Yesterday I spent time reflecting on situational basketball with Beverly High School’s girls basketball coach Seth Stantial (check out our conversation on building a high school basketball program too.) Here are some of my takeaways.
Close & Late Situations
I brought this up because our team played what I considered four games that were in the balance with two minutes to play out of twenty-two. We ended up with two wins and two losses. To me it begged the question how much time should be spent teaching these situations? If eighteen games were being won in the first thirty minutes, should most of the practice be spent there? And how do we go about simulating the pressure of these moments?
Coach Stantial broke the season into three parts for situational basketball. At the beginning of the season he only focused on out of bounds plays. In other words, plays that could be run with three seconds left or five seconds left to give the team a chance. By January, he gave his team one or two trial runs to just play and see how they would handle the situation. After that he would get into more detail and stop his team at every little thing that needed correcting. By February, he went back to letting them play in these situations. The one thing he emphasized to me right away was incentivizing any close and late scrimmage with a penalty. Usually I do not like the idea of conditioning as a penalty, but I think this is the only exception I would make.
Last Shot at End of Quarters
We were down eight and holding for last shot at the end of the second quarter in our first game of the season. With about six seconds to go, we had the football version of a pick six happen. If we were just simply playing out the possession like any other possession, I don’t think that this would have happened, but because we weren’t in attack mode it did. The deficit at half was now ten instead of six. It begged the question, is holding for last shot really the best decision for players at our level?
Coach Stantial said that it is for this reason that he advocates for last shot, but never gets mad at his team for taking a shot too early. After the experience I described above, I think I need to emphasize with the team that an open shot is still a good shot – even when taking the last shot is an option. That being said I think the one exception where I just couldn’t live with a shot ten seconds too soon is the fourth quarter of a tie game.
In our game against Coach Stantial this year, we both had key players get two fouls in the first half and ended up sitting those players until the start of the second half. I asked where he draws the line on two and four fouls in a game.
Regarding two fouls, his mindset is usually to let them continue to play. He argued that the opposing coach is going to take his team out of their offense to try to draw the third foul instead of attacking the way that they were accustomed to. There also seems to be a decreased likelihood that this player will pick up foul number three. On the flip side, this situation has also given him an excuse to work a player into the game that otherwise might not make it on the court as much.
Regarding four fouls, the idea of bringing them back with about four minutes to play was the first thing that he said. When I pressed him about time and score situations he of course allowed for exceptions. He said that a ten point deficit at any point in the fourth quarter is justification for just rolling the dice.
Regrets One Week After the Season Ended
Defensively, the style of play that their team always played was to give severe basket-line help on the weak-side. It was very effective for them throughout the season, but in tournament play against a team with several excellent shooters it came back to bite them. Coach Stantial said he talked to his team about the shooting ability of their opponent, but he wishes he had used different terminology in how he taught them to close out. He did not think his players closed out tough enough on the shooters and upon hearing a Celtics game in which the announcer used the phrase “get into their air space,” a light went off. He had wanted his four perimeter players to guard their yard and the team’s best shot blocker to protect the rim on anything that got through the perimeter, but the team got away from that.
I can certainly relate to having defensive regrets after the season. I think our team missed opportunities to get turnovers by not making life harder on teams to get the initial pass in their offense. We could generate great on the ball pressure, but because our help sagged so far off the ball we missed easy opportunities for steals and transition.