Final Four Eve Observations

I know I meant to be consistent again with my blog – more so than I ever have before, but there’s this strange thing called life. It gets in the way sometimes. OK – A LOT OF THE TIMES. Thus, I missed recapping my thoughts of most of the Sweet 16 and I believe all the Elite 8 action last weekend.

I went to downtown Indianapolis Friday to take in the Final Four festivities. I found out they offered FREE parking in the lot at Lucas Oil Stadium. I was meeting friends for breakfast a little bit farther into downtown, but still you can’t beat FREE PARKING especially for an event like Final Four Friday.

I walked from the stadium to LePeep to meet my friends for breakfast. Then I walked to the circle followed by a stop to pick something up from the Indy Eleven soccer team and then back to the stadium. Through all the walking today I tallied 7.92 miles. This also included walking around the stadium plus the FanFest at the Convention Center.

Anyway, I am pushing some time here because it’s late as I begin to type tonight/early this morning. My main reason for going downtown was to watch the Final Four teams practice. I wanted to see if I could get a good vibe of what to expect in Saturday’s National Semifinal games.

What I observed was four of the game’s best coaches going in completely different directions with their teams during the practices.

Michigan State and Wisconsin both began practice somewhat similar to each other. Both the Spartans and the Badgers did some stretches before shooting. Michigan State went right into a lay-up drill line while Wisconsin took turns with its players shooting on both ends of the court.

Michigan State really seemed to be the only one which took the time to work on various out of bounds sets. Coach Tom Izzo watched as his players appeared to look quite comfortable with the surroundings of Lucas Oil Stadium. They did some 11-man fastbreak and 3-on-2, 2-on-1 drills as well.

The Spartans finished their 50-minute workout with a dunkfest, which included several players either bouncing the ball off the floor or backboard dunking.

Wisconsin did some of the same types of drill action, but Coach Bo Ryan was the first of the day to have players switch color jerseys with half the team going red and the other half white. If there was a warning sign beginning to develop it was of Frank Kaminsky at the beginning of the practice. The United States Basketball Writer’s Association Player of the Year struggled to find his rhythm during the first 10 minutes of the practice. Once the senior forward did though the ball tickled the twine on several occasions for Kaminsky.

The two squads took turns with various shooting drills using the:35 shot clock. Whichever team lost had to do crunch before the next round took place. Finally toward the end of the practice Ryan instructed his players to shoot half court shots. I believe they got to 14 makes before the horn sounded to end the session.

You saw both the Badgers and Spartans joking around during their practice sessions. Sometimes to me that’s a good thing and then sometimes it can be bad because a team can go into its next game too loose.

As free-wheeling as Michigan State and Wisconsin were the complete opposite can be said about Duke and Kentucky. Both the Blue Devils and Wildcats took the floor and instantly began drills for the better part of the session.

Duke followed Michigan State and took the floor and immediately began a passing drill before moving on to the 3-on-2 drill. There were several other drills the Blue Devils used during the 50 minutes. It was a basic practice for Duke. It seemed the Blue Devils were already zeroing in on their game faces for tomorrow’s night tilt against Michigan State.

From afar it also appeared Coach K was having an interesting conversation with Boston Globe sportswriter, Bob Ryan. Whatever it was for a few minutes Coach K would signal a drill and then return to the discussion with the famous sports scribe.

While being interviewed by Jim Nantz, Coach K did applaud the city of Indianapolis for being the best host and place to have the Final Four as often as they do.

Then at 3 pm EDT Lucas Oil Stadium erupted into Rupp Arena North. Up to that point, the crowd resembled the weather outside Friday – cold, cloudy and of no interest to the rest of the world. Indiana product, Trey Lyles, did receive the biggest ovation from Big Blue Nation.

Kentucky as well sidestepped the lay-up line drill. I would have thought Izzo would be the one to do it, but it was Coach Cal who had the team managers use football blocking pads to try to disrupt the inside players as they worked against opponents in the low block. The other thing I found interesting about the Kentucky was before they began the next drill, Cal would have them meet up at the center circle. He would talk to them, as they had their arms around each other for a few seconds and then send them out to begin the next drill.

With about 15 minutes left in practice, Cal called his team and talked to them. Then the team broke the huddle and Cal led them into a “victory lap” around the court. The team waved its arms up in the air as they walked around the court and then were dismissed. It was a lot of the time Coach Bob Knight and the ’93 Hoosiers cut practice short and then spelled out “THANKS!” on the court of the Hoosier Dome.

The last few times the Final Four has been in Indianapolis, I would go and watch the practices and have a good sense of what might happen Saturday night. Unfortunately, I do not have a strong feeling toward or against any of the four. I hope for three great games which come down to the horn.

Unfortunately for Steve Smith I can't take his advice and Go Sparty tomorrow. I have no idea what to expect.

Unfortunately for Steve Smith I can’t take his advice and Go Sparty tomorrow. I have no idea what to expect.

Some other quick not so noteworthy observations

  • Austin Mahone performed two songs before the practices – I didn’t really get a good look at his outfit, but it appeared he was wearing a pair of original Air Jordans and (gasp) parachute pants.
  • Wisconsin had the best sounding pep band of the four bands on the day
  • Thought about this – why does the NCAA have Spaulding goals but Wilson balls? Spaulding makes basketballs too, right?
  • I just really think the “background causes poor field-goal percentages in these Final Four games” theory is over rated. Granted it was a practice situations today but the players were all hitting mid-range to 3-pointers with a lot of consistency.
  • This is the time when I really miss my previous life as a sportswriter, but that’s another blog post for another day.

Note Before Bed: Kam Woods played in the National Basketball Coaches Association All Star Game after the practices this afternoon. Woods had his typical game scoring two points and grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds. Unfortunately, it was in a losing effort as the West beat the East 107-89. Once again a Jim Crews coached team beats a team with a Butler connection.


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