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Houston Offense

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

An inside look at the X & Os that helped get Houston to its third straight Sweet Sixteen appearance. Check out their use of 21 Series, Delay Series, and the Spread Ball Screen.

One of the teams I really enjoyed watching last weekend was the Houston Cougars. For the third straight season, they were able to make the Sweet Sixteen with victories over Jacksonville State and Illinois. The strength of Houston lies in their suffocating defense and excellent offensive rebounding. They rank 3rd in the nation in opponent's PPG, and for the third season in a row, they are a top-two team in offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, they are first in offensive rebounding percentage and third in offensive rebounds per game. They have been able to use these strengths to become an extremely efficient offense as well.

Houston relies on four and five-out spacing and uses a combination of ball screens. post-ups, and an aggressive transition attack to score their points. Going into the tournament they ranked eighth in the nation in offensive efficiency at 1.119 points per possession. They have been able to do this despite losing their leading scorer, Marcus Sasser (18.1 ppg), around Christmas time. Due to their use of transition offense and the post up their offense has a balance in their shot selection. This is reflected in their rankings in the middle of the pack when it comes to the percentage of two and three-point shots. In this post, we are going to dig into the actions that they used to propel them into the Sweet Sixteen.

Primary Spread Ball Screen -

The primary action you see with Houston is the spread ball screen. They ran this simple action over and over down the stretch in their second-round victory versus Illinois. Not only did their ball handlers find ways to score off of the ball screen, but they were able to use the weak side Flare Screen to free up their shooters as well. They also use a false motion movement that they use to mask the setup of this spread ball screen action.

Spread Ball Screen -


The ball handler (1) generally approaches the ball screen from the slot. The screener (5) generally approaches from the FT Line area.

The screen is usually set as an inside ball screen, but the angle can be flipped if the defense goes under the screen.

Off the Ball:

Off the basketball players are arrangements themselves to maximize spacing. Two players will occupy the corners and another player will align themselves on the high wing. On occasion, the 4 Man will start in the post and then work himself out into this alignment. He is generally the one setting the Flare Screen so it makes sense to align himself in that corner position.

Flare Screen:

One element we will see repeat itself over and over again is the Flare Screen on the weak side. Rather than just holding their spacing, they set the Flare Screen in hopes of occupying the help defense and creating a shot opportunity in the corner.

False Motion into SBS -

In their matchup with Jacksonville State in round one they repeatedly used this false motion action to set up their spread ball screen.

Jacksonville State was using a matchup zone early in the game so I felt as though this was a way in which they could move the zone and then flow into their spread ball screen action.

Ball Screen & Weak Side:

As you can see in the third frame at the end of this movement the 1 & 5 end up in their typical spread ball screen spacing. If no shot emerges for the handler or the roller, then Houston is setting up their Flare Screen action on the weak side with the hopes of occupying the defense and setting up a drive and kick shot in the corner.

Alternative Actions, 21 & Delay Series -

I am a big fan of the 21 Series so I was excited when I saw Houston employing it as a complement to its ball screen action. Both the 21 Series and the Delay Series use similar spacing to the spread ball screen action so it is a natural complement to their main action. The role of the 5 Man only slightly changes with Delay Series using him as a playmaker and 21 Series using him as a Drag Screener.

21 Series "Give" -

The 21 Series starts with a wing entry from the Point Guard and then a subsequent "over" cut. The player with the basketball then has the option to "give" the ball back to the Point Guard, or "keep" it himself. I was able to see Houston use both options last weekend.

Flare Screen:

In the "Give" option the (2) gives the ball back to the Point Guard and then receives a Flare Screen from the 5 Man. I did note that on a couple of occasions the 5 & 2 double down and both ball-screened for the Point Guard.

Drag Ball Screen:

Once the (2) has cleared out of the way the 5 Man continues to set the Drag Ball Screen for the Point Guard. As you can see in frame number 3 Houston is going to set that backside Flare Screen as a means to once again occupy the defense and get a shot for the shooter.

21 Series, "Keep" -

During last week's game, I tweeted out a diagram of Houston using the "Keep" option in their matchup with Illinois. The "Keep" action is almost identical to the "Give" but in this option, we eliminate the Flare Screen for the (2) and simply flow right into the Drag Ball Screen from the 5 Man.

Delay Action -

Delay Action works with roughly the same spacing template that we see in the spread ball screen and 21 Series. Instead of asking the 5 Man to step up and set the ball screen, we are asking him to be more of a playmaker.

Entry Pass:

The simple entry pass to the 5 Man at the FT Line initiatives the Delay Series. Once the ball is entered the cutter (1) has a few options he can choose in order to counter the defensive positioning.

Cutter Options:

One option the cutter has is to make a hard cut off the shoulders of the 5 Man for a Give & Go pass. Another option that the 5 Man has if the cutter is not open, is to play a Two Man Game with the (2) in the corner. A DHO or pass-and-follow ball screen action is a way to get that player in the corner an advantage. One final wrinkle that Houston used was a down screen & DHO combination (or Chicago Action). In the final frame of the diagram the cutter screens for the high wing, who then gets downhill receiving a handoff from the 5 Man.

Special Actions, Sets for Shooters -

I was able to spot two set plays that Houston used to get shots for their knock-down shooter Kyler Edwards. I'm not a huge fan of diagramming complicated plays that I know coaches will not be able to implement with their own high school teams. However, both of these plays stood out because I thought they could be easily implemented to complement your main actions.

Box, Stagger -

This is a simple box set that Motion Offenses might be able to incorporate off of dead balls. If your 4/5 Men are already accustomed to being the screeners this set will fit in nicely.

Decoy Ball Screen:

This action starts with a decoy ball screen from the 5 Man. This now places the 5 Man in a better position to set the second screen in the stagger.

As this is taking place the ball side cutter (3) clears out to the backside allowing the handler a chance to reject the action and attack the basket.

Staggered Screen:

The 4/5 Men now set their staggered down screens for the shooter (2). Although I did not see this action played out very often without a shot it easily lets you flow into the spread ball screen spacing if the first screener (4) clears to the corner.

Baseline Drive, Hammer -

This was an interesting set that incorporated the backside Flare Screen that Houston uses so often. I also thought this was an interesting action, that could complement a Dribble Drive or 3 Out Motion offense.


The action starts with a swing of the basketball from one wing to the other. This swing now initiates the backside Hammer Action.

Hammer Action:

As the baseline drive starts the 4 Man simply makes a clear cut directly up the lane line. On the backside, the 5 Man sets the Flare Screen for the shooter. Anticipating that the X5 and X1 will be help position this will open an opportunity for a catch and shoot three on the backside.

Concluding Thoughts -

Maybe one of the most impressive things about Houston is the balance that their starting five has. They have multiple ball handlers in Shead, Edwards, & Moore who score off the dribble, and two forwards who can score in the post or off of the screen and roll in Carlton and White. In each game so far they have had different players step up and take on a larger role in the scoring column. They are going to need to have multiple guys step up tonight if they are going to beat the #1 seed in their region, Arizona. Check them out tonight to see if you can spot some of these actions being executed.

  • Matchup Tonight 9:59 PM vs #1 Arizona

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