How to win at D2 and D3 Topic

I am likely the most successful D2/D3 coach in HD history. Maybe not... but maybe. Regardless, I am bored, and although I don't read the forums very often I decided to write a guide to winning at these levels. My qualifications are: A lot of wins, not a lot of losses, and probably 14 championships.

I am writing this because everyone sucks at D2/D3. Well not everyone, but enough people that I’ve decided I want to make everyone better. My primary goal is to entice people to join my conferences, specifically the Mid-America in Tark, where I have an excellent dynasty and am set to build our conference to be stronger than our rivals, the GLV. I have used my contacts at the NSA to secretly block all of the GLV’s computers from reading this.


Winning Essentials: I believe that this game is roughly 80% recruiting. The remaining 20% is some combination of team game planning, depth chart management, and distribution. If I could recruit, set my team, and not touch them the rest of the season—I’d still win a lot of games, probably be only slightly less successful than I currently am.


Recruiting—Player Evaluation: As it is the most important “skill” in HD, I thought I’d touch on it first. The most important thing in recruiting is player evaluation. I frequently scratch my head at some of the guys that are signed, players that I wouldn’t touch on my D4 team with a 10 foot pole. Why would you ever sign someone who won’t get to 30 in athleticism? Why would you ever sign someone who won’t get to 30 in defense? There are, of course, exceptions to the rule (to the former, you could find someone who is like a 90 speed/25 athleticism guard with good skills, he could definitely be serviceable; to the latter, you could find someone with low defense who you planned on being an offensive force off the bench, but you might be in some trouble if he ever had to start); but they are exceptions for exactly that reason: the rule should be that everyone has to be athletic and be able to defend.


But, there are many strategies to win, and it takes all types. If you recruit a team full of athletic defenders, you won’t have anyone to score, and scoring is half the battle. To combat this, guards with good speed/perimeter/ball handling is essential.  Bigs with good athleticism and low post moves are nice as well.


Most importantly, it’s about taking what is available to you and maximizing talent. If I’m really searching for a defensive minded PG but I find one who is a decent defender but boasts excellent perimeter shooting, I’m not going to pass up having another offensive option just to fill a “need.”


Overall, it’s important not to have needs. Don’t pay attention to positions. Recruiting versatile players is key. If you recruit a SG who happens to have 25 rebounding, you can likely slide him to either wing position if you find a guy who happens to be pegged into the SF (like a low perimeter role playing type) or SG (a guard with a 1 in rebounding, for instance) position.


Don’t be afraid to recruit role players. Nearly 50% of the players I recruit are defensive players, rebounders, passers or some combination of the 3 and will never be a viable offensive option in their entire career. I am fine with that, because a player like this won’t hurt me, whereas a marginal offensive option who struggles on defense will typically foul too much and allow too many points to be scored on him. You’re only as good as your weakest link on defense, because an opponent can always target the position or player you’re weak at and up his distribution to reflect your weakest defender.


Work ethic! I will devote an entire paragraph to work ethic, because I believe it is paramount. I like to get the most out of my players. If someone has a 50+ work ethic, you will never have to worry about his development. He will frequently be nearing his caps around his junior season, and will almost always cap out in everything by his senior year. If someone has 40-50, he may struggle to get to his caps until the end of his senior year unless he is aided by starting his sophomore year or redshirting a year. If someone is in the 30-40 range, he will typically need just a little bit more of a nudge. If he has a good HS GPA or has a few categories that are already low potential (therefore allowing you to put more practice time into his categories with good potential), he will likely develop fine, but if he doesn’t, he will probably struggle to reach his caps until the end of his senior year. I rarely recruit players who are under 30 in work ethic, although I will make an exception if they are very talented and I can get them a redshirt, some starts early in their career, or they have very few categories to actually improve in. If a player is under 20 in work ethic, he will barely improve over the course of his career (that doesn’t mean you can’t find some that are reasonable because they are already very strong in core categories). If a player is under 10 in work ethic, he will always be too busy playing Halo in the offseason to make him a worthwhile player, and will therefore lose any progress he made in the last season in the offseason “improvements.” Getting a player to his caps as soon as possible should be your goal to maximize your chances of winning.

