With high school basketball prelims tipping off next week, it will be interesting to see what teams do the best preparation as both the underdogs and favorites will be trying to advance to tourneys in Bangor, Augusta and Portland.
There are several ways teams can win a tournament.
One is by scouting teams and watching video. Both are important in game planning.
Teams that control the tempo of the game usually have a better chance of winning. It’s very effective for an underdog team to make the favorites play at an underdog’s tempo especially if that higher-seeded team didn’t have to deal with it during the regular season.
Sometimes a good fast team can’t make a good slow team go fast, but sometimes a good slow team can make a good fast team go slow. The problem is if a team has not played slow during the season, they may not be good enough to make a fast team play slow.
Going slow does not mean stalling the ball, unless it is late in the game and the underdog team has a lead or if the favored team is behind and using a zone defense. Instead, it means running a continuity offense to get high percentage layups and controlling the ball for two-thirds (21 minutes) of the game. Doing this means the underdog team only has to play defense for one-third (11 minutes) of the game.
An underdog team can also pull off an upset by playing a defense the higher-seeded team doesn’t expect such as a junk defense like a box or diamond and one. Doing so may rattle a team.
Teams can also get rattled by sending a player snowbirding — breaking away to their basket — every time the opponents shoot. Five or six easy layups may result because opponents aren’t expecting it.
An upset can also be achieved by reducing fouls, which is important because tourney games have three officials and will be tightly called. Teams should commit less than seven fouls per half to keep the favored team off the foul line. Leads are built or lost on the line with the clock stopped.
Here’s a winning formula for teams to follow: shoot 70 percent from the foul line, commit no more than seven fouls per half and commit less than 12 turnovers. I saw this work when our John Bapst team won consecutive state championships in 1989 and 1990 by using this formula all season.
Conversely, teams can prevent upsets by controlling what they do. Don’t take quick shots or shots that aren’t determined by offensive sets. This will help reduce turnovers and control the tempo of the game.
A team that advances in the tourney will also often have to survive a poor shooting game, especially as teams seem to be relying on 3-pointers more, but remember the old saying is true: if you live by the three, you may die by the three.
Some final advice for postseason teams deals with the officials. Every time an official hands you the ball for a throw-in or bounces the ball to you for a foul shot, say thanks. Teams and coaches should also remember that well-played games are also well-officiated.