Player of the Week: Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech wasn’t supposed to have a chance this season. Not only was head coach Seth Greenberg fired at the end of April after his entire coaching staff had left during the offseason, but without Greenberg at the helm, both Dorian Finney-Smith, a rising sophomore, and Montrezl Harrell, Greenberg’s star recruit in the Class of 2012, decided to continue their careers elsewhere. When former assistant James Johnson was hired, most believed that it was an empty cupboard he was inheriting; a rebuilding job that would take a couple of seasons to make relevant.
Enter Erick Green. The star point guard for the Hokies has gone from one of the ACC’s best-kept secrets the past two years to a guy that is legitimately deserving of all-america consideration. After going for 24 points, five boards and five assists in a win over Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and following that up with a 28 point performance in a win over a ranked Oklahoma State team last week, Green is averaging 24.9 points, 4.4 assists and 40 boards. He’s also shooting at ridiculous rates (51.6/37.5/87.7 are his splits) while posting a 2.2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. For those that are into the stats, he’s currently the most efficient player in the country that uses more than 28% of his team’s possessions.
Making those numbers all the more important is that Green is spearheading a new style of attack. He told CBSSports.com that the team’s motto is “bring your track shoes“, which makes it all the more important for Johnson to have an efficient, talented ball-handler. Undefeated Virginia Tech is one of the nation’s most surprising teams, and Green is the biggest reason for that. This week proved it.
The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team:
- G: Dez Wells, Maryland: Dez Wells set career-highs in back-to-back games this week, going for 23 points on 9-11 shooting in a 20 point win at Northwestern and following that up with 25 points in a win over George Mason on Sunday. When it was announced that Wells would be eligible for the Terps this season, the general consensus was that it would make Maryland a competitor in the ACC. That was before we knew that he was capable of putting up scoring numbers like this. With NC State, North Carolina and Florida State faltering, could it be that Wells makes Maryland the second best team in the league?
- G: TJ Price, Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers started off league play in the Sun Belt with two roads wins thanks in large part to Price. The sophomore averaged 26.5 points, 8.5 boards and 3.5 assists while shooting 54.3% from the floor and 42.1% from three.
- F: Nik Stauskas, Michigan: Trey Burke is Michigan’s star. Tim Hardaway is their second option. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are the superstar freshmen. But fellow frosh Nik Stauskas is quietly putting together a great season. After averaging 21.0 points in wins against NC State and at Bradley, he’s averaging 14.3 points while shooting 57.7% from the floor, 62.1% from three and 97.5% from the free throw line.
- F: James Southerland, Syracuse: Syracuse played just a single game this week, but Southerland’s performance in that one game was on a different level. He finished with 35 points on 12-17 shooting (9-13 from three) as the Orange went into Fayetteville and knocked off a good Arkansas team. He’s now averaging 19.2 points and shooting 54.5% from three for the Orange despite coming off of the bench.
- C: Jeff Withey, Kansas: Withey put together one of the most dominating performances from a post player in recent memory against San Jose State on Monday, finishing with 16 points, 12 boards and 12 blocks while notching just the second triple-double in Kansas basketball history. (That’s impressive.) he followed that up with 17 points, five boards and three blocks in a win over Oregon State. Withey’s averaging an absurd 5.7 blocks thus far.
- Bench: Karvel Anderson (Robert Morris), Raheem Appleby (Louisiana Tech), Reggie Johnson (Miami), Mike Muscala (Bucknell), Mason Plumlee (Duke), Nick Russell and Jalen Jones (SMU)
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.
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.