San Diego State v UNLV

Four leagues that must make a statement in the NCAA tournament


Everyone wants it, but not everybody has it.

Earning respect in college basketball, in all of sports, really, is one of the most difficult things to do.

Overcoming pre-conceived notions or shedding those negative connotations can be hard to do, but the best time to sway the perceptions is in the post-season.

Whether it be making up for less than impressive tournaments in recent years, or simply taking advantage of the limelight, here are four conferences that stick out as leagues that could really benefit from an overall strong showing.

Because they need to earn some respect

Big East

Remember last season when the Big East became the Big Bust? The Big Least? A record 11-teams from the conference were awarded NCAA Tournament berths, only to have nine of them eliminated in the first weekend. The two that advanced to the Sweet 16? UConn and Marquette, who both beat a Big East club to advance.

With nine teams particiaping this season, hostile fans of otehr conferences won’t take it any easier on the league, and now that Fab Melo is donzeo there’s arguably no real Final Four threats.

If the Big East screws this up again, expect plenty of voracious criticism.

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Big Ten

A conference like this can’t possibly be the best in college basketball, right? Well, maybe, but for a league with five of their six participants seeded six or higher, this league is either ripe to stay releveant well into the tournament, or fail dismally and face the wrath of public opinion.

Beware, however, as teams like Wisconsin (offensive woes), Michigan (frontcourt woes)  and Indiana (road woes) all have obvious flaws that make them suspectible to an early round exit, and No. 1 seed Michigan State faces a dangerous road to New Orleans.

But with the aforementioned departure of Fab Melo, the East Region has opened right up, and it could be an ideal situation for Ohio State to march right back into the Final Four.

The league needs to be successful this season to validate the regular season praise they received.

Because they deserve some respect

Mountain West Conference

If there can be something trendy in college basketball, it’s the MWC. Better than the ACC and Pac-12, RPI wise, the past two seasons, this is a league that could be represented by two teams in the regional final (if you’re brave), and possibly three teams in the Sweet 16 (if you’re brave and intelligent). It’s a stretch even offering that possibility up, sure, but both UNLV and New Mexico have the personnel and the pod(s) get win some games here.

The Rebels have the athleticism to match Baylor, and enough skill to get past the fairly underwhelming Duke Blue Devils. And we didn’t even mention San Diego State, the MWC conference tournament runner-up, who boasts the league’s player of the year Jamaal Franklin.

There’s the potential for a real memorable close to this league’s season, which would give it some must-deserved respect.


We’re on to this conference. A league once holding the discintion as the best in college basketball, that’s simply not the case anymore. But hold your horses.

North Carolina has the easiest road to the Final Four, and Florida State is a real dangerous three-seed in the East, proving that sound defense can really go a long way in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Heels and Seminoles match-up for the third time this season, and it would not be a complete fluke. You’d have to be impressed by the feat.

Virginia, matched-up against an inconsistent Florida team that has not been playing well lately, could serve as a nice statement victory for the league over an SEC foe.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

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.