What I Learned From the NCAA Tournament

What I learned from the NCAA basketball tournament

 NCAA Basketball Tournament: 3 Lessons Learned

The Madness has ended this past weekend with Duke as your champions and it’s time to start thinking about the off season and how you can improve as a player for next season.  If you are anything like me, over the last month or two you have probably watched countless hours of college basketball.  Due to the parity in college basketball nowadays, the conference and NCAA Tournaments have served up so really entertaining games.  Beyond the sheer entertainment value that March Madness provides, these games can be viewed and used as a learning experience for coaches and players alike.  As a long time trainer and coach, I am always looking to learn and build my basketball IQ so that I can then take that knowledge and relay it to my Elite Basketball Training family.

This year’s NCAA tournament provided countless lessons for me as a trainer but most importantly I would like to explore how cutting and passing are skills that need to be trained, players need to learn a move and it’s counter moves, and jump shooting needs to become a priority for young players.

Lesson #1: Cutting and Passing Matter and Need To be Trained

When I coached at the high school level, skill development was a huge focus for our teams. During our practices, we would work on all of our skills within the context of what we were trying to do offensively.  So for us, we did a ton of work our passing, dribbling, and shooting in the full court since our primary option was to break as often as possible.  We also focused on these skills in a half court setting out of our dribble drive and spread pick and roll so that we knew how to read the defense and pass, cut, attack, and finish based on what the defense was showing.  Ultimately, this helped my players learn skills and understand the game on a higher level.

This type of skill development is still a priority for us at Elite Basketball Training and watching the NCAA tournament it was very gratifying to see players scoring out of the same cuts, screens, and reads that we are consistently working on in our training sessions.  For example, in the Notre Dame, Kentucky game Zach Auguste scored on countless back door cuts that we had spent that Saturday morning working on the timing of the cut, the cut itself, and the correct pass to throw in order to catch the player in stride.  We have also been working on reads and possible shots coming from narrow and wide pin downs.  These reads include but are not limited to a tight curl when the defense is trailing you or faking the curl and popping out when the defense goes under the screen, both of which are straight out of the offense that UVA runs.  Obviously, there are many more examples just like this but the real takeaway is that training in this format is extremely important because it allows players to develop their skills in the confines of the action that is run in their offense based on how they read the defense.

Lesson #2: Have Moves and Countermoves

When reading the defense, it is also important to have a move and a counter move based on how the defense closes out.  I see a lot of basketball training videos online where players are making three or four moves in one spot on the court and then taking a shot.  Honestly I cannot figure out how this is relevant to the game.  Having watched pretty much every hour of basketball throughout the NCAA tournament, I cannot remember ever seeing a player come down the court make four stationary dribble moves and the pull up for a jumper.  I do, however remember watching players like Sam Dekkar from Wisconsin come off a screen and hit a jumper when the defender was off him and then a few plays later come off the same screen and hit a step back jumper when the defender was playing him tighter.  Another great example of a player having a move and a counter move is National Player of the Year, Frank Kaminski.  Kaminski would often times make his patented spin move for a finish on one play and then use the spin move as a set up for the up and under counter move.  Having moves and counter moves for different defensive reads is a fundamental skill but one that is crucial to your success at a player no matter what level you are playing at.

Lesson #3: Jump Shooting is Critical

Another vital skill that many players seem to be deficient in these days is jump shooting.  I cannot tell you how many social media posts I have seen throughout the tournament about how poor the jump shooting has become in the men’s game.  Even 10 time national champion, Geno Auriemma, chimed in on how bad the offense has become calling the men’s game, “a joke.”  Personally, I cannot disagree with the posts on social media or Coach Auriemma as the jump shooting was really an abomination throughout the tournament.  Let’s be serious, for as good as Kentucky was, they still only shot about 30% from behind the three point line and Michigan St. was around the same or worse.  I don’t want to hear how defense wins championships.  If that was the case, then Kentucky or UVA would have won the championship this year.  It’s the team with the most points at the end of the game that wins and that requires offensive efficiency and the ability to shoot the basketball.  This is why Notre Dame, who was not nearly as a tall or athletic as Kentucky was able to stay in the game with them.  It is also why Wisconsin was able to beat Kentucky.  Both Notre Dame and Wisconsin had multiple players that could shoot the ball.  Furthermore, it was the jump shooting  and free throw shooting down the stretch from Duke’s Tyus Jones that sealed the deal for the Blue Devils and helped them win a national championship despite the fact that Coach K benched the potential number one player in the NBA draft, Jahlil Okafor, the last three minutes of the game.  Why?  He’s not a good free throw shooter.  Ultimately, if you want to have great success on the basketball court, you must posses a jump shot.  The throw it up and go get it offense only works to a degree, but in the end, it’s the teams that can shoot who win.

The college basketball season has come to an end but your off-season training has only just begun.  The tournament provided us with some great games to watch and also some valuable lessons to learn and incorporate into our training.  Basketball is a game of timing, cutting and reading the defense.  Incorporate this into your training regimen and then work to develop a move and a counter move based on your defensive reads.  It is also important to develop your jump shot.  Players who can really shoot the ball are few and far between but as you can see by the NCAA tournament the players and the teams that can shoot seem to have the most success.  Now is the time to put in work and become the player you have always dreamed you could be.  Use these lessons from the NCAA tournament to your advantage and elevate your game.


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