Brandon Paul, Aaron Craft

Pregame Shootaround 1.9.2013: Minnesota-Illinois, UNM-UNLV, loaded A-10 slate

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Game of the Day: 9:00 p.m.: No. 8 Minnesota at No. 12 Illinois (Big Ten)

Minnesota is embarking on as difficult of a three-game stretch as you are going to find this season. They’re at Illinois tonight, they head to Indiana on Saturday and they host Michigan next week. Brutal. But the good news? We’ll at least get a pretty thorough feel for just how good the Gophers are. At the end of the day, the team that wins the Big Ten is going to be the team that wins on the road.

I actually think that Minnesota matches up really well with the Illini. Rodney Williams is mobile enough to guard on the perimeter and negate some of Illinois’ four-out, one-in advantage, while Trevor Mbakwe is enough of a hoss around the rim that he’ll give any and all of John Groce’s big men trouble. Also worth nothing: Brandon Paul vs. Andre Hollins will be fun.

The Other Game of the Day: 10:00 p.m.: No. 24 UNLV at No. 25 New Mexico (CBS Sports Net)

Like the Big Ten, the Mountain West is going to end up being a bloodbath as league play rolls on. Kicking things off? The Rebels head down to Albuquerque to take on a New Mexico team that had a surprising loss at St. Louis last week. UNM is more disciplined that UNLV, who should have Mike Moser back. But who is going to guard Anthony Bennett?

Who’s Getting Upset?: 7:00 p.m.: No. 14 Butler at St. Joseph’s

Road games in league play. They’ll getcha eventually. And I actually think the Hawks matchup pretty well with Butler. Both teams play three forwards with a slow-footed playmaker at the three — Roosevelt Jones and Halil Kanacevic. And both teams have a pair of high-scoring guards. If Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham are hitting from the perimeter, there aren’t many teams that are going to have a chance against Butler this year. The key will be whether or not St. Joe’s can get into their offensive sets against Butler’s frustrating defense.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: 7:00 p.m.: Dayton at VCU

I don’t think either of these team are technically “mid-majors”, but I did want to riff a little about this game. This will be a good gauge game for both clubs. Dayton has had some nice wins this season, but they have also lost to Weber State, Illinois State and USC. The Rams are one of the more underrated teams in the country in my opinion, but they also barely hung on against a Lehigh team missing CJ McCollum. If the Flyers are truly going to compete in the A-10, they are going to have to knock off someone at the top of the conference at some point.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Russ Smith and No. 3 Louisville head to New Jersey to take on Seton Hall at 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2). The reason Smith, a potential all-american, is at Louisville? The father of Kevin Willard, Seton Hall’s head coach.

2) Maryland will host Florida State is a battle for relevance in the ACC. Maryland has yet to notch a quality win, while Florida State is desperately looking to turn around the course of their season. The game tips at 8:00 p.m.

3) Valparaiso and Illinois-Chicago are two of the best teams in the Horizon League, but one of them will be 1-2 in the league after the square off tonight.

4) As always, there is some good stuff happening in the Missouri Valley tonight. Northern Iowa looks to get back to .500 in league play, while Indiana State and Bradley — two teams sitting at 2-1 in the league — play in Terre Haute.

5) The Mountain West is going to be a fun league to follow mainly because a matchup like Boise State at Wyoming is very relevant and, in all likelihood, is happening in the bottom half of the conference. Due tune in.

Other Top 25 Games

  • 7:00 p.m. Nebraska at No. 2 Michigan (Big Ten)
  • 7:00 p.m. Iowa State at No. 6 Kansas (ESPNU)
  • 7:00 p.m. No. 7 Syracuse at Providence (ESPN3)
  • 7:00 p.m. Georgia at No. 11 Florida (ESPN3)
  • 8:00 p.m. Georgia Tech at No. 20 NC State (ESPN3)
  • 8:00 p.m. Southern Illinois at No. 23 Wichita State (ESPN3)
  • 11:30 p.m. No. 16 San Diego State at Fresno State

Other Notable Games

  • 7:30 p.m. La Salle at Charlotte
  • 8:00 p.m. Villanova at South Florida
  • 8:00 p.m. East Carolina at Memphis
  • 8:00 p.m. Eastern Kentucky at Murray State
  • 8:00 p.m. Ole Miss at Tennessee (ESPN3)
  • 9:00 p.m. Virginia at Wake Forest
  • 11:00 p.m. Washington at Cal (ESPN2)

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.