Team of the Week: West Virginia
West Virginia looked like they might be in some trouble early on this season. After getting drubbed by Gonzaga on national television in the opening game of Marathon Madness, the Mountaineers briefly bounced back against Marist before losing the final two games of the Old Spice Classic to Oklahoma and Davidson. It was a less than ideal way for Bob Huggins’ team to start the season. But after a win over VWI in late November, WVU finally made a statement this week as they knocked off in-state rival Marshall before handing Virginia Tech their first loss of the season on Saturday.
We knew it was going to take some time for the Mountaineer team to come together; that’s just what happens when your roster consists of three transfers playing major minutes. The front line looks like it is rounding into form, as Kilicli had 21 points against Marshall and Aaric Murray went for 15 points and seven boards against Virginia Tech. More importantly, Kevin Noreen finally showed of some of his potential, as he notched his first career double-double, finishing with 14 points and 12 boards, seven offensive, against Virginia Tech. The back court is still trying to work their way through the start of the season — Juwan Staten, Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds were a combined 3-25 on Saturday — but one of those three was the game-winning layup from Staten.
Five Teams Deserving a Shoutout:
- Illinois: Illinois had easily the most impressive win of the week, as they went into Spokane and knocked off a Gonzaga team that everyone believed was well on their way to becoming the Gonzaga that we used to know. I’m not ready to buy the Illini as a real Final Four or national title contender yet simply because they are a team that relies heavily on three-pointers (43.5% of their FGA’s are threes, and 41.0% of the points they score are off of threes, the second-highest rate in the country) and plays only OK defense (they are 63rd in defensive efficiency according to Kenpom). But what I will say is that I no longer look at the Illini as a fluke. Gonzaga is a good team — even better at The Kennel — and a bad matchup for Illinois, but they still were able to get the win. That’s impressive.
- NC State: The Wolfpack seem to finally be headed in the right direction this season. After putting together an impressive second-half comeback in their loss at Michigan, Mark Gottfried’s club picked up a better-than-you-think win over UConn at the Jimmy V Classic followed by a dominating performance in a win over shorthanded Cleveland State. The most incredible stat for NC State right now? CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are currently third and fourth on the team in scoring. That needs to change for this team to compete with Duke for the ACC crown.
- Charlotte: If I were to give you ten picks for who the last remaining unbeaten team in the 16 team Atlantic 10 would be, how many people would mention Charlotte? But nine games into the season, here we are. The 49ers are 9-0 on the season and the last team without a loss on their resume. They haven’t done it against great competition, but they do have one very good win on their resume right now, as they won at Davidson on Wednesday thanks to some big-time shot-making by Pierria Henry.
- MTSU: It’s time to start paying attention to the Blue Raiders again. After a 2-0 week, which included a win over previously-undefeated Ole Miss, MTSU is now 7-2 on the season with their only losses coming at Akron in overtime and by 21 at Florida, which is less than Wisconsin, Marquette and Florida State lost by.
- Dayton: The Flyers are back in the mix at the top of the Atlantic 10 this season, as they went 2-0 this week. That included an impressive win at Alabama where Kevin Dillard went off for 25 points and six assists.
They were good too: Wyoming, New Mexico, Florida, Northern Iowa, Illinois-Chicago
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.