A disappointing championship season? That’s what Pittsburgh is looking to rebound from.

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When is a championship season a disappointing one? When the title you win is the CBI (no disrespect to the good folks who run that tournament), thoughts of the last season have more to do with missing the NCAA tournament.

That’s the situation the Pittsburgh Panthers found themselves in last season, as inexperience and the health of point guard Tray Woodall resulted in a season that didn’t pan out as many expected.

But with Woodall back, the youngsters thrust into key roles last season a year older and some talented newcomers, Pittsburgh is looking to end their stay in the Big East on a high note.

“That’s what our goal always is,” Woodall, who is 100%, said at the team’s media day in regards to winning the Big East.

“I think we’ve got the depth this year where we think we can do it.”

Depth, something the Panthers sorely lacked last season, is something they have despite of the graduation of Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson.

Obviously Woodall is the key, as he missed 11 of the Panthers’ 39 games with a groin strain and an abdominal tear and was a shell of himself when on the floor.

He’ll have a new partner in the back court in Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler, who averaged 15.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season.

While Zeigler isn’t the three-point shooter that Gibbs was his ability to create off the dribble gives Pitt a dimension at the two they lacked last season, and that was most obvious when Woodall wasn’t on the floor.

Cameron Wright and John Johnson, both of whom were called upon to contribute as freshmen (Wright a redshirt) last season, will factor into the rotation as well.

Jamie Dixon’s squad returns two other starters from last year’s team in Lamar Patterson and Dante Taylor, but the one front court player most want to talk about is freshman Steven Adams.

The New Zealand native cuts a physically imposing figure, standing at 7-0, 250 pounds, and while young he’ll be needed to help improve a team defense that wasn’t near the standard the Panthers had established over the decade prior.

Opponents shot 44.1% from the field last season, a mark that ranked 14th in the Big East. Defending at that level won’t get the job done in 2012-13 and the Panthers know that.

“We’ve got good size,” Dixon noted during media day. “And we’re going to have the versatility to play a couple different ways defensively and do some things that we have in the past.

“We’ve got to be the best defensive team in the conference. That’s what we’ve done when we’ve won conference championships.”

Pitt also returns contributors J.J. Moore and Talib Zanna, while sophomore Malcolm Gilbert will look to work his way into the rotation after playing just 19 games as a freshman.

And if the Panthers need a reminder of what happened last season, there is one:

The Panthers had only a CBI Tournament title to show for last season. A photo of the nearly empty Petersen Events Center at the first-round game against Wofford was hung in the locker room last March with a message to the players, reading, in effect: “This is what happens when you miss the NCAA Tournament.”

With health and depth Pittsburgh can make sure they don’t repeat what happened last season.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.