Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk, the nation’s most improved player

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After winning at Santa Clara last night, No. 10 Gonzaga improved 15-1 on the season, with a pair of road wins to kick off WCC play.

They are ranked 13th according to Kenpom, a number that could climb drastically if the Zags can ever put together enough defensive stops to improve their defensive efficiency, which is currently sitting at 61st in the country. That’s because Gonzaga is the third-most efficient offensive team in the country, which, frankly, is an incredible fact when you take a look at the season that some of their best players are having.

Kevin Pangos, who many expected to have a Dan Dickau-esque career in Spokane, has seen his scoring dip to 11.8 points, a number that was significantly bolstered by the 54 points he scored in wins over Oklahoma State and Baylor in the last week of December. Gary Bell Jr. has seen his three-point shooting drop from 47.7% to 34.4%. Elias Harris is having an excellent season despite the fact that he’s hit just 3-19 from beyond the arc.

The difference this year?

Kelly Olynyk, a 7-foot Canadian that has gone from a a seldom-used sophomore to a redshirt year to a potential WCC Player of the Year as a junior. There isn’t a more improved player in the country.

Olynyk is averaging a team-high 17.1 points while also chipping in 6.6 boards. He’s shooting 71.1% from inside the arc and 81.4% from the charity stripe. Perhaps more importantly, he’s played his best basketball against Gonzaga’s toughest competition while developing a knack from taking over down the stretch. He had all 22 of his points in the second half of a comeback win at Washington State. He had all 21 of his points in the second half of a win at Oklahoma State. He had 12 of his 21 points in the second half of a win over Baylor, sparking the game-changing run with 10 minutes left in the game. He went for 20 in a win over Kansas State.

Olynyk’s best game of the season came on Saturday night, as he finished with a career-high 33 points while adding 10 boards, the first time in his career that Olynyk has notched a double-double against a Division I opponent. (He had 11 points and 10 boards in a win over Lewis & Clark.)

With a front line that includes Harris, Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga has a front line with as much size and versatility as any team in the country.

But if it wasn’t for Olynyk’s development, they wouldn’t be seriously discussed as a top ten team in the country.

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.