2016 NCAA Tournament: Avoiding the Upset

ncaa-promo-jumboAs we analyze the upsets of the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, it can be easy to forget the upsets that didn’t occur.  Chalk outcomes are never as enticing, but they provide just as much wisdom for life and faith as those tantalizing upsets that bring all of us back to March Madness. While single-digit seeds are already licking their wounds and unraveling what went wrong, many other higher seeds are still alive, despite the heroic efforts of the underdogs.  It’s safe to say at the major college level most of these teams prepared well, had well-thought out game plans, and did all they could to minimize distractions for their teams, but yet, some very good teams came up short.  Life is like that, too.  You can prepare, put in the necessary work, and have a path of success all mapped out only to have the unexpected happen and you simply fall flat. While it’s impossible to plan and prepare for everything, coaches, players, and the rest of us often overlook some of the subtle errors that can lead to our down fall.

BASKETBALL – Avoiding Upsets

I’ve got my Baylor alum hat on right now and as a fan, I was not happy about the Bears performance in their first round loss to Yale.  While the seeding seemed a little off, I also knew that Baylor came out with a lackadaisical attitude we’ve seen before during the regular season, as Yale’s Justin Sears confirmed:

Overlooked them or poorly scouted?  I doubt that.  Most major college coaches like Scott Drew are meticulous in their planning and preparation and even in carefully presenting information about the opponent to their teams.  Coaches are painfully aware of the “Respect All and Fear None” concept, but far too often subtle changes in five key areas prior to and even during the game can rock the boat just enough to allow a marginal performance.  I used to believe that teams and coaches who,come tourney time, followed consistent preparation patterns were usually the most successful, but in recent years I’ve gained a new respect for building a team attitude of flexibility throughout the year to help teams handle the stress and excitement of postseason play.  Here are five impact areas to consider:

  1. Schedule:  Teams who are unaccustomed to changes in their routine often succumb to the changes of the big stage.  I’ve witnessed firsthand teams and coaches who mishandled structured and monitored practice times and pre-game warm-ups. Preparing a team to thrive in changing circumstances throughout the season will help.
  2. Scouting:  Focus on your opponent or focus on your own team?  Use the same report and same staff member for each round or change it up?  Players respond to the delivery.  It’s not just the plan.  The delivery of the plan sets the tone for the team’s perspective.  Looking ahead can bolster confidence, but it can also foster complacency!
  3. Game Adjustments:  We discussed this a few weeks ago in Game Adjustments with the OODA Loop, but too often when the pressure is on, coaches hold on to their scouting report so tightly that they fail to see the need to adjust.  Mike Krzyzewski helped Duke avoid Baylor’s fate against Yale by switching to a zone with 6’9 Brandon Ingram at the top to disrupt Yale’s shooters – see Duke vs. Yale.
  4. Life:  Try as we might to focus solely on the game, the stresses of life still can change our tone when we talk and how we relate to our players.  For example, in the days before the tournament, Baylor assistant Grant McCasland was announced as the new head coach at Arkansas State.  Great for him, but one can only speculate about the possible effect it had on the Bears.
  5. Balance:  Making the tournament, or winning any tough stretch of games, is something to celebrate, but it can easily lead to a relaxed tone or approach to upcoming games.  Coaches have to help players enjoy the moment and the experience, but also maintain a rock solid focus on the task at hand.  Balancing emotions can be tricky.

Will paying attention to these concepts help the favored team win?  Maybe.  And if not, you can always rely on a 14-2 run in 38 seconds and then go on to win in double overtime like Texas A&M:

or a tip-in from a seldom-used freshman like Notre Dame:

It’s an amazing time of year and this year, we’ve seen it all.

LIFE – Silent Killers



My wife is more important to me than any basketball game, yet so often I make the mistake of neglecting some of the same issues as favored teams in the NCAA tournament.  When it comes to a healthy marriage, or any other important relationships, there are obvious elements like quality time, showing affection, communication, and a shared vision, but the subtle obstacles we ignore often have significant impact. Schedules, long-term planning, flexibility, handling stress, and balancing emotions all affect how we treat each other.  If the goal is to have a healthy marriage, one that stands the test of time and can effectively handle the cultural trends of today’s world, I need to be aware of the effect these silent killers can have and do what I can to address them before an upset can occur!

FAITH – Certain Victory



This world is coming to an end, but did you know that we are not only favored to win, but through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we are guaranteed the victory?  There is no upset to worry about:

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.         (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Yet, so many of us doubt that and question God’s promise.  Rather than live our lives confidently assured of our salvation and living in obedience to God’s word, we fall victim to those same subtle obstacles that the world throws in front of us.  Before we know it, the observance of Holy Week and taking the time to consider what Jesus’s death on the cross truly means becomes an afterthought or a robotic ritual we feel compelled to observe.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Consider your ways and consider the subtle influences the culture throws in your way.  Enjoy the games this weekend, but more importantly consider Christ’s death for you and the joyous celebration he brings through His resurrection!


