What Makes Kevin Ollie a Great Coach?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The motivational phrases of Kevin Ollie get a lot of publicity, but it is his in-game coaching skill that has UConn in the Final Four.

Ten toes in. Take the stairs. Escalators are for cowards.

Those phrases, along with new gems delivered every press conference, explain why UConn fans fell in love with Kevin Ollie. But love doesn't win basketball games.

The greatness of Kevin Ollie was exemplified by one play Sunday against Michigan State. Following a dead ball timeout, UConn took the ball out of bounds under its hoop up 18-16. Michigan State had climbed back from an early 12-2 deficit and was threatening to take the lead.

Instead, a perfectly executed pick play left Shabazz Napier wide open in front of the Michigan State bench for a three-pointer he nailed. It was UConn's last points on the first half. It led to a 16-2 Michigan State run that nearly ended the game for UConn. But it was important.

Shabazz Napier never got that open again. Michigan State's desire to keep Napier from scoring - ultimately, Napier ended up with 25 - opened up room for Ryan Boatwright, DeAndre Daniels and Niles Giffey. No, the shots didn't fall for UConn like they had against Iowa State. They still won.

Tactically, Kevin Ollie is an NBA coach. I am not exactly breaking news here that every NBA team with an opening will probably make a phone call to the Ollie household this summer. And for every summer thereafter, which hopefully is met with summer after summer of, "Thanks, but no thanks" responses.

You cannot overstate what Ollie's passion and mentality brings to a team, especially one like this, that had been through so much hardship. But like love, passion doesn't win basketball games.

The beauty of Ollie's coaching is how you see what he's taken from other coaches, what he's learned from the NBA and what's he has discovered from being a reserve over 13 years of NBA action. As Bill Raftery so astutely pointed out Sunday, Kevin Ollie has watched a lot of basketball in his life - he's seen it all.

So while others can recount the heroics of Shabazz and Boatright and Daniels, let's examine why Kevin Ollie's performance in the 2014 NCAA Tournament has been one for the ages.

Perfect Substitution Patterns
In four games, a grand total of zero UConn players have fouled out. In three of those games, that wasn't an issue. Against St. Joseph's, this was a gigantic, potentially season-ending issue.

For those that weren't watching, St. Joe's played an A+++ game in the first half against UConn. They didn't miss. They abused UConn in the paint. They were the far superior team. UConn had righted the ship by halfway through the second half. In doing so, three of their big men - Philip Nolan, Niles Giffey and Amida Brimah all had four fouls with 6:45 left in the game.

Somehow, Ollie juggled the lineup on a thin front line to keep them all in the game through regulation and the five-minute overtime. It was only fitting that Brimah, a freshman, tied the game at 70 with an old-fashioned three-point play on an offensive rebound.

The Jim Calhoun 2-Foul Rule
This was a Calhoun staple - if you get two fouls in the first half, you sit until halftime. The most famous application came in the 2004 Final Four against Duke, when Emeka Okafor sat for about 17 minutes as UConn held on for dear life. At the end of a terribly officiated game, Duke players fouled out while Okafor led the improbable late UConn comeback.

Everyone has focused on Shabazz Napier sitting against Villanova as the defining 2-Foul Rule application of the tournament. UConn has other high-quality guards - depth there is not an issue. No, the best application of this happened almost unnoticed on Sunday.

Amida Brimah picked up two fouls by the 12-minute mark in the first half. He sat for the rest of the half. Unwilling to stretch Philip Nolan - who was playing great, but clearly getting fatigued - he put in rarely used Tyler Olander to kill three minutes. Olander contributed to two turnovers on the offensive end, but he did his job and UConn was only down 4 at the break.

It was an NBA-level move. It is far more important to have Brimah available and out of foul trouble in the second half than risk your big man getting a third foul. It may have cost UConn two or four points, but the tradeoff in a game of that magnitude and intensity is well worth it.

The Junk Defense 
When Napier went out with the two fouls against Villanova, UConn switched to a three-quarter court zone/press that absolutely flummoxed Villanova. It changed the game. Once out of their early rhythm, the Wildcats could never get back into it and they were reduced to taking long three's - some they made, some they didn't - for the rest of the game.

Against Michigan State, they similar trotted out occasional pressure - sometimes in a zone, sometimes in aggressive half-court man-to-man - that confused the Spartans and led directly to two or three bad turnovers, which Tom Izzo lamented in the postgame.

UConn plays regular man-to-man 99 percent of the time. It's that 1 percent, and when it happens, that creates problems for the opponents.

The Out of Bounds Plays
The Friday night game between Iowa State and UConn featured two NBA-ready coaches who are probably the two best I've seen in drawing up out-of-bounds plays, which separates good NBA coaches from great NBA coaches.

All year, UConn has benefitted from this. Iowa State, likewise, did so in its second round - ugh, third round - game against UNC, in which Fred Hoiberg coached circles around Roy Williams to win despite playing without their best player.

As a counter, what did Arizona do down 1 with the ball in overtime and a chance to win? They simply passed to their point guard, who dribbled too much and missed a shot after the buzzer. Sean Miller is not a potential NBA coach. Kevin Ollie is.

