Among the hidden nuances of the NCAA Tournament, say coaches taking part in the South Regional, is the de-emphasis on team depth in the postseason because of additional breaks provided by network TV timeouts.
Dayton coach Archie Miller streamlined what had been an 11-player rotation during the regular season to help the Flyers reach Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup against Stanford. Nine different Flyers played double-digit minutes in the team’s 82-72 upset of the Cardinal, although Miller indicated the rotation may not be as deep in the team’s next game.
“Our rotation now is, ‘Figure out who’s playing the best and then keep him in there,’ ” Miller said. “I’m not sure depth’s really an issue on this stage.”
The other three coaches playing Thursday in Memphis concurred, with UCLA coach Steve Alford saying he’s had to tweak his coaching style in NCAA play. At times, he’s been lost for words.
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“I’ve struggled to find things to say in the huddle,” Alford said. “During some of the timeouts, I’ve actually looked at them and we try to joke around with them to maybe cut some into that time because they are long timeouts.”
The Bruins have adopted an eight-player postseason rotation. Providence, which fell to North Carolina in last week’s San Antonio regional, had only six players log official playing time during a 79-77 victory by the Tar Heels.
Understandably, the coaches in Thursday’s Florida-UCLA game never will agree that the right team won in Memphis. But Florida coach Billy Donovan and Alford experienced something unique in that game: an opportunity to coach a son in a Sweet 16 game.
Alford, the Bruins’ first-year coach, has two sons on his roster: Bryce, a freshman guard who has averaged 8.1 points per game as part of the team’s eight-man rotation, and Kory, a sophomore walk-on who had played a combined 17 minutes this season heading into Thursday.
Donovan’s son, also named Billy, is a walk-on guard who transferred from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. The younger Donovan had logged a combined 44 minutes this season.
“It’s just one of those special blessings that happens in your career,” Alford said. “I was a coach’s kid. I played for my dad [in high school]. You have fun with it. Kory has been great for Bryce getting him adjusted to what college basketball and college life is all about. But when you watch tape and you plan practices, it’s a lot of fun knowing that there’s a piece of your family that gets to enjoy that as well.”
The elder Donovan said: “It’s been great for me as a father … to have him in the locker room and on the court. It’s been very, very rewarding. I’m very thankful that I can share these times with him.”
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, who led his team to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008, acknowledged he has had to tweak his coaching approach over his six seasons at the school to get the Cardinal back to national prominence. Stanford’s season ended with Thursday’s 82-72 loss to Dayton, but not until the Cardinal knocked off Kansas and New Mexico in the first weekend of the tournament.
“I was coming in with some preconceived notions of how we’re going to pressure everyone on defense and play a certain system offensively,” Dawkins said. “I found that not to be the right system for this group. So I had to learn to make adjustments. I had to grow as a coach. My growth was being able to listen and look at new things and say, ‘OK, how do you devise a system that’s going to maximize who these guys are?’ And we started making those adjustments.”