Hoops 101

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Tuesday, January 28
Updated: January 29, 5:07 PM ET
Take it from Tex, the 'triangle' wins titles

By Fran Fraschilla
Special to ESPN.com

There is a book in my library, published in 1962, titled: "The Best of Basketball From Scholastic Coach". There is a chapter in this book written by former Kansas State coach Tex Winter about "The Triangular Sideline Series".

Yes, the same Tex Winter who has been the offensive architect of Phil Jackson's nine NBA titles. And yes, the chapter focuses on the "Triangle Offense."

Interested in the X's and O's of college basketball, but don't understand the terminology? Read ESPN's Fran Fraschilla's introduction to Hoops 101 on ESPN.com for a crash course in the basics of basketball.

Actually, when it comes to the Triangle, it was Winter's college coach at Southern Cal, Sam Barry, who planted the early ideas in his player's mind about the offense. And, it was at Kansas State, a place Winter where won eight Big 8 titles, where the Triangle first flourished.

Today, because of the recent success of the Bulls and the Lakers, the Triangle (or Triple Post) has gained favor with many college coaches. And it can be found in both the men's and women's games.

Both Geno Auriemma's Connecticut Lady Huskies and Pat Summitt's Tennessee Lady Vols have won NCAA championships because of Winter's innovation. And, as recent as last year, Indiana's Final Four run was helped, in part, by some elements of the "triangle" in the Hoosiers' offense.

Basically, the Triangle consists of a three-man triangle on one side of the court and a "two man game" on the other side of the court. Unlike set plays, there is a freedom of movement in the offense. There are a wide variety of cuts, depending on how the defense plays. Winter would describe this as "read and react".

Unlike a freelance motion offense, there is a structure requiring precise court spacing and cutting. Every player must know each position on the floor. And, while there is no way that we can show all of the many options in the Triangle, this week's lesson plan will look at basic movements of the Triangle Offense.

Setting Up the Triangle
The Triangle Offense starts in a 1-2-2 set with the players spaced about 15 feet apart. This spacing spreads the defense, thereby discouraging doubleteams, and allows for short, crisp passing that will reduce the risk of interceptions.

There are a number of different ways of getting into the Triangle Offense:

Here, the point guard (1) passes to small forward (3), and then makes an inside cut toward the corner.

Here, the point guard (1) passes to small forward (3), and then makes an outside cut.

The Triangle Offense also allows guards to get into the low post. Again, there are several ways to get into this offensive look.

For example, as the point guard (1) passes to small forward (3), the center (5) pops out to the corner, allowing the off guard (2) to move into low post.

There is also a dribble entry option, as the point guard (1) dribbles to the spot previously occupied by the small forward (3), who moves down to the corner -- creating a "triangle" with the center (5).

Running the Triangle Offense
Once the "triangle" is set up -- in this case with the point guard (1) having cut to the corner -- a "line of deployment" has been created between the ball (3), the post (5) and the basket. In order for the center's man to stay between him and the basket, he must play behind him -- as long as the post player (5) stays on the "line".

Once this happens, it's clear how the "triangle" opens up a clear passing lane for the small forward (3), with an easy angle to pass into the post, or "post feed" the center.

Look at the two diagrams below. For the post defender (X5) to prevent the pass into the post, or center, (5), he must play on either side of him, or "front him". If he plays in front of the post man, he loses position between the center and the basket, leaving the option open for a lob pass or quick pass to either side.

Any one of these entry passes into the post leads to an easy basket.

Trust me when I tell you that that we could be diagramming plays all day if we wanted to show you the magnitude of entry passes and options. Unlike many offenses, there are a myriad ways to get into the "triangle spots". Thus, it makes it very, very difficult for defenses to prepare for and disrupt the Triangle Offense.

Proper spacing allows for several great opportunities to feed the post, create 1-on-1 situations, as well as, chances for every player in the "triangle" to help the other get open.

Here are some other options the "triangle" creates off the "post feed".

