Defense has been called the “Desire to Perspire.” It is hard, unappreciated work in a game where high scorers are glorified. Good defense ultimately leads to state titles.
I always started my five best man-to-man defensive players regardless of their offensive skills. Excellent high-percentage shot selection is the start of good defense.
We had five defensive rules that helped us win games:
— Make the player with the ball dribble toward the middle where there was help defense.
— Never block a shot until the player shooting the ball releases the ball (no fouls).
— Never leave your feet when guarding a player with the ball until that player leaves his feet.
— Always keep a triangle with the ball, you and the man you are guarding, so there are no back-door cuts to the basket.
— When a shot is taken then find your man and run at him to face him and then block him out.
Having other defensive rules also helped such as never giving up the baseline, thus allowing our help defenders to know who had first help defensive responsibility. We always wanted the offensive player with the ball to dribble the ball as you cannot pass or shoot when dribbling the ball, however we just moved our feet and did not hand check. Another rule we followed was keeping the left hand up against right-handed shooters and vice-versa for lefties.
Today, the games in Class A basketball, especially in Central and Western Maine, feature more physical defense than Classes B, C and D. Class A teams play more in-your-face man-to-man defense while Classes B, C, and D play less aggressive defense. Also, as you go down the classes, teams score more and play more zone defense.
Game scores in Class A are much lower than they were in past years and it is not unusual to find scores in the 30s and 40s today because there are more physical and aggressive defenses that follow the college style.
I always preferred a soft man-to-man defense and tried not to foul. We tried to enforce the five basic defensive rules. Many leads are built or lost on foul shots when the clock is not running. We tried to commit fewer than seven fouls per half to keep teams off the foul line, and we tried to get the ball inside to draw shooting fouls along with our patient half-court offense which forced teams into many frustration fouls.
In tournament play where you have to win three games for a regional title and one game for a state title, you will usually have one poor offensive night. However, you should never be off on defense, thus excellent defensive teams can survive a poor shooting night.
When it comes down to defense vs. offense, defense is my favorite to win. The best defense is a good solid shot-selection attack that does not allow teams to get easy baskets off rebounds, especially long 3-point misses that start opponents’ fast breaks. Good defense also forces teams to put the ball on the floor, manages switches on screens and plays hard away from the ball.
Examples of stats that I have of some of my stronger defensive teams are: 1967, Orono, 21-1 record, Class B, gave up 49.6 points per game; 1969, Orono, 22-0, Class B, 46.9 points allowed; 1989, John Bapst, 19-3, Class C, 45 points allowed; 1990, John Bapst, 19-3, Class C, 39.5 allowed; and 1993, John Bapst, 22-0, Class B, 40.6 allowed.
These five teams compiled a 103-7 record, allowed just 44.3 ppg and won five state championships. This is strong evidence that defense definitely does win regular-season games, tourney games and state finals.
Bob Cimbollek is a retired high school basketball coach and is a basketball official.