Winning with Undersized Teams: Characteristics and Misperceptions

Butler head coach Brad Stevens has created a name for himself by maximizing the abilities of his players. Although not always equipped with multiple seven-footers or a handful of First-Team All-Americans, Stevens has proven year after year that basketball teams don’t necessarily need the tallest and most athletic players to win.

In this week’s team development feature, learn about some common characteristics and misperceptions when it comes to winning with an undersized basketball team. Coach Stevens clearly details his winning philosophy and gives fellow coaches a blueprint for success even if they don’t have a roster filled with the tallest players in the league.

Common Characteristics of Undersized Teams that Win

Coach Stevens has learned over time that his best teams — regardless of size — share certain characteristics. Most importantly, all players need to be ALL IN. For instance, those players would run through a wall for the good of Butler University. It’s not about them. Rather, these players would sacrifice for the team in game situations and make the team better as a whole.

For the majority of Stevens’ teams, if they were undersized, they were undersized at the 2, and either the 4 or 5 positions. Often, Butler would run out there with two point guards, two 3’s and a 5. And although they were undersized, they had tough-minded guys in those spots. These players took it as a challenge and carried that mindset.

These teams also had the ability to playmake from a number of spots. Although playing untraditional basketball, the team’s 4 players could put it on the floor and make plays for other people. That’s very important to be able to do. These are the kind of players that Stevens looks for in that spot – and it’s made his teams better over time.

Also, it’s about defensive versatility and your turnover margin. Before 2009, most of Butler’s teams were in the national top 10 for turnovers in Stevens’ eight years at the helm. However, most of the NCAA teams they played against out-rebounded them. Therefore, when undersized, it’s mostly about trying to be even when it comes to rebounding, but also turning it over less than your opponent, and getting good shots.

There were times when from a physical stature that Butler couldn’t beat people to the ball or get to the rim faster. Plus, as the team got into the tourney and played squads like Florida, those teams would likely win the physical battle most of the time. Therefore, undersized teams must figure out a way to counter that so they have a chance to beat them.


Misperceptions of Undersized Teams

First, a common misperception is that undersized teams don’t recruit for size. In actuality, teams like Butler would love to have that 7-foot pro. But the bottom line is that those guys aren’t in school (college) very long. Plus, everyone else is looking for those guys as well. However, when it comes to recruiting, it’s also about getting guys that will sacrifice inches and make up the difference in speed and skill. These are guys that move well and have an unbelievable skillset.

Another misperception is that undersized teams don’t utilize the post. But at Butler, the goal is to spread the floor and run ball screens. The team wants at least one player at the rim every time. That person could very well be our 1 posting, or even the 3. For instance about five years ago in the Sweet 16, Butler ran post actions for its 1 and 3 players.

Finally, a third misperception is that size dominates the league. However, big men now have to face a flurry of adjustments, like extremely quick guards, containment on ball screens, etc. In Stevens’ first seven years at Butler, there was only one player over 6-8 that made the First Team All-League squad.

Also, Butler didn’t make that jump from NIT team to Sweet 16 team until the squad fully understood that undersized did not mean undermanned. That starts with players and belief. With Butler’s guys, they could sell the fact that they had an advantage.


The previous clips can be found on Championship Productions’ DVD “Brad Stevens: Winning with Undersized Teams.” To check out more exclusive videos focusing on overall team strategy and concepts, click here.

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