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ATO Execution Keys Creighton’s Return to Sweet 16

by Mar 26, 2024Creighton Mens Basketball

during a game against the Oregon Ducks in the second round of the NCAA Championships March 21st 2024 in Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by Eric Francis
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Greg McDermott is widely considered one of the best offensive coaches in college basketball, and one area in which that acumen reveals itself is Creighton’s after-timeout (ATO) plays.

On the season, Creighton is scoring 0.985 points per possession out of timeouts, ranked in the 91st percentile nationally and considered “excellent” according to Synergy Sports. In Saturday’s double-overtime win over Oregon, McDermott went deep into his bag and the Bluejays executed to the tune of 1.364 points per possession (15 points on 11 plays following timeouts).

On three of those occasions, the initial action didn’t produce anything and the Jays went into normal halfcourt offense. On another three, the play generated good looks that didn’t go down (although Jasen Green followed one of the misses for a put-back). The other five resulted in buckets.

“Execution is where it starts,” McDermott said of ATO success. “Obviously as a staff we try to look for some some holes or some weaknesses in the other team that we think we can exploit that we can draw up out of a timeout. Most of them — virtually all of them — we’ve worked on in practice. There are plays you practice all year long that you never use … But we spend a lot of time on that. We think it’s kind of the special teams part of a basketball — side out of bounds, out of bounds under, after timeouts. Those areas can really change the direction of the game.”

They certainly did on Saturday. Let’s dive in.

This first play came after the second media timeout. Simple, but effective.

Baylor Scheierman started in the strong side corner with Francisco Farabello in-bounding. He threw it in over the top to Ryan Kalkbrenner while Jasen Green set a pin-down for Scheierman. Kalkbrenner hit Scheierman on the wing and the senior sharp-shooter knocked it down.

Timing on a play like this is key, because Scheierman wasn’t open long. However, Green set the screen right on time and Kalkbrenner got the ball where it needed to go.

The second play came after the under-8 timeout. Creighton had the ball on the baseline with Scheierman in-bounding and the other Jays in a four-low set.

Farabello cut across the baseline to clear out of the strong-side corner while Scheierman threw it in over the top to Trey Alexander. Kalkbrenner then set a great screen on Scheierman’s man, Jadrian Tracey, springing Scheierman for a wide open 3 from the left wing.

The shot didn’t go down, but the Jays executed the set well and Jasen Green was there for the put-back to put points on the board anyway.

McDermott and the Jays really had fun with this next one. Jermaine Couisnard scored five straight late in the first half to cut Creighton’s lead to one and McDermott signaled for a timeout after the ball crossed halfcourt. With Oregon in its matchup zone, he called a beauty of a play. The man and ball movement up top is designed to lull the back line to sleep, leading to Scheierman catching on the logo. Miller flashes to the high post just as Scheierman rises up as if to shoot (he’s fired from that range before) — but it wasn’t a shot.

With N’Faly Dante watching the action up top, Kalkbrenner snuck behind him to catch the lob and throw it down.

“The lob play to Kalkbrenner against the zone, we’ve practiced that thing a 100 times this year but we’d never ran it in a game,” McDermott said. “To have it executed to perfection — it’s one thing to have a play that you think is going to work, it’s another thing to have Baylor shoot an air ball off the side of the rim from 30 feet and have Kalk time it great and dunk it.”

This final ATO possession of the first half was simply great ball movement against the zone. McDermott put Scheierman in the right corner, Ashworth on the right wing, Kalkbrenner on the right block and the ball in Alexander’s hands for a high ball screen with Miller.

Sometimes simple is best: draw help, kick it to put the defense in rotation, swing it to the open man and knock down the shot. Because Kalkbrenner had occupied Dante on the block, there was no one left to help the helper with where the Bluejays were positioned.

Moving ahead to the under-12 timeout in the second half, we have my favorite action of the game. The TV broadcast doesn’t give us the best view from the start, but this is an action Creighton has practiced it a lot. They call it “Double Wrap.” Take a look and imagine trying to defend it.

They can run this play with either of the two shooters circling each other popping out, keeping the defense guessing. This isn’t an easy shot to make — sprinting to the corner for the catch then halting your momentum to rise up on balance — but Scheierman isn’t your average shooter, and that allows McDermott to get really creative with the actions he designs.

“That’s something that we take a lot of pride in is the special teams of basketball and the out of bounds,” Scheierman said. “I don’t know if there are a lot of teams that do that and obviously Coach Mac is one of the best at drawing stuff up to get open looks, and so when we come into a huddle and he starts drawing up a play we have 100% confidence that that’s probably going to get us an open look.”

A lot of the time, it’s Scheierman who hears his name called in those huddles, and he delivered on Saturday, scoring nine points and assisting the Kalkbrenner dunk.

“I don’t mind it,” Scheierman said. “It’s always nice to get an open shot, especially being able to draw something up that the defense might not know is coming, especially because a lot of times they are on me a lot harder than than a lot of others.”

The last play we’ll break down here might have been the most crucial. Oregon put together a 9-0 scoring run to take a 58-52 lead after a nearly six-minute scoring drought from the Jays. McDermott called a timeout at the 5:15 mark to set up a sideline in-bounds against the matchup zone.

The Jays got the ball in to Alexander to trigger the play. Kalkbrenner set a ball screen as a decoy and Alexander kicked it to Ashworth as Miller lifted to set a screen for him, catching the defense sleeping.

The screen caught Ashworth’s defender, Brennan Riggsby, while Miller’s man, Couisnard, got caught watching the ball screen up top. That gave Ashworth room to step into the 3 and he buried it.

“It’s big,” Ashworth said. “I think that coming out of that timeout, we had been on quite a big drought, and so to be able to see that 3 go down was big not only for, I think, my confidence but just the confidence of the team that ‘All right, here we go. We’re getting it rolling again.’ And so to be able to deliver in that moment was fun, but then at the same time it was just cool to see so many different guys step up when we needed it.”

Nearly a quarter of Creighton’s points in regulation came on these ATO plays, and Creighton’s season is likely over without their ability to execute in those situations. When The Bluejays break the huddle with possession on Friday night against Tennessee, pay attention to the way they line up. You might see some of these actions — or perhaps something even more creative.

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