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Scouting the Final Four: Opposing Coaches Break Down the Championship Weekend


Coaches in the Final Four by now have completed the scouting process and are starting to implement the game plans they hope will lead to a national championship. If you’re wondering what the coaches are seeing, Athlon Sports hopes to offer some insight. We spoke to coaches who compiled scouting reports for teams that faced the Final Four teams either during the NCAA Tournament or during the season. In exchange for more candor, we quoted the coaches anonymously.

Florida | UConn | Wisconsin | Kentucky

On Florida

"They’re good defensively at every position. They can get you sped up with their press. They can make it difficult in the halfcourt. And they can throw a zone out there every now and then. They’re a team that can keep you off balance. They just don’t have a weak link. They don’t have rim protection like a (Willie) Cauley-Stein at Kentucky, but they’re a good position defense with multiple looks. If you get a beat on something, they’re going to switch to a couple of different presses and speed up the game or slow down the game depending how they want to do it.

"Scottie Wilbekin has become such a threat offensively to get his own shot. He’s hit some daggers at the end of halves and end of games. In this Tournament, it’s about shot-making. It’s not about plays. It’s not about the offense. Guys are making shots. He’s been making shots for them all season long down the stretch. He can get his own shot and he can do two things: He can get his own shot and get to the rim or he can get his own shot and make a 3. That’s pretty hard to guard. If you back off and try to get take away a drive he’ll hit you with a dagger 3, if you get too close, he’s going to drive right by you. And generally he’s making the right decisions. He’s athletic and strong enough where he can take a hit. That’s what makes him so dangerous. Michael Frazier II depends on offensive rebounding and a kick out, a Wilbekin drive and pitch. He’s more dependent. He’s a terrific shooter, but that’s how he gets his.

"Patric Young is an oak tree. He’s gotten so much better offensively. He can jump hook to both shoulders. He used to be a guy who could only score on penetration and dropoffs or an offensive rebound. Now he has some back to the basket game. You’ve got to decide: is he worth the double team? He gives them an inside threat. He can get you baskets inside, which he couldn’t do all the time last year. He’s always been strong and physical, but he was almost an afterthought last year.

"Prather is a 15-foot-and-in guy and a driver. He can make some close in jump shots. He has an active, live body. But we just backed off him and put a long guy on him. The only thing he was going to do was drive. He’s a terrific layup-maker and he's athletic. The way to play him is to force him into jump shooting. You’ve got to get him in transition. If you give him some space, you’ll be in better shape. I think that’s what happened late in the year. He’s a guardable guy.

"I don’t know if they have a weakness. They’re great on the bench. They have enough bodies. Maybe they don’t score enough, but I don’t know if that’s a weakness. They don’t beat themselves. All the teams that are there don’t beat themselves. They’re not spectacular. They’re just solid."

On UConn

"Shabazz Napier is a rare guy who has three parts to his game. A lot of kids can shoot the 3 and they can get it to the basket, but they don’t have a pull-up (jumper). Some kids have a pull-up but can’t get to the basket. He can do all three. He has unlimited range from 3. He has a great pull-up game when he can get by you and he can finish around the rim. Really, he has a fourth part because if he can get to the rim and get everyone to collapse on him, he can find the open guy. He’s a nightmare to guard. He doesn’t have to have a screen. He can get himself a shot. He’s a nightmare because unless you have quick bigs and can switch on him, he’s going to get some space off he ball screen.

"He’s a better outside shooter than Kemba Walker. If Napier took all open shots from 3, he’d be in the 40 percent-plus range (ed. note: he’s at 39.9 percent now). They’re similar in quickness, similar in leadership. I think he’s a better player than Kemba. He’s a more talented guy, but he’s not as disciplined as Kemba was in his senior year. Kemba didn’t take a lot of bad shots. At times, Shabazz’s downfall is that he’ll give into taking some guarded shots. He hasn’t done that in the Tournament as much, but during the year, he’d do that. You could bait him into take some bad shots. Kemba was a little more disciplined from that standpoint. As a pure talent, Shabazz is a little more talented.

"Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels are probably neck and neck (as the next-most dangerous after Napier). They have three legit guys who can score on you. None of them need a screen necessarily, they just need some space. Daniels can shoot it so well from 3, that allows him to be an effective driver. If you’re in help defense and you’re recovering to him, he has an advantage on you. And he’s tall. Guards have to crowd him or he’ll shoot it over top of you and make it. Even a guard who crowds him, he has enough quickness to make a play. Boatright is maybe quicker than Shabazz. He’s not as good a player, but he’s just as quick if not quicker than Shabazz. He’s not always the most disciplined, but when he and Shabazz are disciplined about their shot selection, boy, they’re hard to guard.

