Wisconsin v Ohio State

Weekend preview: Ohio State/Wisconsin highlight, Duke/Maryland is sneaky good


Game of the weekend: No. 13 Ohio State at No. 20 Wisconsin (Sun., 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS): Another weekend, another huge battle in the Big Ten battle. These things are starting to ease into the place of NFL Sundays real quick.

Wisconsin took a loss at Minnesota on Thursday night. That hurts, but a win at home over the Buckeyes, who beat Northwestern on Thursday night in a game that was closer than the score indicated, would help. Truth be told, this game will truly show what kind of team Ohio State is. Because what a lot of people haven’t looked at recently, is that they haven’t won a big game recently. Back-to-back losses at Michigan, then at home to Indiana — not exactly easy wins, in fairness. But looking back, they haven’t won any big road game all season, taking losses at Illinois and Kansas as well.

Well now they head to the Kohl Center, where they have a shot to disprove that road game theory. The Buckeyes do have the 1-0 edge this season over the Badgers, a 58-49 win at home on Jan. 29.

With all the heroics the Badgers have had recently (or maybe just Ben Brust) it’s a safe bet that this game will come down to a few possessions. There’s so much balance on Wisconsin’s team — Jared Breggren is the team’s leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, with five players between 6.2 and 11.2 ppg  and four averaging at least five rebounds per game — that, as comes per most Bo Ryan teams, they value those possessions more. So much of Ohio State’s offense  runs through Deshaun Thomas, but that’s offset by a stingy defensive scheme led by Aaron Craft and role players like Amir Williams (1.7 blocks per game in 17.1 minutes per game).

It’ll be a battle of wills. And a battle that Ohio State really needs to prove to the college basketball world that they can get a prized road win in conference.

Five more games you need to watch

No. 2 Duke at Maryland (Sat., 6 p.m. EST, ESPN): We need to value these games, because they’re now becoming less and less. There are so many great games in this rivalry and this could be another one. The Blue Devils have proven they’ve had trouble this season on the road in the ACC — both their losses were to ranked teams on the road in-conference — and Maryland has a home win over a ranked team in North Carolina State. Plus, the Terrapins need to prove they can hang in the conference before anyone truly gives them NCAA Tournament consideration. A win over Duke would do that.

No. 16 Pittsburgh at No. 18 Marquette (Sat., 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS): Surprisingly, this is the only other game between Top 25 teams on Saturday besides the aforementioned Wisconsin/Ohio State game. Pittsburgh is in the middle of possibly the toughest stretch of any team in a conference schedule this season. The Golden Eagles will be the Panthers’ fourth ranked opponent in the last five games and a fifth ranked opponent in Notre Dame awaits after this. Buzz Williams’ team needs to bounce back from a setback at Georgetown, and will need offensive production from someone besides Vander Blue.

San Diego State at UNLV (Sat. 9:00 p.m. EST, NBC Sports): This game was obviously getting more love when the teams were ranked. But don’t sleep on it. Both these teams are prime candidates for the Field of 68 and are having solid seasons, but a win for either team enhances their at-large bid hopes exponentially. The Aztecs are in the middle of the Mountain West Murderer’s Row part of their schedule — loss at Colorado State, playing UNLV, then finishing the season at Wyoming, with games against New Mexico, Air Force and Boise State — and UNLV needs to find another low post option behind Anthony Bennett as we get closer to the conference tournament.

Boise State at No. 19 New Mexico (Sat. 9:00 p.m., check listings): This game could realistically lock up the Broncos an at-large bid that no one saw coming. They haven’t won them all, but they have won the ones that mattered most of the time, with victories over UNLV, Air Force and Wyoming to this point. However, they need a banner conference win that catches the committee’s collective eye. This is in The Pit, and this would be it. The Lobos are just hoping for more production out of Alex Kirk, who had 17 points and 16 rebounds in a loss to UNLV two games ago. Anthony Drmic has been on a roll lately for Boise State, scoring 20-plus points in four of the last six games.

St. Joseph’s at La Salle (Sat., 1:00 p.m. EST, NBC Sports): This is a sneaky good Atlantic 10 game between two teams that still have conference championship hopes. The Hawks have won four of their last six in conference play, with games at St. Louis and Charlotte still to come. The Explorers have wins over Butler and VCU already this season and this stretch with St. Joe’s and then Temple could alter their situation going into the A-10 tournament. Plus, it’s a Big 5 game in The Palestra. Who could argue with that?

What about the mid-majors?

New Mexico State at Utah State (Sat. 11:00 p.m. EST)

Western Illinois at South Dakota State (Sat., 5:05 p.m. EST)

Bryant at Wagner (Sat., 4:00 p.m.)

Southern Miss at East Carolina (Sat., 5:00 p.m. EST)

Jacksonville State at Eastern Kentucky (Sat. 7:00 p.m. EST)

Follow David on Twitter at @David_Harten

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.