"You think I've made some bad coaching decisions? Look at THOSE guys!"
As the designated (read: self-appointed) Nattering Nabob of Negativity on Anonymous Eagle, I've been the most vocal critic of Coach Buzz Williams' perceived shortcomings as a basketball tactician. I've harped on my issues with his defensive philosophy -- the incessant (and oft-times counterproductive) doubling on paint-touches, the silly 1-3-1 zone we tried last year, etc. -- with our inability to score out of a timeout, with the problems Marquette has sometimes experienced while breaking the press, and so on, et cetera.
After watching many of the twelve games played over the last four days, I find myself compelled to offer an apology, of sorts, to Coach Buzz. Because it turns out, when it comes to coaching flubs, he's not alone, nor is he the worst offender.
Let's review the action after the jump in something I like to call: Can ANYBODY Coach Anymore?
- His results in the Tournament have been much maligned, but for today's purposes I don't care about all that noise. What I'm concerned with is Bo Ryan's baffling game plan and failure to adapt on the fly against Butler last Thursday. Listen, I know there's something to be said for dancing with the girl that brung ya, and I know Wisconsin was a force to be reckoned with when they were hitting their jumpers this season, but at the same time: when Wisconsin was broke from the outside this year, they were broke broke (or, to complete my analogy: when that girl didn't want to dance, she sat pouting in the corner and waited for the music to stop). I can't remember a single time when they started cold and then regained their touch halfway through the game. So when the threes weren't falling against the Bulldogs, Bucky needed to work the post -- which is supposed to be one of the tenets of the Swing offense anyway, right? -- and, in particular, the Jon Leuer who tortured and toyed with Marquette's bigs last year needed to take over on the block. Instead: Wisconsin kept gunnin' and kept gunnin' and kept gunnin' and shot themselves right out of the Dance.
- From that same game: while Brad Stevens is the toast of the college basketball coaching world right now, and while he had a great game plan for dissecting Wisconsin's quietly-suspect defense, the last three minutes of Thursday's game were shockingly bad for a team as disciplined as Butler. As a last gasp, Wisconsin was forced to abandon its preferred man-to-man, half-court defense in favor of a full court trap. If the pictures were any indication, Wisconsin doesn't devote much time to that style of defense in practice, because this thing was, to put it kindly, a JV-level press: pressure the inbounder, faceguard in the backcourt, and then double as soon as the ball was inbounded. For whatever reason, Butler couldn't figure it out and did exactly the opposite of what you should try to do when breaking a press: dribbled into the corners, attempted cross-court passes, refused to work the middle of the floor. That kind of press should give a team problems one single time. Instead, it almost caused Butler to gag the game away. It was a level of ineptness that Marquette fans haven't seen since MU's token press comically hogtied South Florida two months ago.
- While we're on the topic of Hotttt Coaches: VCU's Shaka Smart earned his share of kudos (and secured himself a seven-figure salary) with the Rams' charge to the Final Four. And, to be sure, there's something to be said for keeping your team focused and loose for five straight games against (for the most part) high-quality competition. (For an example of someone who failed in that regard, please see Self, Bill, below.) That said: how much credit do you give to Coach Smart, and how much of this is dumb luck? Brewtown Andy ran the numbers for me, and they're pretty striking: according to KenPom, VCU ranked 112th in the nation in three-point shooting percentage this season. The Rams didn't make twelve three-point attempts in any regular season game this year. And yet, in the Dance, they've made twelve triples in three separate games. In terms of individual players: Jamie Skeen made twenty-five (25) three-pointers coming into the Tournament. In VCU's first four Tourney games, he made four total triples. Yesterday, against Kansas, he matched that total. Good team, good game plans, good defense, for sure. But a healthy amount of good fortune, too.
- And now let's turn to the two coaches who submitted the two biggest turds in the weekend's action: Florida's Billy Donovan and Kansas's Bill Self, co-stars in "Shooting Myself in the Foot, or: How I Learned to Love the Three and Stop Worrying About the Final Four." Donovan's Gators looked to be in good position to ride Vernon Macklin to Houston, as Butler had no answer for the former Hoya on Saturday: kid had 25 on 11-14 from the field, fouled out Butler's Andrew Smith in just 25 minutes of action, and generally did whatever he wanted to whenever he wanted to on the low block. Yet, with the game tied and with plenty of time on the clock for a final play, Florida decided on this course of action: have Erving Walker dribble for 25 seconds, set a screen five feet beyond the three-point arc, have Walker shoot an off-balance prayer from 37 feet. Welp. Overtime proved to be more of the same, as Florida AGAIN settled for 40-footers that went begging with the game hanging in the balance. And, yes, I, too, have heard that Coach Donovan was worried about Butler employing a Hack-a-Vern strategy if the Gators worked the ball down low. To that, I respond: if he's fouled, he gets TWO SHOTS. You needed ONE POINT. Do the math.
- Coach Self was also bewitched by the three-point she-devil in Sunday's loss to The Commonwealth: with the Morrii twins (who should TOTALLY be named Zack and Zach, if only so I could see "ZK. MORRIS" and "ZH. MORRIS" stitched on the backs of their jerseys, but that's a different story for a different time) going Lizzie and George in Rampage on VCU's overwhelmed and overmatched front line, Kansas eschewed the paint and let Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed brick their way into Bolivian. KU missed its last dozen (or so, I lost count) three-point attempts and totally negated its size advantage, falling meekly by ten.
There were other examples from the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games -- Derrick Williams didn't attempt a two-point shot in the last eight minutes of the UConn-Arizona game, and when the UNC-UK game ended, Roy Williams had used none of his second-half timeouts -- but some of those are quibbling, even for me.
So, this has all been a long way of saying: I'm sorry, Coach. Sort of. I guess.