Minnesota v Ohio State

Month of February once again problematic for Minnesota

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The month of February has proven to be a troublesome one for Minnesota over the last three years, as they’ve struggled to the tune of a 4-17 record with one more game (vs. No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday) before the calendar flips to March.

With that dubious record, and more importantly their recent struggles, in mind there are two questions to be asked: what’s wrong with Tubby Smith’s team, and do the Golden Gophers have the tools needed to turn things around?

Offensive execution hasn’t been a strong suit for Minnesota and that was the case when they were playing well earlier this season. Minnesota was able to capitalize on their offensive rebounding prowess, ranking as one of the nation’s best in regards to rebounding their own missed shots.

In Minnesota’s 71-45 loss at No. 18 Ohio State on Wednesday the Gophers grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and scored 14 second chance points. But even with those opportunities Minnesota failed to reach the 60-point mark for the fifth consecutive game (and seventh time in their last nine).

Minnesota shot 29.2% from the field, and while the shooting remains a concern there was a bigger issue against Ohio State: turnovers.

The Gophers turned the ball over 24 times, and with Ohio State entering the game with its own issues on the offensive end the Buckeyes were more than willing to take advantage of the extra scoring chances. Ohio State scored 26 points off of those turnovers, and over the last two games Minnesota has racked up 41 turnovers.

With Rodney Williams still dealing with a shoulder injury and Andre Hollins struggling from the field, Minnesota’s margin for error is much smaller than it was earlier in the season. As the Gophers’ recent track record suggests poor February performances have become commonplace, and fans are growing louder in voicing their displeasure.

They are tired of promising nonconference seasons turning to ash. They are tired of counting quality wins and hoping for an NCAA tournament spot. They are tired of watching teams that seem to regress as the season goes on, or at least that hit seemingly irreversible tailspins. And they seem to be tired of the head coach who has presided over all of these similar seasons.

Given Minnesota’s overall resume the Gophers look to be on solid ground when it comes to making the NCAA tournament, especially when considering some of the other bubble teams up for discussion.

But this current run of play has opened the door for fans to ask serious questions in regards to Smith’s program, and it’s certainly debatable as to whether or not Minnesota has the “right” answers.

Getting to the NCAA tournament is an achievement for many programs, but to go from looking like a Big Ten contender in early January to limping into the field wouldn’t be viewed as an “achievement” for Minnesota.

It would be a disappointment, regardless of how strong the Big Ten is.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.