Despite loss, Texas A&M remains contender in murky Big 12

Leave a comment

NEW YORK — When Texas A&M junior forward Khris Middleton went down with a torn right meniscus during his team’s season-opening 81-59 victory over Liberty, the Aggies’ early-season Big 12 title hopes took a hit, as well.

And on Thursday night, Mississippi State showed them just how difficult it would be to keep those title hopes afloat in Middleton’s absence, jumping out to a 31-9 lead, including five-of-five shooting from 3-point range, and sinking the Aggies, 69-60, at Madison Square Garden.

Texas A&M brought the game to within single digits at the half, but Mississippi State never really relinquished control, ballooning the lead back to 14 a few minutes into the second half. The Bulldogs fended off a second-half run that cut the lead to eight, 60-52, but senior guard Dee Bost’s three-pointer put the game out of reach for good.

Bost led the way for the Bulldogs, with 20 points and three assists.

The loss highlights where the Aggies could struggle in the upcoming three-to-four weeks that Middleton recovers, in pursuit of their seventh-straight NCAA tournament appearance.

Middleton’s 14 points and five rebounds helped to pace Texas A&M last season.

In a decade dominated by Kansas, who has won at least a share of nine of the last 10 regular season Big 12 crowns, shifting tides in Lawrence and lingering questions about Baylor put Billy Kennedy’s Aggies squarely in the discussion.

Bill Self and the Jayhawks has already lost Josh Selby, Markieff and Marcus Morris to the NBA Draft, before news came down in October that highly-touted recruits Jamari Traylor and Ben McLemore were ruled ineligible by the NCAA.

That leaves the majority of duties falling to oft-criticized point guard Tyshawn Taylor and big man Thomas Robinson to anchor a team that is used to reloading every season.

Kansas had a difficult time matching up against the athleticism of Kentucky on Tuesday night, allowing the Wildcats to storm out of the gate in the second half, ultimately falling, 75-65.

A&M’s in-state rival, Baylor, is still awaiting forward Perry Jones III’s return, as he continues to serve his suspension for taking impermissible benefits.

Without Jones III in the lineup, Baylor looks more like a collection of superb athletes than a well-rounded basketball team. Twenty points and six rebounds from star freshman Quincy Miller helped the Bears to a 77-67 win over San Diego State on Tuesday.

Teams like Missouri and Iowa State, with all of their variables, could shake things up, and this is where opportunity comes for the Aggies.

With the lack of a standout and the potential for equity than we have not seen in the past, the Aggies just may emerge from the dust cloud with a Big 12 title.

While Middleton continues to recover, it will be important for forward Elston Turner, who had 13 points and two rebounds against Mississippi State, and company to bat down the hatches as the non-conference storm blows by.

This was the only real test before SEC play begins, with Alcorn State, Sam Houston State, and Louisiana-Monroe among those on their schedule, before a Dec. 17showdown with No. 8 Florida.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter: @DanielJMartin_

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.