On Saturday, the Deacs dropped their 2nd conference game of the season to the NC State Wolfpack by a score of 82-91. Wake Forest actually played a pretty good game on the offensive side of the ball, shooting 52% from the floor and 53% from beyond the arc while scoring 82 points—the most points the Deacs have scored in an ACC game since losing to NC State in February of 2018. Unfortunately, Wake was hindered by 19 turnovers and an inability to stop the Wolfpack, who also shot 52% from the floor, from scoring easy baskets. One of the biggest issues for Wake on defense was defending the pick and roll.
NC State probably finished the game with 8 or 9 layups and dunks in this game just by running the pick and roll.
I don’t know what Wake’s strategy against the pick and roll is, but throughout the game it seemed like the Deacs were letting the ball handler turn the corner, going towards the middle of the court, while no one was defending the roll man at all. That seems like a bad combination.
State just kept going to the well and getting results, much to the chagrin of commentator Dan Bonner, who seemed flabbergasted at Wake’s inability to stop NC State from dunking the ball.
In the second half, it looked like the Deacs made some adjustment to stop the roll man from being wide open under the basket, at the expense of letting the ball handler drive straight to the rim and get a layup.
On all of these pick and roll plays, the guard is going over the screen while the big is just backing up and waiting for the ball handler rather than hedging or switching. That allows the guard to get right into the middle of the defense, where he will have any number of ways to make plays and produce points for his team. I’m not sure that strategy is going to work against guards in the ACC like Markell Johnson, who finished with 14 points and 7 assists.
The big man is basically stuck in a no win situation, being forced to choose between keeping the ball handler from driving straight to the basket and stopping the roll man from just catching lobs and dunking the whole game. That’s not a place you want to be.
Again, I don’t know if this was by design or if the Deacs were trying to hedge and were just too late to step out. What I do know, is that the couple of times the Deacs were able to stop the Wolfpack from scoring on the pick and roll, they hedged and kept the ball handler from getting anywhere near the basket.
In the play below, the roll man D.J. Funderburk is still wide open, but because of the hedge, Devon Daniels is basically at half court and has no way of getting the ball to him .
As the pick and roll has become the most popular play in almost every level of basketball, the Deacs are going to have to do a better job defending it in the future if they want to be able to play competitively in one of the toughest conferences in the nation.