The full court press is great in theory. As the offense is bringing the ball up, the point man on the press uses his length to make it hard to pass. He gets the ballhandler to dribble near half court, where he is then trapped by the man on the wing. Frantically trying to get out of the trap, the ballhandler panics under pressure and makes a bad pass, causing a turnover and leading to easy points for the pressing team. Since easy baskets build momentum and basketball is a game of runs, the press can be a great way to jump out to a lead or come back in a game. Villanova loves running the press for a significant portion of almost every game to try to do precisely this. Here's the problem: The press does not work in Big East play.
The full-court press does not work because of the quality of the vast majority of Big East teams. At the current time, seven are ranked in the top 25, with three in the top ten! If the teams are this good, then they surely know how to break a press. It is actually common knowledge that the best way to break a press is to pass out of it. This means that two guards bring the ball up, and pass the ball back and forth so that they do not dribble into the trap presented by the wing defenders. And not only do Big East teams know how to break the press, they have the athleticism to do it as well!
When a press is broken, the resulting play is not pretty for the defense. The defenders try to hustle back, but they are tired and out of posistion. As the offense is moving the ball around, the defense is still getting set! This leads to missed rotations, which consequently means wide open shots and easy layups. Good Big East teams do not miss wide open threes from the wing, which was the shot regularly given up by last year's team. Now, for Villanova's easy non-conference schedule, I do not see a problem using the press, as Villanova often posesses a significant edge in athleticism and coaching in these situations. But, when these advantages are mostly or entirely compromised, a consistent press for 20% or 30% of the game can only lead to trouble, and most likely, losses.
What's the Point is a weekly column written by David Straple. Feel free to comment