?Feature a tone setter. For three seasons Rodney McCray led Louisville in all the tough guy categories: shots blocked, rebounds grabbed, minutes played. His teammates on the Cardinals' 1980 NCAA champions nicknamed him Hard. "Rodney would do anything you'd ask him to do to win," says his coach, Denny Cram, "and you usually didn't have to ask him."
A parade of similarly flinty fellows have followed McCray to Final Four winners' podiums. Corey Beck, the 6'3" Lucifer of Arkansas's 40 Minutes of Hell during the Razorbacks' 1993-94 championship season, was so tough, "He'd say to our 6'10" guys, 'If you can't guard your man, check my little guy and I'll guard yours,' " recalls his coach, Nolan Richardson.
Illinois has two Hard guys, starter Sergio McClain and reserve Lucas Johnson; about Johnson, coach Bill Self says, "I think his family spent its spare time taking charges in their basement." At Michigan State the tone is set by Andre Hutson, who sealed an overtime victory over Wisconsin on Jan. 13 with a late blocked shot. Only afterward, when he began to cramp up and curled into a ball in the locker room, did doctors examine him and find he had been playing with pneumonia. They hooked him up to an IV and declared him hors de combat for a month. Eleven days later, though, he was back on the floor. "Andre basically says, Listen, I'm going to spill it all this year, and you'd better make sure you're doing the same thing," says Spartans assistant coach Brian Gregory. If that smells like Mateen spirit, perhaps it's because Hutson, like Cleaves, was a high school quarterback.
?Quantify the unquantifiable elements of toughness—and then deliver them. Battier is the most literal of take-charge players: He has drawn 21 offensive fouls this season, which will probably help assure his selection as the nation's top defensive player for the third straight year. Charges taken isn't a universally recorded statistic, but simply by keeping it, coaches underscore their expectations. In their usual football-staff manner, the Michigan State coaches grade film and keep track of a range of what they call "special teams" indicators. "If we can get 40 to 50 deflections in a game, we know we're working hard," says Spartans coach Tom Izzo. "If it's 20 or 25, we're loafing."
Another "effort and toughness stat," as Gregory calls them, is shots contested. When Michigan State won at Penn State on Feb. 24, the Nittany Lions' Joe Crispin made only six of 23 field goal attempts because, of the 17 opportunities Spartans guard Charlie Bell had to contest Crispin's shots, he did so 16 times.
?Run deep. Depth toughens a team beyond providing it with fouls to give and bodies to burn. Every day in practice, Illinois starters Brian Cook and Marcus Griffin go up against substantial contributors Robert Archibald and Damir Krupalija. That kind of regimen can anneal a frontline—Shaquille anneal it, if you will—and may help explain why the Illini have pulled out wins in four games in which they've trailed in the final five minutes. Arizona, Maryland, Michigan State and Stanford also prosper by using 10 players.
?Turn adversity into a crucible. After a dreadful meltdown in which it blew a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds of regulation before losing to Duke in overtime, Maryland went into a swoon that included a loss to woebegone Florida State. So much for the hard shell of a Terrapin, right? Not so fast. Coach Gary Williams scaled back his legendary screaming and found more playing time for robust freshman forward Chris Wilcox. Soon the Terps had beaten four ranked teams in five games, including their nemesis, Duke. Boston College had won only six conference games over the previous two years, but the Eagles became the Big East champions because a cast that includes only one new face among its top eight had been tempered by experience.
Funny how hard times can toughen teams. Early this season both Kentucky and North Carolina heard the unkindnesses that spoiled fans reserve for blue-blooded programs that underperform. Each drew on tradition and pride, regrouped and went on a long winning streak. Programs with less impressive pedigrees, by contrast, can let adversity get the best of them: Tennessee is still trying to find toughness amid all its swaggering talent. Putative leader Tony Harris sat out the Volunteers' 103-95 loss to Kentucky on Feb. 14 with a sprained ankle—or at least he did until a fight broke out. That's when he dashed off the bench in street clothes, without a hint of a limp, to join the fray. Don't mistake cockiness for toughness. "They seem more interested in fighting and trash-talking," says George Washington coach Tom Penders of the Vols.
Arizona is a vexing case, falling somewhere in the middle of the toughness scale. The Wildcats have depth, willing bangers in Michael Wright and Eugene Edgerson and, with such upheavals as the death of coach Lute Olson's wife, Bobbi, behind them, enough acquaintance with adversity to have an opportunity to grow. Still, how tough is Arizona, really, when one co-captain, Edgerson, briefly quits the team, and the other, Loren Woods, gets suspended by his coach? Olson recently pronounced Woods the team's "most important player" the rest of the way, yet there was Arizona's mercurial center denigrating his own play, saying, "I suck." Necessary toughening or needless tumult? You make the call.
?Develop toughness systematically. If you've spent the season ghoulishly waiting for Duke to be done in by a lack of frontcourt depth, you seemed to have your wish granted in that Feb. 27 loss to Maryland when Boozer went down. Yet, in their first outing without him, the Blue Devils ran and shot Carolina out of its own building, 95-81. And by the time it had swept through the ACC Tournament, Duke had unveiled hitherto unknown bench strength in Casey Sanders.