Tournament Time Poses Different Challenges for Coaches

For basketball players, coaches and fans, March is the best time of the year.

From regular season championships being clinched to conference championships being won, there is really no better time for basketball fans.

It is truly March Madness.

For us coaches who have been fortunate enough to get our teams to the postseason, we know that it is a special time and depending upon how your team is built may have significant impact on your success in “one and done” elimination formats.

I was fortunate to take my program at Penn State Beaver to four straight USCAA National Championships where we competed against teams from all over the country, all of whom were scholarship programs while ours was not.

Our national tournament post season success was a process. We had mostly freshmen our first season and but went deeper every year and finally reached the national championship game and finished as National Runner’s Up  in the 2011-12 season.

One of the big reasons why we reached the championship game is that we started three seniors and a junior, and had two more seniors come off the bench. These players had been though a multitude of experiences and won 99 games in their four-year career. Needless to say we were talented.

However, in saying that, I believe that not only did individual and team improvement play a factor in our tournament success, but our success also was due  to the approach of our coaching staff.

One of the challenges that playing three or four games in consecutive days, is that it really for force coaches to manage time well.

In different surroundings, one thing I strived to do was make my players feel comfortable. I wanted to get into a routine as much as possible. This can be a challenge, especially because when it comes to tournament time nothing is really the same. Everything is heightened.

Therefore, to do so, I leaned on my past experiences, the relationships I had with our captains and my coaching staff to get through the tournament grind.

Regarding past experiences, we would take them from the current team but also former teams and programs. We would always get a shootaround in, but depending on the opponent and time of the game, it could be more or less shooting intensive. There were times that we even just went to the mall to walk the team around. It kept the ladies interested (we had some shoppers) but also kept them from being too stagnant in their hotel rooms.

In addition, I wanted to be honest with them regarding film. It was not the long haul of the season and we had done enough film to gain their trust throughout the season so we could “keep it real” in film sessions. Thorough, concise and accurate scouts during tournament time was our aim.

As the Head Coach it was my job to try to stay a step ahead of how the group was doing.

To gauge this, I always stayed in close contact with my captains. They had a beat on the energy level, excitement level, tired level, attentiveness level, etc. of the group and the coaching staff always took their opinions into strong consideration. Coaches that do not do this and have to go to shootaround, watch exactly one hour of film, or eat at exactly the same time are making a huge mistake. LISTEN TO YOUR TEAM. They are communicating with you all the time. Be willing and able to adjust.

Of course, my group earned my trust and because they worked hard in practices and performed on game day, we would allow them certain exceptions when the time and place called for it. It was certainly a give and take.

Even more important were my assistants who played a crucial part in our success. From making food runs, to watching film, making copies, scouting opponents while we got the players back to rest (or vice versa), Coach Moore and Papa Coach (my dad!) were instrumental in our success.

Lastly, we found success and stuck to it. Some may call it superstition (yes, we would only buy red Gatorade for some of our players or certain energy drinks), but if it works and the players are comfortable then you have a winning combination.

There is no need to out-think yourself or reinvent the wheel. Find something that works for you while relying on past experiences, strong relationships with captains, and the help of your coaching staff.

And good luck keeping the “Madness” out when you are trying to prepare for March.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Use BLOB’s Situations as a Weapon

Scoring in Baseline out-of-bound (BLOB) situations can make a huge difference in a game. Think about how many games are decided by just a few points, if you can score (or defend) 4-8 points a game from BLOB’s that can make all the difference.

I see far to many times where the team’s goal is to simply get the ball in-bounds instead of looking to put pressure on the opponents. I feel as though in BLOB situations, it is a great time to put pressure on the opponent because 1) you are very close to your offensive basket, and, 2) it is a unique basketball scenario. The proximity of the rim and the fact that most coaches do not spend tons of time in the BLOB defense, makes this an area of the game you can capitalize on.

That is why having a sound philosophy is key against BLOB’s both offensively and defensively.

What has worked for me in the past is working out of a “Box Set”.

As a Head Coach, I do this for three reasons:

1. Gets us organized efficiently–I always liked to have players in similar spots in the “box set” to get us organized. They tend to be able to run their stuff if they can remember quickly. You can also use hand signals and have players call the plays if you can get orgaized quickly.

2. Tough to scout–If the players are in the same spot in the same starting alignment, it makes it tough to scout on tape (especially in those gyms with bad or no sound when recording…trust me, I’ve seen it more than you care to know). Now this is not to say that you cannot get into a flex set, etc. after the ball has been inbounded, but whatever your alignment, if you keep it the same, if gives you the advantage.

3. Can set opponents up–Some opponents may see this on tape and decide to go zone against you BLOB’s. GREAT! That is when you have them and you can run your best zone BLOBs to really give them headaches.

Decide what works for your team and start with a few BLOB’s that you can expoit your opponents with (mismatches, perimeter shooting, interior scoring, etc.) then build from there. Depending upon the coaches in your conference, you may have to add more sets if you play a double round robin or if you have been coaching against the same coach forever.

To get you thinking, here is a “Box Set” that the Kansas Jayhawks ran during their National Championship run in 2008. This was against the North Carolina Tar Heels on April 5, 2008.

Here it is in diagram form:–5-Sprint&showEmbed=true

This obviously was for a 3pt shot opportunity, however there could be an isolation threat on the ball side of the floor too.

Kansas is great in BLOB situations so I encourage you to watch them as much as possible. They look to attack their opposition, just as you should!

Catch you on the rebound!

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Defending the Pick and Roll

Most coaches will see the pick and roll in some form or fashion, no matter if they are coaching a recreation team or a pro squad.

From a college coach’s perspective, I believe what is important when defending the pick and roll is that you have a game plan as to what you want to accomplish.

As a head coach, my philosophy was to have a particular way to defend the pick and roll and build off of it. We would play the pick and roll differently on side pick and rolls and also differently at the top of the key and at different times in the shot clock.

This was our “base defense” and our players knew what we were trying to accomplish on each and every ball screen.

In addition, some coaches may defend the ball screen based upon who is in the action (i.e. big on little, little on little, etc.) whereas other coaches define the ball screen by location on the court or origination point. That is all personal preference and what coaches feel comfortable coaching.

Nevertheless, I also think that as a head coach you have to prepare your players to defend things differently depending upon your opponent and their strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, in certain games, we were going to just do what we do. We felt as though we wanted to send a message and not deviate from our strengths.

In other games, we would mix it up based upon their personnel, especially if they were familiar with our base defense and we wanted to surprise them or just take some thing away from them that they did well (i.e. switch pick and pop teams).

Some coaches take this philosophy to the max, such as Bulter’s head coach, Brad Stevens.

Coach Stevens likes to change how they will defend the pick and roll every media timeout. Mixing it up every four minutes gives his opponents things to think about during the game. It philosophy also makes Butler’s opponents use precious time working against traps, hard hedges, soft hedges, switches, going over, going under, etc. in the practices leading up to the game.

I believe that you can get more complex with your sqaud if you take the necessary time to work on the different defensive responsibilities in the pick and roll. It is not something that is easy and, again, takes time and patience.

What you will be able to present to your team is really how much you think your players can handle from a basketball IQ standpoint and what you are comfortable teaching.

Whichever X’s and O’s fit your coaching philosophy, hopefully you decide to discuss with your coaching staff which way best fits your personnel when defending the ball screen.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo