Solomon Hill, Chase Tapley

Pregame Shootaround 1.31.13: Arizona, Butler with tough road tests

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Arizona at Washington (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

After starting out Pac-12 play 4-0, Washington has dropped three straight games and found themselves two back of conference leader Oregon. The Huskies record, while far from impressive and including a loss to Utah, may be a bit inflated as well; five of their 11 remaining league games will come against UCLA, Arizona and Oregon. But if you’re a Washington fan, that’s a good thing. Because right now, the Huskies are not an NCAA tournament team, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance of playing their way in. Beating Arizona at home is a good place to start.

As far as the Wildcats are concerned, I don’t think I’m alone in trying to figure out just how good this team truly is. I like Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom. I think Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons make up a solid back court. There is potential in the Wildcat front court. But when it’s all put together, I’m just not sure I see one of the top ten teams in the country.

Sean Miller has never won at Washington as the head coach at Arizona. Can he change that tonight?

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 9 Butler at St. Louis (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)

Butler has Rotnei Clarke back and St. Louis now has Kwamaine Mitchell healthy and playing well, which means that this should be just as good of a game as we all expected it to be back in October. Butler is sitting all alone atop the Atlantic 10 standings with a half-game lead on what feels like two-thirds of the conference. St. Louis is looking to makeup for losing to Rhode Island at home earlier this month. Will the Billikens be able to defend Butler’s perimeter attack well enough to get the win at home?

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Drexel at George Mason (7:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Net)

Drexel has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country, and while some of that is the result of bad luck on the injury front, they also simply haven’t played up to their potential this season. Neither has George Mason, for that matter, which is what makes this game so interesting. This was one of the best games of the CAA season when the schedule game out, and a tough start to the year doesn’t necessarily change that.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Illinois visits No. 13 Michigan State tonight. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) Their next three games? Wisconsin, Indiana and at Minnesota. They still have roadies to Michigan and Ohio State. They’re 2-5 in the Big Ten right now. They need to turn this thing around, and quickly.

2) It’s been seven years since UConn has won at Providence. That’s not a long time considering it’s been 32 years since Dayton has won at Xavier, but considering how good UConn has been and how bad Providence has been, that’s a rather incredible number. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

3) First place in the MAAC is on the line as Iona and Niagara square off at Niagara. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

4) Loyola Marymount has struggled this season, but Anthony Ireland is one of the best point guards on the west coast. He’ll be on ESPN2 tonight at 11:00 p.m. ET squaring off with Gonzaga.

5) We wrote about Jahii Carson today. He plays tonight at Washington State. If you haven’t watched him yet this year, he can do things like this. Might wanna tune in. (11:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Net)

The Top 25

  • No. 7 Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • No. 8 Arizona at Washington (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • No. 9 Butler at St. Louis (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)
  • Illinois at No. 13 Michigan State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Other Notable Games

  • Stetson at Jacksonville (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Middle Tennessee State at Florida International (7:30 p.m. ET)
  • Morehead State at Belmont (8:00 p.m. ET)
  • Arkansas at Alabama (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

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.