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March Madness Actions, 2021

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

These are some of my favorite actions I've observed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. We'll keep a running Blog Post to keep them in one place.

The NCAA Tournament is the Super Bowl for basketball coaches obsessed with the X's & O's of the game. Over the course of four weekends, you are getting exposed to every conceivable style of play across the nation. We will witness teams finding success in a variety of ways including; 5 Out Spacing, Ball Screen Actions, Space & Pace, Elite Zone Offense, Inside Play, and so on. If you are anything like me you are watching these games looking for any interesting actions that might catch your eye. Over the next four weekends, I'm going to use this post as a central location to keep all the actions that I put into diagram form.

Most coaches probably have a short checklist for the kinds of actions they are attracted to when watching these games. As a high school coach, I'm always going to be more attracted to simple concepts that could be easily taught instead of the really complex actions with lots of false movement. My short checklist for an action catching my eye would probably include:

  1. The Action is Simple

  2. The Action is Hard to Guard

  3. It is done with 4 or 5 Out Spacing

  4. Fits Seamlessly into that Team's System

Fast Model Play Diagrams

If you have a Fast Draw account you can find all of these sets draw up in my Fast Draw Profile. All you have to do is click on the play and then download it to your own Fast Draw Playbank.


Colorado put on a three-point clinic with 16 3FGM vs Georgetown in their first-round victory. They used their transition game alongside the Spread Ball Screen and DHO elements to really give Georgetown's defense a hard time. Several actions really caught my eye in this game including an ATO, BLOB, and a Horns Entry into Spread Ball Screen.

Colorado Actions:

This was a really slick ATO that Colorado used to get a lay-up right before the half.


1 - Slot to Wing DHO

2 - Single Down on Backside

3 - PG off Pin Down

4 - 2 Clears out

5 - Swing Pass

6 - Back Screen Lay-Up

Colorado picked up a really demoralizing lay-up off this set.

Colorado employed a ton of Spread P/R and this Horns Set was a great way to disguise the entry into that action.


1 - Horns Cross-Screen

2 - Slot to Wing DHO

3 - Spread P/R

This was a great BLOB set that flowed easily into one of their main offensive elements; the Spread Ball Screen. They started in the Box Formation and then flowed in a 14 Low Lob to initiate the action.


1 - Box Formation (Corner Cuts)

2 - Lob Entry

3 - Back Screen for Inbounder

4 - 1/5 DHO

5 - Roll & Replace Action

Wichita State Action:

Really liked this action from Wichita State to get their post player isolated on the backside.

They used Point Action as the entry into the play, and then used one of the most popular actions in this year's tournament, Chicago Action. From there they cleared the backside and isolated their 5 Man with his defender.


1 - Point Entry

2 - PG Down Screen

3 - Chicago Action

4 - 2 Clears Out

5 - Ducks In

On this possession, Wichita State was able to get a deep post touch and a trip to the free-throw line.

Liberty Action:

This Horns Set that flows into 5 Out Action was really interesting to me. This was a way to get a shooter a look at a three and if it is not there flow into give & go action with the 5 Man.


1 - Horns Alignment

2 - Ghost Screen

3 - Flare Screen

4 - *Check for Shot*

5 - Give & Go with 5

On this possession, the 5 Man was able to hit the 1 Man on his cut to the rim for a layup.


Michigan is one of the nation's best teams, and their interior size and use of NBA-inspired actions really stood out. I particularly enjoyed how they designed actions to get touches for their superior post players in their first-round matchup. Here were two that stood out.

Michigan Actions:

Michigan used this variation of Motion Weak to get their 5 Man a Post Up opportunity and then get their PG coming off of the pin-down screen.


1 - Wing Entry

2 - Corner Cut by PG

3 - Perimeter Swing

4 - Cross-Screen by PG

5 - Pin Down from 4

On this possession, they hit the 5 Man for a Post Score.

This play really struck me as one that would be really effective at the high school level.