The Post Split: As the small forward (3) passes to the post man (5), he screens for the point guard (1) as they "split" off the post.

The Screen Away: The small forward (3) passes to the post and then screens away for the power forward (4), who is looking for short jumper, as the point guard (1) makes back door cut along baseline.

Pass To The Corner: This option starts with the small forward (3) passing to point guard (1) in the corner, and then making a "shuffle cut" off the post man. The point (1) will pass it back to the small forward (3) if he is open.

If the small forward is covered, the center (5) will set a screen on the ball for the point (1), and then rolls to the basket.

There are also plenty of weakside options within the Triangle Offense. See if you can identify some of these variation of the "triangle" while watching a team like Indiana this season.

Back Door Lob: If the center is not open, the power forward will flash to ball. If the defense overplays the power forward (4), it's up to the point guard (1) to look for a backdoor lob pass to the power forward.

Pinch Post: Another option is the pass back to the off guard, and a pass to the "pinch post" or weak side elbow area. This happens when the off guard (2) cuts around the power forward (4) for a handoff, or the point guard (1) comes off the double screen from the center (5) and small forward (3).

Screen and Roll: On the pass back to the off guard (2), the power forward (4) steps up to screen on the ball.

Back Door for 2: This option presents itself when the off guard is overplayed. The power forward (4) will then flash to receive a pass from the small forward (3) and, on the catch, the off guard (2) makes backdoor cut to basket.

As in every offense we've showed you, the execution of the fundamentals of passing, dribbling and shooting are paramount to success. There is no genius to the X's and O's and good coaches recognize this.

Q & A with Fran Fraschilla

Send in your Hoops 101 questions. Fran Fraschilla will answer a few each week as the season continues.

"Would it be acceptable to say that just like the Lakers in the NBA, teams like UNC, Arizona, and most of all, Duke get an unfair advantage during the course of a game from the officials?"
Matthew Wilkinson,
Atlanta, Ga.

You make an interesting observation. The vast majority of officials do a terrific job. Fans AND coaches would be surprised at how often they make the right call in a sport where the athletes are quick and strong and the pace of the game is furious.

The very best officials do not care who wins the game, or where the game is being played. And, they officiate the last minute of the game like the first minute. I've never bought into the idea that officials should "let the players decide the game" in the final minutes. If a player is impeded from getting to the basket in the final 10 seconds of a tie game, it is a foul and the defender has "decided the game" by fouling.

I have seen, in my 23 years, that there are a "minority" of officials that, subconsciously, do not want to be involved in an upset of a more talented team by a less talented team that played better that particular night. It is human nature and officials, like coaches and players, are human. I have been on both sides of this equation and it is frustrating when you are on the short end.

Officials at the college level have a tough job and thankless job. They are constantly evaluated by their conferences and the coaches. Ultimately, they are at their best when the fans, players, and coaches don't notice them.

"Brandin Knight is an outstanding basketball player on a great team. But free throws are an important part of a player's and team's game. With him shooting his free throws under 50 percent, does he have any chance of leading his team to the NCAA championship?"
Jonathan Burdick,
Cambridge Springs, Pa.

As a point guard, Brandin Knight provides so many positives for the Pittsburgh Panthers, that his contributions far outweigh his one weakness -- his 43 percent free throw shooting. He is so valuable and finds so many ways for his team to win that Ben Howland always has him on the floor in "crunch time". Knight might not be the best point guard in the country -- there are some great ones this season -- but he might be the most competitive. And, hey, he made his last three in Pittsburgh's one-point over Georgetown on Saturday.

"As a longtime Oklahoma State fan, I have always watched and admired Eddie Sutton's defensive system and coaching. However, I have not been able to explain the in's and out's of his offense. Could you break down Eddie's offensive system for us? Thanks.
Brian Lundin,
Austin, Texas

If you're a longtime Cowboy fan, you're having some fun this year. I just saw their win in Waco over the Baylor Bears last week and was very impressed.

