A new kind of offense (basketball)

Oct. 31, 2008

(10:53 a.m.): His first year coaching at Murray State, Mick Cronin played a point guard named Kevin Paschel. He averaged 1.6 assists per game; he averaged 1.6 turnovers per game. He was a bit wild with the basketball, so Cronin employed an offensive system that relied more on passing than dribbling.

Less focus on the point guard. More focus on the team sharing the ball.

So, when freshman point guard Cashmere Wright tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first week of practice and was lost for the season, Cronin – and by extension, his team – didn’t panic.

Even though Wright would have complemented Deonta Vaughn – allowing Cronin to rest the All-Big East player and possibly allowing Wright to take over the point guard position eventually – Cronin, in the span of a few days, had to tweak his offensive philosophy for this season.

Basically, he said, he’s eliminating the point guard position. I thought he was joking. I snickered. He was serious. No laughing matter.

Cronin has seen the philosophy in use, and he’s seen it work well.

“Chicago Bulls: 1997, 1998, 1999 with Jordan, Pippen and (Ron) Harper,” Cronin said. “It didn’t matter who brought the ball up the court.”

That’s what Cronin hopes will happen this season. Vaughn can bring the ball up the court. So can Rashad Bishop. So can Larry Davis. So can freshman Dion Dixon. So can Alvin Mitchell. No need for a point guard, Cronin believes, if you don’t actually employ one.

“I’m very optimistic, because the guys are playing to their strengths,” said Cronin, whose team will open its exhibition season at 1 p.m. Saturday against Carleton. “We have to continue to do that. We’re not going to have a point guard. We’re going to have five players. We’re going to make it easy on each other by flashing and catching.”

The Bearcats had run portions of that philosophy before. It’s why you would see the center – last year, it was Adam Hrycaniuk and Anthony McClain – flash out to the top of the key, take a pass from a guard and hand it off to another player. Everybody got a chance to touch the ball.



The same applies this year. Once the player with the ball dribbles past the mid-court line, let the passing begin.

“We’re going to try to eliminate the position using pass entries instead of dribble entries,” Cronin said. “We don’t want anybody dominating the ball with the dribble since we don’t have a true point guard – even though Deonta really is a point guard with his size and ball-handling ability. The last thing I want to do is wear him up by having him take too many dribbles. Deonta can give it up and get it back and do what he does best for us – which is create offense. We’ll be what we can – an early-entry offense and adjust in the way we play-call and facilitate our offense.”

The Bearcats were not expecting this. Wright – a highly-rated recruit out of Savannah, Ga. – was supposed to be the guy who apprenticed under Vaughn at the point position and then took over the starting role.

He was going to have more talent than the graduated Jamual Warren, and he was going to alleviate some of the ball-handling pressure from Vaughn. Now, everybody else needs to fill in for Wright.

“It remains to be seen how it will affect us,” Cronin said. “The problem last year was Alvin, Rashad and Larry weren’t ready to play. Jamual was a veteran and that’s why he was key. It’s not like Jamual was lighting it up. We brought them in and said, ‘Rashad, what did Jamual give us?’ Toughness. ‘Alvin, what did Jamual give us?’ Defense. ‘What did Jamual give us, Larry?’ Rebounding. I told them, ‘He gave us toughness, defense and rebounding.’ As a freshmen, it’s hard.”

Vaughn won’t get to adjust. For a player who has logged about 35 minutes per game in his career, he’ll be expected to match (and maybe exceed) that now that Wright can’t play. Which isn’t a problem for him.

“I’ve been running; I’m one of the best runners on the team,” Vaughn said. “Being able to play 38-40 minutes, I just have to stay healthy and do everything I’m supposed to do after a game – get ice and stay treated, so when the next game comes I can play that next 38 minutes like I played the last 38 minutes. I feel like I can go the whole season playing 38-40 minutes. I’ve done it two years in a row.”

Yet, Cronin has to be smart about not wearing out his star.

“It’s like the NBA mentality,” Cronin said. “If you have a 38-year-old guy on the team, you can’t have him practice all the time. If you have a guy who plays 38 minutes, there will be some days when we have to get him only what he needs to do to safeguard against it.”

Wright, the player who could help him, is stuck on the sideline, though. Watching a team who had to eliminate his position. Wishing he could play.

  • Since I wanted this column to stand alone until UC’s basketball team plays Saturday, I’ll get back into Tony Pike et al later in the weekend or Monday.


  • Also, got this sent to my in-box this morning. Thought you guys might enjoy it.

    I just wanted to say I attended Memphis State in the 70's (now Univ. of Memphis). Cincinnati has always been an arch rival especially the Huggins years in basketball. However, I just saw a news clip on Fox where the receiver for the Bearcats caught a touchdown pass in the end-zone, crashed into the stands falling onto a young spectator. The player’s reaction was a class act that you very seldom see anymore.

    When he removed his helmet, making it personal, and hugged that little boy I was proud for that player. He should be recognized as what’s good in college sports. He didn't have time to think about what he did .... it just came from the heart. GOOD for him.

    Of course, the e-mailer is talking about Mardy Gilyard, who actually didn’t catch that pass but who made fans across the country with his actions after he flew into the stands.