The 2014-2015 Texas Longhorns have as much size as any team in the country. But all of that size doesn't mean that Rick Barnes won't have his team running the floor, looking to score easy transition baskets. Last season, with a team that featured nearly the same roster, Texas frequently pushed the tempo. Per hoop-math.com, 30 percent of the Longhorns' initial shot attempts came in transition situations(*). This was the 53rd highest rate in the nation, placing Texas in the top 15 percent of all teams in D-I when it came to looking for early transition offense.
(* Hoop-Math.com defines transition shots as those that occur within the first 10 seconds of possessions that start with a rebound, a steal, or a made basket by the opponent.)
When we think of playing up-tempo basketball, the mind first jumps to situations where the team with the ball has a numbers advantage on the opponent, and presses this advantage by attacking three on two, or two on one. These are situations that often arise after a steal or a long rebound.
While pressing a numbers advantage is certainly a part of the transition game, it is far from all of it. After deep rebounds that don't lead to a quick outlet pass down the floor, or a made basket by an opponent, it is still possible to push the tempo with a secondary break. In these cases, the offense is less likely to be taking advantage of numbers, but can still frequently get a high value shot against a defense that is not yet set up. Often times, these shots are open threes, or entry passes to a hustling big man with deep post position.
This brings me to an important point; for a team like Texas with a lot of size on the front court, a secondary break is a great way to create scoring opportunities for big guys who run the floor. The idea that a team with a big front line is best served by playing slow and plodding style is deeply misguided. A well-conceived defense has a lot of ways to limit high percentage shots for a scoring big man in the half court, but against the early offense that comes from a secondary break it is not so easy to do.
The Texas Secondary Break
The Longhorn secondary break is very similar to approaches that show up all across the nation at both the college and high school level. After securing a rebound, the ball quickly finds its way into the hands of the point guard. Alternatively, after a made basket by the opponent, a designated player (for Texas, this is the trailing big man) quickly inbounds the basketball to the point guard. Everyone is now off to the races.
The image below shows us the basic Texas break. I have labelled the ball, which is currently in the hands of the point guard, Isaiah Taylor. In front of him are two wings, who are running up the sidelines, looking to spot up behind the three point line. One post player (Cameron Ridley in the photo below) is sprinting to the rim. He will be looking for a lob (if he gets past the last defender), an offensive rebound, or a chance to seal his defender for a deep post touch. Finally, the second big man (Jonathan Holmes) trails the play. Ideally, the trailer is the better shooting of the two bigs, but after a defensive rebound the trailer is whichever big man comes away with the rebound. After a made basket, the better shooter of the two big men will be the designated inbounder/trailer.
Shooting a Quick Three
One of the things that sets the secondary break apart from the classical three on two fast break is that in the secondary break the ball is frequently passed up the sideline, as opposed to dribbled up the middle all the way into the front court. The first option of the secondary break (assuming a defender doesn't fall over leaving the middle of the court open for the point guard) is almost always to pass the ball up the right hand side of the floor to a three point shooter. If the shot is there, the shooter can take it. This is illustrated below, where Javan Felix is nailing a three in the first half of Texas' round of 64 NCAA matchup against Arizona State last season.
This pass up the wing for a quick three can be devastating for a defense. With the right shooter and a point guard who can pass the ball ahead on the money, it is a powerful weapon.
If a quick three point shot isn't there, the ball can then be reversed. In the photo below, the ball has been passed ahead up to the wing, and now is about to be passed back to the point guard.
After that first pass back, we get to the shot below. Isaiah Taylor has the ball, and the trailing man (in this case Connor Lammert) has just entered the frame. Just look at all that open space in front of Lammert, whose defender has dropped deep into the paint.
With just one additional pass, Lammert has a wide open three. He nails it. You will notice that against the scrambling defense, he also has the option of making an additional pass to his left to another wide open wing player.
This shot by the trailing big man is difficult to defend. Big men are often conditioned to sprint back to the paint on defense, and will sometimes get lost finding their man near the arc.
Of course, the key to making this an effective weapon for the offense is having a big man who can actually hit the shot. Thankfully for Rick Barnes, his two best perimeter shooters may very well be Connor Lammert and Jonathan Holmes, two big men who frequently had clean looks from three in this trailing position. Additionally, if freshman Myles Turner can hit this shot, there will be a lot of clean transition looks from three for the Texas bigs.
The Quick Post Up
If the trailing big man doesn't have an open shot, there are still options. He can attack a defender off the dribble, he can reverse the ball, or he can work the high-low game to get the ball inside.
In the photo below, we show an example where the high-low option presents itself. Here Cameron Ridley has taken advantage of the quick ball reversal, and has sealed off his defender. Jonathan Holmes has the ball, and finds him for a layup and a foul.
This is an example where playing fast helps the big man get into scoring position. The speed of the action here has allowed Ridley to get deep post position. With position that deep, he will seldom be stopped. Additionally, because of the scrambling of the defense, there is no help to prevent Ridley from catching the ball and scoring.
The Longhorns will be big this season, but that doesn't mean they will walk the ball up the floor. It would, quite frankly, be a waste of Isaiah Taylor's biggest strengths to not push the tempo. Additionally, playing fast also plays to the strengths of many other Texas players, including hustling center Cameron Ridley, athletic finisher Demarcus Holland, and three point shooting big men Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert.