Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools

Okay, C and R, at the risk of being big April Fools, want to comment on Baylor’s 6’8” center Brittney Griner and to be even more foolish, give her coaching advice, because we have no national titles or conference titles or any pedigree in college coaching! So we’re completely qualified!

Everyone is talking about her strengths, which they should as she has many, but no one is talking about something subtler; how she is being coached.

Here are some observations we wanted to share. Really these are coaching observations, not criticisms against a young 19-year-old player who has gotten an inordinate amount of attention. Writing this basketball blog is fun for us, however sometimes we get caught up being too critical of young players. We need to remember they are student athletes and not professional players, trying to play up to the best of their ability. However, coaches are grown ups and get paid a salary to coach on a national stage to their best of their ability so we feel we can criticize more freely.

So C and R saw the elite eight Baylor/Duke game. Not a pretty game for either team. But it was our first full-game look at Brittney Griner, not just dunking or blocking clips, since we saw her in her first college game against Tennessee. We didn’t think she was ready for prime time then. But she has a whole season under her belt and we are sooo pinning our hopes on Baylor beating UConn in the Final Four.

So, Brittney Griner has a lot of strengths, as we mentioned. One is her shot blocking abilities. She already has the NCAA single season record for blocks (over 200 and counting), and the NCAA tournament record for blocks broken in 3 games (What is it- 32 and counting?), when the previous record took 6 games to accomplish. Harder to put in a statistical column is when she makes teams alter their shot selections, such as when a guard slashes inside, sees Brittney’s arms and keeps dribbling through the key back to the top. That’s huge!

Coaching Criticism Number One:
However, and here is the coaching criticism, and believe me, Baylor coach Kim Mulky is a big girl and can take it, they are misusing her. In the Duke game, Brittney came out of the paint to challenge a three point shot. She missed the block. Granted, she was quick and athletic and covered a lot of ground and did rattle the shooter. So much so that the Duke shooter missed. But where is 6’8” Brittney for the rebound? After lunging towards the three-point shooter, she is now on the three-point line and… stays there. She is out of position for any kind of rebound, and doesn’t even attempt to come back to the paint. This happened more than once. Coaching!

Instead, if C and R were the coach, we would say, “Brittney, you own the paint and don’t let anyone take a shot inside here. But you are not allowed to leave the key. If the other team does get a shot off, you are to get the rebound no matter where it goes.”

Which Brings Us to Coaching Criticism Number Two:
Many times we saw Brittney with her hands down for rebounds and not boxing out hard. Two BIG coaching fundamentals. C and R feel we are spoiled by Stanford, which preaches the fundamentals. We made it a point in the Stanford game immediately after the Baylor game to watch our bigs. They boxed out and stayed with the play every time. They might not have been the tallest player out there (Xavier had two players taller than ours), but Stanford put themselves in position to try to get every rebound and worked hard for it.

If Brittney is standing in the middle of the key, with her long arm span, she should be getting every rebound. A check on the NCAA site for statistics says Brittney has 291 rebounds for the season. Baylor’s 6’1 player, Morghan Medlock has 274. Hmmm. Stanford senior Jayne Appel, at 6’4, averaged 311 for her four-year career. You could say the stats are close, but the point is with better positioning and readiness, Brittney should be getting even more! She should be breaking the records for rebounds, too.

Again, have Brittney stay near the basket, maybe sacrifice a few blocks but make up for it by getting more rebounds.

Coaching Criticism Number Three:
Brittney disappears offensively for long stretches of the game. She did not attempt a shot in the first 10 minutes of the second half in the Duke game. Sometimes she did not even touch the ball in the 30-second play. That is inexcusable. Well, in Brittney’s defense, she cannot score if her teammates do not pass her the ball. And her teammates would drive in and shoot (and miss), not play a passing game. (Spoiled by Stanford, who pass, pass, pass for the open shot). That’s a coach’s decision on how she wants her team to be run. However, you have the best weapon in basketball that can give you a high percentage shot. Why let the lower percentage drives against double teams and off –balance shots happen?

During a timeout in the Duke game, the announcers showed a little graphic of Brittney with her hands up near her basket. Then they put a circle above her hands. Her wingspan is listed as 86”. Above her upraised hands is, oh, let’s say 8 feet. And Brittney can jump. They announcers said, throw it to this circle above her hands where no one can get it but Brittney and then have her turn and shoot. Then they showed the ONE play where Baylor did that. She made the basket. No one was close to getting the ball but her. In fact, the other team, with their up-stretched hands, come up to her elbows and hit her elbows but she did not get the foul call. This play is unstoppable, but they had only done it once in about 30 minutes of play! Only once!?

Here’s how a coach solves this problem of selfish team play and not passing to their unstoppable center:
Kim to point guards: Pass the ball to Brittney up high-do not drive in.
Point Guards: Yes m'am.
Kim to point guards: You drove in by yourself and missed; if you don't pass the ball to Brittney up high I will bench you and put in someone who will pass to our center. Do you understand me?
Point Guards: Yes m'am.

Result: Fifty passes to Brittney up high and nothing the other team can do but watch her score or foul her. However, if the coach is not asking her guards to do that, you can’t fault them for not passing. Chicken or the egg, we guess. However, Kim should have every play run through Brittney until the other team can figure out how to stop her. Then have someone who can knock down threes.

So, here is C and R’s patented plan for Baylor to beat UConn. Defensively, put one player on Maya Moore and keep Brittney in the paint to stop anything else. Heck, play man to man and even put two players on Maya Moore and let Brittney stay in the paint to stop the other players who think they are open. And have her box out hard with her arms up and then have her stick her arms out to get every single rebound. Do not give UConn offensive rebounds. Offensively, throw it to Brittney up high, have her catch, turn and shoot and get UConn center Tina Charles in foul trouble. Every single play until they stop it. And UConn is not deep at the center position. Get Tina Chares on the bench with two or three fouls. In the Florida State/UConn game Maya Moore got in foul trouble with two fouls and sat for most of the first half. The team goes flat without her in there. Sending Tina to the bench early would help. Sending Maya to the bench early would help Baylor out a lot more. Having both on the bench will win you the game. Let’s see, Maya Moore likes to drive into the key. Could Brittney be tempted to forgo the obvious block, set her feet, and take the charge on Maya Moore to get her in foul trouble? Now that would be coaching!

Anyway, we hope Baylor uses Brittney to their advantage and that she has an amazing game. C and R might be as selfish as the Baylor guards, but Baylor beating UConn, wouldn’t that be something? And something for Stanford?

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