[April 8, 2012 2:00 PM EST] A more specific guide to what I'm looking for my players to get to in terms of minimum speed/athleticism requirements. Note that there are exceptions to every rule, and these should only be used for a guide and not a steadfast rule. At d3, I am looking for my guards to be a combination of 120 in speed/athleticism; a PG to get to at least 70 speed/50 athleticism (or some combination very close to that), SG to get to 65/55, SF to get to 60/60. Again, if I find someone who is just under those marks but is spectacular in their skills, I can make exceptions. For bigs, I am looking for about 70 athleticism in my PF, 60 athleticism in my C. I value speed very little in bigs, but I value it slightly more in my PF than my C, where I don't value it at all (I might if I played the press anywhere). At D2, use all of the guides I just mentioned but add 10 to each number (so, a total of 140 speed/athleticism for my perimeter players). There are exceptions-- Edward Bradley is one of my better players on my SW Baptist team and he is only 65/64 in speed/athleticism, a total of 129 (11 under my recommended guide for D2 perimeter players). However, he is 76 defense, 89 perimeter, 83 ball handling, 76 passing, and 56 (and still growing) low post. Despite his marginal speed/athleticism ratings, he is able to get 15 PPG on 44%/40%/75% in 17 MPG off the bench. That is elite scoring efficiency against tough competition.


Recruiting—Logistics: So now that we know what we’re looking for, how do we find ‘em? FSS is the most important tool for recruiting D2/D3. I typically spend about 20% of my recruiting budget on FSS, but it varies from situation to situation. I usually scout any state with players who are within 400 miles of my school, because I believe 360 miles is the cutoff for a huge jump in recruiting expense. If you want to be really ambitious, don’t be afraid to look for players you like without FSS and then recruit states who have copious amounts of those players. I am usually too lazy to do this, but if I did maybe I’d stop scouting Kentucky with my SW Baptist team—I never get anyone from that ******* state.


I start by looking on the list of my division to see who I like and won’t have to pull down. I usually set them to “medium” on the priority list. Then, I go to the division above me and look at players I can realistically get (I usually have an A+ prestige so I can recruit a good bit above me, players up to around 475 overall rating or so at D3 in the D2 list and players rated around #150 at the position at D2 on the D1 list—but these things vary with prestige and distance and there is some random variance in them as well). I’ll usually keep these players unproiritized. When recruiting starts, I call their coach—he will ALWAYS give me an answer to let me know if I have a shot as a backup or a snowball’s chance in hell. If I’m a backup option, I just put these guys in the “low” priority category. If they’re close to me and they’re good, I may choose to pull them down early in recruiting. To pull them down, I’ll send 10 scouting trips and offer a scholarship. In some cases, you can pull people down for less, but since I only pull down players who are close to me I don’t want to take the chance of not immediately getting on their considering list by not sending enough scouting trips.


Inevitably, recruiting won’t go perfectly. Avoid battles that you can’t win. I can’t stress this enough, every recruiting season I see guys fight me for recruits that they have little to no chance of landing. In order to judge if you can win the battle, check distance, number of open scholarships you and your opponent have, and other battles your opponent is in. If your opponent has an advantage in these areas, please just run away from that recruiting now and find a backup option. Don’t half *** it, be efficient.


To continue with that last statement, it’s important not to waste money. Go after guys you want to go after and don’t blow money recruiting guys who probably aren’t going to play for you. Be patient. Don’t send random scouting trips, random home visits, or more than you absolutely need. To get someone to consider you, you frequently only need a home visit and a scholarship offer. If I have lower than an A+ prestige, I’ll sometimes send a campus visit and a scholarship, which will always get the player to consider me.


Finally, if you really want to take it to the next level, outwork your opponent. Search for guys. Search, search, search. Look for guys who are undecided late in recruiting, look for guys who are in states that are not recruited hard, look for guys who have good core categories and then FSS their state. Look for guys who are considering someone who can’t keep them (a Sim coach who you can easily knock off, a human coach with a low prestige, a human coach who suffers from a distance disadvantage). Players are there, they fall through the cracks. I could make a perennial NT team from guys who I only recruited on the last day of recruiting—people don’t evaluate players well and they don’t work hard enough to get out of their comfort zone and find guys hiding under rocks.


