reach. Since he took that extra step to get around Wiggins, there was no foul call. That’s an example of playing defense with feet and then hands instead of hands then feet.

Later in the game 6-foot-6 Hakim Hart (13) tried to drive on Sessoms but committed a foul when he could not get past the much smaller defender.

Teamwork

Here is an example of solid communication and team defense after being put at a disadvantage when Sam Sessoms made a poor decision on his rotation. Sessoms over-committed to the inside, leaving the corner 3-point shot wide open. In order to get a hand in the shooter’s face, he had to again over-commit. By that time his team had already begun to make adjustments to help overcome the disadvantage.

Penn State was able to rotate just as fast as Maryland could pass the ball. Unfortunately the possession did end in points for the Terps but with a defense that active, good things will happen. Notice there are four guards and John Harrar on the court for the Lions.

Not only was Harrar the only big man on the court for Penn State, but he was not afraid to move far from the basket to defend the opposing center. Dread was beaten by a nice pass and good offensive footwork by Darryl Morsell (11). With Sessoms and Wheeler the two defenders in the paint behind Dread, there wasn’t much rim protection.

Good defense is not always rewarded with a stop but over time it will wear on the opposing team. Penn State has been able to force turnovers at a high rate this year and with the renewed attention to playing defense without fouling it has been able to win 4 of the past 6 games in the toughest conference in the country.