"Kevin Ollie made a switch midseason on defense. Early in the year, they were a steal the ball from you and get you spread out kind of defense. They’ve become a help-side oriented defense. They’re more of a pack-line defense than they were earlier in the year. They’ll shoot a passing lane to get the ball. Shabazz and Boatright are dangerous when you have the ball. You’d better pay attention or they’ll take it from you. But they’re much better on the pick and roll now. They were much more spread out before. They have enough big guys they can throw at you even if they aren’t great offensive players. The unsung guy is the German guy (Niels Giffey). He’s a sound, fundamental defender, and he’s going to make every open shot."

On Wisconsin

"They’re always incredibly well-coached and play terrific defense. This team does, too. They go eight deep with guys who can score. They push the ball and they have guys that run to the 3-point line to make shots in transition.

"What makes them so dangerous is that they’re tough to guard at all five positions. If you can help off anybody, it would be Traevon Jackson, but even then you’re taking a chance.

"They’re all good. They’re all smart. And they all know what they can and can’t do, and they don’t do anything outside of that. Ben Brust is a big-time shooter, but he can also put the ball on the floor and get to the paint. Same with Josh Gasser. Sam Dekker is probably the most dynamic in that he’s tall and athletic and can stretch you out. They were all individually scary matchups.

"Frank Kaminksy is the most different from what we faced all year. In our league there are centers who can shoot the ball very well, but if you stop them from shooting, they can’t create off the bounce. That was the most difficult thing about Kaminsky. He can look at a shot, and if you guard him he’s able to put the ball on the deck and take three or four dribbles and even to get to the rim. We everything we could to stop him from getting 3-pointers, but once you’re on him, you have to dig in and keep your body in front of him. For centers defending him, that’s not something they’re used to doing where he can shoot and then take three or four dribbles. A lot of times he’s turning drives into post moves or he’ll take a dribble or two and put his back to the basket and turn it into post moves. He’s very versatile, and it’s not just that he can pop and shoot. He can pop and drive. He can make plays from everywhere on the court.

"They have an understanding of who they are and they’re all fine with it. They put five really good players on the court who can do a lot of things well. They’re in that swing offense, which is a motion offense where they’re just making reads, and they’re good enough to know how to see the court and where to take advantage. They have the ability to take advantage of each opportunity when it arises."

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On Kentucky

"They’re a different team from early in the year for two reasons. They’ve grown up and they trust each other more. In the middle of the year, they could go 15 minutes and just look horrible, look like an AAU team. Individual play, lazy passes, poor decisions, lobs that made no sense, they didn’t guard. For 15 minutes or more, they’d look horrible. Now, that has evaporated. They don’t have those stretches where they lose because of a four- or five-minute stretch where they’re poor.

"I felt sometimes Kentucky had some of their guys had one eye on the bench. I think John Calipari has settled down and let them play through their mistakes a little bit, not all of them, but some of them. They can play through their mistakes without getting yanked or screamed at.

"Calipari has settled down. ... They can play through their mistakes without getting yanked or screamed at."

"The biggest thing is how unbelievable they are on the offensive backboards. The time we played them, they were getting 40 percent of their misses. Michigan struggled to keep them off the boards. Our No. 1 focus as a team was to box out and keep them off the boards. And then No. 2 for us was defending without fouling. I’ve never seen anybody draw more fouls by just bowling into people than Andrew Harrison. He’s got unbelievable ability. He just puts his head down and runs into you and gets to the line. It’s almost like he seeks the contact more than he tries to finish the play.

"For us, Julius Randle in the post was a major concern. We did a really good job against him. We tried to crowd him as much as he could. At the time, they weren’t a great 3-point shooting team. I’m guess they’re a little better in the NCAA Tournament. We weren’t really afraid to come off anybody other than James Young to crowd Julius Randle, so we tried to do that every time he caught it.

"Past that, they’re not a great transition team, but still pretty solid. We talked a lot to our guys about getting back in transition and just being physical. They’re young, but they have a lot of physical guys. At the time we played them, they weren’t doing a great job of getting back on defense. We tried to push the pace against them.

"We talked about Willie Cauley-Stein inside and how good a shot blocker he is. He had a pretty good game against us. They overcame his absence against Michigan. If he doesn’t play, that’s a loss for them defensively.

"Against us, they switched a lot of screens, a lot of ball screens. The thing with Kentucky and they way they play, you just pack the lane and make them beat you with 3s."