If you want to know one reason why the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men Mocs may be playing so well for second-year coach Will Wade, consider the following comment from Wade after senior Rico White hit the game-winning shot at UNC Greensboro on Saturday night.
"They did a nice job of bottling up (the intended play)," Wade said of the 61-58 win. "(Rico) just made a big play. There's not a lot of coaching that goes into that."
Wow. Not ... a ... lot ... of ... coaching. How often do these New Age greaseboard gurus with their analytics, computer programs and resident sports psychologists freely admit that the player rather than the program deserves credit for success?
"(Rico) just hit a big shot, made a big play and it was great for us," Wade continued during his postgame presser, according to the UTC website.
We hear all the time that coaches get too much credit and take too much blame. Maybe that's because they don't do enough to share either extreme.
For instance, Arizona didn't just win at Utah on Saturday night because Sean Miller's a tremendous coach and the Cactus Cats may have the best collection of talent to challenge No. 1 Kentucky once the NCAA tournament begins. They beat the the Utes because 'Zona junior guard Gabe York had the savvy to anticipate where his missed free throw would bounce off, beat the Utah players to the goal and made a putback to turn around the game inside its final two minutes.
"I just saw a chance and I went with it," York told the media afterward while also admitting that Miller would have been angry if Utah had scored quickly on the other end because York hadn't rotated back instead of going for the rebound.
Yet Miller was anything but unhappy afterward, saying, "Gabe made a number of big plays. He's playing the best basketball of his career."
We are now officially entering March Madness, which means both the calendar and the beginning of conference basketball tournaments are signaling the start of the last college basketball of the year. The vast majority of the 351 schools who play at the Division I level are about to realize that their seasons are one-loss-and-done. Even those 68 who move on to the NCAA and 32 others who are invited to the NIT will be just one more loss away from spring break after their league tourneys end.
And when the Madness begins, coaches will have their say, but so will players. It's true that Duke's Christian Laettner may not have delivered the greatest ending to the greatest game ever played in that 104-103 overtime victory over Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional final if not for the coaching genius of Mike Krzyzewski.
But think back to Lorenzo Charles's, um, alley-oop dunk for North Carolina State against Houston off a Derek Whittenburg airball in the 1983 NCAA title game and tell me that the late Jim Valvano drew up that play.
That's the beauty of the tournament. Sometimes players make plays, not a lot of coaching going into it.
Of course, coaches must have the right players on the floor to make those plays. Though not a college game, if San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had had Tim Duncan on the floor at the close of Game 6 in the 2013 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, the Heat might not have gotten either of two offensive rebounds that led to two 3-pointers in the final 28 seconds of regulation that forced an overtime the Spurs lost one game before they lost the championship.
Most would call Pops the NBA's best coach, but not every coaching decision works. Many Kentucky fans, for instance, still believe if former coach Rick Pitino had directed someone to guard inbounds passer Grant Hill on Laettner's shot, the pass would have been off and UK would have won.
You're only wrong if you lose.
As the SEC women head to Little Rock, Ark., for their tournament this week and the UTC men and women travel to Asheville, N.C., for their tournaments, that simple fact shouldn't be ignored. Winning is always good, whoever gets the credit.
But for Moc Maniacs the region over, the following also is important.
As Hall of Fame coach Jim Foster was discussing his UTC women's 64-42 rout of East Tennessee on Saturday afternoon, a win that wrapped up another undefeated regular season in SoCon play, he said, "This team does a good of getting the ball to people who are hot. That's a good characteristic to have."
As Wade would prove later in the day, that's a good characteristic to have both in those who play and those who coach. Especially as the calendar turns to March.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.