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Realignment continues as UT-Pan American receives an invitation to join the WAC

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No conference has been hit harder in realignment than the Western Athletic Conference. Yes the Big East has seen nine members (ten if you count TCU) exit but at least we know that league will be around next year. The same couldn’t be said for the WAC, which ended up on life support (and that may be kind) as a result of the moves.

But commissioner Jeff Hurd and the programs still in the conference aren’t giving up on the WAC, and on Wednesday night the conference issued an invitation to UT-Pan American to join the conference.

UT-Pan America is currently a member of the Great West, which would be down to just two full members in 2013 if UTPA were to make the move to the WAC. Houston Baptist (Southland) and Utah Valley (WAC) are both leading the Great West after this season, leaving UTPA, Chicago State and NJIT.

If UTPA, which has to make a presentation to the UT system board of regents, were to receive the approval needed to act on the conference’s invitation the Great West would be down to just Chicago State and NJIT as full members.

“It’s been a while,” UTPA athletic director Chris King said of UTPA being in an AQ league. “The one thing that athletics was sorely lacking was conference affiliation.”

The Broncs were kicked out of the Sun Belt Conference in 1998 after being plagued by NCAA infractions. From then until 2008, they were independent. Since that point, they’ve been a member of the Great West Conference, which is more of a scheduling alliance than anything and does not have an AQ.

Eight members are slated to leave the WAC by 2014, and that number could jump to nine if the recent reports that New Mexico State could at some point rejoin the Sun Belt come to fruition.

Cal State Bakersfield enters the conference next year along with Utah Valley, and the league has also picked up a commitment from provisional Division I member Grand Canyon University. With these three joining Seattle, Idaho and New Mexico State in 2013 the conference would be up to seven members if UTPA were to join.

Will all of this movement allow the WAC to remain in existence? Commissioner Hurd and the presidents he represents need to be creative if they’re going to pull this off.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report 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.