Tony Woods, Travis Wear

No. 21 Oregon moves into first in the Pac-12 with win at No. 24 UCLA

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It’s time for us to start taking Oregon seriously.

That much is obvious now that the Ducks have handed both Arizona and UCLA their only losses in the Pac-12 this season. On Saturday, Dana Altman’s team went into Pauley Pavilion and knocked off the Bruins 76-67 behind 18 points from Tony Woods and 12 points and 11 boards from Arsalan Kazemi.

And while it’s simple mathematics to say that Oregon is the best team in the Pac-12 — they’re in first place, they don’t have a loss in league play, and they have now handed Arizona their first loss of the season and beaten UCLA in Pauley — there is more to it than that.

The Ducks are the most balanced team in the conference, with five guys averaging between 10.1 points and 11.8 points. Their sixth-leading scorer, Arsalan Kazemi at 8.6 points-per-game, is also their leading rebounder, averaging 9.5 boards. They have the Pac-12’s deepest and most versatile front line, and a pair of freshmen guards in Damyeon Dotson and Dominic Artis that are as underrated as any back court in the country.

But was most impressive about their win over UCLA was the way Oregon was able to gain control by grinding it out defensively.

Much has been made of UCLA’s transition to a team that thrives in, well, transition. Ben Howland has embraced the talent level and lack of defensive desire of the players on his roster, opting to allow his blue-chip recruits to get out and run the floor at will. And in the second half, Oregon took the lead when they held the Bruin’s scoreless for more than six minutes during the second half. UCLA shot just 37.9% from the floor in the second half.

And they also happened to expose a potentially fatal flaw for the Bruins: the interior. Woods and Kazemi combined to shoot 13-16 from the field. The Wears, who played 53 minutes combined, had all of five rebounds, just two of which came on the offensive end of the floor. We knew that UCLA had some question marks with the defections in their front court. On Saturday, we got a glimpse of just how that can be exploited.

The Ducks are for real this year, and it looks like they will be here to stay.

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.