Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wrong Again

I remember discussing the then-nascent Nexgen tour with founder Fresh and telling him he'd be lucky if they won three games. Clearly I was wrong. My prediction for the All-Star Ultimate tour was also three wins. Looks awfully wrong at this point.

One of the amazing things to me was how much the All-Stars looked like Nexgen. It was eerie. Like Nexgen, they didn't do anything fancy, they just went out and played ultimate and won because they individually won their matchup. 

It wasn't a terribly well played game on either side. The All-Stars looked like a new team and made new-team mistakes. Riot looked disinterested for most of the game, particularly on defense. It didn't really occur to them that they might lose until very, very late in the game. 


This is the second time I've seen Riot play a sagging, no-mark style defense. It wasn't exactly the same as what they did at the US Open, but similar enough in not putting any pressure on the thrower. I really don't like it. I'm not sure if it's the strategy or the tactics (the plan or the implementation) that isn't working, but it isn't challenging the thrower at all. The days where you could get a turn by making a team swing the disc ten times are over - the throwers are just too good.

I can't help but compare this to the brilliant sagging defense the Japanese play. There are two major tactical differences. First, they are covering multiple areas simultaneously by constantly moving, moving, moving. It may not seem like a two yard shuffle here and a jab step there make a difference, but they do. They create ever shifting force lines on the field and those lines and the motion associated with them control much more space than a static poach. (Which is what Riot was doing.) Secondly, the Japanese are connected to all the other players on the field - Riot is overly connected to the thrower. As specific examples, look at how often ASU got a ten yard gainer to the sideline with the opportunity to throw anything downfield. Look at how often the ten yards right in front of the disc was wide open for a comeback cut. That ten yard gainer can be trimmed down to no gain with some deft footwork. That comeback cut can be turned into a swing to the sideline by your connection to what is happening behind you.


Of all the early 90s strategies to make a comeback, dominator is the most surprising. Riot ran it as their endzone offense (the distinction from a standard endzone offense is the space to the front of the stack and the emphasis on getting the handlers running in space), but also as a developmental system in the early part of several possessions. Kelly Johnson was notable running in front of the disc.

The problems that lead to the demise of dominator as a high-level strategy where on display both yesterday and in the college championship game where Stanford used it as upwind offense in the second half. First problem is that it is incredibly physically demanding of the players who are running it. Second problem is that it routinely asks for demanding mid-range away throws. Coupled the physical demands means that dominator often ends on an execution error on an away throw. Johnson's turnover to lose the game was a classic example. And brings us to the final problem - the join between the dominator and the other cutters in very weak. A well run dominator should put you in power position but it is hard for the cutters to know when to engage because their primary directive is to make space for the dominator, leaving them constantly wondering when to stop clearing and start making space.

I'm excited to see the development of ASU over the next month. Right now, they are all raw talent and only a little bit of knit - what will they look like when they are a team?  They need an endzone offense, but I'm not sure there's much else they are missing. Like Nexgen, they may be able to do it on simplicity and talent.

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