Basketball team

Inside Scoop From Practice on the UCLA Basketball Team

One obvious thing to speculate offensively: the possibility of a two-post offense with Riley and Johnson on the pitch at the same time. Cronin has done a bit of it in practice, and it’s intriguing. With Riley able to come out and reverse a shot, pulling Johnson’s defenders away on the low block, there aren’t too many teams that can go against each other defensively. Most teams these days play with a single post, which means a post defender – or not even a real post. So if you have your taller guy to defend Johnson, since you would need him to physically take on Johnson, who then defends Riley? A 6-8 wing, 215 pounds forward? Much would depend on Riley’s ability to defend that 6-8 wing on the other end, and he’s improved his defense – while there’s Johnson as a rim protector as well, which certainly helps the ability to Riley to do it.

In practice, however, from what we hear, the emphasis has been on defense. As Cronin said in a recent interview, UCLA had a top-ten attack last season, but defensively was 46th (Ken Pom’s adjusted defensive efficiency). He returns the same attack, so it makes sense that the coach would want to spend more time building up the defense. Cronin is a defensive coach and clearly takes it personally.

He has a unique team to shape in defense. The 2021-2022 UCLA edition will not be particularly fast, due to the lack of great lateral speed athletes. But it’s going to be exceptionally long. He starts off three guys in the 6-6 lineup, then will have a winger coming off the bench who is 6-8 and then a 6-10 cross which is particularly long and one of the best shot blockers in the country. And his playmaker is 6-6. From what we’ve heard, when a line-up with Watson and Johnson is on the pitch, the pitch looks small. There’s a lot Cronin can do with that defensively and with UCLA depth, being able to go deep 12 without hesitation – with 11 of those players having NCAA tournament experience and the 12th being a future. five-star NBA lottery choice. Much time has been spent practicing team defense, assisting in defense, and the veteran roster already knows pretty well what Cronin expects of them in that regard. A great thing to watch out for is how Watson learns Cronin’s defense, not just all the techniques but the tactics. From what we’ve heard, he’s light years away from where he was when they started training about two weeks ago. It helps that the other addition to the main rotation, Johnson, is an experienced and accomplished defenseman, a former member of the Big-Ten defensive team.

As we said, it also helps that Johnson is one of the best shot blockers in the country. It changes just about so much that Cronin can do in defense. He can ask his perimeter defenders to step up and take more risk, challenge the ball more or try to jump passing lanes for deflections if he has Johnson as a stop protecting the rim. With the length of the team, disrupting more defensively on the perimeter and trying to create easy turnovers and baskets on the other end is key for this team to step forward to be truly the elite.

Having this rim protector also allows Cronin to activate defense more, which can be effective in eliminating the pick-and-roll attack that so many teams rely on these days. From what we’ve heard, every player has improved their defense against the ball, to the point that even Riley’s speed on the ball could be pretty reliable against some wings on a switch.

The practice has been described as being a veteran coach with a team of veterans, and this situation allows Cronin to add layers to the foundation he has already established. It’s easy to see him experimenting with certain things like 3/4 taps and more frequent traps. As Cronin said, with such a playable team of guys, he can now use more pressure without sweating fouls or fatigue.

From insiders who have seen the practice, the feeling is that there won’t be too many college basketball teams with this kind of experience, maturity, size, length and depth – and versatility. . It’s the type of team Cronin has built for his career and the feeling out of practice is that he’s really relishing it.


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