It’s a small world within a big game, so perhaps it’s not that surprising.
It is kind of funny, though, that Vanderbilt’s new coach is Stephanie White, who came from coaching former South Carolina star Tiffany Mitchell in the WNBA. White replaces Melanie Balcomb, who was hired at USC as director of coaching offensive analytics. Balcomb’s job is to bring more X’s and O’s to the Gamecocks so they can remain on top of the SEC, over teams like Vanderbilt, which secured the best recruiting class in the league.
Many would say that USC, 45-3 with three regular-season championships over the past three years and predicted to win a fourth, doesn’t need any help with offense. If it ain’t broke, etcetera.
But like when she’s recruiting players, Dawn Staley is always looking for ways to get better, and Balcomb was known for her use of multiple offensive formations while becoming Vanderbilt’s all-time winningest coach. That could come in especially handy since the word has long been out on how to try to limit USC’s bread and butter (posts A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates) with zone defenses.
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Syracuse tried it in the Sweet 16 last year and USC took the bait. When the 3-pointers that rained in the first half dried in the second, the Gamecocks were headed home.
Staley wants no part of an early exit this year. Not with Wilson returning, Coates in her last season and the elephant in the room – Connecticut – losing three starters and perhaps looking more human than usual.
Balcomb can’t directly coach players due to NCAA rules, so she observes practice and tells coaches what she sees. She can’t “coach” during games, but can sit behind the bench.
It’s a strange arrangement but one Staley feels will benefit her team.
“I think sometimes when you have your staff all together, for as long as we’ve been together, I wouldn’t say it gets stale, I think we get used to each other,” she said. “We get used to doing things a certain way, we get used to running the same sets. Whereas Melanie, she brings in a different perspective, which I like.”
Balcomb’s teams at Vanderbilt (and Xavier) were often some of the most efficient scoring teams in the country. She reached 15 NCAA tournaments in 21 years and did it utilizing up-tempo styles or heavy dependence on the 3.
USC has had a desired way to play (“throw it to the big girl”) but also had stunning individual talents (like Mitchell) that didn’t fit that M.O. The Gamecocks were incredibly successful combining all of it but don’t see the harm in tweaking it.
Especially if it can get better.
“There are some things, there are core values in what we do, and there are some things where we’re open to learning and putting our players in the best situations possible,” Staley said. “And that’s what Melanie brings, from drill work to sets to analytical numbers to little small details that we’re not paying attention to because we’ve been around our kids for so long. She brings those kind of different perspectives and they’ve been great.”
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