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MEN'S BASKETBALL: BC Switches To Aggressive Defensive Style For 2013-14

Sports Editor

Published: Monday, November 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, November 4, 2013 09:11


Graham Beck / Heights Editor

During a long, challenging freshman season, Boston College forward Ryan Anderson got beaten up in the paint by bigger, stronger, and more experienced ACC players. Anderson spent the next summer working himself into shape so that he could guard the four position consistently without it affecting his offensive output. 

He thought he was in a good spot, but then center Dennis Clifford started having knee trouble and Anderson was forced to guard the five spot—and he got beat up in a whole different way. 

Around mid-February, the pounding wasn’t just weighing on him physically. Trying to contain much larger and more athletic ACC centers without reliable help from the guards took a mental toll as well. But after an offseason in which Anderson has improved in every physical category the team tests—four inches added to his vertical leap, 15 pounds more on the bench press, one percent less body fat—he doesn’t see that happening again.

“I improved my body from freshman and sophomore year to be a good athlete for the four position,” Anderson said. “This offseason I improved my body to be a good athlete for the five position, so now I feel like I’m great for both positions. It took getting beat up as a freshman at the four position and then getting beat up as a sophomore at the five position, to now as a junior I plan on reciprocating it back to other teams.”

For the Eagles to take the next step defensively heading into the 2013-14 season, it’s not only going to take that kind of individual improvement on and off the ball, but more importantly, as Anderson noted, the real strides will be made as the collective team defense gets better.

“It’s something we’ve really been focusing on,” Anderson said. “It’s all about team defense for us.”

The first stride starts, simply, with depth. There was only one game last season in which more than seven players logged 15 minutes or more for the Eagles.  In eight of BC’s games in 2012-13, just six players logged double-digit minutes. ACC defense is physically demanding on young players, but it’s also mentally taxing. With five BC players ranking in the top 30 of ACC minutes played percentage—the most of any team—the Eagles were scraping to stay in games more than anything else. That mentality has shifted.

“We’ve changed up a lot of our defensive strategies, really trying to be more aggressive,” Anderson said. “Everything is about aggressive, aggressive—never be passive. Try to take things away.”

“You have to be in better shape to do that, but it also comes down to having more guys. We’re going to have a very deep team this year, we can play almost 10 guys, whereas last year at some points we were down to six, seven guys. Just the extra bodies will help us try to wear teams down, not only in our game but during the season.”

While head coach Steve Donahue has primarily stuck to man defense and the occasional, and usually unsuccessful, 2-3 zone, the Eagles will throw out more complex zones and presses with more regularity this season, and they’re planning on having the bodies to do it aggressively for sustained minutes without it wearing on them during the season.

A major component of the new, aggressive approach starts with returning ACC Rookie of the Year Olivier Hanlan. By the end of last season he was scoring almost at will, but was often criticized for his defense, especially off the ball. Hanlan could get lost when BC tried to rotate, either losing focus or honing in too much on his man while ignoring the ball.

“I think part of that is just being a freshman and he didn’t understand some concepts,” Anderson said. “But I think this year that’s something that people have said about him—that he wasn’t that great of a defender—and I think he’s taken that to heart, and he’s ready to prove that he can get steals a lot of times off the ball, whether it’s digging into the post or getting into passing lanes. That’ll really ignite our offense and any time you can get Olivier with the ball in transition you want that.”

Hanlan said that at times last season he was afraid of making mistakes on the defensive end, but now Donahue is emphasizing that he needs to be more aggressive and go for steals. Donahue knows that getting Hanlan in the open court is easily one of BC’s most effective forms of offense.

“That also relates to communication,” Hanlan said. “When you open your mouth on defense it makes it a lot easier.”

That aggressive play also applies to post defense. Anderson said he’s more prepared to guard the center position not just because of the progress he’s made, but also because of the more reliable team defense as a whole.

“I wasn’t really used to the physicality and just the daily toll it takes on your body,” Anderson said. “I think I’m much more prepared for it now, I kind of know what it takes, but also we’ve become a better team defender of the post. It’s not just me anymore. It’s really teaching the guards how to dig into the post.”

The guards have been calling out “digging, digging, digging” in practice, and it’s a welcome sound for the big men. They can feel more confident now that a guard will show pressure in the post and that the other three players off the ball will be in good enough position to prevent an easy skip and score.

“When you’re playing guys that like to pound the ball inside, it’s just great that you can get a dig from the guard that they’re not expecting because not many teams do that,” Anderson said.

The Eagles are also going to defend screens differently this season. BC hasn’t had the versatility or the depth to switch on-ball picks the past two years, but Anderson said he thinks the team can switch on everything now without being taken advantage of.

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