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GIF Breakdown: Texas Tech's No-Middle Defense

Chris Beard’s teams are known for their defensive prowess, and utilize a system known as “no middle,” which specializes in forcing ball handlers to the baseline and sidelines, using the out of bounds as another defender, essentially. The primary objective of the no-middle defense is to keep dribble penetration out of the paint to prevent easy looks at the rim. The system puts an emphasis on icing ball screens.

Watch how Texas Tech’s #25 gets into a stance parallel with the sideline once the ball passes the free-throw line. He has his foot high to force the ball handler to look baseline for a drive. When the ball screen comes, the big for Tech, #11, comes up to force the turnover by “icing,” or forcing it to the sideline. In this instance, the screen barely happens because of how disruptive the Tech defense is. The result is a strip by #11, leading to a fast break opportunity.

Below, watch #32 for Texas Tech force the ball handler to his left by again taking a parallel stance to the sideline. They ice the attempted ball screen, and once the ball handler begins to lose his handle, the defense collapses and creates the turnover.

Another ball screen, another example of ice coverage. Here, watch #0 press the dribbler to the sideline, and watch how #32, the post man, comes up on the other side to prevent getting beat into the paint. #3 then comes up and helps #32 trap the ball handler by the baseline, forcing #5 from TCU to attempt a contested skip pass, which is intercepted by #23 and taken the other way. Forcing bad passes out of the post is one of the key tenets of how to play an effective no-middle defensive set, and one of the best ways to force turnovers in this system.

Another aspect that Texas Tech excelled at under Beard was help defense. They aggressively rotate and attack closeouts. Here’s a look at a defensive possession from their game against Gonzaga. This is a long possession, so I'm going to split it into two .gifs.

After the initial pass, #23 for Tech ices the ball screen, so #23 for Gonzaga dribbles the ball back up to the top of the three-point line. He passes it over to his teammate, #15.

#15 then essentially does a contested dribble handoff to #13 for the Zags. #13 then drives the rack from the right side of the floor, is met with resistance from two Tech defenders at the rim, then kicks it out to #23, who has to jack up a three-pointer with time expiring. He misses badly, and the Zags are hit with a shot-clock violation. Ball to Texas Tech.

Watch how #25 for Texas Tech comes over for the help defense with #11, forcing a trap onto #13 for the Bulldogs. Also notice how #11 stays parallel with the sideline, creating an angle impossible to drive by for Gonzaga’s ball handler.

Below, #11 for Kansas passes off to #5 on the wing, who then kicks it back to #11. #25 for Texas Tech forces the driver to the driver’s left, who then needs to kick it out to #1 in order to avoid being trapped, which would happen if he continued towards the basket. #1 then makes a move past #32, which gets him near the rim, but the Texas Tech help defense swarms him at the point of attack, forcing a bad shot, resulting in a miss.

Readers may be asking, “if the defensive objective is to clear the middle of the floor, why don’t the opposing players just drive the paint in order to create opportunities on offense?”

Well, a major way that Beard’s defenses force turnovers is through drawing charges, which happens when players ignore the no-middle defense and try to drive the paint anyway.

Watch below in the national title game what happens when Virginia goes for it offensively. #25 for UVA catches the pass off of the wing at the top of the key and drives it past #11, right into #25 for Texas Tech, who is already in position to draw the charge. This makes offensive players think twice before going hard to the rack.

Here’s another example of a Texas Tech defensive set that leads to a charge for the offense. The Kansas player drives the ball to the paint, but is unable to get a shot up, as there are two Texas Tech defenders waiting for him, so he flips the ball out to the wing for #30, who drives the paint again. This time, he’s met by three defenders, one of whom is in a charge-drawing stance. It’s an easy call for the referee and Tech gets the ball back.

This doesn’t just happen when players are going up to score; Beard's teams draw charges when players attempt jump passes as well. Watch below how #0 for Southeastern attempts to throw the pass out to the man on the wing after he’s left his feet (forcing opponents into jump passes is a sign that a defense is working effectively as well considering the higher failure rate of these kinds of plays). #32 for Tech is already in position before #0 even launches forward. This kind of anticipation leads to drawing offensive fouls the way that Texas Tech was able to under Chris Beard.

Overall, playing no middle is a great way to create turnovers as a defense. It’s a high-risk, high-reward system that emphasizes help defense and aggressive ball screen coverage. It makes defenders second guess themselves on driving to the paint for the fear of drawing an offensive foul. It forces offenses to throw risky skip passes and jump passes that often lead to fast-break opportunities for Beard’s teams.

Not only is the system proven to work, as Baylor adopted it in the last couple of years and utilized it to great success, but Texas has the roster to make it effective for them. Timmy Allen will play the Jarrett Culver (#23 for Texas Tech) role, as they are similar sizes and play similar positions defensively. Here’s an example of Allen’s defense, where he exemplifies the exact principles of the no middle: staying parallel to the sideline and forcing the offensive player into an awkward layup attempt, which Allen blocks.

Dylan Disu, Tre Mitchell, and Christian Bishop can play rim protectors. Marcus Carr and the two returning shooting guards (Jones or Ramey) can play up front. Historically, Beard’s teams have been highly ranked on the defensive end. Look for that to continue this season.

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