ACC Basketball Tournament - Miami v Florida State

Can Miami be a sleeper in the ACC this season?


Andy Glockner of put together a solid list of teams that dealt with their fair share of bad luck last season.

As Glockner writes, don’t be surprised to see USC, Memphis, Utah State, Denver and St. Joseph’s put together some impressive improvement this season. USC and St. Joe’s, in particular. The Trojans are coming off of a season where they were absolutely devastated by injuries. But with Jio Fontan and Dewayne Dedmon healthy, and an impressive crop of transfers joining the rotation, don’t be surprised when Kevin O’Neill’s notoriously staunch defensive teams start scoring.

Over on Hawk Hill, St. Joe’s will finally be reaching the peak of their return to prominence. This is a very talented group that played last season with a rotation that consisted of a junior, a freshman and five sophomores. I see them being a top 25 team and a challenger for the A-10 crown.

Well, I’ve got another one for you, even if it may have fallen out of the range for the column: the Miami Hurricanes.

Last season was supposed to be the year that the ‘Canes broke through and made a run to the NCAA tournament, but seemingly every break they got was bad. It started last July, when Reggie Johnson injured his knee and was forced to undergo surgery. It continued a month later, when Yahoo’s explosive piece on the scandal involving a Miami booster hit the interwebs and implicated Frank Haith and the basketball team. That led to players like DeQuan Jones, Durand Scott and Johnson getting suspended, a concern that undoubtedly hung over the head of the entire team throughout the year.

And through it all, if Scott hadn’t been suspended for Miami’s 82-71 loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament and the ‘Canes had one won that game, they might have been an NCAA tournament team.

More importantly, however, Miami returns a roster that has quite a bit of promise. It starts in the back court, where Scott, Shane Larkin and Trey McKinney-Jones headline a deep and talented group. Up front, the Hurricanes will have one of the better starting front lines in the country in Johnson and Kenny Ladji. Johnson was expected to have a big season as a junior before he got hurt; he averaged a double-double as a sophomore. Kadji had a two-month stretch during January and February were he was arguably the best stretch-four in the country. He’s 6-foot-11, athletic, and a 41.8% three-point shooter, also known as the perfect compliment to the burly Johnson.

The ACC is going to be wide-open next season.

Don’t be surprised if the Canes make a run.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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.