Recruiting—Internationals, Ineligibles, Incontinence: At least you’re still paying attention. I rarely touch internationals at D3, although I have one right now on my Westminster team in Phelan that is going to be one of my best guards of all time. I was looking for a PG, I found someone in Puerto Rico who had 60+ speed and 40+ athleticism. After sending 1 scouting trip, I found out his was high in athleticism and high/high in speed and he had good enough cores for a PG to take a chance, so I immediately sent a home visit and offered him a scholarship. He turned out to be average in defense and high in perimeter, ball handling, and passing. He will likely be one of the best D3 point guards of all time (his name is Mario Santana if you want to look him up on my Phelan team, and he is still high in speed, athleticism, perimeter, ball handling, and passing and average in defense).


While I will not target internationals at D3 because the cost of sending scouting trips (essential to finding out how good players are and therefore if they’re worth recruiting), I will definitely entertain the prospect of someone who doesn’t speak the language on my D2 team. With internationals, you have to be intrigued enough with their core values to send scouting trips. You can use your own judgment, but I usually send 1 or 2 at a time per cycle until I find out yay or nay on a player. I am very unlikely to mess with recruiting internationals if I don’t already have most of my scholarships filled or if I think I might have to battle for someone, but there are definitely some gems to be had if you can find one.


Ineligibles are another way to get a competitive edge, if done correctly. I have no idea how often ineligibles show up, I’d guess between 60-80% in my experience. So, you have to use your judgment to see how important the player is to you, taking into account that he won’t play in the upcoming season. One great thing about ineligibles is that some people will be shy to recruit them, especially if they need guys to fill voids in this upcoming season. So, if you have a low prestige or some money to spend, don’t be afraid to mix it up for an ineligible. If he does show up, you may get a player who is the quality of an A+ prestige school at a much lower prestige.


Another way I use ineligibles is late in recruiting by signing them when I have open scholarships that would otherwise go to walkons. Even if the recruit doesn’t show, you will get the roll over money for attempting to fill the scholarship. Speaking of taking walkons—don’t be afraid to take them. If you have 5 scholarships open, work on getting 3 players at the positions that you really need (always be 2 deep at every position, more on that when I talk about depth charts). In theory, it’s better to spend 25k on 3 players than 25k on 5 players because you’ll wind up with higher quality players, and quantity rarely matters unless you want to be 12 deep to run the press. Every year I’m looking for 10 players and I’ll fill the remaining scholarships with players who might take a year to develop or are ineligible or need to be redshirted (if you’re not a particularly high prestige, or even if you are, there’s no reason not to redshirt people as often as possible as long as it doesn’t mess up your 10 man depth chart—having mature players who have good IQ in lieu of talent is one way to compete on a high level without getting elite recruits).

[April 8, 2012 4:00 PM EST] Recruiting--Non 4 Year Players: Transfers and Jucos are players that should be evaluated a bit differently than 4 year players. Although you should always keep in mind what their skillset will be when they are seniors, transfers and Jucos will go about getting there in a much different way. I will traditionally utilize them in order to balance classes, but sometimes finding a talented transfer or Juco will be the key to your teams' success. 

With transfers, you can sometimes find a guy who wasn't getting the playing time he needed at a higher division than your current school, so scooping him up can lead to finding a dominant player. However, I think transfers are usually among the most over recruited players. I don't know why people are enamored with most transfers, especially if they don't play your O/D. Transfers with just 1 year of eligibility left are frequently hot commodities because it may enable you to fill your scholarships, carry over extra money, and then free up a scholarship for the next recruiting season. Be careful not to recruit transfers too hard, especially if they are far away from you and don't know your O/D.

