State of The U hoops "consigliere" Josh Frank (@JoshDaCane) and I had the opportunity to chat recently with University of Miami men's basketball assistant coach Chris Caputo, the team's scouting coordinator, about what the team gains from playing in an event like this, how it handles the quick turnarounds and unknown opponents, what sort of schedule it maintains, and the team's opening round game against undefeated George Washington.
Caputo said that playing in a tournament like this is beneficial for several reasons.
"It's good to play two or three games in four days, just because you get a situation where you play in like, a league tournament, a neutral site, and you get that experience," Caputo told us. "It's a good opportunity to play quality opponents on a neutral site as well." In addition to George Washington, the Hurricanes might face a Sweet 16 rematch against Marquette and other likely tournament teams such as Creighton, San Diego State and Arizona State.
One thing that is notably different in a multiple-game event is how the staff scouts the opposition.
"You prepare very, very hard for the first game, just as you would for any game," Caputo explained. "A regular team that we might play, we might watch six games of that opponent. GW's got four games thus far, and we'll obviously watch all those to prepare for GW and GW alone."
Then, it gets a bit interesting.
"We might watch only two or three games of the other teams, but getting to watch them live is always more beneficial," Caputo said. "If I had a choice to watch six tapes or two times live, I'd rather just watch them two times live because you get so much more out of it, I think. [That's true] especially if you get to watch them live and then go back to that film and rewatch it."
The turnaround time is rapid at a tournament, and much of that successful turnaround depends on those first two views. "A lot of that prep work will be done leading up to that day and then the immediate four or five hours right after [we learn who we're going to play]," Caputo explained. "We would never, ever show them anything but who we are going to play next."
Though it is of course condensed, the staff tries to keep preparation and scouting as close to the typical level of detail as possible.
"We try to paint a picture of a very macro view of the team, in terms of, 'These are the three things based on statistics, based on what we've seen already, that standout in terms of this team's identity,'" Caputo told us. "The next thing you'll do is present their personnel in terms of what those guys do tendency-wise, how are we defending this guy. The more experienced teams are obviously a lot better at these things. Teams that are more experienced, they really can use these [reports] to their advantage."
The one area that is lost is the practice time, where Caputo said the team will typically have the opportunity to "defend 20-plus possessions each day in practice of that opponents' offense" and then walk through more of the opponents offensive strategy.
Just as the players get value from the quick turnaround, Caputo believes that "there's a lot of value in the quick prep that winds up happening just like you would in the NCAA tournament setting or a conference tournament setting."
The tournament lends itself to a hectic schedule, both on and off the court. After traveling on Tuesday, activities kick off on Wednesday. "There's a dinner and they do a Thanksgiving thing for all of the teams, and there's usually a speaker," Caputo said. Disneyland, located down the street from the hotel, will be opened to all of the teams on Saturday.
Other than that, it's all business for the Hurricanes. "Really, Thursday and Friday there's no downtime whatsoever. Saturday, you spend a few hours at the park," and it doesn't get any easier, according to Caputo. "From there, you play Sunday, and then for us it's crazy because we're staying Sunday night and then flying to Nebraska. It's a pretty long trip."
However, the Canes expect to take advantage of the week off between the Central Florida game and the tournament. "I think, first of all, we need rest. We had a week where we traveled on Sunday, played Monday," Caputo told us. "We got up at 5 o'clock in the morning and traveled on Tuesday to come home, went to class, and then we met and talked a bit about our upcoming opponent. Wednesday, we practiced and played Thursday. First things first, is we need some rest. "
Caputo told us that the downtime, which coincides with a week-long Thanksgiving recess at UM, will also help. When we spoke with him, he expected "very spirited practices" and indicated that the team will shift its schedule to give the players time to relax before traveling on Tuesday, and predicts the team will find its "competitive juices flowing" once they're assigned court time in Anaheim.
Miami's first game tips off the entire tournament on Thursday at 2 PM EST (11 AM PST), and will be broadcast on ESPNU. The Hurricanes square off against the only other team from the Eastern Seaboard, the George Washington Colonials, one of the founding members of the ever-changing Atlantic-10. While only predicted to finish in the middle of the pack in the multi-bid mid-major conference, GW has started 4-0 behind a balanced team that currently features seven players averaging between 20 and 28 minutes per game.
"They've started out having a terrific amount of success," Caputo said. "They beat Manhattan at Manhattan which is not an easy place to play and a very, very difficult place to win." The team's average margin of victory is 24.75 points.
The team's statistics back up the results, so far. "Their offensive numbers are very, very good," he explained. When we spoke to Caputo last Friday, he told us that GW was "7th in the country in effective field goal percentage, 21st in offensive rebounding percentage, 11th in three-point field goal percentage, and 41st in two-point percentage. The only thing they're maybe not doing at a high level is taking care of the ball. Their offensive numbers are really impressive."
Their defensive statistics have been solid as well. "They're 54th in the country in points per possession defense, and 43rd in effective field goal percentage defense. They're doing their job on both ends of the floor."
Caputo says that the biggest challenge will be "how well-coached they are." "They're a team that mixes their defenses up," he said. "They play man, they play zone, they match-up with you a little bit. Offensively, Mike Longeran's teams have always played like Gary Williams' teams at Maryland. Mike was an assistant there and was a very successful Division III coach, and won a national championship at Catholic University."
He pointed out that in addition to being well-coached, they are talented and gel together as well. "They have a nice mixture of older and younger guys," Caputo explained. "They have some BCS-level transfers in Maurice Creek from Indiana and Isaiah Armwood from Villanova [both consensus top 100 recruits]."
GW's less-heralded, younger core also offers a lot to the team. "Those guys have played together now for two years. Last year, they got thrown into the fire and played a ton of minutes. They're sophomores, but they're really like upperclassmen," Caputo opined.
GW likely poses the Canes toughest test to date but Caputo is optimistic. "I feel good about the opportunity but it's going to be a very, very good team we're playing against."
Caputo had not yet had the opportunity to scout potential second round opponents, tournament host Cal State Fullerton or Marquette, though the team is obviously familiar with their Sweet 16 opponent from last year.
However the bracket shakes out, the Hurricanes will have to quickly recover to play one talented team after another. With trips to Nebraska and an early season conference matchup with Virginia Tech on the horizon afterwards, the team, coaching staff, and fans will learn a lot about where things stand in the next two weeks.