Thad Matta

Weekend Preview: Yet another Big Ten battle, two key Big East games, UNLV’s last chance?

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Game of the Weekend: No. 1 Indiana at No. 10 Ohio State (Sun. 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Oh hey, look at that. The best game of the weekend is in the Big Ten. Who saw that coming?

Last Saturday, the Hoosiers beat Michigan in a thriller at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, but they turned around and lost to Illinois on Thursday on the road in Champagne. Ohio State, on the other hand, is coming off of an overtime loss to the Wolverines on Tuesday that just may have been the game of the year to this point in the season, dropping them a game behind Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten race.

It will be interesting to see how these two teams matchup with each other. Does Aaron Craft guard the bigger, more athletic Victor Oladipo? Is Oladipo going to get matched up with Deshaun Thomas? Is this the kind of game where Indiana’s zone can be effective? How in the world will the Buckeyes keep Cody Zeller in check in transition?

The fascinating thing about the Big Ten this year is that all of the top five teams are so different. In college basketball, styles win the fight, and there is so much contrast between the way that the teams at the top of the Big Ten play that makes all of these games so intriguing to watch. At some point, the analysis stops and you simply have to sit back and watch the shot. This is one of those games.

Five more games you need to watch:

  • No. 11 Louisville at No. 25 Notre Dame (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): On paper, this looks like a great matchup for the Irish. They have plenty of shooters, they have a talented pair of veteran guards in the back court, they have a bruiser in the middle in Jack Cooley and they pass the ball extremely well. But the Cardinals seem to be getting back in stride after a three-game losing streak earlier this year. Anyone else excited to see Dickie V call a game featuring Russ Smith?
  • No. 15 New Mexico at UNLV (9:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network): This is the last chance for the Rebels. A loss at Fresno State dropped UNLV to 4-4, a full three games behind the Lobos in the Mountain West standings. Losing on Saturday puts them four back, an insurmountable deficit given the strength of this year’s MWC. UNLV is a flawed team, and while I’m not completely sold on New Mexico yet, they haven’t done anything to make anyone believe they are the favorite to win the league.
  • Memphis at Southern Miss (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): The Tigers got huge news on Thursday when they received word that Conference USA had overturned the Flagrant 2 call on Shaq Goodwin and ruled it a Flagrant 1, meaning that he wouldn’t be automatically suspended by the league for Saturday’s game. Because this is a huge game. USM lost this week, meaning that it is no longer a battle of the undefeateds in CUSA, but a loss to the Tigers on Saturday drops the Golden Eagles two games out of first place.
  • No. 23 Pitt at No. 17 Cincinnati (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): You will never see a more prototypically Big East basketball game than this year’s Pitt team taking on this year’s Cincinnati team. Both play a slower pace. Both have really good guard play. Both have a big, physical, athletic front court that’s more raw talent than it is skill. The key to beating the Bearcats? Stifling Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Tray Woodall and James Robinson will have their work cut out for them.
  • Iowa State at No. 13 Kansas State (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2): It’s time for the Wildcats to exact some revenge. Back in January, the Cyclones knocked off the Wildcats at home. Fred Hoiberg has his team playing well. They are versatile, they are athletic, their front court is a matchup nightmare and they love to fire away from three. They’re a fun team to watch. But Bramlage Coliseum isn’t a fun place to play.

And what about the mid-majors?:

  • Sacred Heart at Bryant (Sun. 4:00 p.m. ET)
  • Oral Roberts at Stephen F. Austin (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Tennessee State at Murray State (8:00 p.m. ET)
  • Stony Brook at Hartford (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • Illinois State at No. 16 Creighton (10:00 p.m. ET, 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.