Smile Politely

The Pack Line defense

Last week, we got a players’ insight of the new Illini basketball staff and its strategies, as indicated by markings on the floor of the Corzine Gym.

The new offensive scheme is called “Flowgame.” Unlike Bruce Weber’s motion offense, it involves no non-regulation markings. The new defensive strategy, on the other hand, has visual reminders of many stripes. There’s a Pack Line. There’s a Pin Line. There’s a Heat Up line.

What’s the purpose of a pack line? Theoretically, it provokes bad options for an opposing offense.

A couple years back, some basketball wonk pointed out that Illinois’ shot chart demonstrated the least efficient field goal strategy in the Big Ten, or maybe it was the country, possibly the history of space-time. The Illini specialized, it seemed, in “the long two.”

The argument holds that long two-pointers (shots launched 17 to 21 feet from the basket, inside the three point arc) provide low returns versus “high percentage shots” (lay-ups) and enhanced reward shots (threes).

Personally, I favor a healthy dose of the mid-range game. But the wonks are probably backed up by the data.

John Groce is a data guy. His Flowgame offense seeks to emphasize dribble-drives and open threes. It’s still basketball, and the guys playing it are the same guys as last year. They’ll still wear white with orange trim, and dark blue on the road. So it won’t look like the exact opposite of Illini basketball circa 2010. But on the offensive end, that’s pretty much what it is.

Groce’s defense will seek to force long twos. It’s man with zone principles. It’s helping and hedging. In that sense, it’s not much different from the Weber defense.

What do the players think? If they perceive it as a different defensive strategy, we should pay attention.

I learned from my recent interviews that Illini players can verbalize (i.e. explain) the theory, purpose, and function underlying the new offensive and defensive schemes. This is an important and remarkable distinction from the Weber Administration. (Cue angry, anonymous “can’t we move on” comments.)

I take as sincere the players’ effusions about the new staff. Players always say things they’re programmed to say, but it’s not hard to discriminate their feelings from their programming. The pedagogy is apparent.

When John Groce was introduced, he said practices would be closed (grrr) to protect the teaching environment. The teaching seems to be sticking.

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