It’s an interesting fact of basketball that a lot of innovation tends to percolate up from teams that aren’t in what we now call power conferences, at least partly because those schools aren’t going to get the elite recruits very often and they need to find ways to level the playing field.
Former NCCU coach John McLendon invented what we call the four corners offense. The running, pressing style of basketball most people prefer came up from the Southwest in the 1950’s and ‘60s and to a significant extent, from JUCOs.
In the 1960’s and ‘70s, Sonny Allen experimented with a sort of offensive press. In other words, his teams pushed hard on offense to exhaust the defense. And at Princeton, Pete Carrill developed a precision delivery system that slowed the game down and allowed his less talented teams to put immense pressure on opponents with superior athleticism.
The most current example of this would be Scotty Davenport at Bellarmine, Duke’s opponent Monday.
Bellarmine’s offense scares coaches. Former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told Bellarmine’s president that he wouldn’t schedule the Knights again and that they played more together than his team did.
He was probably joking to an extent, but the admiration was genuine. Bellarmine also got high praise from Arkansas coach Eric Musselman, who also said he wants no part of defending this team.
So what is it that they do that some coaches worry about and others study?
They move the ball brilliantly and almost entirely by passes.
Davenport has said that moving the ball moves the defense and, at its most basic, that’s what Bellarmine does. The Knights minimize dribbling and maximize passing. They score a lot on backdoor cuts and when the first cutter is denied, he often passes to a second cutter who gets an easy basket.
We’ll say it again. This offense is challenging for any defense and Bellarmine is capable of beating anybody. The odds go up in their favor though when they face a young team that is still learning how to communicate defensively.
In other words, a team like Duke faces some particular challenges against Bellarmine. People might expect an easy win, but this is not an easy team to beat.