Josh pastner

Weekend Preview: Storylines to follow

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The drama surrounding the continuation of the Memphis-Tennessee series: If you’ve missed the latest, here’s a quick catchup: Josh Pastner has never wanted to play Tennessee. He doesn’t want to help the Vols recruit in the city of Memphis by allowing them to play there once every other year. The old Memphis athletic director overruled him and understood the importance of the rivalry, and Pastner played ball. The new athletic director, however, allowed Pastner to go out in front of the media and talk all week about how the series was coming to an end and how Memphis needed a new opponent.

And then the AD went and negotiated with Tennessee about keeping them on the schedule behind his head coach’s back.

If you can’t see why this is a problem, go ahead and read this eviscerating column from Geoff Calkins. Then, go and read through his twitter feed. This story has become about so much more than simply the game — which, it just so happens, is a game that both Tennessee and Memphis desperately need to win. How long will Pastner want to work for a man that has no problem publicly humiliating his most high-profile, highly-paid and prominent employee?

Gauge games: The most frustrating thing about allowing teams to put together their non-conference schedules on their own is that so many teams end up playing nothing but rolls of Division II charmin for he first two months of the season. Thus, when we hit league play, it’s impossible to get a good read on those teams. Two of the biggest culprits this season: Seton Hall and Maryland.

The Terps host Virginia Tech on Saturday, and while the Hokies have come back to earth since their 7-0 start, they do have a guard in Erick Green that is capable of going for 30 on any given night. Maryland is 12-1 this season, but they haven’t played anyone other than Kentucky, who they lost to. Seton Hall, on the other hand, is 12-2 on the season and travels to play at Notre Dame. The Pirates won their Big East opener by … beating DePaul by one on the road.

Also keep an eye on Purdue’s trip to Michigan State. The Boilermakers struggled through the first two months, but they are healthy now and just knocked off Illinois at home.

Does anyone want to be the best team in Texas?: Texas A&M can’t seem to put together a convincing win, regardless of opponent. Texas Tech sticks. North Texas has been a massive disappointment. TCU? Rice? Houston? SMU? C’mon. The two best teams in the state are Baylor and Texas, who have been almost as disappointing as UNT this year. The Bears have as much raw talent as anyone in the country, but they have lost to Charleston and Northwestern, which makes up for that win at Kentucky. Texas finally got Jaylen Bond back from injury, but he’s not the difference-maker Mykc Kabongo will be.

Conference play kicks off for real: This will be the first “real” weekend of conference play. Who gets upset? Who stands out? Who did we undervalue in the non-conference? Who did we overvalue in the preseason? This is when it really starts to get fun.

Grab your popcorn.

You can find Rob 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.