In my 20 years of coaching I have been fortunate to be a part of two conference tournament championships -- one in the Big East and one in the Big Ten.
Championship week tests a team’s toughness and will to see which ones do not want their season to be over. Here is a look at five important factors to win a conference tournament.
Need a star or two and a third scorer
By now, hopefully, every team has at least one go-to guy. That player needs to put up strong numbers and make timely shots. It’s the coach’s job to try and make sure he gets the most shots -- whether that is in transition, in the half-court set, out-of-bounds plays, etc.
For every Batman there needs to be a Robin and every championship team need a player who can share the load with the go-to guy or even take the star’s place when he is out of the game.
However, two players are often not enough, so championship teams often have a third scorer who can hit double figures and complement the main two players. It is vital to get this type of contribution to win on consecutive nights and win it all.
Multiple stops on consecutive possessions
Everyone knows that a strong, air-tight defense could lead a team to a title.
If a team has one lockdown defender who will not allow dribble penetration or someone who will not allow his opponent to catch the ball in his sweet spot and score, it is off to a good start.
When the game slows down in the second half -- which it inevitably does, even for fast-paced teams -- and a team is struggling to score, it must rely on its defense. The ability to make multiple stops on consecutive possessions can be the difference.
The best and most consistent defensive teams finish the possession with a rebound and don’t allow second-chance opportunities.
Execution and counters
One of the biggest reasons it’s so difficult to win a conference tournament is because teams are very familiar with one another.
After working on schemes, reviewing game film and analyzing player tendencies both teams know exactly what the other is going to try to accomplish. As a result, it’s very important for teams to pay attention to the execution of its offense and defensive strategies.
It’s also a coach’s responsibility to counter when his opponent takes away his team’s first scoring option. For example, if the defense decides to trap or blitz all ball screens, the coach must relay to his team to back dribble and re-attack the floor or have his players sprint into positions to throw the ball back out and attack again.
Leadership and chemistry
A leader cares more about the success of the team than himself, is fully invested and wants to do something about it. And by this time of the season a coach knows who his leader is both on the floor and in the locker room.
He also knows whether or not his club possesses good team chemistry, which is extremely important because when it comes to winning championships, talent is never enough.
Good team chemistry evolves over time; it does not just appear overnight. It is a trust, a togetherness that must be fostered and when everyone is playing in harmony -- not only with each other, but for each other at all times -- it makes that team hard to beat.
Is the bench ready?
Counting on bench play and bench points is vital.
Look at Michigan State right now with the injury to star freshman Brandon Dawson, who is out with a torn ACL. Is there someone on the Michigan State bench who can provide some meaningful minutes to help the Spartans in Dawson's absence?
When a player gets the opportunity to play, he can't get ready. He has to be ready to contribute both mentality and physically.