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Coaches break down the contenders

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To prepare you for Final Four weekend, we asked opposing coaches who played the Final Four teams during the regular season and the tournament to share their insights with We talked to two coaches about each of the teams.


On Connecticut

"UConn revolves around two things. One is the big fellow [Hasheem Thabeet]. Everything revolves around him. Another thing is when they're making shots from the perimeter, when guys like [A.J.] Price are making shots, and [Craig] Austrie and [Jeff] Adrien. When they do that, they become maybe the best team in the country. Even with losing [Jerome] Dyson, they could win the whole thing. If Thabeet raises his game up this weekend, they can be tough to beat. They have great strength and size. They get a lot of easy baskets."

"Defensively, Thabeet changes everything. He may not always get a piece of the shot, but he's there making guys adjust. They're so big and physical and gifted athletically. Thabeet changes the game defensively. He can be out on the 3-point line, but if you have a guy who drives, you're always wondering where he's at. It allows their guards to put more pressure on the perimeter because they always know he's their back line of defense. Jeff Adrien is a big, physical body in there. And then Stanley Robinson changes the game defensively because he can cover so many positions. He's always good in help-side defense. If Thabeet doesn't get it, Robinson is there to block shots. Their length poses a lot of problems on the defensive end. They are such a great rebounding team. Once they get the board, they're very good in transition."

"They're a tough team. They have a swagger about them. To me, it starts with A.J. Price. He's unshakable."

"[Price] has been tremendous. He's one of those rhythm guys offensively. Once he makes the first or second one, his eyes light up. He can make contested shots. He's pretty fearless too. He's the guy who gets them going because he plays with great, great energy."

"Adrien is a beast, a physical presence. He doesn't take plays off. He plays on both ends. He's a warrior. He's kind of the glue guy for that team. He's one of those guys where you know what you're getting every night. He'll get you 15 [points] and nine [rebounds] every night. He's in great shape and he'll play 35 minutes."

"What they have done is terrific; when a great player goes down like Dyson, another player steps up. They are a very talented team. They've obviously made that adjustment very well. I'd say it hurts them on the perimeter a little bit because he's another guy who scores. I don't think they are a tremendous perimeter shooting team, but they're capable. I'd say that's their weakness. But they focus on getting the ball inside and getting out in transition. When they miss, they have two of the best rebounders in Thabeet and Adrien."

"If you can get them into a quarter-court game, then they've got to shoot the ball from the perimeter. You've got make them play half court offensively, whatever you do."

"[Jim] Calhoun and his staff do a great job. They're immune to all that stuff [distractions]. They prepare them well. Kids are resilient, anyhow. They're not worried about all that stuff."

On Michigan State

"Our biggest key to the game was rebounding. They had [14] offensive rebounds per game in the Big Ten, where teams know their kids really well, and they're still getting [14] offensive rebounds a game. That's what's shocking to me. They beat us up on the boards. [Goran] Suton is so good at getting offensive rebounds. Rebounding is the biggest thing. If you can rebound with them, you have a chance to win the game. Secondly, our biggest thing was transition – transition defense and transition offense. As soon as one of those ‘bigs' gets the rebound, they throw it ahead to Kalin Lucas as far as they can, and he is terrific finding holes. He's terrific getting to the rim and foul line. In transition offense, if you can get rebounds, you can run on them because they crash so hard on the offensive glass. You can go out and get easy buckets."

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Goran Suton presents a matchup problem for most opponents.
(US Presswire / Jerry Lai)

"Suton is something of a throwback. He's a big guy who is very efficient. He plays within himself. He takes open shots when he's open. He crashes the glass extremely hard. He's a good post defender. He's a very good passer. He's one of those guys who can go down low and go outside. He's a matchup problem."

"It's shocking to me [Lucas] is so far under the radar in terms of best point guards in the country. This kid is right up there. In transition, he is a tough, tough son of a gun to defend. He doesn't take a ton of [3-pointers] and he doesn't make a ton of them, but he shoots a heck of a percentage. You kind of try to pick your poison with him. Once he starts making ‘3s,' you start to have a problem. I think he's a pro."

"Kalin Lucas is terrific. He can do it multiple ways. He can score, but he controls the whole game. Against Louisville, he controlled the whole tempo of the game. He makes good decisions with the basketball. He can get a shot anytime he wants it, and he's a good distributor."

"The kid, [Travis] Walton – he is their heart and soul. Of all the games we watched, he is the best leader I've seen all year. He does an unbelievable job of grabbing guys on the court, talking to them, getting in their face when he needs to. He knows his role. He's a defensive stopper. As a coach, you want that kid on your team."

"Another thing that's key to their success is their bench. Draymond Green kicked our butts and has been playing well in the tournament so far. He allows Suton to play on the perimeter."


On North Carolina

"They have the highest-scoring starting five in the country, and they play at a breakneck pace. They have so much scoring clout. Literally every time they come down the floor, every guy that touches the ball is a threat. There isn't a guy in the starting five that isn't a threat to score when he catches it in his scoring spot. If you add [Ed] Davis, that's six guys that score some way easily."

"No. 1, you have to slow down the point of attack with Ty Lawson and try to flatten him out. We don't want him going from rim to rim. We want him having to work more toward the sidelines. A lot of people just look at their transition when they're getting rebounds, but they are very good at snatching the ball out of the net and throwing it in quick, and Lawson already has two steps of full speed before he takes his first dribble. They put a lot of pressure on transition defenses."

"You have to hope they're having a bad shooting night from the perimeter. Their guys that are better shooters, you have to hope they have an off-night. You have to make sure you're not giving up high-percentage shots. You've got to be able to score because it's hard to get back off your misses. If someone can score and get back in a zone, you might be able to slow them down. They won't attack as aggressively as they would if they knew teams were running back in matchup man-to-man. They're just a little more deliberate in trying to figure out how they want to get shots, whereas against man, it's second nature for them.

