VCU v Wichita St.

Of course VCU is the first lower seed to win

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With higher-seeded teams winning all eight of the afternoon games the first big day of NCAA tournament action was off to a slow start from an upset standpoint.

Leave it to VCU to be the team that spiced things up.

Shaka Smart’s Rams defended Wichita State’s final play well, forcing Garrett Stutz to take a three in the final seconds that went long to give VCU the 62-59 win. Bradford Burgess scored a team-high 16 points, and his three with 1:33 remaining gave the Rams a 60-59 lead. Darius Theus’ floater with 18.2 seconds to go provided the final points of the night.

It was all about “havoc” in the first half for the Rams, who put on a defensive clinic in the first 20 minutes. Wichita State may have taken care of the basketball by comparison to CAA tournament victims George Mason and Drexel by turning the ball over just seven times, but they couldn’t find quality looks.

Gregg Marshall’s team shot just 37.5% from the field and 5-of-17 from beyond the arc. Joe Ragland led the way with 15 points while Carl Hall and Toure’ Murry added 10 apiece, but the pace within the possessions forced the Shockers out of their comfort zone.

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“We’ve done a great job for the majority of the season holding teams under their average and holding their scores under their average,” said Burgess. “And that was the emphasis on today’s game, holding Stutz and Ragland under their average.”

That was most evident in the play of Stutz, who could never get comfortable and made just two of his eleven shots on the night. Neither team shot well from three with VCU making six of their twenty-two attempts, but they got a big one late from Burgess and shot over 50% inside of the arc.

Next up for the Rams will either be Indiana or New Mexico State on Saturday, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the winner of that game will deal with the pressure that VCU applies on each possession.

Before tonight the Rams forced 17 or more turnovers in eight of their last nine games, so it’s a credit to Wichita State that they finished with 13. VCU’s a familiar name but a different team from the one that reached the Final Four last season, but they’re every bit as dangerous.

“We won 29 games already this year.  And last year’s team only won 28,” said Smart. “We won our conference tournament.  Last year’s team lost in the conference championship game.  So in a lot of ways we’ve done better than what last year’s team did.  Only difference is obviously last year’s team went to the 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.