Tennessee in the NCAA tournament? It could happen …

Leave a comment

source: AP

Sometimes things sound crazy but aren’t that far-fetched. No, movies about Nazis living on the moon and invading Earth don’t count.

But Tennessee as an NCAA tournament team this season? That’s possible.

Yes, the Vols are 13-12 and have losses to the likes of Austin Peay, Oakland and Charleston. But they’ve also beaten UConn and Florida – twice! The rest of the wins are less than impressive, but their remaining games actually give the Vols a shot at finishing with nine SEC wins.

And with a few lucky bounces, Tennessee might just get to 10 conference victories and end the regular-season at 17-13. Coach Cuonzo Martin says that should be enough to earn an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

Only three teams since 1992 who’ve won that many SEC games haven’t been to the NCAAs. That’s why Martin says the Vols seem to be heading in the right direction.

From the Knoxville News:

“I look back at our RPI, when it was 290 against Austin Peay (on Dec. 1), and now it’s like (110),” Martin said. “We’re definitely making progress as a team at the right time.

“I think if you win your next five, I don’t think there’s any question at this level in this league,” Martin said. “With the NCAA, you don’t have a true gauge of, here’s the criteria; in one year, it can change on you.

“If we win 10 league games we’ll be in good shape, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be in for sure. You do your job, put in your work, and when Selection Sunday comes, if you’re a part of it, you’re a part of it.”

To reach 10 wins, Tennessee needs to hold court against Arkansas and Ole Miss, and probably steal wins at South Carolina, LSU. That leaves either winning at Alabama on Saturday or at at home vs. Vandy in the season finale. Neither seem likely. (Not to mention getting another win at the SEC tourney.)

Then there’s the Vols’ wretched RPI. Even with wins against ‘Bama AND Vandy, it’ll be awful when Selection Sunday rolls around. There’s a reason they’re not on the landscape for NCAA tourney inclusion right now.

But the notion that Tennessee – in full rebuilding mode for the post-Bruce Pearl era – could have a shot is somewhat remarkable.

“We definitely plan on going to the (NCAA) tournament,” freshman Jarnell Stokes said. “It would be amazing, but we feel we can beat any team we step on the floor with.”

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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.