Iona basketball Rick Pitino
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Rick Pitino’s aggressive style of defense is making its way to Iona basketball. Here are a few schemes and concepts to look for next season.

Small Film Room

It’s a new day in New Rochelle, NY. Although Tim Cluess built Iona basketball up to become a perennial contender in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Rick Pitino is here to take the program to the next level.

Pitino will have to alter a few things here and there with the Gaels. After all, he’s not going to have the same type of talent he was able to recruit at Kentucky and Louisville.

With that said, expect Iona to be an attack-minded defense that looks to force turnovers wherever and whenever they can. An influx of talented, lightning-quick guards like Tahlik Chavez and Ryan Myers fit exactly the type of aggressive defenders Pitino loves to sic on opposing ballhandlers.

Few coaches can adapt and change a gameplan quite like Pitino but expect the new Iona basketball coach to favor a 2-3 matchup zone in the halfcourt and different variations of full-court man-to-man pressure.

2-3 Matchup Zone

Zone defense gets a bad rap. For whatever reason, man-to-man is considered the more courageous way of defending. Who cares about bravery, or whatever? If it’s a winning defense, use it!

Pitino favors a 2-3 matchup zone, but it’s not the kind of zone defense you’ll see at a CYO game on Sunday. It’s much more than that.

Aggressive, active, and adaptable.

Light pressure in the backcourt from one of the guards slows down the offense just a bit. Once the defense is set, Louisville passes off defenders between one another without missing a beat.

One of the best parts of a Pitino zone defense is that it can quickly turn into a trap on the baseline or a double just past halfcourt. Furthermore, if the zone starts to break down, it’s not impossible to call for a switch to man-to-man mid-possession. The defense is adaptable when necessary.

Full-court man-to-man pressure

As seen in the breakdown of the 2-3 matchup zone, Pitino likes to use “token” pressure at times to slow the other team down. The defender works the ballhandler a little bit, but turnovers aren’t necessarily the goal.

It’s like a boxer in a title fight feeling out his opponent early, but once Pitino feels out the other team, he’ll pounce.

One of the ways he applies full-court pressure is by denying the catch on the inbounds. The inbounder is unguarded while the defenders front the ballhandlers. This forces teams to have to utilize big men to inbound the ball—if they can get the ball in at all.

In the first half of the 2013 Final Four, Pitino’s Louisville team denied the catch on the inbounds for much of the first half. Wichita State went the first 25 minutes of the game without a turnover. It wasn’t until the final 10 minutes or so when Louisville’s pressure started to overwhelm the Shockers.

It wasn’t until later in the second half that the Cardinals began favoring a different kind of full-court press—trapping in the corners.

Similar concept to ball denial, but in this scheme, allowing the catch isn’t the worst thing that can happen. A defender is put on the inbounder and he’s there to help double team and trap when necessary.

When the ball goes into a trap zone (corners, along baseline/sideline, etc.) or a big man has to come and help, the defender on the inbounder is right there to double.

The last scheme/concept we’re looking at is like a scaled-back version of the above clip. Instead of putting a guy on the inbounder and guarding up on the ballhandlers, Pitino’s teams allow the catch and apply light pressure.

At times, Pitino’s teams will apply this light pressure before dropping back into their 2-3 matchup zone.

But when the opportunity is there, they’ll “jump” the ballhandler with a double team and look for an easy steal. Watch hall Louisville sends the double team as soon as Duke’s Quinn Cook turns his back on the defense with a spin move.

Louisville ate up Duke in the 2013 Elite Eight with exactly this type of pressure.

Final Thoughts

It’s tough to make any 100% perfect predictions in regards to the scheme and style Pitino is going to bring to Iona basketball. He’s already racking up commitments from recruits who will presumably fit his aggressive style of defense.

With that said, he’s one of the all-time great coaches during halftime. His ability to adjust to what’s in front of him is perhaps his best quality as a coach. As a result, expect Pitino to adapt his system to fit his player if need be, but if we know one thing about the Hall-of-Fame coach, he loves to turn up the pressure.

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