How to watch March Madness as a coach? On as many screens as possible.

There is no better time of the year than the NCAA Tournament. And congrats to all of those that have earned berths to their respective postseasons at all levels. It takes a lot of pieces working together at the right time to make a postseason push, and even if you aren’t there to participate, we can still respect and learn from those that are taking advantage of the opportunity. Outside of the sheer fact that bracket basketball is must-see television, it is educational for all of us as coaches. There is the fan perspective of getting lost in player performance or pulling for Cinderella stories, which as fans of the game we still embrace. Then there is the coaches lens. With so many games created in the most accessible format, entertainment and education can merge. From a coaches perspective here are some of the things I look for while watching the NCAA Tournament.

Coaching Staff Demeanor & Body Language

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Watch these coaches on the sidelines during some of the most intensified situations of their season, possibly career, and it won’t surprise you which teams tend to display the most poise during pressure. Volatile play can tend to be a reflection of emotional intelligence within a program.

Another aspect of the NCAA Tournament most likely to be caught on the ‘One Shining Moment’ montage following the Championship is the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the wins and losses. How about immediately ending your career as a player having to sit at the press conference to discuss – how it feels to lose. It is a testament of the character of the student-athletes and program values how those questions are handled. Consider Tony Bennett last year becoming the first #1 seed to ousted by a #16 seed. I implore you to watch the postgame interview following that devastating loss. Those are quotes you would pay to hear in a coaches clinic and it has nothing to do with X’s & O’s.

Coaches Porn – X’s & O’s

While I have your attention, schemes and sets are by far the most appealing thing to coaches during the NCAA Tournament. Before I go any further if you don’t follow @HalfCourtHoops, you are behind the curve.

*WARNING* Not every set above or during the 2019 NCAA Tournament will be effective for your team. *WARNING*

The sets are sexy because they are believed to be the most impressionable indication that coaches know what the hell they are doing. When if you watch Villanova or Cincinnati there aren’t a ton of clips that go viral related to their offensive action, yet they have had pretty successful programs in recent history.

When I watch offensive execution I enjoy watching the timing of the plays. The coordination between player movement and ball movement. This can be just as valuable as implementing an entry on paper having 4 counters that can’t be stopped. It takes synchronization from all parts in order to execute. The other thing that intrigues me as a coach is the terminology tossed around by certain analysts and coaches. It gives great insight into the language used at the highest level for referencing certain actions or ways that offenses are being defended. The guiltiest of pleasures come from the X’s and O’s.

Style of Play

The NCAA Tournament provides a glimpse into programs that rarely reach the national radar. Florida Gulf Coast affectionately becoming ‘Dunk City’ (2013), Pete Carrill’s Princeton clinic over UCLA (1996), or VCU introducing Havoc (2011) to the basketball world. While I enjoy watching as much basketball as possible, I don’t tend to be on the hunt for UT Arlington going against Lamar. During the NCAA Tournament these teams have an opportunity to take center stage. The underdogs have a tendency to scheme differently than the traditional blue bloods. Largely due to a talent gap coaches will look to cause disruption or disorientation through strategy. Regardless of the matchup, the differing coaching philosophies towards style of play is always something to watch. Questions to ask yourself:

  • What pace do they intend to play?
  • Are they disruptive defensively looking to force turnovers, or focusing on containment and contest?
  • Do they play with more finesse or physicality?
  • Are they playing a game based on scout or identity?
  • At Championship caliber competition, is there style of play effective in ‘win or go home’ situations?

Game Adjustments

Image by TravisChapmanArt

One of the first things I like to do as a coach during a game is run an action that attempts to reveal ballscreen defense and post-entry protection. Watching these games is a visual display of basketball chess, or hungry hippos if your team is on the struggling side of the scoreboard. This tends to be my favorite observations from the games. Take a look at Nevada’s Eric Musselman and staff how they utilize each timeout as checks and balances for their gameplan.

The challenge in these situations is no guaranteed tomorrows. Do you stick to with what has worked for the majority of the season, or do you make a change hoping to find lightning in a bottle? Situationally envision yourself in these moments. Play the analyst role, take a first-half prognosis and hypothesize what the gameplan will be moving forward into the second half. Will teams have to amplify the pressure to create a higher tempo? Or teams getting beat from offensive rebounds may have been coached to box out more, thus become more focused on staying constrained within the 3-point line. Does that start to limit their early offensive opportunities? All of that problem-solving type of training is a good way to better understanding the game. And for me, it is some of the best reality television.

Enjoy the Game

At the end of the day – embrace the game. This is likely the genesis for your passion for basketball in the first place, whether as a coach or a player. This time of year culminates the purest emotions from the competition. Sometimes we over-indulge on the coaching decisions or actions ran that we forget the human subtleties that play a role in results. We do this for a reason, and at its core, it is because we love what this game offers. Let ‘One Shining Moment’ take you into 2019 March Madness!

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