1 - Stack Formation

2 - Wing Entry

3 - Check the Post

4 - Hit the High Post

5 - 5 Man Seals!

Michigan used a stack alignment as a way to get their post players isolated around the rim. On this particular possession, the 5 Man was able to seal his man for a deep post touch.


The Razorbacks marched into the Sweet Sixteen this weekend with an athletic attacking style that proved very difficult for Colgate to keep up with. Arkansas used a mix of Ghost Screens, Ball Screens, and Dribble Drives to effectively break down the Colgate defense.

Arkansas Action:

They used this three high BLOB series on several occasions and showed different wrinkles to the action.

Curl Option:

1 - Middle Man Curls

2 - Last Cutter Curls

3 - First Cutter uses the Flare Screen

The goal is to hit one of the curls, and if none emerge then enter the ball to the corner.

Reject Option:

1 - Middle Man Basket Cuts

2 - Last Cutter Rejects to Rim

3 - Last Cutter uses the Flare Screen

The goal is to hit the reject cutter for a lay-up and then enter the ball from there.

Colgate Actions:

Colgate showed some great actions in their matchup with Arkansas. Most of their actions used screening actions and an athletic 5 Man to move the basketball.

Here is an interesting Horns action to get an advantage for the PG.


1 - Horns, Elbow Entry

2 - Down Screen, Swing

3 - Clear Cut from 2

4 - Iverson Cut

5 - Catch & Shoot

A SLOB action that Colgate used caught my eye as well. They used their athletic 5 Man as a driver and flowed straight into an inverted Ball Screen action.


1 - Entry to PG

2 - Swing to 5

3 - Backside Exchange

4 - Inverted 5/2 Screen & Roll


Loyola-Chicago is making headlines reminiscent of the 2017-18 NCAA Tournament when they made a magical Final Four run. Their round of 32 performance versus Illinois was an absolute clinic in how 5 Out Offense can be a nightmare to guard. They also have an extremely versatile 5 Man who they use as the centerpiece of their DHO actions.

These were two of the actions that really stood out to me.

Loyola-Chicago Sets:

They used this action as a way to move people and disguise an empty ball screen.

Sequence -

1 - Stack Formation

2 - Decoy Curl

3 - Wing Entry

4 - Sprint into P/R

5 - 5 Spreads Floor

The empty ball screen now allows the roll man to space to the corner or roll to the rim without a tagger.

This is one of their core actions where they enter to the 5 Man and then go into single or double Chicago action.


1 - Wing Entry, PG Corner Cut

2 - Entry to 5

3 - Over Cut

4 - Double Chicago DHO

5 - Attack the Gap


Typically known for his defense Mick Cronin's UCLA squad earned a spot in the Sweet Sixteen with a crew of versatile perimeter athletes on the offensive end. They exploited Abilene Christian with their Drive & Space attack all night long. I thought these two offensive sets they ran could be easily adaptable to the High School game.

UCLA Actions:

The Corner Lob set is really simple and could be used for players who play below the rim as well.


1 - Basket Cut from Top

2 - Down Screen for Corner

3 - Corner Cut to Rim

4 - Lob 1st, Outlet 2nd

The double drag action was used right out of transition. Following their screen, both players would sprint to spaces beyond the three-point line.

The ball was quickly swung to the corner and the gaps attacked.


1 - Double Drag Screen

2 - Sprint to Corner

3 - Second Screener Pop

4 - Swing & Attack Gaps

Florida State

Colorado looked as impressive as any team in the tournament in round one, but they were stifled by the size and aggression of Florida State in round two. This game did not have the offensive mastery that was displayed by others, but there were a few sets that really popped out to me. The Slot to Slot DHO coupled with that slot drive is something I've written extensively about.

Florida State Actions:

Coming out of a dead ball FSU employed one of my favorite actions; a simple slot to slot DHO & gap drive.

The key to the action is a well-timed duck in by the 5 Man to take out the defender at the rim.


1 - Dribble At

2 - Slot DHO

3 - Slot Drive

4 - Well-Timed Duck In

Florida State also ran a great end of the half action to try and get a lob dunk.