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Ty Lawson's speed gives the high-scoring Tar Heels a big advantage.
(US Presswire / Bob Donnan)

"Lawson's speed is his No. 1 thing. He's the second-fastest player I've seen as a college coach, Allen Iverson being the first. He's as fast dribbling the basketball as most people are running without the basketball. That makes him such a threat because he's got you back on your heels as soon as he catches the ball in the backcourt. That's what makes their offense much better – he's able to get that push more consistently."

"Tyler Hansbrough has improved his perimeter jump shot, but not to the point where that's something he goes to on a consistent basis. You can't take the little shot fake he likes to do because people honor his ability to shoot the 17-foot jump shot. He'll give you a shot fake, and then put it on floor and make a spin move to go to the basket. You've got to stay disciplined. One thing he hasn't done is he hasn't developed as a passer out of the double-teams. He's still going to try to attack the double-team. We try to force him to the baseline with a double-team coming from the top."

"You've got to do a great job of identifying where [Wayne] Ellington, primarily, and Danny Green are and not letting them get transition shots or 3-point shots. In the half-court game, you've got to do two things really well – limit Tyler Hansbrough's catches and make it difficult for him to, in one dribble or no dribbles, make his moves, and then do a good job of not letting Deon Thompson and Ed Davis hurt you on backside putbacks."

"Over the course of the second half of the conference season, in particular, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green made a bigger commitment to defending. I thought that was a big difference in the game with Oklahoma. Ball-screen actions are something [North Carolina] struggles with. You get their bigs out in space and get some good guards coming off ball screens with penetration – that's a weakness. You've got to open the floor up. You have to find dribble-drive lanes on them and use ball-screen actions on them."

"Coach [Roy] Williams made a conscious effort [to build depth] since the ACC [tournament]. He played the kid, [Justin] Watts, [in the NCAA tournament] to get another body on the perimeter. He's rotated Bobby Frasor and Larry Drew Jr. a little more consistently. He's rotated them to keep Ellington and Green a little fresher on the wings. That makes a big difference. They pride themselves on their ability to sustain the transition game and extend the pressure on the ball and the passing lanes on defense to accelerate their transition game. You have to have great depth to do that. This is as healthy as they've been in a while."

"They played so many big games during the course of the year. They played Michigan State earlier in the year and beat them by 35. They beat a team that's in the Final Four by 35. That's their one memory of Ford Field."

On VIllanova

"They're playing the prohibitive favorite, but Jay Wright has done an unbelievable job with that team. We love watching them."

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Scottie Reynolds and Villanova can wear teams out with their defense.
(US Presswire / Greg M. Cooper)

"They are tough as nails, all eight of those kids. They are tremendous defensively. They get into you all over the floor in the half court. They bother the ball. They switch everything. They play great half-court defense without having a dominant shot blocker. They spread you out on offense. The kid, [Dante] Cunningham, has made himself into a pro. He's just a workhorse. They can't afford to get Cunningham in foul trouble. That would be devastating to them, especially in what they'll see in North Carolina."

"They've developed a physical mentality because they have to have that to survive in the Big East. Some people talked about how Villanova is the most physical team in the Big East. They've developed that mentality. It's a big part of their success."

"When you get into half court, they don't play you until you're in the scoring area – and then they manhandle you. You've got to be really, really strong with the ball. They got terrific, terrific hands and they bother you. If you're kids aren't tough with the ball, it can be a long night."

"Whether it's defensively or offensively, they are aggressive in whatever they do. They don't do much, but what they do do, they are very good at. And they are very aggressive. They will opportunistically trap or make you eat clock, but they are looking to make plays. They aren't running plays or set offenses. Defensively, they try to steal the ball. They attack the ballhandler. They are reaching, grabbing, poking at the ball constantly. They're looking to make plays running through passing lanes, especially Scottie Reynolds. They are trying to deflect the basketball as much as possible. They have great team speed. They do a good job of stealing the basketball and turning those into points."

"What happens over the course of the game is because of how much they attack you, they wear you down. They wore us down. They've got spurtability. They can put a lot of points up in a short amount of time. They use a three-quarter-court press. It's not an overwhelming press. But you can't just walk the ball up the court to start your offense. Sometimes over the course of 40 minutes, it's effective."

"What Villanova does really well is they've got, at times, four, maybe five guys who are capable of handling the ball extremely well relative to the position they're playing. They space the floor; they keep it simple and let the guys attack off the dribble. They tend to get to the rim right away."

"You have to be able to move your feet and stop the dribble and stop dribble penetration at all five positions. All those guys are attacking off the dribble. They're spreading the floor nice and wide. They have guys who can shoot. Reynolds and Corey Stokes shoot it from deep; Corey Fisher's not a great shooter, but he's a guy who can knock down the ‘3.' If the fourth option, Dwayne Anderson, is making shots, you're really in trouble."

"[Reynolds is] a scorer, he's not a shooter. They give him a long leash and let him go. He makes tough, tough shots."

"Cunningham is only 6-8, but he is really long. He's relentless in terms of how he plays. They stretch you so much at other spots, but he seals. He's long and posts up really wide and posts up so aggressively all the time. He is deceptively strong. Cunningham can knock down pick-and-pop shots. They don't pick and roll a lot, but they pick and pop a ton. They're not popping the ‘3,' but the 15-, 16-, 17-footer. That's the improvement from Cunningham."

"To beat them, you have to turn them into a jump-shooting team. You have to be careful with the ball. You have to get back and get set and keep them out of the lane."

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