NEW ORLEANS – For the fifth consecutive season, John Calipari brought in one of the best high school guards in the country. The previous four? Two went No. 1 over all in the NBA Draft, one went fourth and the other went eighth, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the expectations for Marquis Teague heading into the season were incredibly lofty.
But it took a while for Teague to get acclimated to the college game. He wasn’t terrible at the start of the year, but he certainly wasn’t great. He struggled with turnovers early in the season. He didn’t find his shooting stroke until conference play.
Once Teague gained that confidence, however, he became one of the biggest reasons that Kentucky went from a really good team to a potentially great team. And it was on display on Monday night.
Teague finished with 14 points and three assists, and while he cooled off later in the game and finished just 5-14 from the floor, it’s far from an indicator for how he well he played. Teague was hot early, scoring nine points in the first 13 minutes.
But he played a bigger role than that.
The reason that Kentucky was able to get up by as much as 18 in the first half wasn’t necessarily due to their ability to get out in transition. That certainly helped, but the majority of their points came off of well-executed half-court offense. A point guard’s role in running half-court offense is critical, and Teague went a long way towards showing that he was capable of running a team.
It is still far from a guarantee that Teague will leave school this spring to head to the NBA. As he said after the game, he has four weeks until the NBA’s deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft, in which time you better believe that his coaching staff will do everything in their power to determine just where he is projected to get picked. It’s not out of the question that Teague could end up becoming the fifth consecutive point guard coaching by Calipari to leave school after one season and head to the NBA.
That possibility is a testament to just how well he played on Monday and just how far he has come since November.
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.