All about defense

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 11, 2003

When Troy State defeated Stetson in its penultimate home game, Don Maestri had a slight chuckle.

Troy State won the game handily in front of a raucous home crowd 117-70.

"I laughed with (assistant coach) David Felix ," Maestri said. "I said, 'Why are they getting so excited? We used to score this much all the time?'"

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As strange as it may sound, Troy State's highest point total of the season was its margin of victory in a game 11 years ago (yes, the famous 258-141 game).

This year, Troy State returned to the fast break, full court game, but broke 100 points only four times. One of those games was against NAIA Knoxville College in the season opener.

This year's team is a little different than the teams of 10 or 11 years ago and Maestri knows why.

"This team plays defense much better than we did several years ago," he said. "We used to say a delay of game was a little more arch on our jump shots. We also said defense was the wooden structure around your back yard."

The Trojans had to change their style a little bit. When they played at the Division II level, they could afford to shoot 103 three-pointers in a game.

But at Division I, the talent level of the opponents was a little higher.

" We couldn't afford to just run down the court and launch a shot," Maestri said. "The level of play is so much higher now. Good teams will make you pay. We have to take good shots and make the other team take bad shots."

This year's Trojans are not at the top of any defensive category. Sometimes basketball stats are misleading because of various factors.

A team can play good defense while giving up 80 points if that team is trying to maximize the possessions. Sometimes, teams ranked near the top of defensive categories are not really playing good defense; they are keeping the ball away from the other team and running down the shot clock.

The Trojans have played defense well all season.

In the Atlantic Sun semifinal round game against Georgia State, the Trojans shut out the Panthers over the final 6:47 of the game. They went on a 15-0 run to turn a 61-56 deficit into a 71-61 win.

Part of the credit for the improvement has to go to Southern Utah's Bill Evans.

"We used to play man-to-man," Maestri said. "Then we saw this zone defense they were playing at Southern Utah. I called the coach and asked him about it. We put that zone in a few years ago. Added to our press, it makes a solid defense."

The zone defense is not the normal zone. It is not a matchup zone or a 2-3 or 1-3-1. Rather, it is a strange zone that people have trouble naming.

The most common name for it is the amoeba zone, named for the one-celled organism that oozes around wherever it goes. The Trojans swarm to the basketball wherever it may go. They swarm on inside players and jump shooters alike.

During the Atlantic Sun Tournament, teams who beat the press often struggled against the zone.

"You have to be quick to play it," Trojan Kendrick Johnson said. "You have to be able to get around quickly."

Greg Davis and Eddie Baker agreed.

Of course, any discussion of the Trojan defense would be amiss without mentioning the press.

"A few years ago, Rick Pitino was able to go all the way running a full-court press," Maestri said. "They ran a man press while we run a zone press. Of course, we're not Kentucky, but you can still win with a press."

Troy State's zone press is designed to create tempo and to force the other team to struggle getting down the court.

Troy State's press throws the timing off teams such as Samford who prefer to run the shot clock down. Against the press, these teams have to spend eight or nine seconds just getting the ball down the court. Their timing is off when they have only 25 seconds to look for a shot rather than 31.