Chattanooga head coach John Shulman talks from the sideline.Photo by Contributed Photo
There will be no "Fire" in McKenzie Arena for the foreseeable future.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman has scrapped his beloved double-teaming post defense, known as "Fire," with a young team learning the fundamentals of defense instead of the complex trapping inside. The time spent teaching fire in the past is being allocated to base defense and a few offensive changes.
"When you don't 'Fire' you don't have to be as absolutely perfect," Shulman said. "There are pros and cons of having it in, and pros and cons of not having it."
Freshman Casey Jones has no idea what "Fire" means at UTC.
"Heat?" he asked.
And he may not hear it all this season. Shulman didn't completely rule it out, but the focus early in the season will be on fundamental one-on-one defense beginning with pressuring the ball handler, jumping to the pass and help-side guarding.
"The majority of time you don't count on freshmen playing because they're not going to fully understand the defense," Shulman said. "Now we have four freshmen who will be playing a ton of minutes."
"Fire" requires precision, and being an inch off in one direction can easily lead to an open 3-point look. When the ball goes into a post, that player's defender and usually a guard double-team the offensive player. The three remaining defenders jump into a zone and try to deny the easy pass out.
It's a solid defensive principle that Shulman borrowed from old Sonics teams. But it can be and has been taken advantage of by Southern Conference opponents loaded with 3-point shooters.
"You need five guys being absolutely perfect every single time," Shulman said. "We spent hour after hour working on that."
Opponents have made at least 296 3-pointers against UTC in each season of Shulman's seven-year tenure. In addition, opponents have shot at least 34.2 percent from the 3-point line every season except last year, when the rate was 32.4 percent.
"Our 3-point defense should be better and our post defense should be worse," Shulman said. "Fire keeps you out of foul trouble. We do have some other things so guys won't be able to tee off on us inside."
Post players will now try to deny entry passes into the paint and then play straight-up without help from a teammate when opponents do get the ball inside.
"We have guys with good feet," Shulman said. "If the ball doesn't go in there, then you don't have to play post 'D.' There are a lot of different things that go into it."
There is more pressure on post players including Drazen Zlovaric, Jared Bryant, Zaccheus Mason and Lance Stokes.
"I like playing post defense a lot, and it's something that I take pride in," Mason said. "I can use my strength to my advantage and its something I work on a lot.
"I'm sure if we need 'Fire' he'll put it in."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...