You can’t talk about a football team for two minutes without some element of scheme coming up. Do they run the option or a pro-style offense? If they run an option, is it the spread or a wishbone attack? Is the 4-3 or 3-4 defense in style this year? How about the 3-3-5? Though the relative importance of a particular scheme to a team’s success is one of those things that’s debated among fans, it’s hard to talk about or watch football without understanding some elements of scheme.
When it comes to basketball, so much of the discussion of scheme revolves around defense. Everyone can recognize at the most basic level a zone defense versus a man-to-man. Analysts are even willing to go deeper and talk about different flavors of zone like the matchup or the 1-3-1. There’s not that level of depth when it comes to discussion of offense. Sure, you’ve heard of some of the systems – the Princeton offense, the high post, the motion offense. If you’re a Georgia fan, you might have even heard of Dennis Felton’s 4-out, 1-in offense. Unless you’re really familiar with the game though, it can be hard to recognize a certain system at work within games, and broadcasts don’t do much to illustrate scheme.
Memphis has had an impressive season culminating in tonight’s national championship appearance. It’s an appropriate time to point to this SI article from earlier in the season about the "dribble-drive motion" offense which Memphis adopted this year. It’s a fascinating story not only about Memphis but also about innovation and the roots of this system from an unknown California JUCO coach. Now the offense is the rage not only of Memphis but also professional teams like the Boston Celtics.
In many ways, this dribble-drive motion offense is somewhat of an analogue to football’s current rage – the spread option. Both offenses spread the field/court to exploit weaknesses in individual matchups. Both offenses involve players in flexible roles whether it’s receivers involved in the running game or post players taking perimeter shots. And if Memphis wins the national title tonight, both offenses will have produced a national champion in relatively little time after their adoption at major programs.
Like Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez, John Calipari and Vance Walberg are poised to become the gurus for the evolution of offense within their sport. Whether or not Memphis wins, the success of the offense at the college and professional level will have many more coaches experimenting with it in coming seasons. Of course it will be mis-applied in some programs where the personnel doesn’t match the system, and detractors will say it’s been exposed as a fad like any other system. There’s a useful bit in the SI article about defensive adjustments to counter the DDM offense, and we should expect to see the defensive masterminds of college hoops continue to innovate on their side as well. On it goes.
If nothing else, I’m interested in seeing whether or not this innovation in offense will bring the discussion of offensive systems in college basketball out of the shadows.