This season saw the unveiling of Jay Wright's version of the "burn" offense. It is by-no-means a new creation in the sport of basketball, but in the shot-clock era, it has rarely been a signature of successful teams.
The burn became notable last season when Luke Harangody was sidelined for an extended period, and Notre Dame was seeking to adjust in a period without their top scoring threat or much depth to speak of. Mike Brey's solution was to slow the game down to a crawl -- his guards would run down the clock and only shoot once their were only a few seconds left to do so.
Villanova has, to some extent, followed that blueprint this season. Particularly during the absences of key players, such as Corey Stokes and most recently, in the second half of the South Florida game when Yarou was sidelined with injury and other players got deeper in foul trouble.
The burn offense requires extremely efficient shooting to work. In their upset of Pittsburgh in late January, the Irish made nearly half of their field goals from behind the arc. When Notre Dame was winning with the burn, it was because of the lights-out ability of players like Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis (they also use some very effective screens to help those shooters stay open).
When teams do not have a stable of snipers on the court, however, the burn offense only serves to make for less-efficient offense.
The South Florida game was a story of two halves: the first a more traditional attack, while the second was a clinic in the failings of the burn. Villanova spent the first half driving and penetrating, kicking the ball out to Stokes on the perimeter, and scoring in transition. The second half saw the end of any ball-movement as Villanova's guards dribbled at the top of the key until the shot clock ticked down to 10 seconds.
With ten seconds on the shot-clock, there is no time for artful ball-movement to find an open shooter. Rushed offense often results in contested shots and turnovers, and rarely results in points. Shot clock violations are a staple of the burn offense -- preferring to take a chance and hand the ball over to an opponent, rather than give them an extra 10-15 seconds to play with.
In fact, with so many missed-attempted in the burn set you take your chances on the boards. Shooting a lower percentage means you give your opponent a running start at your defense on every possession, rather than allowing your defense the luxury of getting set after a made basket.
Villanova has had very few successes running the burn. Seton Hall was a victory, but hardly a glowing success. Had it not been for an extraordinary shooting night from freshman James Bell, the burn surely would have failed in that game as well. In fact, even Notre Dame has had it's stumbles with the junk offense, losing to St. Johns, Marquette and Kentucky when the burn coincided with poor shooting performances.
The burn is no more a reasonable primary offense than the triangle-and-two is a reasonable primary defense. It's role for most teams should be similar to the victory formation in football -- a way to end a game painlessly in the waning seconds.
When used for more than a few minutes, the burn will only burn away your team's chances to win.