Middle Tennessee State: The Xs&Os of an Upset

By Gibson Pyper

Middle Tennessee State came into the NCAA Tournament as a 15 seed facing the number 2 seed Michigan State. Michigan State was on a roll after just clinching the Big Ten tournament title and playing well, and was chosen by most-myself included-to win the tournament. Middle Tennessee State didn’t just beat Michigan State, they outplayed them from the opening tip to the final buzzer and here is how.

Defensive Key: Switching from defense to defense after time outs and keeping Michigan State on their toes. Middle Tennessee switched from a man to man defense to a 1-3-1 zone defense after Michigan State called a timeout to stop the 15-2 run Middle Tennessee State opened up the game with, it forced a turnover. That triggered the under 16 commercial break and Middle Tennessee then switched to a different defense, this time a 2-3 zone. The entire game Middle Tennessee switched from defense to defense, typically after breaks or timeouts, to always keep the Spartans thinking about what they were doing on offense. Another big key Middle Tennessee was able to do because of their personnel is to switch players 1-4 and some of the time even 1-5. This completely took Michigan State out of their rhythm in their offense, and Izzo’s fantastic sets were stalled at times due to it.

Offensive Key: Middle Tennessee’s fantastic spacing and their bigs ability to step out and hit the 3 really gave Michigan State fits on defense. Both Middle Tennessee’s big men hit several 3’s and they were able to run a lot of their sets designed to take advantage of slower Michigan State bigs with the bigs picking and popping out instead of rolling. The ballscreen motion they used was very good, and it is the action they run behind their sets. Good offensive teams always run something behind what they run, for teams like Kansas it is High-Low action, and for Middle Tennessee State it was a lethal ballscreen motion that is hard to guard. This is not anything new, this ballscreen motion has been run quite often throughout the NBA/FIBA/NCAA but the main difference is Middle Tennessee’s ability to stretch and space the floor with essentially a 5-out offense at times.

Middle Tennessee Ballscreen Motion

This is what Middle Tennessee runs behind what they run. Any set that is run, or does not create a scoring chance typically flows right into this or they can get into this quickly with multiple scoring options off of it. When run all the way through you can have an option for a backdoor, dribble hand off, duck in off ball reversal, and then the triangle corner pick and roll action.

Middle Tennessee Ballscreen Motion

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Ballscreen Motion Backdoor

Off of the ballscreen motion, after the initial ball reversal the guard who receives a dribble hand off has an option to score backdoor.

Middle Tennessee Ballscreen Motion Backdoor

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Chin Sets

Middle Tennessee runs great chin action (backscreen into a ballscreen) and has numerous counters to it. If the defense sags off or goes under the backscreen for the guard then he can fade out to the 3 point line as the big turns the angle of the screen to allow a rescreen on his defender. Another option because of the bigs shooting ability is after the ballscreen the big man can pop out for a 3 point shot.

Middle Tennessee Chin Wildcat

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Middle Tennessee Chin Hook Pop

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Middle Tennessee Chin Slip

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Elbow Hand Off

Utilizing the bigs ability to score and handle the ball, this Elbow set has worked well for Middle Tennessee State throughout the season. After passing to the elbow, guards cut off and look to get a hand off back to score.

Middle Tennessee Elbow Hand Off

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Horns Twist Pop

A nice Horns set designed to get the second ballscreen big to pop and attack or shoot while the defense is hedging on the ballscreen.

Middle Tennessee Horns Twist Pop

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Pitch Go

Taken straight from the Fred Hoiberg pitch series, this is weave action on the wing into a quick catch and go for a big to attack.

Middle Tennessee Pitch Go

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Slice Stagger

Common action in today’s game of basketball, a slice or shuffle screen looking to get a layup and then into a double stagger screen. This continues into another double stagger screen and then flows into their ballscreen motion.

Middle Tennessee Slice Stagger

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Follow Gibson Pyper on twitter @halfcourthoops and for more sets from the NCAA Tournament check out The Basketball Playbook.

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Creator/Owner of thebasketballplaybook.com & half court hoops youtube channel. I love NBA & NCAA X's & O's and look to help coaches everywhere!

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March 18, 2016 – St. Louis, Missouri, U.S – Michigan State Spartans guard MATT MCQUAID (20) tries to block the three point shot of Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders guard JAQAWN RAYMOND (10)during the first round of the Midwest Region in the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, where #15 Middle Tennessee State leads #2 Michigan State by the score of 41-35 at half time , held at The Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO (Credit Image: © Richard Ulreich via ZUMA Wire)

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