Are NBA Teams Taking Home-Court Advantage for Granted?



Yes, the NBA is entertainment and it’s a business and yes, there’s plenty of room for skeptics to criticize and complain about the playoff process, which in most cases, gives the best team the best chance to win. Unlike the NCAA Tournament where anything can happen in any round, the NBA playoffs pretty much hold to form.  The better teams typically win over the course of seven game series. But this year?  What’s going on? Continue reading


Sex and the Pick and Roll – REMIX!



Sorry, I can’t get away from the subject – the pick and roll, that is; but we’re also going to re-visit the concept of sex.  There’s a method to this madness, so please hang with me better than the Heat defenders will attempt to hang with Tony Parker.  The pick and roll was a major factor in Miami’s series with Indiana.  While Indiana improved their attack against Miami’s blitzing of ball screens, I still think it led to too many turnovers and the wrong players shooting and handling the ball in the wrong spots.  Indiana needed to stay away from the temptation of the ball screen!  As the Heat move on, though, San Antonio’s use of the pick and roll presents a new set of problems.  They’ll be facing players like Parker, Ginobli, and Duncan who have built long-term, trusting relationships with each other and with their coach.  In this case, the pick and roll should play a major role in how they attack the Heat; and in a similar way, God’s ideas and plans for sex should be addressed in healthy, responsible, and committed relationships.  So, let’s hit the Remix button!

BASKETBALL – The Pick and Roll in the Finals.

Hopefully, we’ll have a dramatic and entertaining seven game series and hopefully, we’ll have a flurry of coaching adjustments to talk about.  For now, Zach Lowe does another terrific job of previewing the series in his Grantland article, NBA Finals Preview.  I agree with a lot of what he has to say, but at the time of writing this, I was only able to catch the highlights of the Spurs win in Game 1.  I’m with my family at the Creation Museum doing some research, and yes, it applies to 3 Point Wisdom, which I’ll address later. The question raised by Lowe that I’m focusing on is “How much will LeBron James defend Tony Parker and will it affect the Spurs execution of the pick and roll?”  Parker was unleashed in the 4th quarter last night, so we’ll have to see how Miami adjusts.

LIFE – Sex was given as a gift, so use it responsibly!

Many people who read my last two posts, Sex and the Pick and Roll and Should Christian Players Come Out of the Closet?, may be a little offended or put off.  You may think I’m out of touch or I don’t understand, which is accurate because there’s a lot I don’t understand.  What I do know is that everyone has seen, been involved with, or in some way been affected by sexual sin.  Take faith and God’s commands out of it (which I don’t think you can really do!) and you will still find how much our physical desires drive us.  Most of you missed this video from the early post, so I embedded it here for you to reconsider:

And that just addresses the issue of infidelity in marriage!  ANY sex outside of marriage has consequences.  Any uncontrolled thoughts and actions outside of marriage have consequences.  Many of us have a hard time relating to that.  Many of us fail to see how things we do in one moment can alter our lives down the road, but most of us have been affected in one way or the other by sexual sins, our own and the indiscretions of others.  In fact, I deal each day with my personal identity that has been shaped by the sins within my family.  The way I relate to my wife, to my kids, and to those with whom I work is continually shaped by the defense mechanisms that grew from the weaknesses of those around me.  Take just a moment to consider how your own thoughts and actions, whether you can justify and deem them as permissible or not, can potentially affect and shape relationships throughout your life.  The idea of “If it feels good, do it,” may not hold as much truth as you think.

FAITH – The Spurs, Creation Museum, and Sex.

Here’s how this all comes together for me.  The Spurs, with their long-term, committed relationship between an experienced coach in Greg Popovich, an aging champion in Tim Duncan, and a uniquely gifted ball-handler in Tony Parker are ready to handle the intricacies of the pick and roll.  It’s not something to just throw up against the defensive-minded Heat.  Without control and responsibility, it can be overused and lose its efficiency.

God tells us the same thing about sex.  He gave it as a gift to be an important element within a God-designed marriage, but it requires self-control and responsibility.  Now, that doesn’t mean anything to you if you don’t believe in the validity of the Bible, the very source of God’s commands, but also His loving guidelines for living a happy, productive life in this world as mentioned in this version of 1 Corinthians 6:16:

Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.”   (The Message)

I know all of this is true because I have complete trust in the Bible, every single word of it.  As my family goes through the Creation Museum we’re going to learn even more about the evidence and truth of the Bible that has been challenged by our society.  As we see the evidence of the truth of the Genesis account of Creation, we’ll be encouraged even more to trust everything that God has to share with us!