That’s the overriding sentiment that seems to rise to the surface every time that Missouri plays a close game on the road. Why Phil Pressey does the things that he does in the final minute of a game is one of this season’s greatest mysteries.
On Saturday, the head-scratcher wasn’t the turnover that Pressey committed on an in-bounds pass with the Tigers down 60-57 with 1:33 left on the clock, it was the three that he airballed two possessions later with 15 seconds left in the game.
It wasn’t close; Pressey missed it wide-right by about two feet. Tennessee would go on to win 64-62.
But that’s not necessarily the point.
This wasn’t the first time that Pressey took an ill-advised three off the dribble on the Tigers’ final possession. And it wasn’t the first time that he committed a bad turnover on a crucial possession in the final minutes of a game. Perhaps the most surprising part of Pressey’s airball is that it wasn’t actually surprising at all. We’ve come to expect it. That’s just who Pressey is at this point: an uber-talented playmaker whose decision-making in crunch time cannot be trusted.
And Tennessee will reap the benefits.
The Vols have won eight of their last nine games. They beat Florida during that stretch. They have a win over Wichita State, as well as victories against fellow bubblers Kentucky, Alabama and UMass. Combine that with solid enough computer numbers and just one ugly loss, and Cuonzo Martin’s team look like they are in a pretty good spot with Selection Sunday right around the corner.
Their work isn’t done yet. They are in the same boat as Kentucky: they probably need to win their first round game in the SEC tournament simply because they cannot afford to lose to whoever they will end up playing. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, not with the way that Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes have played of late. Not with Trae Golden looking like the all-SEC point guard we expected to see this season.
But the bottom-line is that Martin has gotten this Volunteer team to the brink of the NCAA tournament, and that fact, given where the Vols were early this year, is quite impressive.
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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.
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.