KEEPING YOUR TEAM LEVEL DURING A ROLLER COASTER SEASON

This past weekend was spiced with some phenomenal games and some incredible comebacks. Iowa came back from a 17-point halftime deficit to beat Head Coach Steve Alford’s alma mater, Indiana. Duke’s comeback against Maryland was nothing short of miraculous. Down by 10 with 54 seconds left to play, the Blue Devils tied it up in regulation and then won the game in overtime.

But how do such games affect a team’s psyche? Can such a game change a team’s season for better or worse? That, of course depends on the make-up of the team and the result of the game. Many teams regroup after a tough loss and are able to look back at the season and see the game as a turning point. Likewise, many teams don’t bounce back after getting a huge win. They have a tendency to get too high emotionally and crash hard.

For example, earlier this year Missouri and Iowa State were involved in an epic battle that took four overtimes to settle. What happened to these two teams after this game? Iowa State, which found itself on the losing side in that contest, has since won four straight games, three of them quite convincingly. They seemed to turn things around after their emotional loss. They have shared the ball better and are playing better defense. It’s a game that has probably changed their season for the good, even though it shows up as an L on their record.

Missouri has since gone into a deep funk. They lost their next game immediately following their showdown with Iowa State. It was to a tough but undermanned Kansas State team. It was the first of three consecutive defeats. That streak finally ended on January 27 when they beat Texas Tech 66-64 at Missouri. This is a Texas Tech team that is 2-4 in the conference and only 8-9 overall. The Tigers are definitely struggling since their emotionally draining game against the Cyclones. Coming out of their funk may not be an easy task, as their next two games are against Kansas and Oklahoma State.

So, how does a coach avoid the “letdown” after a big game? One key is the approach to each game that a team takes. Remember, this is not football. One game is not 10% of your season. It’s a much longer season. There are many more ups and downs. If a coach prepares his team, to treat each game the same — whether it’s the first game of the season or the championship, their biggest rival or the worst team on their schedule — they’re likely to have more success in the long run. You don’t want your team too high after a big win or too low after a disappointing loss.

This is not an easy task. You can’t completely protect players from the hype that surrounds big games. Coaches usually have to downplay rivalry games and emotional wins and losses. Conversely, getting players ready to play against opponents with lesser talent may take a little emotional prodding.

It’s not an exact science by any stretch of the imagination. It’s more like a unique form of art. A great coach knows how and when to push the right buttons to make his team go. A coach has to handle a lot of responsibilities in a program and the psyche of his team may be the most important.

Does this mean that Duke and Iowa will now falter in their next games out? Not necessarily but it will be a challenge for both team’s coaches. Duke has the luxury of playing North Carolina in their next game. Duke’s players know that they cannot afford to have a letdown against the Tar Heels. It should get them refocused. Iowa could be in a little more danger, as they play host to a good but underrated Minnesota Gopher team. Iowa Coach Steve Alford may have his work cut out for him.

You don’t have to be Frasier Crane to know that the emotions of young college students are fragile. You do have to be a pretty good coach to know how to keep those emotions in check, that or a hypnotist.