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Taking a Closer Look: Dan Hurley's Playbook

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Tuesday night Dan Hurley's UConn Huskies faced UNC at Madison Square Garden in the third Top 30 matchup of the Huskies' young season. UConn scored 87 points on way to a hard-fought win over the #9 ranked Tar Heels. The Huskies' offense now ranks #12 in the country, averaging 85.9 points per game.


It's a pretty interesting development regarding Dan Hurley, who was hired at UConn five years ago as a defense-first coach. In 2019, Hurley's first year, the Huskies ranked 85th in offense in the country according to KenPom. That number, however, has improved every year under Hurley's stewardship, culminating last year with a National Championship and a 3rd ranked offense. Let's take a closer look at some tape from the UNC game and breakdown some of the sets that make up Dan Hurley's playbook.


Warning: There are a lot of missed shots in this article. The goal is to show some of the recurring set-plays in the playbook, not just the plays that scored on Tuesday night. I've found an extra example of each play for comparison.


We're starting early in the First Half and Dan Hurley goes to a twist on a very common play. UConn runs a lot of 'Pistol Action' to start sets, this just means that the point guard comes up the floor and immediately passes to a player on the wing, often followed by a pass to the Center. In this play the Center then sets a ballscreen for the point guard while simultaneously the wing sets a backscreen for the Center. This three-man game creates a lot of different options to score.




About a minute later now and we see another Pistol Set from Hurley. This time the ball swings to the opposite side of the floor before a number of off-ball screens are made. Finally there's a fake screen before Spencer backcuts to the basket. This set is specifically designed to exploit defenses that are switching. When Spencer and Karaban come together, the defenders begin to switch. That leaves nobody to guard the backcut. The depth Hurley's playbook shows here is notable.




Again we have a Pistol Set with the ball then swinging to the opposite wing. This set is specifically designed for Alex Karaban to get an open look (or drive the ball) at the top of the key. Interesting that Karaban does not look at the basket when this play was called against UNC. Hurley has called this set at least once in each of the past four games.




This is one of Hurley's oldest and most common sets, a simple Box Set for a post-entry to his Center. Hurley ran this play for Adama Sanogo on repeat for years. Although less common now, Hurley did run it twice for Clingan against UNC. This is also UConn's most common Box Set by far. If the Huskies align in a Box Set, look at for this play.




This set was called right in the middle of UNC's push in the Second Half, and it's a set we've seen Hurley run to beat high ball pressure. Watch as the Texas players are all attempting to deny a pass, leaving them easily beaten on backcuts. For the Tarheels, a botched switch leaves two players guarding Solomon Ball and 0 players guarding Alex Karaban.




One more play I want to highlight, this horns look from Hurley that results in a perimeter look for the first screener. This is the same play that Hurley ran in UConn's last possession that resulted in a missed 3 by Spencer. This time against UNC, Spencer reads the defense and makes a perfect pass to Karaban. Elite court-vision.





The complexity and depth of Dan Hurley's playbook are immediately notable. Very few college basketball teams are running this many different, complicated, fully choreographed set-plays. For many college basketball offenses, the Pick n Roll is king. Not so for Hurley, who has designed 20+ looks that do not rely on the Pick n Roll at all. And it's worked.


Hurley's playbook excels in two areas: Getting looks for his best players and countering defenses. In Hurley's repertoire are plays for Karaban, Clingan, Spencer and Newton; but also plays to counter switching defenses, denying defenses, blitzing defenses. His X's and O's are as impressive as any coach in the country. Add his fire, leadership, and knack for turning young men into NBA players, the result: a National Championship.

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