My interactions with college basketball coaches have led to certain conclusions, including that they live in the film room, analyze opponents until they can analyze no more and remember seemingly every shot, bounce and X's and O's moment. Therefore, I asked two such strategists who respectively this season faced top seed Indiana and No. 2 Miami for their insider thoughts on the DC regional favorites. Mount St. Mary's Jamion Christian led the Mountaineers against Indiana back in December while Virginia Tech's James Johnson and the Hokies faced fellow ACC program Miami twice this season.
Indiana (29-6) faces No. 4 Syracuse (28-9) in tonight's second game at the Verizon Center after Miami (29-6) and No. 3 Marquette (25-8) tip at 7:15 p.m.
[Click here for in-depth previews on all four teams]
* Christian on ego-less Indiana, rim-running 7-foot center Cody Zeller and how the Hoosiers matchup against Syracuse's heralded matchup zone defense...
Sharing is caring: "That's the biggest strength, they play so unselfishly. From game to game they have a different guy that steps up for them. They do a great job of sharing the spotlight with no ego and because of that, they've really been able to overcome difficult situations this year."
Double thinking double-teaming Cody Zeller: "He's so big. Because he doesn't try to dominate the game, you don't when through the course of a game he's going to take over...Because Cody Zeller really passes the ball so well, because they do such a good job of cutting off the post feed you really don't know what to defense. At some point in the game where he just takes it over, scores 6-8 points, gets to the free throw line - and you really can't game plan against it because of how he does. The other thing is he's the best rim-runner in the game, so you really have to account for him in transition. It's really hard to account for him which you have to do on both ends."
Defensive scheming: "Tom Crean, what he does - I don't think they're great individual defenders, but they have great individual athleticism and speed. What he does a great job of is he'll keep you off balance. He'll play some man-to-man, he'll play some zone and he'll stick with whatever is working for that game. He's unbelievable in the way he leads them because he coaches the game with no ego. He's not afraid to double a ball screen if he thinks it's going to give them an advantage. Defensively that's the biggest thing they do, they're so versatile."
Facing Syracuse and, you know: "Obviously you have to account for the Orange's zone. It really bottles up a lot of teams, make you play from the outside...Louisville really attacked it well in the Big East championship game in the second half...I think the hardest thing for Syracuse will be when they miss a shot, Indiana is coming back in transition, fast. Syracuse's bigs are really going to have to get back. My bet is Indiana is going to try and beat them down the floor before they get setup...Against the zone, Zeller is so good working in the high post...I think handle Indiana will handle it pretty well because they have great personnel for it. Also the guy nobody is talking about right now is Jordan Hulls. He is one of the best shooters ever at Indiana, on the high school or college level."
* Johnson on ACC regular season and tournament champion Miami, its starry floor leader and whether a recent frontcourt injury is problematic for Coach Jim Larranaga's hopes of a second Final Four run.
Style: "They win the way they need to win. They need to go up-tempo, they will. They need to slow it down - they won some games in our league scoring in the 40's, 50's. They have the stuff to score in the 70's, 80's. They can win either way. That's the beauty, that's the strength of their team. They don't have to play a particular way. In a tournament setting, a different venue, facing a team you've scouted but you haven't seen a lot of them, you've to play different ways."
The point guard: "Obviously, [Shane] Larkin is the head, making the whole thing move, but they've got some other pieces. Their ball screen action is really, but Larkin can get into the lane, he can create, he can shoot the three. He's a matchup problem, they way they use him - Coach L does a great job using him in ball screen situations."
The supporting cast: "They have other pieces. Durand Scott can take the pressure off of Larkin sometimes and have the ball in his hands and make plays. Kenny Kadji, pick-n-pop guy, eh can do from outside with his 3 or he can go down low and post-up...Coming off the bench, guys that can make shots off the penetration from Larkin and Scott, off the help down if you help on [Julian Gamble] or Kadji. Even though Larkin is the key they have a lot of different weapons."
Attacking the eye of the Hurricanes defense: "It's hard, it's hard. It starts with the defense in the backcourt with Larkin and Scott, two of the better defenders in the conference. Their size and physicality up front, it's hard to pinpoint where you can attack. I don't think there is a real weakness that they have. I think you just have to play to what your strengths are and hope that you're on that particular night."
Not having wide-bodied big man Reggie Johnson means...?:" I don't know if it does much. They were 7-2 I think without him earlier. They're playing some really good basketball right now. He's had games where he was in and was a factor, but he was much help scoring-wise. I don't know if [his absence] is much of a factor for them right now at this point of the season."