The NCAA Tournament kicks off this week, and the No. 1 seeds in each region are set. Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Villanova are the big four, and each team is poised for a serious run at the Final Four, especially Kentucky, a team that has yet to drop a game this season. And although there is an abundance of talent among these four juggernauts, it's the behind-the-scenes work in the gym and the training room (and sometimes on a hill) that meshes with playing ability to create a dominant team.
Here's a look at what the four No. 1 seeds do when the lights are off in preparation for a college basketball season that runs deep into March.
Kentucky Wildcats' Pool Runs and Hot Yoga
Going undefeated through the regular season and SEC Conference Tournament takes an enormous amount of work and talent, and the Kentucky Wildcats have no shortage of either. They are humongous down low, with guys like Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl Anthony-Towns and Dakari Johnson making it a nightmare for any opponent to drive into the paint. They've also got a handful of shooters in brothers Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Devon Booker who can knock down 3-pointers from the outside.
But, as the saying goes, hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. Fortunately, the Wildcats works their butts off, both on the court and when it's time to train. This entire video is worth watching to get a look at Kentucky's state-of-the-art training facility and full team workout, but two of the most forward-thinking exercises here are the Pool Run and Hot Yoga.
"It's our job to try and minimize the guys that aren't playing due to injury," Ray "Rock" Oliver, coordinator of men's basketball performance, told CoachCal.com.
To strengthen his players' lower bodies, Oliver has them submerge in a pool with a treadmill built into the floor. It's a high-intestiy, low-impact exercise, but machines monitor each player's heart rate. To add another level of resistance, Oliver throws resistance bands around his athletes and tugs them backwards.
"We got to the second day of doing pool running, and it killed me," says sophomore forward Marcus Lee. "You have to run up and back in a pool with a treadmill under you. Then they put a band on you and start tugging at you. It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done, running-wise."
Urged on by former Kentucky wide receiver Randall Cobb, who now plays for the Green Bay Packers, Oliver added hot yoga to the team's training regimen.
"It's difficult for all of us," said forward Dakari Johnson. "Some of us are more flexible than others. But it's a really good workout. It really stretches you out and gets you loose."
With the temperature turned up to 90 degrees, the team, head coach John Calipari included, loosen their hips and joints while strengthening their core.
"Hot yoga by itself is tough. You get into yoga and you're like 'Oh it's just yoga; this is easy.' But once the heat gets on you, it gets so much harder," Lee says. "You're sweating like a pig. It's tough."
Working out at Kentucky is no joke, no matter what the exercise.
Check out Kentucky's $30 million practice facility.
Duke Blue Devils' Intense Summer Workout
Footwork drills on a sand volleyball court. Ladders. Sled-Resisted Backpedals. Band-Resisted Lateral Shuffles. Stadium Stair Runs. Tire Flips. These are just a few of the exercises included in Duke's extensive summer workout ahead of the 2014-2015 season. Duke places a heavy focus on conditioning, as the team has employed a smaller lineup in recent years (with the exclusion of Jahlil Okafor, who can still get up and down the floor) and has made an effort to push the pace on offense.
Wisconsin Badgers' Hill Run
Elver Park Hill, 20 minutes from the University of Wisconsin, has been a staple of the Wisconsin men's basketball team's training efforts for decades. When head coach Bo Ryan got his first coaching job at the University of Wisconsin-Plateville in 1984, running a hill became his favorite way to get his player's legs off the hard surface of the basketball court.
"We were having problems with back issues and knees and joints, and we wanted to get off a harder surface, so I decided, 'I will find a hill,'" Ryan told UWBadgers.com.
As the season progresses, the Badgers increase their reps up the hill, traveling to Elver Park twice a week. Its obvious benefit is improved conditioning, but Ryan also uses Hill Runs to reduce the mental fatigue a college team can start to feel from playing a full regular season, a conference tournament and then gearing up for a run through March Madness.
"I don't necessarily like it in the moment, but looking back on it, it's a big accomplishment running a football field-sized hill," says senior Traevon Jackson.
If you can run a hill, you can win March Madness. That seems to be the mantra in Madison. With player-of-the-year candidate Frank Kaminsky powering a ferocious Badger attack, it seems like things are headed in that direction. Check out the video above to watch this year's squad take on the infamous hill.
Villanova's Hydration Plan and Strength Workout
Villanova strength coach John Shackleton had a unique focus coming into the season: hydration. He had noticed that most of his players were coming to practice dehydrated, and it was affecting their performance on the court. Worse, players didn't understand the positive effects of being properly hydrated. So Shackleton started recording their hydration levels ahead of practices to prove a point.
"It made them more aware of how they feel when they're hydrated versus when they're dehydrated," Shackleton told Inside Villanova Basketball. Guys are realizing what it feels like when you're hydrated. Your joints don't hurt."
Once hydration education was out of the way, Shackleton could begin to build his player's strengths. Exercises like the Med Ball Squat, Dumbbell Press, TRX Body Row and Weighted Plank are mainstays of Shackleton's training plan for his squad. He also worked on increasing his player's vertical jumps and linear speed in tandem with building their strength base. Something's working. Villanova heads in to the NCAA Tournament with a 32-2 record.
"You look at athletes like this machine, but then what do we have to do to tune it up?" Shackleton says. "Then you start slapping strength on to it, power, helping out with the mobility. You start fueling the machine better and you see how much better they can perform on the court."
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