While taking a look at the recent Heal point standings, I noticed there are still 12 undefeated high school girls and boys basketball team in the state with most squads halfway through their 18-game schedules.
With the tourney looming, teams will encounter the pluses and minuses of going undefeated entering the postseason as my teams did when I was coaching.
Entering Monday night’s games, the still perfect teams are: boys — Deering of Portland, Hampden Academy, George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, Valley of Bingham, Dirigo of Dixfield and Thornton Academy of Saco; and girls — Lawrence of Fairfield, Narraguagus of Harrington, Boothbay Region, Gorham, McAuley of Portland and York.
All of these teams have big targets on their backs, as opponents want to be the first to knock them off. Teams get up to face them and coaches use the extra motivation in getting their teams ready to play.
Going into a tournament undefeated also brings added pressure. If an undefeated team can withstand the pressure and win a state championship, the team doesn’t get the proper credit as many will say the team should have won because it was unbeaten entering the tourney.
Conversely, the unbeaten teams get extra criticism if they are upset, especially in the quarterfinal round as community members will often be overly negative as they expected a title from their team because it was unbeaten entering the tourney. This especially is true if they were picked the team to beat by preseason prognosticators because they had many returning, talented players.
From my experiences of coaching two unbeaten teams that went on to win state titles (both with 22-0 records) and another unbeaten team getting upset by a lower seed in an Eastern Maine final, the loss is very tough. The agony of defeat is very emotionally upsetting for the players and lingers with them for a long time, longer than the positive feeling of winning a state title. Again that pressure to win is tough on the coaches and especially the players, who don’t want to end their season and for some players, their high school careers, on a sour note.
An undefeated team losing in the tournament is usually a big upset because usually they are the highest seeded team. Many fans love to see big upsets and there are usually more people rooting for underdogs.
Many times the team that pulls off the big upset gets beaten in the next game in the tournament. I have seen this many times. One of my teams experienced this after going in eighth and knocking off an undefeated No.1 team in the quarterfinals only to lose in the semifinals to a less talented team than the team we upset.
Is it better to lose a game during the regular season to take off all of the pressure of going undefeated? Very few high school teams compile a 22-0 record in winning a state championship, so evidence suggests that one or two losses during the regular season won’t stop a team from going on to win a state title.
Another big factor to consider is whether the unbeaten teams have any real tough games during their regular season. If they haven’t, then it will be interesting to see how they react to the one-and-done situation of the tourney when the pressure is on them to win and not on the team trying to pull off the upset.
In the other three state titles my teams won, we were 17-1 and 15-3 twice going into the tournaments. I felt we were better prepared having lost those three games than when we were seeded No.1 at 17-1. There just wasn’t quite as much pressure on us even when we were No. 1 at 17-1 as we had tasted defeat and that motivated us to play to win. Many times undefeated teams play not to lose.
So the coaches of those 12 currently undefeated teams shouldn’t be too upset if their teams lose a game or two before the tourney. It could actually provide extra motivation for in their quest for a state title.
NOTE: When looking back on last week’s column on broadcasting tips, I should have mentioned one of the great former broadcasters Dewey Dewitt, who was the radio voice of Aroostook County basketball for many years. Dewey is now 93.