NCAA Tournament here we come! After all we’ve been through, were right where we thought we would be…in the NCAA Tournament. A tournament that you can’t win unless you’re in. Are we happy with where we’re at? How can we not be? With a lot of very good teams left out of the tournament, we are thrilled to be playing in our 6th straight NCAA Tournament with the chance to shock the world as we survive and advance.
Our first test is the 8th seeded Michigan Wolverine’s and that test is no home ec 101 course. Coach Belien’s system is as complex as geometry. Their great spacing, hard cuts and numerous reads by their great shooting guards and small forwards make their offense difficult to cover for even their conference opponents who are familiar with their style. We on the other hand, will have had four days to learn their system and prepare our players. It is definitely the biggest challenge I have had while being in the NCAA tournament. To say we weren’t absolutely thrilled to have a Friday game and get that extra day to be prepared would be an understatement.
There are numerous things that we have stressed over the last few days but none as important or as simple then staying in stance. If we relax for even a second, we will be lost and they could embarrass us. So, here’s what I like to say; Stay in stance or get in your warm up pants…aka, if you get out of stance, your coming out of the game. As complicated as their offensive system is our main goal as a staff was to simplify what they do and communicate it to our players. Imagine guarding a Dane Bradshaw (good size, great play maker, non shooter) at the point, a Chris Lofton (great catch and shoot guy) at the 2, a JaJuan Smith (deadly shooter and very good slasher) at the 3, a junior year Ryan Childress (great shooter and very tough) at the 4 and a Brian Williams (screen and roller, opportunistic scorer and good rebounder) at the 5. Ummm ya, that group would not be fun to cover. There is no way to go over every action that they run but once the game gets going we must trust and all the work on our main defensive principles must pay off.
I strongly believe no matter how complex they may be we can not get paralyzed by over analyzing their stuff and clouding our players minds. Basketball is a game of instinct. If our players begin to think too much, we will then be put at a disadvantage. Sure we’ll do a couple different things but we most of all we must go to our strengths. I think sometimes once the NCAA tournament gets going some teams steer away from what got them there as they try to adjust to a particular opponent. We can’t do thatWe need to do what we do, be the aggressor and make Michigan adjust to us. How will they score against our length? How will their four-guard line up and undersized post defend Tobias, Jerrone, Brian, Kenny and John? That’s what makes games so exciting (and coaching so stressful). Hopefully, we are the one’s playing chess while their playing checkers so we can continue to build on our six year winning tradition.