Basketball Coaching Takeaways from Villanova’s Jay Wright

Lessons for basketball coaches were on display last night during the Michigan vs. Villanova tilt. Villanova won the NCAA Championship Game in similar fashion to all of the games in the tournament – by double digits.

A competitive, well-coached Michigan team had no answers for the Wildcats offensive and defensive play. Nova dominated the game and the tournament. How did they do it?

11 Lessons for Basketball Coaches from Villanova’s Tournament Run

Well, it wasn’t any one thing – there were many factors to Villanova’s commanding performance in the tournament. Sure, the whole team shot the lights out with 3-pointers against Kansas, and Dante DiVenczo had a night to remember in the Championship Game (remember, he’s their first player off the bench).

And, a lot has to be attributed to just playing sound fundamentals. But, a break down of these elements is worth reviewing as a basketball coach with your team. Villanova sets a great example for how to play as a team.

1.) Box Out Experts.

Rebounding consistency in first halves of games led to few contested rebounds in second halves for Villanova. How many times during the game last night did you see two or three Wildcat players near defensive rebounds and no Michigan players were in sight? It happened a lot in the second half. Same thing in the KU game. Opposing teams seemed to concede rebounds especially in the second half after being expertly blocked out so many times early in the game.

2.) Long Range Shooting Depth.

For the Wildcats, it wasn’t their just guards who were good 3-point shooters. Seemingly everyone on their team can shoot from beyond the 3-point stripe. Nova set a record for 3-pointers in a game, in the Tournament and for the season. Youth basketball coaches: work with all of your players on long-range shooting.

3.) Guards with a Post-Up Game.

Jalen Brunson, the Wooden award winner, is usually the shortest player on the court for Villanova. But, he’s also the person most likely to be fed at the post when the Wildcats play. He’s not the longest player or the quickest player on the court, but from his results you can tell he’s worked a long time on his post-up game. Guards who hope to play at high levels need to work on their post-up games like forwards and centers.

4.) Few Set Plays and Masters of Spacing.

While Nova ran very few set plays, all of the players worked very effectively at spacing the court. A properly spaced court makes it hard for opponents to double team, and each player has room to drive to the basket. All of the Villanova players could put the ball on the floor and drive. As youth coaches, teaching players concepts like spacing, cutting to the basket, and dribble drive to create passing opportunities is so much more valuable than teaching set plays. Set plays are seldom carried over to future teams.

5.) Players Picking up their Dribbles at the Right Time.

There’s a tendency for when dribblers are turned back on their drive to the basket to stop and pick up their dribble. When turned back, Nova players consistently kept their dribble and looked for players breaking to the basket. Lots of assists came in this fashion. While dribbling with their back to the basket, they could make eye contact with their teammates and time their passes. Well placed bounce passes led to easy lay-ups or dunks.

6.) Eyes Up Passing To Players Cutting to Basket.

Sure, it didn’t hurt that Nova’s hot shooting from outside forced defenders to overplay the 3-point shot. But, Nova players off ball were very adept at cutting to the basket for easy baskets. The dribblers were constantly looking for cutters.

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7.) Offensive Rebounding Minimize Effects of a Cold Streak Shooting.

In the Championship Game’s first half, the Wolverines had a 7-point lead and a chance to pad it a bit with Nova’s shooting went cold for a short time. When it looked like Michigan would have a chance to extend their lead to double digits on a missed Nova shot, a well-timed offensive rebound and put back score kept things close. Strong offensive rebounding can cure a lot of shooting problems.

8.) No Easy Baskets.

Weak-side help prevented what many times seemed to be an easy lay-up for the Wolverines. Nova did an excellent job of protecting the paint area closest to the basket. This area is even more important at younger ages where sometimes about 90% of the scoring happens within 8 feet of the basket. Help defense should be the first lesson taught at the first practice in youth basketball.

9.) Practitioners of the Dean’s Rules.

When Jalen Brunson fell trying to save a ball heading out of bound in the KU game, in a split second all four of his teammates were there to lend him a hand in getting up. Legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith put in a few rules for his team that other teams have come to follow. They include: a.) When a teammate is on the ground and the whistle blows, all players rush to get him back to his feet, b.) Acknowledge an assist by pointing to the player who made the pass, and c.) All players rise when a teammate is taken out of the game. Dean Smith would’ve been proud of Villanova’s play. It’s difficult to measure the effects that these types of team building activities register, but the best teams all seem to be following the Dean Smith code.

10.) Any Player Can Be The Star.

Much like the Golden State Warriors in the NBA, Villanova has at least 8 players who could score 20 points in a game. That makes it really hard for defenders. And, what’s developed players to all have that capability? Unselfish play. All of the Nova players are looking for the best shot.

11.) Winning and Losing with Grace.

When Villanova lost to Wisconsin in last year’s tournament, coach Jay Wright’s classy tweet indicated,

“We have great respect for Coach Gard and the BadgerMBB program!! Great game today! NovaMBB will come back better and stronger.”

In 2016, when Nova beat North Carolina on Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater, Wright didn’t whoop it up right away because he was so concerned how the loss might affect North Carolina’s coach Roy Williams. His empathy reflected his concern for a fellow coach.


Youth basketball coaches probably couldn’t find two greater models in the college ranks than the coaches who made it to the Championship Game. Jay Wright knows how to motivate a team and win big. Michigan’s coach John Beilein brings the right attitude and knows a thing or two about winning hoops himself. He’s had 20-win seasons at junior college, NCAA Div. III, Div. II and Div. I. They’re both instructors first. Both don’t ride the referees. They connect with their players. If their post-game interviews and on-court demeanors are any indication, both coaches are class acts.


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