It’s the most wonderful time of a year again, and back with fans in the stands! March Madness is a great opportunity for basketball coaches to embrace being a student of the game – observing differing styles of play, potential trends, or concepts that may be worth confiscating. With Selection Sunday complete, here our the First Four things I will be interested in seeing play out during this year’s NCAA Tournament:

1. Is “Logo” Shooting Trending?

Clip is property of NCAA/ESPN obtained from YouTube

Alright, so this is a buzzer-beater which understandably results in a best case scenario heave. But still, the winning jump shot from the logo looks like a rhythm pull-up that has been practiced. With the value for 3PT shooting continuing to trend at every level, are we starting to see snipers test their range from longer distances? It was just the other week a video was circulating from what appears to be a scholastic level all-star game where both teams are matching shot-for-shot from halfcourt attempts.

It’s not just game-winners either, and if you have yet to see Caitlin Clark then this will be a great time to start. She has clearly been given the green light from the coaching staff, therefore any opponent is going to have to figure out how to defend it. From a coaching perspective, the observations are likely less about concerning ourselves with logo shooters in the immediate future, as oppose more to envisioning what the potential impact perimeter play likely will have on the trajectory of the game.

  • 5-Out Offense as Default
  • Hunting 3’s in Transition
  • Shot Clock = Ghost Ballscreen
  • Late Game = Hammer Options
  • Ballscreen Defense: Avoiding “Two on the Ball”
  • Coaching Closeouts: “Fly By Contest”
  • Scrambling for Stops

2. Coaches Becoming Household Names

There always seems to be a team that captivates the coaching community during March. Porter Moser with Loyola Chicago a few years ago comes to mind from the men’s side. Or, consider last year’s run by Adia Barnes with Arizona advancing past the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.

It is fun to see the teams that don’t often get a lot of national recognition put on a show. Or, longtime coaches that seem to finally have the pieces play deeper into the tournament. There is hardly anything new under the sun with basketball, but there is something about the timeliness of a crucial play call, or dominant defensive performance that carries the potentiall to trigger the next trend. Maybe it comes from one of these coaching staffs:

  1. Murray State’s – Matt McMahon (@CoachMcMahon)
  2. Purdue – Matt Painter (@CoachPainter)
  3. Ole Miss – Yolett McPhee-McCuin (@YolettMcCuin)
  4. Colorado State – Niko Medved (@coachNikoMedved)
  5. Nebraska – Amy Williams

3. Defensive Identity

I have never subscribed to defense wins championships because despite two teams showcasing relentless defensive efforts, one team eventually will make a big shot to win. Nonetheless, championship runs often reward efficient defensive teams and it is worthwhile to witness the chess moves made between matchups and within the game itself.

  • Early overloadThere was a great video on Draymond Green with the Warriors on basically playing rover on defense. Unlikely we will see a college athlete with the physical versatility and IQ comparable to Draymond during the NCAA Tournament, however coaching staffs may be forced to gamble a bit schematically to survive and advance. The early overload concept looks to shrink open space to limit long closeouts and potential dominoes offensively.
  • Less Help Off The Ball – Let the primary defender absorb all drives, and at worst let the weakside rim protector look to be the last line of defense. We talked about the game being about perimeter play and the influence of shooting beyond the arc; giving up a timely 3PT shot can have a significant impact on momentum. The interesting part to watch as a coach are the varying principles defensively. Are they packline, or sideline-baseline? What are the weakside defender responsibilities? From my vantage point, the team that limits overhelping and sustaining a “tough-two” mentality builds a recipe for a winning defense.
  • Physicality – Who breaks first: team or officials? Firm believer that the most physical defense sets a tone that officials identify as the expectations for the game. There has been a lot of conversation this season about the lack of fouls called in the post, and don’t get me started on the guessing game between a block/charge. During the regular season teams become accustomed to officiating styles and what is allowed, once in the tournament all bets are off.
  • Desperation & Full-Court Pressure – Speaking from a personal standpoint, one of the most helpless feelings is witnessing full-court pressure wreak havoc in end of game situations. March Madness inherently comes with pressure, then add late-game traps or after time out switching defenses to incite confusion. It is a great opportunity to see where fundamentals remain firm, or the adaptability of teams when things don’t go according to plan.

4. Studying Situationals

Conference tournaments are a great appetizer to the pressure possessions likely to unfold during the NCAA Tournament. Most of these situations coaches can prepare for during practices yet never see during the regular season. March Madness gives us so many games between competitively balanced teams that these scenarios are hard to avoid, and it can be a great time to play coach from the couch.

  • Tip-Off Play or Possession
  • 1st Play – Get Someone Going or Attack the Weak Link
  • Substitute & Number of Fouls
  • Two-for-one or Three-for-two
  • Foul-or-Don’t Foul
  • Pitchback the last-second shot
  • End game, send the house for an offensive rebound!

5. *Bonus* It’s All About The Buzzer Beater

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