They started in a 14 Low formation and then emptied one side of the court for a "Screen the Screener" lob pass.


1 - Ball Screen by Lob Man

2 - 5 Fills Elbow

3 - Back Screen for Lob Man

4 - Lob Attempt

Abilene Christian:

After a Cinderella win in round one Abilene Christian was a bit overmatched versus UCLA in round two.

One set they used off of a dead ball was fairly interesting as a "Need a Three" type action.


1 - 14 High Formation

2 - Entry to Elbow

3 - (Backdoor Option)

4 - Flare Screen (1/5)

5 - Hit the Cutter

6 - Staggered Screener for Shooter

This set could give you a post-up for the initial screener or give you the open 3FGA you need.

Alabama -

Alabama and UCLA played an incredible Sweet Sixteen matchup which saw Alabama hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer and ultimately ended with a UCLA victory in overtime. Nate Oats has turned Alabama into a contender by implementing an offensive attack that relies on the three-point shot and relentlessly attacking the rim. I diagrammed two Alabama actions that really caught my eye.

Alabama Actions -

One of the staples of the Alabama attack is being able to create gaps with their cutting and screening and then attack those gaps with the dribble.

This is a fairly simple action to do just that out of a Horns Formation.


1 - Horns Elbow Entry

2 - Clear cuts by 1/5

3 - Attack the Elbow Gap

BLOB Action -

This 1-4 Low Baseline out of Bounds play they ran in the second half was amazing. Using the aggression of UCLA against itself they set up a perfect back door cut. Apparently, this was a Mick Cronin set UCLA runs often.

Sequence -

1 - 1-4 Low Formation

2 - Clear Cuts by 3 Players

3 - Corner Entry

4 - Dribble Up & Return

5 - Back Door Cut by the Inbounder

Oral Roberts -

Oral Roberts had a great run in the NCAA Tournament which ended in the Sweet sixteen. The Pick & Pop combination of PG Max Abmas and C Kevin Obanor was one of the highlights of the first half of the tournament. Down two late in the game, this full-court set to Abmas the ball on the run was a really nice action to file away.

Oral Roberts Actions -

Oral Roberts designed a nice 14 Low BLOB set that used their PG as a decoy curl before it looked for a Pin Screen to the Corner.


1 - Clearout Curl by 2

2 - 3 Sets the Cross-Screen

3 - PG catches pass on the Run

4 - PG attacks from there.

Abmas was able to catch the pass and attack aggressively up the sideline. He was able to get a contested three-point shot up and the buzzer sounded, but unfortunately for Oral Roberts, it was off target.

Oral Roberts Actions -

Horns, Wiper:

I thought this Horns Action was a nice addition for teams that prefer 5 Out Spacing. Like most of their sets, the first read was for their PG Max Abmas.


1 - Horns Elbow Entry

2 - DHO with the Wing

3 - simultaneously the 5 Sets a Flare Screen for the PG

4 - 5 Then immediately sets the Pin-Down Screen for the PG.

For Oral Roberts that cut off of the Pin-Screen is what they are looking for, but a slip by the 5 man or a back door cut from the PG would provide a great scoring opportunity at the rim.

14 Low BLOB:

The 1-4 Low alignment is a fairly common alignment for BLOB sets. Ultimately what Oral Roberts was looking for here was a way to disguise the Pin-Down Screen for a shooter in the Corner.


1 - Baseline Lob Entry

2 - Decoy Curl from the Inbounder

3 - Pin-Down Screen to the Corner

Baylor -

Baylor is headed to the Final Four for the first time since 1950. They have an extremely athletic, deep, and dynamic guard corp. Their ability to create mismatches and then attack off the dribble was on full display this weekend. I caught a few simple actions this weekend that I thought were worthy of putting down on paper.

Baylor Action -

Pressbreak Entry:

Late in the game, Baylor held an eight-point lead and simply needed to get the ball inbounds vs the press. Following a timeout, they had to inbound versus a denial-style press.

