CLEVELAND — It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
College basketball fans all over the country are signing that tune, with the arrival of conference tournaments, Selection Sunday just days away, and the NCAA tournament right around the corner.
Toledo's Luke Knapke blocks a shot by Miami guard Nike Sibande.
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For coaches, it’s the most stressful time of the year. Nowhere is that more true than in one-bid leagues like the Mid-American Conference. Coaches have 24 hours until their next game, which is always a must-win. That means formulating a game plan for the biggest game of the year into the wee hours of the night.
“It’s a lot, and we go into knowing it’s going to be a lot of work,” Toledo assistant coach Kyle Barlow said. “Fortunately, we’re in a position where we’ve played [Akron and Eastern Michigan] twice. At this time of year, everybody kind of knows everybody.”
No. 2 seed Toledo defeated seventh-seeded Miami (Ohio) 71-69 Thursday night in the MAC tournament quarterfinals. The final buzzer sounded at 8:24 p.m. The Rockets play No. 3 seed Eastern Michigan at 9 p.m. Friday in the semifinals. By noon or 1 p.m. Friday, Toledo’s coaches will go over the final scouting report and game plan with the players.
Most of the preparation occurred during five days off last week. The bracket was released, and coaches sprang into action. All possible outcomes were deciphered.
“It’s not easy, but you just try and get as much rest as you can,” Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff said. “We’ve played some of these teams twice, we know each other well, they know us well. It really comes down to focusing on the little things, the scouting report, and just playing to your strengths.”
Toledo guard Tre'Shaun Fletcher comes off the court with an injury during Thursday's MAC Tournament quarterfinal game against Miami.
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The fifth-seeded Golden Flashes play top-seed Buffalo in the other semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Kent State will go over its scouting report during a 9 a.m. walk-through. Senderoff’s main objective inbetween games is to keep his players off their feet.
“It’s as much mental preparation than anything,” he said.
There are many methods to mastering the turnaround madness. One constant is being thorough. Coaches are creatures of habit, and one of their tried and true routines is a detailed approach.
“You want your kids to play free and play with the confidence that if you do the things you’re capable of doing, it’s good enough,” Senderoff said. “That’s the mentality you want to come in with. I try my best to exude that with my team because I don't want them feeling any pressure. I want them playing to win and playing with ultimate confidence.”
As fans mingled at the Winking Lizard, the Clevelander, and along East Fourth Street in downtown as Thursday became Friday, coaches for the four semifinal teams were holed up in the Renaissance Hotel scouting Friday’s opponents.
“We know there’s a long night ahead of us,” Barlow said. “There’s not going to be a lot of sleep. Hopefully, we get to bed.”
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