In the NCAA Tournament, where the room for error is constantly shrinking, making or not making a specific coaching move can often be the difference between winning and losing. The 2012 Final Four contains some of the premier head coaches in college basketball. Let us examine a crucial coaching change each has made thus far in the tournament that has helped propel his team to the Final Four.
Despite having college basketball's highest-rated efficiency defense per KenPom, Pitino and Louisville were blitzed for 41 points on 8-11 shooting in the first half of its Elite Eight game against Florida. The normally effective trapping zone press employed by the Cardinals was getting exposed in both transition and in the half-court. After just one second-half possession though, Pitino made the switch to straight man-to-man. In 48 possessions, Florida shot just 11-29, compared to 12-17 versus the zone, per ESPN Stats & Info. And, over the final 2:30 of the game, Billy Donovan's club missed six shots and committed one turnover.
Before the matchup with highly talented and flammable Baylor club in the Elite Eight, Calipari told reporters, "I don't like [playing slow]. I don't enjoy coaching that way, they don't enjoy playing that way." Often times in big games, fans criticize coaches of over-analyzing the game. Sometimes, that can translate to new substitution patterns, other times to playing style. Because Baylor is a poor defensive team in the half-court, one of its formulas for success all year was the transition game. But nobody is more dynamic in the open floor than the Wildcats. Instead of restraining his team with the concern that it would play into the hands of the Bears, Calipari unleashed them. Kentucky scored 17 fast-break points -- 15 of which came from Baylor turnovers -- and dominated almost from start to end.
After All-American Jared Sullinger and the Ohio State starters blew a 12-point halftime lead to Cincinnati following intermission, third-leading scorer William Buford (14.4 points) picked up his fourth foul with 9:16 remaining. Matta -- just as he did against Syracuse in the regional final when Sullinger picked up two early fouls -- took his star out of the game. In turn, he inserted freshman Shannon Scott, who is a complete non-factor offensively but a solid defender. With Buford relegated to the bench, the Buckeyes surprisingly went on 15-6 run and actually extended its lead. Such discipline by Matta could be crucial for Ohio St. against Kansas. The Jayhawks feature two fantastic big men in Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey; Sullinger getting in early foul trouble again is very possible.
Self -- who has won eight consecutive Big 12 championships with Kansas -- employed a very effective triangle-and-two defense against Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. The philosophy was simple: play straight man-to-man on Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock -- the team's best outside shooters -- while focusing the triangle on zoning gun-shy point guard Stilman White, along with keeping bigs Tyler Zeller and John Henson out of the paint. After an offensive clinic in the first half between both teams, Self's defense tightened up after the break, particularly down the stretch, when Carolina -- which was second in the nation with 82 points per game on the year -- scored a measly three points in the final 8:34. Moreover, Barnes and Bullock -- who shot 36 and 38 percent from three this season -- went a combined 1-of-10 from deep, while Zeller and Henson, both first team All-ACC selections, combined for just eight points in the second half.
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