Barclays Center Classic - Kentucky v Maryland

Maryland lost, but proves itself as an ACC contender

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NEW YORK – Maryland lost to Kentucky 72-69 on Friday night in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic in a game that will surely leave a bitter taste in the Terrapin’s mouth.

After digging themselves a 15 point hole with a combination of poor shot selection and abysmal defense, Mark Turgeon’s club completely changed the game in the second half. A 21-4 run turned what had been a 53-38 deficit into a 59-57 lead over the No. 3 ranked Wildcats, and if it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of a walk-on that didn’t even make the Maryland scouting report, the Terps could have very well left New York with a statement victory.

A tough loss indeed.

But it was one that showed the Terps truly will be a factor in the ACC race this season.

The biggest reason, quite obviously, is Maryland’s biggest player — 7-foot-1 Ukranian Alex Len. Len finished with 23 points, 12 boards and four blocks, thoroughly outplaying Kentucky’s vauned pair of seven-foot freshmen, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Things may be different when he is forced to go up against a more physical post defender — like, for example, Miami’s Reggie Johnson or NC State’s Richard Howell, someone that can force him off of the block — but all indications, to this point, are that Len will live up to his preseason hype. And in this day and age, how many teams can say they have a legitimate, seven-foot center that is a scoring threat on the block?

“He was a huge weapon for us,” Turgeon said after the game. “We expect great things out of him. Hopefully we can give him a little more help on the perimeter moving forward.”

The end of Turgeon’s statement may actually be the most important takeaway from Friday night’s loss.

Maryland’s top four perimeter players — Dez Wells, Nick Faust, Pe’Shon Howard and Seth Allen — combined to shoot 9-43 from the field and 2-14 from three. That is, quite frankly, atrocious. But it’s also not the kind of performance that you should become accustomed to with this group. On the one hand, Maryland did get a lot of good looks from the perimeter; they just missed them. And when the Terps finally put the ball on the floor and got to the rim, they ran into a pair of seven-foot shot-blockers that will end up being first-round draft picks. That won’t happen again this season.

They fought. They battled in the paint (28 offensive rebounds). And they came back from 15 down against one of the favorites to win the national title. No one likes moral victories, but any coach would take a loss where there team went down swinging than a 20 point drubbing on national television.

I still believe that Maryland is a year away from truly contending in the ACC. But if they proved anything on Friday, it’s that they will be a factor in the league race in February and March.

“We’re gonna win, and we’re gonna win this year,” Turgeon said. “I promise you that. We just didn’t win tonight.”

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.