By DOM AMORE, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
10:30 AM EDT, March 28, 2014
NEW YORK — They are both 41, have been friends since high school and have taken similar career paths through college.
But UConn's Kevin Ollie and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, whose teams meet in the NCAA's East Regional semifinal Friday night at Madison Square Garden, have spent the largest chunks of their professional lives in the NBA.
"I spent more years in that league than I did in college," Hoiberg said. "I had 14 great years in the NBA, 10 as a player and four as a front-office executive. And that's the style I know."
Both rejoined their alma maters four years ago. Hoiberg took over as head coach, Ollie returned to UConn as an assistant, then replaced Jim Calhoun before the 2012-13 season.
Their teams reflect, to the degree it is possible, a pro style.
"Coach [Ollie] has been in the NBA a lot of years," guard Shabazz Napier said. "And his ideas on how to run an offense come from that. A lot of things come from Coach Calhoun, too. You intertwine those two things, and he's just putting us in great positions to show what we have."
It's more complicated than to say that both UConn and Iowa State like to run. They are pure-college teams that also like to play uptempo. Both have NBA-thick playbooks to draw upon after timeouts. They run a lot of pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop on offense, and implement multiple ways to defend against those plays. They try to isolate their best players.
"With our NBA experience, I think we coach the same," said Ollie, who played in 13 NBA seasons. "We try to manipulate the defense, try to go to different matchups."
Both teams emphasize stretching the defense and ball movement, side to side.
"The biggest message to our guys is if they go out and move the ball and have great spacing, you're going to get good looks," Hoiberg said. "That's kind of what our offense is designed to do, to draw two guys onto one space of the floor and make the proper play."
"I do see it in Kevin's team, as well. They do such a good job getting the ball in the right guy's hands, either [Ryan] Boatright or Napier, where those guys are so tough. They shoot the ball at an extremely high clip. To make almost 40 percent of your threes, a lot of that has to do with the great actions that Kevin runs for those playmakers."
As for pace, Iowa State tries to score quickly and averages about 15 seconds a possession, 62 shots a game. UConn averages about 17 seconds and 56.2 shots. Virginia, which plays Michigan State in the other game here Friday, is much more deliberate on offense, for example, averaging 20 seconds a possession. Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett played for three years in the NBA, but his roots are deeper in the college game.
"[Ollie] has a pro style of offense," Boatright said. "It's not a pass-and-cut type of deal. It's a lot of pick and roll. Iowa State definitely runs a pro-style offense, too, through DeAndre Kane — he's a big guard and they try to isolate him a lot."
In recent weeks, Ollie has often said that "coaching is overrated, it's a players' game." This has been cited as a major difference between the NBA and conventional college basketball, in which the coaches are often the stars. At Iowa State, Hoiberg has rebuilt the program with numerous transfers, such as Kane, showing an NBA coach's ability to work new, experienced players into his system quickly.
"Playing for Coach [Hoiberg] is him just letting us play free, giving us the confidence to go out there and play, play for each other," Kane said. "I love playing the game, and I think we all bought into his system early."
Ollie has been able to do that, too, with grad-student transfers R.J. Evans last season and Lasan Kromah this year.
"You coach your personnel," Ollie said, so you've got to get personnel that can do certain things. It's always different styles, different athletes."
UConn (28-8) advanced to the Sweet 16 with wins over St. Joseph's and Villanova in Buffalo, N.Y. Iowa State (28-7) got here with wins over North Carolina Central and North Carolina in San Antonio, Texas. During the N.C. Central game, they lost forward George Niang with a broken foot.
They still have three starters scoring in double figures, including Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim (18.1 points, 8.4 rebounds), Kane (17.1 points, 5.8 assists) and Dustin Hogue (10.9 points). The Cyclones have outrebounded opponents by 1.5 a game and average 83.2 points.
"All their guys seem like they can shoot," Ollie said. "They catch [the ball] shot-ready."
The Huskies generally revolve around Napier, who leads them in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and minutes, but against Villanova, when he was on the bench with foul trouble, they staged a 16-1 run to take control of the game. Although it is unlikely to be a pure one-on-one matchup, the pairing of Napier (6 feet 1) and Kane (6-4) will be closely watched. A key for UConn, as it often has been, will be getting the ball inside to DeAndre Daniels and Amida Brimah for offensive balance, and Niang's absence could hurt Iowa State in defending that plan.
The Cyclones are shooting 35.8 percent on three-point attempts. UConn is shooting 39.2 percent on threes, with Niels Giffey (55-for-106) a go-to option when the Huskies can get him open.
"A lot of the sets we run are really pro sets," said Giffey, who has exposure to the European pro style with the German national team. "Coach is so good at picking out the guys' abilities and putting them in the right setup, the right place. That is just continuing Coach Calhoun's idea of playing hard basketball, UConn basketball and bringing that pro mentality to us. You have to be an all-around player, a guy with a lot of traits."
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