Sunflower Showdown - Coaching Nightmare

Sunflower Showdown of Bad Situational Coaching

Last night I was in Manhattan, KS for "The Sunflower Showdown" between Kansas and Kansas State. The game was close although Kansas felt like it had things under control throughout. For my full game story, you can read here if you have a Scout subscription, but there's one thing I didn't get to in that article that needs to be addressed. Bruce Weber is a good coach and Bill Self is a great coach, but the coaching late in that game was about as clueless as it could have been.

It all started with just under 12 minutes to go when after a made basket for his team, Weber called timeout. He said he saw his guys were struggling and in a game that close, every possession matters. His guys needed a breather. Anybody that knows anything about college basketball already knows where the problem with this lies - it was just under 12 minutes to go. The next stoppage in play is a media timeout. Could your guys really not make it to the next stoppage without a sip of water? 

Fast forward to 6:30ish to go in the game. There had been no stoppages since the 8-minute mark so we're due for another media timeout and Weber does the same thing! He's now down to one timeout with over six minutes to play in a close game.

Fast forward to under four minutes to go and a K-State possession is going nowhere fast. With six seconds left on the shot clock, Weber calls his final timeout. If his player, who was trapped on the sideline, had thrown the ball off the guy guarding him's leg out of bounds, it would have been a media timeout, saving the Wildcats' last. Also, if Weber hadn't burned the other two stupid timeouts, having to use one there wouldn't have been a big deal. Instead, Weber burned his final timeout with 3:46 to go, still got a crappy shot out of said timeout and had none remaining down the stretch.

That wasn't where Weber's in game situational nightmare coaching stopped though. In the final minute, Weber was absolutely clueless of when to foul. He was looking back at his assistants going "should we?" and by the time they decided down 5 with just under a minute to go what their strategy was, they had burned enough shot clock to just play out the possession and hope it worked out. They got lucky as Kevin Young turned it over. Shane Southwell hit a layup with 37ish seconds to go to put K-State down 3. 

At this point you have to foul. A 2-point-something second differential is not enough time to play out the shot clock. If Kansas plays it right, you won't get the ball back. They'd shoot as the shot clock expired and either it'd go in and you lose, or the shot misses and by the time the rebound comes off you need to catch and shoot all in one motion from 90 feet. You have to foul and extend the game, especially since Kansas was in the 1-and-1. If they missed their first free throw, they don't get a second and as long as you rebound, you get the ball back without them scoring.

Instead, the clueless Cats didn't foul and eventually, in just as baffling of a move, Bill Self called timeout with 25 seconds to go. I'm willing to let Self off the hook because he had to figure Weber and his staff would figure it out eventually and you might as well get the ball in the guy's hands you want. He did in Nadir Tharpe who's never met a big shot he didn't like, nevertheless one uncovered from the free throw line. In the timeout, the light went on for K-State, they fouled but Tharpe hit both shots. 

Had K-State fouled immediately instead of wasting 15 seconds, who knows what would have happened. The ensuing KU possession after a K-State miss, Ben McLemore missed the front end of his 1-in-1. K-State came down, hit 2 free throws with 5 seconds to go and then had to foul. Elijah Johnson made one of two shots and game over. 

If K-State had 15 more seconds and two more timeouts to play with, maybe they can get off a few more quality shots and that game has an infinitely better chance of going to overtime. Instead, Bruce Weber's late game strategy left everyone scratching their heads and his team looking up at Kansas in first place in the Big 12.