Fuquan Edwin, Russ Smith

Pregame Shootaround 3.8.13: Princeton looks to retain control of Ivy League race

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Game of the Day: Rutgers at Seton Hall (7:00 p.m., ESPN3)

Regardless of what happens at the Prudential Center the Scarlet Knights and Pirates will both play on Tuesday in the first round of the Big East tournament, so there isn’t much on the line in that regard. But this matchup is an important game when it comes to the direction of both programs, who have failed to take advantage of the elite talent available in New Jersey.

Rutgers dropped a tough decision to Marquette in their last outing, and the frustration of once again failing to get over the hump hit head coach Mike Rice hard during his postgame press conference. It’s been a frustrating season in South Orange as well, but in junior Fuquan Edwin the Pirates have one of the Big East’s most improved players. This isn’t the best game on tonight’s slate when looking at the quality of the teams, but when considering the future for both programs this one’s very important.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Princeton (at Yale, 7:00 p.m.) 

With Harvard (9-3 Ivy) losing at both Princeton and Penn last weekend the Tigers (9-2) have assumed control of the Ivy League race with just three conference games remaining. Mitch Henderson’s team hits the road and they’ll have revenge on their minds, as Yale ended Princeton’s 22-game Ivy home win streak back on February 9.

The Bulldogs shot 54.8% from the field and outscored Princeton by nine (16-7) at the foul line in the first meeting, with Javier Duren scoring 13 points and Sam Martin adding 11 off the bench. Princeton turned the ball over 16 times in the first meeting, resulting in a loss despite Denton Koon (16 points) and Ian Hummer (14 points, six assists and five rebounds) combining to score 30 points.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Illinois State vs. Northern Iowa (9:30 p.m., ESPN3)

Looking for a team in the Missouri Valley other than Creighton or Wichita State capable of grabbing the league’s automatic bid? The answer may very well come from this quarterfinal, with UNI beating the Redbirds 80-72 in the regular season finale for both last Saturday. Illinois State has lost four of its last five but with Tyler Brown and Jackie Carmichael the talent is there for Dan Muller’s team to make a run in St. Louis.

The difference in last week’s game: rebounding. UNI killed Illinois State on the glass, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds with Seth Tuttle accounting for nine of those. Anthony James scored 19 points and Marc Sonnen knocked down six of UNI’s ten three-pointers in the victory.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Three conference tournaments tip off Friday, as the Southern, Metro Atlantic and Sun Belt conferences take the floor. Which of the teams in action are most capable of getting hot? Keep an eye on Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), who won four in four days last season, and Fairfield (9-9).

2) Akron looks to clinch the outright MAC title against rival Kent State, and the Zips will attempt to do so without starting point guard Alex Abreu. Abreu was suspended indefinitely on Thursday following an arrest on charges of marijuana trafficking.

3) The Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley conferences will both play their semifinals on Friday night, with the four best teams advancing in the OVC tournament. Belmont/Murray State would be the expected matchup there but don’t overlook either Tennessee State or Eastern Kentucky.

4) Mercer’s the host team in the A-Sun, but the regular season champions will have their hands full with USC Upstate’s Torrey Craig. The first team All-Atlantic Sun selection averaged 25.5 points per game against the Bears this season, but Mercer kept him off the glass (4.0 rpg) as they won both meetings.

5) BYU begins WCC tournament play tonight as they take on San Diego in the second quarterfinal of the night. These two split the regular season series (home team winning both), and the Toreros will need a big night from forward Chris Manresa if they’re to slow down BYU’s Brandon Davies.

Other Notable Games 

3:30 p.m. Indiana State at Evansville (ESPN3)
7:00 p.m. Columbia at Harvard
7:00 p.m. Tennessee State at Belmont (ESPNU)
7:00 p.m. Kent State at Akron (ESPN2)
8:00 p.m. Stetson vs. Florida Gulf Coast (ESPN3)
11:30 p.m. San Diego vs. BYU (ESPNU)

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.