Matt Howard’s value goes beyond the box score

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Matt Howard’s value to this Butler team cannot be quantified by the numbers that he puts up.

Normally when you say that about a player, it’s because they are a role player. Because they are one of the guys that collect floor burns and take charges. It’s rare that the leading scorer and leading rebounder for a team in the Final Four can be undervalued, but that is the case with Matt Howard.

Howard is averaging 16.7 ppg and 7.7 rpg on the season, shooting 42.6 percent from three. While his scoring has been a bit down in the tournament — he’s averaging 15.8 ppg while Shelvin Mack has climbed to 21.3 ppg in the four games — Howard’s contribution to this team hasn’t diminished in the least.

Howard is Butler basketball.

He stands 6-foot-8 and weighs about 230 pounds, but calling him unathletic would be a compliment. He’s not successful because of his outrageous vertical leap or overwhelming quickness or blazing speed. He’s successful because he knows how to play and, more importantly, because he is the hardest working player on the court.

That determination rubs off on his teammates.

“He makes you play hard. I’ve never seen him take a play off – in a game, practice or even an open gym,” Andrew Smith said of Howard.

“You don’t want to let him down,” Shawn Vanzant said.

“Otherwise he looks at you with those eyes,” Ronald Nored said.

All of those quotes were given to Jeff Goodman at the Southeast regional in New Orleans, and all of them are completely accurate.

One of the things said about Howard is that he always seems to find himself in the right place at the right time. It’s true, and its not because he is lucky. Howard gets himself into the right position. Its a manifestation of his desire to never quit on a play, which has won the Bulldogs two games in this tournament.

In the round of 64 against Old Dominion, Howard grabbed a loose ball and scored on a layup as time expired. In the round of 32 against Pitt, it was Howard boxing out Nasir Robinson and drawing a foul that resulted in the game-winning free throw.

It’s more than just the attitude, however. Howard actually is a very talented basketball player. He can score in the post. He’s added deadly three-point range to his arsenal. He’s left the foul issues that plagued him last year behind. And he’s become a solid inside-out combination with Smith.

Howard’s role on this team as a scorer and a post presence makes him an important piece.

But his work ethic and leadership is why the Bulldogs have made their second straight Final Four.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.