Kevin Foster, Quinn Cook

Weekend Preview: No. 10 Gonzaga on upset watch?

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Who’s getting upset?: Sat. 8:00 p.m.: No. 10 Gonzaga at Santa Clara (ROOT)

Generally speaking, when a ranked team goes on the road in league play, they are just about always going to find a way to get picked to be upset. That’s just the way it works in college hoops. It’s not easy to win on the road, especially when you’re coming into the game with a target on your back. And that much is very true for Gonzaga, as they’ve been picked off by one of the WCC’s middle-of-the-pack teams on the road each of the last three seasons. Last year, it was San Francisco. The year before that, it was Santa Clara and San Francisco. In 2010, the Dons got them again.

And this Santa Clara team happens to matchup with the Zags very well. Most importantly, they have the kind of size up front to matchup with Mark Few’s sterling front line, starting with Marc Trasolini. But where things are going to get very interesting will be in SCU’s back court. Kevin Foster is one of the nation’s best scorers while Evan Roquemore is one of the WCC’s best kept secrets. Those two can matchup with any back court in the conference — they may be the league’s best back court — and it’s no secret that Gonzaga can struggle defensively against talented guards.

Gonzaga is as good as they have ever been under Few, so the Broncos are going to have to catch some breaks to pull this upset. Kelly Olynyk cannot take over the way he has in the second half of games this season, and someone is going to have to find a way to permanently keep a hand in Kevin Pangos’ face. But don’t be surprised to see SCU give Gonzaga a fight on Saturday night.

Who else is on upset alert?

Sat. 2:00 p.m.: No. 15 Georgetown at Marquette (ESPN3): I almost hesitated leaving this game off of the upset alert list despite the fact that it is another example of a ranked team playing an unranked league opponent on the road because I don’t think that the Golden Eagles matchup that well with the Hoyas. Georgetown has a ridiculous amount of length and athleticism on their perimeter, and when they sit back in their 2-3 zone, they can be a nightmare to try and score on. Marquette has some perimeter playmakers, but they shoot just 30.2% from beyond the arc. Will there be enough space for them to score in the lane?

Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Bucknell at No. 12 Missouri (ESPN3): Don’t laugh. Bucknell is the real deal. If you haven’t seen their center Mike Muscala play, he’s the real deal. I’d expect a very high number of NBA scouts to be in attendance in this one, as he’ll be going up against a guy with NBA size and strength in Alex Oriakhi. Bucknell’s key to pulling this upset, however, will be finding a way to keep Phil Pressey out of the paint. I’m not sure they will be able to.

Sat. 4:00 p.m.: No. 23 NC State at Boston College (ESPN2): I like this matchup for Boston College. For starters, they are a lot better than anyone thought they would be this season, and while they still aren’t exactly going to compete for the ACC title — they have lost to Charleston and Bryant — this is a team that can make some noise and pull some upsets. Power forward Ryan Anderson is the real deal, and he has support with Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlon. The Wolfpack have the talent to be a Final Four team, but they have issues putting together a quality game on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes. That makes them susceptible to the upset.

Sun. 12:00 p.m.: No. 7 Syracuse at South Florida (ESPN3): Remember what I was saying about ranked teams on the road? We’ve learned it so many times the hard way. The Orange better be ready to play, especially considering that both Anthony Collins and Victor Rudd are back are being injured last weekend.

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.