Jucos are a different story. Jucos are sometimes the most talented players available at D2/D3 because more talented Jucos are usually available to lower prestige schools than their four year counterparts. You absolutely cannot look at a Juco the same way you'd look at a 4 year player though, because they will almost never reach their caps. Work ethic is more important in Jucos than 4 year players, and Jucos with low work ethic are almost useless unless their core categories are already sufficient. One trick I use (I think I may have invented this, I never saw anyone use it before I did) is to redshirt a Juco. In order to do this, you MUST inform him of redshirt during recruiting, which typically takes extra effort (I typically send two CVs when I inform a recruit of RS, but the amount you need depends on how much previous effort you put in; inform of redshirt is simply a negative recruiting effort, it can always be balanced by positive effort, though if you use it too early you may turn the recruit off so much that he no longer accepts effort from you). As with transfers, it's important if a Juco knows your offense and defense because he will have less time at your school to become proficient in them.

Recruiting—Timing: I don’t believe in the term “poaching.” I don’t know what that means exactly, but I believe there are two basic strategies for recruiting: go early, or go late. In general, I believe you should go early if you have a very high prestige and go late if you don’t have a high prestige. Either way, I (almost) always save half of my starting budget for after signing period.


If you choose to go early, you should lock guys up that you can realistically win by putting in as much effort as you feel they are worth. If you put enough effort in, it will keep other teams from even getting on their considering list. This is almost always what I do with my A+ teams—I immediately mark my territory like a wild animal, letting all other schools know that I own my recruits and if they come at me they will suffer the wrath of my entire budget like lightning bolts from the heavens. Another simple strategy that sometimes works in recruiting is trying to jump on someone early and sign them for cheap, knowing full well that if someone comes along to battle you’ll have to back off. To do this, just find a guy who you think people might let you have and send a HV and a scholarship on the first cycle (don’t miss the first cycle by the way, always at least make calls to find out if guys are a backup option). Sometimes you won’t get challenged and you’ll pick up a reasonable player simply from the threat of a battle.


I typically choose to recruit late with my lower prestige teams, and I am not opposed to “stealing” players although I can’t remember the last time I did it. Waiting until two cycles before signings start, you can browse exactly what’s going on with all the players you have on your watch list. You can see who is in battles and is spending their budget, who you might be able to pick off from another school or find solid options who are still undecided. Also, by going late, you give yourself a chance to pick up good players who get dropped by D1 schools or schools with a higher prestige than you. Frequently these players are being recruited by a D1 or D2 with just some scouting trips and when signings start if they fill all of their scholarships they will automatically drop off people who are left. Sometimes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.


Recruiting—Battles: Should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of getting in a battle, you have many options. You should, typically, be sending a combination of HVs and CVs. If I’m within 200 miles of the recruit, I’ll send almost exclusively HVs. If I’m further, I tend to sway towards sending CVs, but I mix it up to maximize my money. There is a balance here: on one hand, you want to send your efforts early so that they increase as cycles go on; on the other hand, you want to leave enough money to exit the battle and have plenty of money to properly secure a backup option. If you don’t “need” this player, it’s fine to just go all in and hope for the best.


Practice plans: Practice is easy, though there are some tricks—some I know, some I don’t know. Start with a few minutes in SH, usually 5 for freshman, and less as they get older (almost no SH time is needed for upperclassmen), adjust to more SH minutes if your player is in the danger zone during mid terms. I personally put 25 minutes into offense and defense, although I think putting 20 or anything between 20-25 is probably fine as well. For individual players’ practice plans, I just put 15-20 minutes in conditioning since it encompasses many important skills and between 10-15 minutes in each category, emphasizing ones that my player is high/high in. I almost always emphasize FT shooting as much as possible, and even when he reaches his cap in FT shooting I will keep 8 minutes in the category. When I do get an email indicating that the player is done improving in that skill, I will typically put between 0-3 minutes in to keep up the skill a little bit, although not much is needed if he is getting a lot of playing time and his work ethic is high.


