Under Al BC has had two trademarks:
1. One of the most effective offenses in college basketball
2. One of the most porous defenses in college basketball
The foundation for the offense was clear. Al brought in smart, overachieving players and gave them a tested system in which to thrive. We have (and had) a clear identity. Conversely, those same attributes hurt us when trying to shut down the other team. Our players were often athletically inferior to their opponents. And our amalgamation of defensive schemes (amoeba, 2-3, man) left us without an identity. We were often content to let the other team have an off night and outrebound them. Sometimes it worked. Other times it didn't.
This team looks like it will still struggle with rotating and with guarding big men, but a combination of a few things might make this the best defense Al has put on the court. Here are the factors that have helped early in the season:
1. Shot blocking. As Sean Williams showed, blocking shots masks a lot of problems. Establishing a shot blocker like Blair not only alters the shots he does touch, but it also changes how a team attacks us. As long as Blair is out there, you'll see few drives and more midrange shots.
2. Not fouling. This might not seem like an obvious one, but so far this team is not committing a lot of fouls. Some might say we are not physical enough. Who knows? Physicality is hard to measure. In tangible impact, what avoiding fouls means is that the other team is not getting to the line. That will keep scoring down.
3. Steals. We didn't pick many against Maryland, but having Paris, Rice and Sanders on the the ballhandlers will increase our turnover rate.
4. Better perimeter defense. Al's teams have often been content to let the other guys chuck 3s. Aside from last night's breakdown in the closing minutes, we are doing a much better job guarding the 3.
How it could all fall apart -- defensive rebounding. Our big men don't rebound well, making for plenty of easy baskets for the other team. Spears has picked up his pace, but he cannot do it alone. Look for Raji and Sanders to grab some boards. If no one works on improving this, I think you'll see the D get exposed as the season wears on.