The idea that you can’t win big playing a certain style has always been absurd to me. Teams that run can win. Teams that press can win. Teams that play slow can win. Teams that play the best style that fits their personnel all have a chance to win.
There was some talk about Virginia after last year that the style of play would never win a national title. Most of that was just ignorant overreaction to a huge moment. It’s actually harder to win 30 games year after year and contend for the ACC title than it is to win 6 games in a row in the NCAA Tournament when you are going to be a prohibitive favorite in at least 3 of those games.
Your style of play does bring particular issues into play, however. I’ve always liked to play fast as a coach. I like playing a lot of guys, and most of the teams I’ve coached have had a lot of good players. I’ve also generally had athletic teams, so playing fast was a good fit.
But playing fast brings up different challenges. If you are struggling, you can really get drummed. By playing games with so many more possessions, it’s easy to get beat by 30 if your team isn’t very good. My first year at Maine we found that out, as we were trying to establish our culture and we were playing fast with a team that wasn’t really ready for that.
It also can be hard to take control of games late when you are playing fast. One of the toughest challenges as a coach is when you are up 10 with 5:00 to play. Do you start to take the air out of the ball, or do you put the petal down and run them out of the barn? Playing fast can make it a little tougher to finish games down the stretch, because you are either continuing to create more possessions for your opponent or you are changing the style of play that got you the lead in the first place.
One challenge with playing slow is you tend to keep your opponent in the game longer. With fewer possessions, a dominant team that is playing slow like a Virginia can be in total control of the game but still only up 6-8 points. Vermont played that way in our league at Maine, and they were the best team. But you always felt like if you just got a stop and maybe buried a 3, you wouldn’t feel great about the way you were playing but you’d only be down by 5 points, and your kids would start to feel confident.
I think that is the toughest part about playing slow. Your kids have to be tremendously poised, because a 6-0 run in the middle of the 2nd half can give the losing team a good deal of confidence and close the gap to a manageable number. You are probably going to be in more close games than most teams just because it’s harder to blow people out.
Now this isn’t to say that teams that play slower won’t have big margins of victory or be able to blow people out. Especially great teams like Virginia and Vermont. But when you are playing in the post-season and the stakes are higher and the competition is better, it’s a little easier for the lower-ranked team to gain some confidence simply by hanging around. It only takes a quick 2 or 3 minute stretch for the team that is losing to jump back into the game.
I really don’t believe that any particular style of play helps or hurts your chances of winning big in the post-season than any other. But each style of play can bring with it particular challenges. Take a look at the situations your team is in the most, based on your style of play, and make sure you are prepared for them.