If I were to name a school that perennially boasts one of college basketball’s top offensive attacks, would the Belmont University Bruins be one of those first programs you’d think of? For the average basketball fan, the answer is quite likely no. And yet, if you want a master class when it comes to ball-movement, quick and effective decision-making and a quintessential exhibition in unselfishness, then Rick Byrd’s Belmont Men’s Basketball Program is your cup of tea.
Synergy Sports, which is a video software company that tracks a multitude of offensive, defensive and miscellaneous numerical categories for every NCAA basketball program in America, rates Belmont as one of the best statistical offenses in the country. Last season, the Bruins finished with a rating of “excellent,” in other words averaging > 1 pts. per possession (PPP) in seven of the 12 possible categories, it qualified for on offense.
Specifically, the Bruins were most potent off of spot-ups, ball-screens and off-ball cuts for scores. In this video breakdown, we’re going to take a specific look at a few of the ways Belmont breaks defenses down and does so in a methodical, yet beautiful way.
1. Spot-Ups (1.059 PPP, 92nd percentile in NCAA)
What I hope that your first notice from these four clips is that three out of the four involve a skip pass or a pass that involves changing sides of the floor to force the defense into long, hurried closeouts. For example, in clip 1 with Belmont facing off of against Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Championship Game from this past season, the point guard works off the single drag and fires a right-handed fireball straight out of a cartoon to the weakside corner for a wide-open, knockdown three-pointer. The skip pass is a lost art in today’s modern era of college basketball with so much emphasis placed upon dribble drive into an ultimate penetrate and pitch. Yet, Belmont Coach Rick Byrd is known for preaching this type of a pass as defenses have become less and less accustomed to guarding such an option.
Clip 2 involves a 4-out 1-in motion which develops into a “Horns” set culminating in a side ball-screen read & react off of it. The ball never gets set in one player’s hands too long as #1 works back from where he originally drove the ball to the three-point line to get an open look at a 3-point shot as his defender completely loses sight of him.
Clip #3 is a great example of working and manipulating the ball-screen to death until a lane opens up. The defender guarding #1 actually does a good job the first couple times versus the ball-screen. However, it is that third and fourth time through that eventually opens up a lane and allows #1 to drive hard and kick out to a wide-open teammate on the perimeter.
Clip #4 involves great motion offense and yet again another example of the skip pass to the weakside corner. There is constant motion and a lack of standing around that makes this set work in particular. The point guard, #1, does an excellent job of throwing a difficult back to his left while dribbling to the right-hand side of the floor as the low, weak-side defender (who is tasked with tagging the role man) comes too far into the paint exposing the backside corner for an open shot from downtown. What may go overlooked is #41’s direct rim-run which occupies this weak-side defender and forces him to respect the potential dump-off for a layup.
Cuts (1.458 PPP, 100th percentile in NCAA)
The video in this section does more justice than any type of writing that I could ever do it justice. Yet, what I would like for you to notice is the amount of movement and how each cut has a purpose and force to it. Golden State Warriors’ head coach always talks about his team playing with a certain “magnitude of force.” It seems as if that message is echoed by Rick Byrd to his players as well.
Backcuts are a staple of any Belmont highlight reel. What I most appreciate about this offensive approach is how aware of each and every one of Belmont’s players are cognizant to their man in relation to their own floor position and where the ball is too. This first clip illustrates this entire segment best. As #1 comes off the side ball-screen, #3 notices that his defender remains elevated and loses sight of his relative position on the floor. This opens #3 up to make a simple read and reaction cut toward the rim for as the announcer stated “beautiful” pass and finish.
I absolutely love clip 4, (Belmont vs. TCU), which involves a side ball-screen and a weakside double stagger. What is so nice about how this action is executed is the time of it. As the point guard comes off the side ball-screen action, #11 is flying off the weak-side double pindown (a.k.a. double stagger) and tic-tac-toes a pass right into the gut of the rim-rolling big man for an emphatic dunk. The play is timed up so well that as soon as #11 gets it, the ball is played like a game of hot potato to the next man so he can finish it off.
The back-cut on the road at Providence with a minute-and-a-half is not too shabby either (just saying…).
BLOBs (Bruins Like to Eat in the Painted Area)
Lastly, I thought I would throw in a couple BLOB (Baseline Out-of-Bounds) sets in this video breakdown because they also emphasize how Belmont emphasizes its unselfishness mentality in these scenarios as well.
Clip #1 is outstanding in many ways because it uses an elevator screening action as window dressing to mask the real intention of this play, which is to hit #3 on the back-cut to a completely empty-side of the floor. Like I said, Rick Byrd is granting us all a masterclass on how to run an offense after all.
Our final play begins in a 1-4 set up which is my favorite type of baselines out-of-bounds setup. (Check out my Xavier BLOBs video breakdowns for all the goods on why I think this way). In any event, #3 who starts on the ball-side block backs up like he’s going to receive a catch, but instead gets a screen from the weak-side block big-man (#32). With the entire paint area at his disposal, #3 is able to wheel and deal a picture-perfect righty hook shot over his defender to give the Bruins the lead with under a minute to go on the road.
Belmont is as good of a program as it comes when breaking down how a culture of unselfishness breeds offensive fluidity and efficiency. It is no secret, hopefully now, as to why Belmont is consistently one of the best basketball studies for anyone when it comes to offensive basketball in general. Let me know what you think of these clips and if you already implement some of these similar concepts within your offense.