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Spatola talks Final Four, defense and coaching

With Steve Wojciechowski taking the head coaching position at Marquette, we spoke to longtime friend Chris Spatola, Duke's former director of basketball operations and a current assistant to AD Kevin White. Spatola, also a college basketball analyst for CBS Sports, also sat down to talk about the Final Four with The Chronicle.

The Chronicle: All four Final Four teams play at a pretty slow pace, especially Wisconsin and Florida. What are your thoughts on how these more deliberate defensive teams have thrived?

Chris Spatola: I saw this when we won the national championship in 2010, but you have to be able to guard people in the halfcourt. Part of being able to guard is finishing defensive possessions with a defensive rebound, and all these four teams can do that. The one thing I will say is they all have the ability to score when they need to. If you look at the teams this year that were really strictly defensive teams like St. Louis, Ohio State and Cincinnati, they didn't necessarily fare all that well, losing in that first weekend.

TC:
Everybody talks about Florida's defense, but what is the X-factor for them this year? Why is it they've lost only two games?

CS: They're old. They've got four seniors who start for them and have been through the marathon and process of college basketball. They've grown—they were role players, and they've grown into being major contributors. It's certainly a contrast with a team like Kentucky, and being old is first and foremost their greatest asset. Then there's a toughness to them. Two things we had in 2010: We were old and tough. They have that. They can guard you in different ways.

They also have a special player, SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin. You need that, one guy who at the end of games can take and make good shots. And he's really been that guy for them.

TC: There are four big-name coaches in the Final Four with Bo Ryan (Wisconsin), John Calipari (Kentucky), Billy Donovan (Florida) and Kevin Ollie (Connecticut), but they're all very different. What will that be like?

CS: The first thing that stands out isn't just how different they all are, but in the game of basketball and in coaching there are a thousand different ways to do things. This is the perfect Final Four to show that. For example you talk about matchups, and in the case of Wisconsin you're not matching up against one or two guys, you're matching up against their system and the way they do things. Bo Ryan built that on defense, but they've evolved into having great balance offensively. In the case of Calipari, he's been able to show that you can take talent—nobody every doubted that these freshmen had talent—and as long as you can develop the mental mindset you have to have to win at this time of year, you can be really good. He's really made those kids tough-minded.

In the case of Billy Donovan, I think he's underrated as a defensive coach. I don't think there's a team that can get after you on the defensive end of the floor better than theirs. Then Kevin Ollie, we've got a legendary coach at Duke, can you imagine and stepping in for a guy like Coach K? Well it's similar for Kevin Ollie, who stepped in for a legend and Hall of Fame coach in Jim Calhoun. He's gotten unbelievable buy-in from all the kids in that program.

The Final Four begins tonight at 6:10 p.m. with Connecticut-Florida and resumes at 8:50 with Kentucky-Wisconsin.

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