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Xs and Oats — Watch new basketball coach Nate Oats’ offensive concepts

I’m not apologizing for that title one little bit.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Arizona State vs Buffalo Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

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I’ve been giggling like a madman for the better part of 12 hours.

When it was apparent that Avery Johnson would not be returning, the first thing I did was change the name of the Roll ‘Bama Roll Twitter account to “Nate Oats Fan Site.” Alongside Billy Donovan, this was the very best hire the University could have made. And, the fact is that Oats may actually prove to be the better long-term hire given his age, his high ceiling, the tempo and style of play, filling the Coliseum, and the economics of the matter (four years/$10 million — though you can almost certainly expect that salary to get a well-deserved increase in the near future should he have the success most anticipate.)

But, enough with giddiness, let’s show what were so tickled about to begin with: the offense. I hate to give a nod to Auburn here, but you will see some similarities to what Bruce Pearl does. It is a high-paced motion offense that gets up the floor fast, with the offense fed by the transition and a high pressure defense — last season, the Bulls finished 21st in KenPom’s offensive efficiency and 31st in defensive efficiency.

And, in the half court, he emphasizes making an extra pass, quick decision-making, and passing up good looks in favor of great ones. So, even if it’s not a particularly good perimeter-shooting team, if the look is there, balls will be launched from all over the arc.

The style certainly works too. Despite the Bulls not being a particularly good 3-point shooting squad, Buffalo still launched 968 of them, 28.47 deep shots a game. That was good for 9th in the country, w averaging 85 points per game — 5th in the nation, and in the same exalted company as Gonzaga and UNC.

Penetration and Kick-Shooting:

In yesterday’s piece on Oats’ hiring, we spoke about how so much of his motion offense is predicated on slashing and driving to the hoop, always with an eye towards making the pass if it is a better play. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense, and the presence of good outside shooters can be lethal (again, ask Kansas what that looks like.) So, here is Coach Oats explaining the drills he runs that demonstrate those penetrate-and-kick-out concepts.

Making that extra pass also greatly reduces turnovers, upping the assist-to-turnover ratio. This season, Buffalo was 17th in the country in this statistic — 1.38 to 1. The Bulls had 16 assists per game and 600 dimes on the season.





The offense isn’t only designed to feed another shooter. Having some facets of high-low post and plenty of high screens, the Bulls also set up players for iso penetration and easy buckets in the paint — Collin Sexton would have loved this:


Defensively, the Bulls look to pressure the ball, challenge every pass, and generally make life miserable for their opponents. They forced 263 steals on the season — over 7 per game, good for 32nd in the country (just outside of the 90th percentile). Combined with the unselfish ball movement and good looks at the basket, that led to Oats’ team finishing 12th in the country in turnover margin (+4/game). That relentless pressure and constantly battling also put UB in great position to clean up on the glass. Despite not being the longest, most talented, or tallest team out there, Buffalo nevertheless averaged 28 defensive rebounds per game, good for 12th in the country.

Decision-Making & Eliminating Turnovers

One of the greatest knocks on Johnson’s teams was the cavalier way in which they handled the ball. It was not a very smart team, often passing up good looks or driving into the lane and then being unable to make a play. As you can see from these drills and 2-on-1s, decision-making is not only a part of this offense, it is its fundamental tenant — be that whether to shoot or pass, or — in the case of the skip, seeing the whole floor and knowing to whom to pass.


Baseline Drift

Slot Skip

Transition Game:

Since Oats’ scheme is fueled by transition fed off of ball pressure and getting rebounds, turning and burning up-court is a necessity.

And even in practice, his players don’t half-ass it:

If you want to listen to 50 minutes of Xs and O(ats) basketball porn, Oats appeared on Basketball Podcast earlier this season to discuss his philosophy and what his Bulls want to do.

The best part, ‘Bama fans? You get to have that now — tempo, scoring, pressure, transition, relentless effort, and a no-nonsense guy leading the charge. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Roll Tide, Nate Oats. Roll Tide.