Depth Chart: Since I don’t currently have any press teams, I work on a 10 man depth chart at all times. I have a starter and backup at all positions, and will frequently fill the third spot on the depth chart with a player from another position who I feel can also play that position in case of foul trouble or injury. My 10 man depth chart is typically a senior and a sophomore backing him up, or a junior and a freshman backing him up. I will occasionally recruit a player at the same position just one year younger if I feel the player is a good fit in my system and I am okay with him not starting until his senior year. I typically keep my classes as balanced as possible, rarely having 5 seniors (unless I’m just building a program), and usually trying to be perfectly balanced 3-3-3-3. This keeps me interested in competing for a title every year. If you really want to sacrifice competing every year for having a big 4-5 person class to get your prestige up, that is fine, but years where you have only 2-3 upperclassmen are incredibly boring and can lead to players complaining about playing time when you have 8 upperclassmen a few years later, so I recommend balancing as much as possible.


Distribution: I usually only have a few offensive options on my team, and I rate them from 1-3 based on how good they are on offense. My primarily options are almost always upperclassmen. A 3 is typically an elite scorer, someone who can average 15-20 PPG on good efficiency. A 2 is usually a secondary scorer, someone who I don’t mind getting good looks but who I won’t force the ball to. A 1 is usually someone who is a senior and isn’t great on offense but his IQ and maturity make him reasonable, or a sophomore who is just becoming a viable option. I’ll typically check how efficient players are performing in their individual roles after nonconference, in the middle of conference play, and at the end of conference play in order to adjust my distribution according to how efficient my offensive options are. My SW Baptist team is a good example of how I run my distribution—I only have 3 real offensive options, although some of my sophomores are starting to become too talented for me to resist getting them the ball.


Gameplanning: I don’t put much thought into gameplanning, since I rely on recruiting superior talent. Most people can attest to me playing a M2M or Zone set at “0” for an entire season. Sometimes I will check if I’m playing a big game against a conference mate and if he has a particularly efficient player scoring over 15 PPG (specifically at a position I don’t defend well, which is rare!) I will double team him if he’s the leading scorer or something. During the National Tournament, I’ll usually check the opponent I’m playing and do some simple team gameplanning, which usually just means setting my team to various +/- setting based on the number of 3 pointers my opponent takes, the % he shoots, and his rebounding differential.

I typically run slow down if I feel my starters are strong or I'm trying to emphasize getting my starters minutes (perhaps to increase work ethic). I will also run normal tempo in order to increase possessions and lower variance from game to game. I rarely run uptempo, but ran it a lot when I was running the press at my D2 in Rupp-- I had 80+ team stamina every year with good defense and ran the score up time after time. I will still occasionally run uptempo when I have a distinct stamina advantage to tire my opponents out.

[April 8 2012 2:00 PM EST] Scheduling: I schedule tough, for the most part, but I do it because my teams can take it. Typically, I'm looking for between a 6/4 and 8/2 split in favor of road games, but if I am playing someone really tough I may want to play it at home (also, if I play a team every year, I'm obviously going to play home and home's with them). I believe you should make your team good enough to be able to play against a schedule that tough. Be smart about it though, you want to make sure you get at least 7 wins in the non conference if your conference is reasonably strong. If your conference is weak, schedule as tough as possible, but be realistic-- you don't want to schedule any definite losses. If your team just isn't that good, maybe a fringe NT team or a mediocre NT team fighting for seeding, make sure to schedule winnable games. Pick out Sim teams that seem to have a lot of seniors and a respectable overall team speed/athleticism rating. Find mediocre human coached teams on the rebuild. Play these teams on the road. Winning games like this will give you a shot at "artificially" bolster your RPI.

You're welcome: If you want to thank me for this guide, please join one of my conferences. My D3 in conferences Knight and Naismith are full (and the two best in any worlds, I believe). My D3 in Phelan is relatively empty, and I'm too stubborn to leave the first school I was ever with, so come join me (along with what might be a promising group of young coaches). My D2 in Wooden is empty, and I'm trying to win my third straight title there (and am a huge favorite, as I won it last year with just one senior). My D2 conference in Tark is the real reason I'm writing this. If I've helped you and you want to help me, join forces with me in that conference as soon as you deem yourself worthy. We have two schools that need rebuilds from courageous coaches, and competition is strong.

