Jim Calhoun: Shabazz Napier ‘is not Kemba Walker’

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NEW YORK–Let’s stop the noise before it starts. Shabazz Napier is not this year’s Kemba Walker.

Following his team’s 71-67 overtime win over West Virginia on Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun wanted to draw a distinction between his 2011 National Championship team and his 2012 squad.

“Last year and this year, two completely different deals. This is not Kemba Walker,” Calhoun said, pointing down the table at guard Shabazz Napier. “He’s a totally different player. “

Napier had a game-high 26 points, including a personal 9-0 run at the end of regulation to help Connecticut to force overtime, before fouling out in the extra session.

“I think any comparisons are unfair to last year’s team and unfair to this team,” Calhoun continued. “In the last week that I’ve been around Shabazz, he’s a different player than he was three weeks ago.”

What was going on three weeks ago? Napier had just called out his teammates, telling the Hearst Connecticut’s Kevin Duffy, “I hate to say it, but I gotta question some of these guys’ heart,” after a loss to Marquette.

On Wednesday afternoon, he changed course completely, saying almost the exact opposite.

“I have faith in my teammates no matter what,” he said.  “I know Jeremy [Lamb], I know [Ryan Boatright], I know Andre [Drummond]…I love watching them play because they play with a lot of heart.  That’s exactly what they did.”

Napier, himself, was the one who played with considerable heart, powering the Huskies while fellow guard Jeremy Lamb, who still finished with a strong 22 points, was quiet for the majority of the second half.

Not that the sophomore had shied away from the spotlight recently, though. Does anyone remember when he pulled up a few steps inside the half-court line and nailed a shot to beat Villanova?

But Wednesday’s big game doesn’t automatically crown him the leader of the Huskies, going forward.

“He’s one of our more vocal leaders. We’re all leaders in our own way. We all have something to say to each other,” said freshman Andre Drummond, who had seven points and four rebounds. “It’s not just one person. That’s not how it works.”

There is one thing to be certain about, though: the leader of the 2012 Huskies might be Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, or someone else, or all of them together, but it certainly is not Kemba Walker.

Calhoun may have had the most succinct, pithy response as to why one should leave memories and comparisons to Walker in the past.

“Kemba is making a lot of money, just built a house, doing great.”

And with a laugh, Connecticut moves on to play Syracuse on Thursday at noon.

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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
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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.