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Klein: Five ingredients for an NCAA championship

Leigh Klein lays out the five keys to cutting down the nets.

1) How's your guard play?

Tournament success in the past 20 years is drilled down to having great guards that can create plays and make improbable shots. Need proof? Tourney heroes: Tyus Edney, Bryce Drew, Bobby Hurley or more modern Jacob Pullen and Scottie Reynolds.

This year's field is loaded with guards that can take over a game. Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Isaiah Thomas, Nolan Smith, Ashton Gibbs, Tu Holloway, Brandon Knight and Ben Hansborough. Guys that could put the whole team on their back by scoring 40 or making plays for teammates to go off and make shots.

2) Do you have three lethal scoring options?


As the tournament progresses, possessions become more valuable and better opponents take away what you do best. The best teams ride an arsenal of guys that can make key shots when the game is on the line to give themselves a chance to win six in a row and capture a national title.

Who fits that build this year?

Ohio State for one. With Jon Diebler on the perimeter -- a 50 percent 3-point shooter with ice water in his veins – a player like this forces defenders to guard 20-feet out. Couple that with Jared Sullinger, the most dominant inside presence this year in college basketball. The frosh is nearly impossible to guard 1-on-1, and you have an intriguing balance. Add in under-rated for their offense, guards Will Buford and David Lighty, and if that isn't enough you have evolving freshman Deshaun Thomas and instant offense off the bench in Aaron Craft. Coaches do not sleep the night before playing the Buckeyes, worried about all the ways they can beat you.

So I like Ohio State, but the worst matchup for the Buckeyes? Syracuse. The Syracuse zone neutralizes the slashing lanes and their length can extend the defense 20-feet out. Syracuse has the horses inside to match up with Sullinger (Rick Jackson, Fab Melo).

3) Can you deal with adversity?


The tournament puts you through both physical and mental adversity. Physically it is very difficult to expend everything you have Thursday night and turn around and do it again on Saturday. You battle through injury and fatigue. If that isn't enough, your body is dealing with crisis management as the adrenaline is off the charts running through your veins. Your heart rate quickens and you start moving at a frantic pace - out of control. Every athlete is fighting this and the great ones calmly step up in big moments. Then you have distractions, media scrutiny and every word you utter being analyzed – it can be tough mentally and emotionally and it takes a player out of sync a bit.

The chess match is going on for players and the coaches alike. The players have to make adjustments as good opponents (and great scouting) take away your bread and butter. Your players now must have the ability and confidence to go to your second and third best moves and all of the sudden a coach has to go to his third best option to hit key baskets. The game plan may not work at the very beginning of the game as a match-up advantage is being neutralized. How does the team react? How the game is officiated may influence how aggressive a defense can be? How do the players react? A key player fouls out and now opportunity knocks for someone who hasn't been in that position before. How will the bench player react? Each player and the collective team's resolve will be tested.

The teams that react quickly and effectively to the adversity move on. The others that get swallowed up by the pressure will end up going home.

4) Are your players versatile?

Your best shooter is going to have to pass up contested shot opportunities to set up a teammate for a better opportunity - can he identify the play to make and make the play?

You may need your guards to be your leading rebounders based on the matchup inside. Do they have the rebounding mindset?

You may be guarding big on small or small on big. Are your players prepared and able to?

Your third best option is now the go to guy. Can he make the plays?

Your player who excels on one part of the floor to hit the majority of his shots now must get to the gap of the zone away from where he's comfortable - can he find the open seam and score from there?

5) Does your team tolerate losing?

Five-Star's John Calipari described it best of his UMass Final Four team, "Refuse to Lose." Your players must be confident, tough and self-motivated. They must have the physical skill to make plays and mental toughness to find a way to be successful despite the most dire of circumstances. We just saw Kemba display this in the Big East tournament. Great teams find a way to win even when they don't play their best.


Leigh Klein is the owner of Five-Star Basketball Camps, which Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant all attended in high school. Klein
and has overseen the development of more than 100 players in this
year's NCAA tournament. Check Metro daily during March Madness for more
of his ramblings.

 
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