Scouting the opposition is a far different adventure these days than in years past. Coaches no longer have to rely on phone calls, grainy television replays--and heresay, reputation and results from years past--to understand their opponent.
The days of educated guessing are over.
Nowadays, by the time a coaching staff is riding on the bus back to the airport from a game they just played, they have their next opponent loaded up on a laptop, sandwich in one hand and remote control in the other. The coaches have the power of technology feeding them "tape" from any number of platforms, and the controls to view and review anything they want at a moment's notice.
That tape is cut so that all the down time, such as during timeouts, is removed. It's play after play, a condensed storybook, a sort of 2013 Cliff's Notes of what the team will face in its next game. It's remarkably efficient, and informational.
It's made the video coordinator one of the most important positions on a coaching staff.
"The biggest thing with Akron is that we played them last year and that's very valuable, but personnel changes and things like that (make getting updated tape important)," says Donny Lind, VCUs video coordinator. "Usually in a tournament setting you're not very familiar with your opponents or don't have common opponents, and you don't know who you'll play until the last minute."
That could be problematic for a coaching staff, but Lind make sure it isn't an issue. "We saw we got Akron at the hotel (the Brooklyn hotel after the A10 tournament where the team watched the selection show)," he says, "and by the time we got to the plane we had three games to break down, and had 10-12 games by the time we got (to Detroit)."
Lind has that capability thanks to a subscription to Synergy Sports, a company who creates interactive video of basketball games complete with box scores and advanced statistical data. It's offered to schools on a subscription basis. The company had a feature article in USA Today last week. The crux:
When coaches and video coordinators launch Synergy on their computers, a spreadsheet stuffed with numbers opens. This is the statistical backbone of Synergy, the cumulative box scores with data such as how many times a post player will set up on the left block and spin to his right or turn around and shoot a jumper. There also are columns with data such as a library of baseline out of bounds plays that coaches mine for an opponent's tendencies.
Clicking a number in blue brings up video, which part-time employee loggers have captured from television or downloads sent by schools and then married with the numbers.
"I don't have to go through every game to see how people attack the press, which is obviously a key part of my job," says Lind. "It's very helpful because one of the biggest changes from the CAA and A10 is that we don't have that extra week (to get scouting material) together."
Lind's efforts don't stop there. The coaching staff shows a personnel edit to the entire team--brief clips of specific players and specific moves designed to bring a real life dimension to what the coaches are telling the players. Lind takes over from there.
"I'll have a more detailed (scouting report) for a specific matchup that I can upload to their ipads or iphone to send to them in their rooms, more detailed for their own matchup. It's all preparation, making sure we have all the video we have or may need."
I've seen Lind many times during the season with two or three laptops in front him, cords flying everywhere. He is less mad scientist and more CSI: VCU as he synchs up video packages so the coaching staff can have what they need, when they need it. And that involves taking a long term approach to his job.
"The biggest focus of my job is that I have to be thinking about the next game as soon as the first night is over," he says. "For me the majority of Akron is done and I have to be thinking about the potential next game, so I'm working so we can have that ready to go, the edits and scouting reports."
The Rams, should they beat Akron, get the winner of Michigan and South Dakota State. That means Lind has to prepare for multiple teams, including VCU.
"If we're fortunate enough to beat Akron, we may get Michigan and Trey Burke," he says. Burke is the uber-talented and bucketmaking guard for the Wolverines. "So I may load in how we played against Missouri." Rams fans will remember Flip Pressey, the uber-talented and bucketmaking guard for the Tigers.
The point to this: for the purpose of winning a basketball game, the very close relationship between Shaka Smart and Keith Dambrot is fairly irrelevant. Scouting is so advanced these days that the familiarity those two have with each other and their teams is not a big deal.
Side note: that's as close as I will get to writing about that relationship. For those who are interested, Chris Kowalski--inside joke there--did a fabulous job telling the story.
Due to the abundance of tape--I love using that word in 2013--and the talents of people like Donny Lind--coaching staffs are going to have enough knowledge of each other. It becomes about the game, the hand-to-hand combat of the NCAA tournament. The fun of havoc and the in-game adjustments to things like foul trouble are the real story. In my best coaching cliche: it's about executing your stuff.
Long before all of that, late at night, Donny Lind is putting together the atoms--those protons, neutrons, and electrons that create the orbital force of havoc. Lind is one of the people you don't read about but is critical to the success of this basketball team and this athletics program. This is the time of year where his skill and and work ethic is on display. You don't see it, but it's there, in every trap and every turnover.
Programming note: I begin my back-and-forth from the arena today. VCU, like all the teams here, has an interview session and open practice. I will bring you as much of the color and information as I can, but I have no idea what that's going to look like. Stay tuned.