Coach Sutton is doing another outstanding job. His team is playing outstanding man-to-man defense. It is an extremely quick team that pressures the ball and tries to disrupt every "passing lane", making it difficult for teams to run their offenses.

As you probably know, Coach Sutton comes from the "family coaching tree" of the legendary Henry Iba, who was the father of "motion offense" -- which we will get into greater detail later in the season.

The Cowboys rely on a simple "motion offense" with no predetermination of movement by the players and some simple "set plays" designed to get the ball to particular players. While their offense is not complicated, OSU is a team that executes the fundamentals of passing, catching and shooting the ball. They don't turn the ball over much, so they don't beat themselves.

"I really enjoy Hoops 101. I hope this feature stays on ESPN.com for a long time to come. This type of "coaches view" analysis is very informative and it provides the fan with a new prospective on the game. What are the keys to success for the UConn women's team?
New York, N.Y.

Thanks for the question on Geo Aureimma's UConn Huskies. I've been amazed that they continue to build their winning streak despite losing four great seniors. Everything starts with Diana Taurasi, who may not be the best player the country -- I love Alana Beard -- but might be the best leader in the country. She'a averaging 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. And she's played the last couple of weeks on a very gimpy ankle.

In addition, Taurasi is surrounded by a talented group of freshman and sophomores. Jessica Moore and Ashley Battle, a pair of sophomores anchor the inside, along with freshman Barbara Turner, who had 25 points at Notre Dame, and Willnet Crockett.

Most importantly, the Huskies play great team defense, limiting opponents to 50 point a game, 32-percent shooting, and outrebound them by almost 12 a game.

By the way, freshman Nicole Wolff, who started the first 10 games but been hurt lately, is the daughter of Boston University's men's head coach Dennis Wolff.

"What is your opinion on using zone vs man-to-man defense at the junior high level. Many 'experts' have said that leagues should not allow zone at that age, in order to force man-to-man fundamentals. Be aware that some of your players are not as athletic and the opposing players cannot hit the outside jump shot."
Melbourne, Fla.

Thanks for your question. You have touched on a subject that I am passionate about. There is a breakdown of the fundamentals at every level. I have seen NBA, college, and high school teams practice this year and the problem is pervasive. Don't assume because a player get to the highest levels, that he is fundamentally sound.

Coaching at the junior high level and below should be strictly based on teaching the offensive and defensive fundamentals of basketball at the expense of winning games. Basketball skills like passing, shooting, ball-handling and defending man-to-man are eroding in this country.

We live in an age where the dunk, the 3-point shot, spectacular steal, and fancy pass are what is most often shown on SportsCenter. Great team defenders, simple passes to an open player in the low post, proper footwork to catch a pass in scoring position, and the 12-foot baseline jumper are becoming obsolete.

Here are some suggestions if I were coaching at the junior high and youth levels:

1. Stress the fundamentals every day in every practice. Repetition is the key to learning.
2. Make practices competitive but fun.
3. Stress playing hard, playing as a team, and stress proper values like discipline and doing things "right". Winning will be a byproduct of this.
4. Play man-to-man defense. Get players to learn how to guard one-on-one, but also learn how to help each other on defense.
5. Teach "game situations'" and get my players to "think the game".
6. Videotape good players on TV and show them to my players.
7. Attend as many coaching clinics as I could. College and high school coaches in the area will, usually, be willing to share their ideas.
8. Give my players a "skill improvement plan" for the offseason.
9. Give out awards that reward team play.
10. Play every player even if it means only having a 7- or 8-man team.
11. Play a lot of 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 basketball in practice. This is where team play is honed.
12. Teach players about respecting their teammates, coaches, officials and opponents.

Fran Fraschilla spent 23 years on the sidelines as a college basketball coach before joining ESPN this season as an broadcast analyst. He guided both Manhattan (1993, 1995) and St. John's (1998) to the NCAA Tournament in his nine seasons as a Division I head coach, leaving New Mexico following the end of the 2001-02 season.

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