Kansas spent the last two NCAA tournaments heading home early. Nearly every crucial player on the Jayhawks were part of losses to 8-seed Northern Iowa (2010) and 11-seed VCU (2011).
It’s doubtful Kansas, the Midwest’s No. 2 seed, is overlooking N.C. State just because the Wolfpack are an 11 seed. Not this season.
“You can’t think of seeds,” wing Connor Teahan said. “Obviously the last two years the way we’ve been knocked out – what was VCU last year?”
Teahan is the last player still around from Kansas’ 2008 title team. The following years, the Jayhawks finished the regular season with 32 victories and No. 1 seeds. This year’s group didn’t boast the same depth, but was nearly as successful, entering the Big Dance 27-6 and another Big 12 title under its belt.
But it’s dying to return to the Final Four. Overlooking a team at this point is not an option.
“I feel we’re excited and ready,” center Jeff Withey told the Lawrence Journal-World. “I feel the last two years we let ourselves down. There is a chip on our shoulders because we were favored two years in a row. To lose last year in the Elite Eight, and the year before we didn’t make it past the first week … we definitely want to win. A lot of people didn’t pick us to be here this year. It helps us being under the radar. We all love each other on this team and enjoy playing together. I think when we come out with energy we are tough to beat, and that will be the case (against N.C. State).”
To do that, Kansas (29-6) can’t afford to have Thomas Robinson be a non-factor on offense and will be wary of the balance and athleticism from the Wolfpack (24-12). For more on the game’s outlook, click here.
Tip-off is 10:17 p.m. ET.
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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.
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.