4/8/2012 3:56 PM (edited)
ae - thanks for the guide, I think the longer I have played HD I have continued to learn and finally start to understand how to win in HD. I played HD a number of years ago and had a pretty successful run at D3 (Final 4's and Elite 8's) but I feel that now I am much better equipped to compete on a yearly basis.

I look forward to playing with you in Phelan and hopefully I can put up a fight.
4/8/2012 9:13 AM
You touched on many subjects in your guide and you probably are easily the most successful D2/3 coach. I wanted to ask if you put any effort into OOC scheduling as well? Did you schedule sims with lots of seniors in empty conferences you could beat or did you play anyone whether they were above or below your talent grade? Does it matter in the end?
4/8/2012 1:23 PM
From playing with aejones in the Mid America in Tark, he schedules very hard every season in OOC. There's really no reason not to if you feel you'll be successful in conference play. 
4/8/2012 1:44 PM
It's cool that I'm able to edit the OP in this format, so I will answer the Qs posed in this thread and the ones I received via PM in the main post, thanks
4/8/2012 1:53 PM
Thanks for the addition. I think the reason many coaches don't make the NT is because of scheduling. I wouldn't say that you should schedule easy wins outright but I have seen too many teams scheduling teams where they may be 10 to 1 underdogs and the coaches are just hoping for the upset. They end up with low SOS but RPI is just too far up there to do anything post season wise. I've been there myself. Thanks again. 
4/8/2012 2:28 PM
When aejones speaks, us mere mortals simply listen and learn. 

New Coaches who are serious about this game should add this thread as their favorite. 
4/8/2012 2:34 PM
Posted by rednation58 on 4/8/2012 2:28:00 PM (view original):
Thanks for the addition. I think the reason many coaches don't make the NT is because of scheduling. I wouldn't say that you should schedule easy wins outright but I have seen too many teams scheduling teams where they may be 10 to 1 underdogs and the coaches are just hoping for the upset. They end up with low SOS but RPI is just too far up there to do anything post season wise. I've been there myself. Thanks again. 
right, it's one thing to schedule one tough game (say you're a fringe NT team and you want to schedule a perennial top 10 program at home, which you think you might be like 35% to win and you're really looking to get a tough early test for your team) but it's another to have a half dozen which you are a huge dog to win. that'll kill you. you're better off just making sure you have all road games against Sim teams that project to be in the 100-200 RPI range (be sure not to schedule Sim's who go under .500 and have an RPI >200, they'll kill your SOS). 
4/8/2012 2:55 PM
If you get tired of dominating Wooden D2, you should drop down to D3 and make it even more of a bloodbath.
4/8/2012 3:18 PM
Great advice aejones.  Too often I see coaches that go into heavily populated areas 1000 miles from campus to grab a guy.  If the player your going after that far away is any good you'll get destroyed in a battle.  99% of the only reason others don't jump on those prospects is because they weren't any good to start with. 
Could you also add a sections on transfers/juco's?
4/8/2012 3:37 PM
Non-4 year player section added
4/8/2012 3:56 PM
Seems like your teams are generally more talented than your opponents - but it sounds like you still run a lot of slowdown, and rarely run uptempo. Why is that? Stamina concerns? Just seems somewhat counter to what I have read from others (which is to play uptempo when you're the better team, slowdown when you're not).
4/8/2012 5:21 PM
I mention it in the post. I am most confident in my starters, not always in my depth, since I almost never have upperclassmen backups and I'd rather not give an edge to one of my opponents who has 8 uppserclassmen.
4/8/2012 6:13 PM
Posted by killbatman on 4/8/2012 3:18:00 PM (view original):
If you get tired of dominating Wooden D2, you should drop down to D3 and make it even more of a bloodbath.
yeah, always remember that the New Jersey conference has a spot for you! We only have 2 openings (one SIM and one ghost) so if you want to drop down into the most competitive D3, join our conference on the rise!
4/8/2012 6:22 PM
very helpful.  But I have a question:It seems like your D1 team does not have very high REB ratings (but yet they're extremely successful), how important is REB in big men?
4/8/2012 7:06 PM
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