Every conference has that one powerhouse team. Sometimes they are at the top for just one or two seasons and sometimes they are at the top for years and years (see Huskies, UConn). When you run across a powerhouse in a non-conference game, you run your stuff and just see how it goes. When you run across them in the postseason, you come in with a game plan but you’ve got one shot at knocking them off. But when that team is in your conference, you’ve got a real opportunity because of the level of familiarity, to take them down.
When I was an assistant at Trinity(TX), we won a national title in my second year, 2002-2003. We were still great my last two years there finishing second to Depauw in 2004 and winning the conference again in 2005. That last season, our second conference game was against Rhodes College in Memphis. We knew their personnel and what they ran and if I’m being perfectly honest, we weren’t that worried about them. So what do they do? They came out in a 3-2 zone defense and they had that thing DOWN. Their coach at the time, the great Matt Dean, knew exactly what we knew – they weren’t beating us if they just ran what they normally ran. So, he came up with something we hadn’t seen against any other opponent and hadn’t seen in any of their other film that season.
They got a pretty good lead on us and by the time we adjusted, their guys were so locked in and fired up that they kept hitting shots and that day they beat us. You better believe we were ready for them in the conference rematch and got them back but that game was an important lesson for both teams. The powerhouse can’t coast against ANYBODY in conference play and a team can throw a curveball against a familiar conference opponent and get out with a big win.