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Writer: Stewart Mandel
Post time: 6:50, Thursday
WASHINGTON D.C. -- One sight you see at an NCAA tournament game that you wouldn’t see normally: Assistant coaches from the participating teams sitting on press row right alongside the writers, scouting their next opponent.
Two members of Xavier’s staff, Chris Mack and James Whitford, were sitting a row behind me during Thursday’s Purdue-Baylor game. I asked Whitford to take me through a process I’ve always been curious about: How exactly a team prepares for three opponents (their first-round foe and their two potential second-round adversaries) on less than four days’ notice.
As soon as Sunday night’s selections were announced, each assistant was assigned to break down one of the teams (Whitford drew first-round opponent Georgia). “I was up ‘til 3 a.m. Sunday [watching tape], woke up at 7,” he said. “Then up ‘til 3 a.m. again Monday.”
By the time Xavier practiced Monday, they were able to go over the Bulldogs’ basic principles (“They play 60/40 man-zone, so we worked on our press offense,” said Whitford.) By Tuesday, the entire game plan was installed, and the players were given detailed scouting reports on Georgia’s specific plays and players. They practiced that day in Cincinnati before flying to Washington and practicing at a local high school Wednesday.
All the while, Mack was preparing the Purdue scouting report, but Thursday’s game – a 90-79 Purdue victory in which the Boilers dominated throughout -- gave the staff a rare opportunity to watch their next foe in person. “When you get to see them live, you get a great feel for them,” said Whitford. “What you’re looking for are their calls. You can actually hear the names of [the plays] they’re calling.”
Whitford anticipated another late night Thursday (“The key is to get a good night’s rest the night before the game,” he said) before putting the team through a light practice Friday that will be heavy on scouting. The game tips off Saturday afternoon.
“It’s like a nonconference game, your guys don’t know that much about the other team,” said Whitford. “Purdue is all man [defense], so we’ll work on that, and they shoot a lot of threes, so we’ve got to figure out how much zone to play, how much man to play, and make sure we have the right [defensive] matchups.”
It’s not exactly an ideal timetable, but the good news is, their opponent is in the same boat.