It's only right that in this week's blog we talk about March Madness and the 15 seed Saint Peter's Peacocks who defeated #2 Kentucky and #7 Murray State to secure themselves a spot in their program's first ever Sweet 16.
Over the weekend, I was back on twitter and saw all the basketball wordsmiths of the world breaking down the inexplicably brilliant, cutting edge offensive plays by Saint Peter's. I saw a couple that actually made me laugh, poking fun at the over worded, unnecessarily complex explanations. Pure comedy. But, I saw a different side of the Saint Peter's puzzle. It wasn't complex or confusing or complicated, but instead incredibly simple, focused and precise.
Most people - coaches, analysts, fans, trainers, etc- focus on the "what". It seems like their interviewing for their next big job via their tweets. But, I've come to notice that the "what" is only a small piece of the picture. I've been lucky enough to sit down and chat with coaches up and down the east coast. From the NBA to the G-League to D1-D3 in college, Prep School, High School, Middle School and Youth. I've come to find that there are thousands of defenses to play, thousands of offenses to run and thousands of quick hitters to call out - a bunch of right ways to do it. But the x's and o's - the "what" - shouldn't hold all the focus. The reason Saint Peters has found success this season and in the tournament, is partly the "what".... but it's more of the "how". It's about "what" you run, sure, but more about "how" you run it.
The first example comes on the defensive end. Saint Peters played mostly man to man and some 2-3 zone. Two defenses played by, like, everyone. But how did they hold Kentucky and Murray State to 8 and 19 points below their season averages, respectively, in regulation? It's because they're tough, hard nosed and one of the most physical defenses in the country. They take standard defense and enhance it dramatically with their physical play and sharp communication. They dictate your space, set the tone, contest everything and aren't scared of anyone. Everything they do is max effort.
The second example is offensively- yes, their sets are very impressive, borderline brilliant. But, what's more impressive to me is their precise execution in crunch time. With 1:30 left on the clock, down 2 in regulation, the ran flex against Kentucky. Yes. Flex cut, down screen...into a double screen for a 3 to take a one point lead. It was less to do with what they ran and more about how sharp their execution was. They got the open shot and made it.
The other offensive example was on the individual skill level - their pump fakes. Just beautiful. Easy to overlook but so fundamentally sound, not rushed, and incredibly well executed. On almost all of their pump fakes, and they had a ton, both feet were planted, eyes were on the rim and the ball was raised up above the head to mimic a real shot. They got Murray State extended on almost all of them and opened up driving lanes where they converted on attacks to the rim and at the midrange. So, you tell me... A #15 seed advances to their first sweet 16 (and 3rd ever for a 15 seed) with tougher-than-you, gritty defense, flex offense and pump fakes.
*Quick PSA to young hoopers out there: make sure you can jab step, cross step and pump fake properly before you develop the between the legs, spin, reverse up and under finishing package.* I digress.
Are they breaking out any new basketball techniques that we've never seen before, or are they a program who embodies toughness and togetherness, with sharp focus and precise execution? Bingo. Execution is the name of the game. No screens set on air, no running through the motions, no mumbling on defense. It's real, purposeful movement with a directed focus.
But, it doesn't just end there. In basketball and in life, focused and precise execution is how you will find success. Specifically, it's how you find culture and identity whether it's a sports team, a work team or family. Culture and identity- the "how"- are two necessary, yet often overlooked, items in terms of achieving success. And the off the court stuff translates - it's a belief, it's a positive team-above-self attitude with purposeful action. You can see it when Saint Peter's plays. Look at their discipline and how they look and listen to Coach Shaheen Holloway when he calls out a play....and then pay close attention to how they run it. What + How = Results.