Right Timeout at the Right Time
Down 32-23 against Michigan State, Kevin Ollie called timeout. As a UConn fan, I thought the game was about to be over. Instead, Napier hit a three-pointer and UConn would start its own run.

Throughout the year, Ollie has shown an incredible knack for calling the timeout just before things get out of hand. Too many college coaches wait a possession or two too long and they give up preventable extra points during a run.

Again, this speaks to the amount of basketball Ollie has watched in his life. Sometimes, like the regular season finale against Louisville, there are not enough timeouts to stem the tide. Sometimes it is the difference between a win and a loss.

Against Villanova, Ollie burned timeouts in the first half when Villanova couldn't miss from the three to prevent their lead from getting too big. Against Iowa State, he did so in the second half to slow down a furious Iowa State comeback. In fact, the timeout up 67-63 versus Iowa State may have been the best and, exceling again in X's and O's, he set up a Niles Giffey three from the corner that made it 70-63 to end the game.

The Quick Hook, and the Not-So-Quick Hook
Another Jim Calhoun staple was the quick hook. You made one bad play, especially after halftime, and you got an express ticket to the bench. Ollie has continued this tradition, which is most noticeable after a big man doesn't box out correctly on the first missed shot of the second half.

However, the hook is not always so quick. Against Villanova as the Wildcats were hitting threes, UConn was playing too fast. In particular, Niles Giffey was out of control. The TBS cameras showed Ollie screaming at Giffey to get his attention - it felt like the quick hook was coming.

Instead, Ollie gestured to the floor with both hands and said, "Calm down!" Giffey did calm down, and so did the rest of the team.

Exploiting Matchups
Iowa State couldn't guard DeAndre Daniels. Daniels had heated up a bit in the first half and it was apparent Iowa State didn't have a guy who could lock him down one-on-one. When the second half started, every possession went through Daniels and he had 13 points in 8 minutes.

It was NBA Coaching 101 - exploit the best matchup you have on the court until the other team adjusts. Iowa State, of course, was understandably shorthanded. Maybe Hoiberg believed Daniels would cool off. By the time Iowa State did adjust, they were down 14 and the game was just about of hand.

It shouldn't be that hard to ride the hot hand, but you'd be amazed to realize how many coaches fail to realize this. I hate to pick on Sean Miller again, but Wisconsin won becauseBo Ryan rode his hot hand and Sean Miller didn't seem to figure out who his hot hand was.

Frustrate Opponents for 40 Minutes
After UConn's victory Sunday, Bill Raftery interviewed Tom Izzo, who said that his team played poorly but to take nothing away from UConn. On the surface, it seemed like a backhanded compliment. It was not.

"We sucked because they made us suck," is what Izzo was trying to say.

Michigan State scored 6 points in the paint - an absurdly low number for them and the lowest in any NCAA Tournament game in three years. What happened? UConn did everything in their power to prevent Adreian Payne from getting established in the block - at times this meant a triple team.

So UConn gave Michigan State all the open three-pointers they wanted. For a while, they fell and UConn looked to be in big trouble. But the game is 40 minutes long, they stopped falling, Michigan State started to panic and they were out of sorts. At one point, CBS sideline announcer Allie LaForce even shared that the Spartans were "bickering" in the huddle.

Have you ever heard of a Tom Izzo team suffering a breakdown like that? Michigan State went away from their strength and got frustrated.

Villanova was frustrated too, but it was because they stubbornly refused to take what UConn was giving them. While Michigan State took the bait and shot three's, Villanova did not take the bait and kept shooting three's. After a hot start, UConn essentially went to a "no threes" defense - the kind you'd play up nine with two minutes to go.

What happened? Villanova put up a ton of contested and long three's. It contributed to Villanova's 15 straight possessions without a field goal and it left them flustered and frustrated when the shots wouldn't fall.

Understanding What Will Happen
The difference between a pro coach and a college coach is the understanding that things almost always even out. There's a reason why "regression to the mean" is a thing. And when you've sat a bench watching basketball for 15 years, you've likely seen every possible scenario play out in a game.

It was note-worthy that Kevin Ollie predicted the second half outcomes of every game in the tournament.

Against St. Joe's, he was happy the team was only down a few despite the A+++ performance of the opponent and implored his team to hang in there.

Against Villanova, he said, "We're going to win." They were a better team in the first half without their best player - he knew they weren't going to lose.

Against Iowa State, he was far from overconfident despite the big lead. He said Iowa State was going to make a big run and UConn had to be prepared. Iowa State did make a big run - and UConn was prepared.

Against Michigan State, he pointed out how Niles Giffey missed three open looks and eventually the shots would fall. They continued to get open looks. They eventually fell. UConn is in the Final Four.

It's remarkable to read in print - UConn is in the Final Four. The players have been tremendous. The coach has been even better.

Follow me on Twitter

SB Nation Featured Video
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join The UConn Blog

You must be a member of The UConn Blog to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The UConn Blog. You should read them.

Join The UConn Blog

You must be a member of The UConn Blog to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at The UConn Blog. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker