On average, a college basketball team gets three or four days between games.
Three or four days to process the last game, get better, learn everything there is to know about the next opponent, teach it to the players, travel if the game is on the road, then go out and play. That’s a hefty order, especially when players have classes to attend.
This is how the Michigan women’s basketball team pulls it off.
The process starts at the beginning of the season. Coach Kim Barnes Arico and assistants Melanie Moore, Wes Brooks and Joy McCorvey sit down and split up the opponents, with each assistant assigned to scout a number of teams. From there, video coordinator Emma Golen — with the help of graduate assistants and student managers — gets to work.
Golen’s job is perhaps the most exhaustive of anybody employed by the program. Her title is video coordinator and, while she does put together film, Golen also helps compile scouting reports and track internal stats that determine how the team spends its time. She carries a binder that could be generously estimated at four inches thick, filled with numbers of every kind and sorted by tabs marking each game the Wolverines have played this season.
“The coaches will get this after the game,” Golden said, opening the binder. “They’ll get our lineup efficiencies. … All the lineups that were in the game, their plus/minus, and then individually who was the best plus/minus. Then they’ll get a defensive efficiency. So the different defenses we were in, how well the opponent shot off of that, that type of defense, as well as a points per possession and their turnover percentage. And then our offensive efficiency. So the plays we ran, how we shot out of them.”
That’s not all. There are also individual shot charts for each player, breaking down their percentages from each spot on the floor, coded green and red based on how the player shot compared to the national average. Michigan’s offense and defense is split up by the type of possession — for example, transition — with numbers grading the Wolverines’ efficiency in such a situation.
This allows Michigan to self-scout, finding its own tendencies and problems to fix after each game.
“I’ll do a lot (of self-scouting), just kind of what went well, what didn’t go well, did we run plays right, did we kinda follow the game plan,” Golen said. “Before games, Coach will have her goals for the game up there, so just kinda seeing if how we performed matched up with those goals and finding just little ways that we can improve and be better.”
Golen compiles much of this information during games, using an iPad app, SportsCode, to manually track the outcomes of individual plays. Not only can she record individual players, tapping a headshot of junior center Hallie Thome and then marking whether a shot was made or missed; Golen follows outcomes of specific sets and how they do against specific defenses. After the game, the data automatically links up with the game film.
The Wolverines also use Synergy, an analytics service, to find uber-specific stats.
“For like post moves, it splits up left block, right block and flash middle,” Golen said. “And then it’ll give the times that (players) turn left, times that they turned right, and when they turned left … a hook shot, an up-and-under, a drop step, the number of times they do that. And they break it down into percentages.”
Michigan uses self-scouting and data, in part, to figure out how to spend practice time. For example, after losing in overtime at home to then-No. 8 Ohio State — a game they had a chance to win in regulation — the Wolverines practiced with a renewed focus on late-game situations.
“We spent a (lot of) time, end of game situations, making sure — not necessarily the right lineups that were in but everybody kinda felt comfortable playing with everyone in those kinda situations,” Golen said.
“Comfort in knowing your teammates, getting familiar with your teammates, making sure you know the plays, first of all. It’s different on the sidelines versus doing it in practice. And then next step, doing it in a game. There’s a (lot of) layers to kinda finally being able to be on the floor and do it right.”
At the beginning of the season, Golen was talking to a Synergy employee who told her an astounding number: 90 percent of Division I conference games in 2016-17 were decided by five points or less.
“So we kinda get in the discussion, like, your season comes down to maybe 30-50 possessions that can win or lose you a game,” Golen said. “So with that comes BLOBs (baseline out of bounds plays), SLOBs (sideline out of bounds plays), and after the Ohio State game, we pretty much built into every practice was BLOBs, SLOBs.”
Between that loss to the Buckeyes and a win against them nine days later in Columbus, the Wolverines also focused on stopping Ohio State point guard Kelsey Mitchell, who dropped 39 points in the first matchup.
“It was really important for (senior forward Jillian Dunston) to kinda see how (Mitchell) scored on her,” Golen said. “How she was able to kinda get in her comfort zone a little bit towards the end of the game and how she kinda took over that fourth quarter and overtime. For Jill and our whole team to be able to see that, (because) obviously it’s not just Jill’s responsibility to stop her. And just being able to bring that to the next game and improve on that and we were able to hold her under control the second game.”
That they did. Mitchell scored a comparatively-low 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field the second time around, and the Buckeyes fell short.
While fixing its own problems, Michigan is also, of course, preparing for the opponent itself.
As soon as the Wolverines are done playing a game scouted by a certain assistant, Golen starts to feed the assistant information about their next scout: a preliminary report, compiled through Synergy, detailing the team’s tendencies.
Some opponents will stick to those tendencies no matter what. Others mix it up, trying to find something that will work against the Wolverines. Iowa, for example, threw a triangle-and-two defense at Michigan, putting its offense out of whack in what ended up being a 10-point Hawkeye win.
Since then, more opponents have flashed the triangle-and-two at them — and the Wolverines have practiced going against it every day.
“That was the first time a league opponent did it and I think it kind of shook us a little bit,” Barnes Arico said. “I think since that time, we’ve gotten better and we’ve practiced more and we’re moving the basketball better on the offensive end. So I think it’s been a combination of it being thrown at us and our players improving as the season progresses.”
The end product comes in the form of a booklet, given to Barnes Arico, featuring detailed play-by-play diagrams, a page of sets run by the upcoming opponent, the opponents’ recent box scores, best rebounders, 3-point shooters, and free-throw shooters (as well as the worst free-throw shooters).
In addition to a recently compiled scouting report, Barnes Arico will go through booklets from prior years as well. She finds it to be useful exercise, even if there has been a coaching or system change.
“Kids have tendencies,” Barnes Arico said. “So that’s the biggest thing in your preparation, is can you get ready for their tendencies? You know, and there might be a total different style of play, but if you can, you know, ‘Hey, this kid’s gonna pull up when they go left. This kid’s gonna try to go all the way when they go right.’ So you can practice those things.”
The scouting report is given to the players themselves through team-distributed iPads, on the app Just Play.
“That has all the scouts on there, all the film on there, player tendency, film, full-game film,” Golen said. “So kinda whatever they need, they have access to as well.”
While the assistant coaches are working on a given opponent well beforehand, players aren’t given this information until that opponent is up next. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t being prepared.
“I can incorporate some of those things in practice without them knowing,” Barnes Arico said. “So if we’re gonna play against an offense that we’ve never played against before, we only have one or two days to prep for it because of our schedule, I can incorporate that a little bit earlier. Or, like, press break stuff. So, if we incorporate that five minutes every day in practice, when we’re getting ready for a press break, we’re already used to doing that. But for the kids, they don’t know it until the last game is over.”
When it comes to film study, the coaches meet to decide what gets shown to the entire team.
“A lot gets shown to us that doesn’t get shown to them, because there’s just not that much time and the focus on that too,” Barnes Arico said. “So we’ll take probably five or six clips per individual player.”
On one day, Michigan will watch film as a team. The next, the Wolverines will split into groups, the specifics of which often vary.
“We’ll do some groups in terms of position,” Barnes Arico said. “And we can do groups in terms of the Maize team and the Blue team. So we try to vary it, so it’s different learning styles, can pick things up differently. Different voices among the group are good to learn with.”
Like learning the scouting report, players are also responsible for watching film at home on their iPads. By gametime, it’s on them to know everything from which way their matchup prefers to drive, to which plays will work against the opposing defense.
When the ball tips, Golen opens her iPad and gets to work. It’s time to start the process all over again.