Baylor used a simple concept to create enough space for one of their guards to use their quickness to get open in space.


1 - Four Across Formation

2 - The Ball Side Players clear out

3 - Backside Guard goes to the ball

4 - The last resort would be the other guard on the backside in case the ball cannot be entered

Baylor Action -

Weave Ball Screen:

The use of a DHO weave as an entry into Spread Ball Screen was something we saw from a number of teams in this tournament.

Baylor has a number of dynamic guards that wreak havoc in space, so this action worked perfectly for them.


1 - 14 High Alignment

2 - Slot to Wing DHO

3 - Ghost Screen & Pop from the 4 Man

4 - Point to Opposite Wing DHO

5 - 3/5 Spread Ball Screen

Oregon State -

The Beavers ended a great run in the tourney this weekend with a loss in the Elite Eight. They ended another Cinderella run by Loyola-Chicago with a stifling Zone Defense that helped to neutralize the playmaking of Cameron Krutwig. There were a few simple actions that Oregon State used that I thought were worthy of diagramming out.

Oregon Action -

This was a simple Horns Set that they ran early in the game off of the hip of their 7'' Center. If the Center can get a piece of the cutter's defender there will be an open lay up available late.


1 - Horns, Elbow Entry

2 - Cut off the Elbow

3 - Hip-Bump Screen

4 - Hit the Cutter Late

In this case, the cutter was able to get an easy lay-up.

Oregon State Action -

Double Drag Stagger:

Oregon State ran a number of staggered screen actions in which they ran a double drag screen action, followed by a staggered screen for a shooter.


1 - PG comes off of the Double Drag Screen

2 - 4/5 Set an immediate Staggered Screen

3 - The first Cutter Curls

4 - The Second Cutter Straight Cuts to the Point

In this possession, Oregon State got a good look at a three-pointer at the top of the key.

Houston vs Oregon State

Houston and Oregon State was a hard-fought battle between two teams looking to make a rare Final Four Appearance. Each of these teams had a positional advantage that they use to their advantage. The size advantage of Oregon State can be seen in its use of their post players and zone defenses. The athleticism advantage is clear for Houston, which is reflected in their use of an attacking style of offense.

Houston Action -

Box, B/S Reject:

Houston used its Box Set to set up a Wing Ball Screen that could be rejected to attack the rim. Houston's guard was able to attack the rim and get to the foul line on this possession.


1 - Iverson Cut by 2 Man

2 - 5 Man Sets Screen & Dives to the Block

3 - The 4 Man Pops

4 - The Basketball is Swung from Wing to Wing

5- The 3 Man then Cleared the Paint

6 - 4 Sets the Wing Ball Screen

Oregon State -

Box, STS:

Oregon State's Box Set was designed to get a "Motion Weak" style Post Up and Pin SCreen combination. In the game, Oregon was able to hit the cutter for a catch & shoot opportunity at the top of the key.


1 - Cross-Screen & Pop by the 4 Man

2 - 5 Man Dives to the Block

3 - The Ball is Swung from Wing to Wing

4 - Screen the Screen Action gives Post Up and Pin Screen options

Gonzaga -

Zone Action:

Really loved this simple action by Gonzaga vs the zone of USC tonight. Similar to a Rim Run Seal, a well-timed duck-in can lead to an easy layup vs a Zone Defense.


1- Wing Entry

2 - Followed by Ball Screen

3 - 1 Slips into the Middle

4 - Pass to Opposite Wing

5 - Hit the PG in the Middle

6 - Well-Timed Duck In on X5

As most programs' seasons are coming to end we are entering the time of year where new ideas will be explored at length. This is always an exciting time of year as coaches begin to put plans together for the following season. One thing that I always like to look at is how teams incorporate their base actions into their transition offense, sets plays, and SLOB & BLOB actions. As we dive into these games it would make sense to put together our own shortlist of elements that we are looking for. Then we can start to envision how we would also blend our core actions into some of these new sets.

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