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Upset Watch: Five possibilities to keep in mind


One of the most entertaining aspects of the NCAA tournament are the upsets that are bound to occur every year. Last season’s event featured a pair of 15-seeds winning on the same day, as Lehigh beat Duke and Norfolk State edged out Missouri. There’s also the history of at least one 12-seed knocking off a 5-seed, with that happening in every tournament of the new millenium but two (2000 and 2007). So what are some games you should keep an eye on when it comes to possible upsets? Here are five.

1. (11) Belmont over (6) Arizona (West)

Arizona has more size than Belmont in the paint, but this upset possibility focuses on what can happen on the perimeter. The Wildcats’ perimeter defense, specifically their defending of the three-pointer, has been a concern for much of the season. Opponents shoot 36% from beyond the arc, and given Belmont’s ability to hit the shot this is a concern for Arizona. Kerron Johnson and company make 38.6% of their three-pointers, and they score nearly 33% of their points via the shot. Rebounding is definitely a concern for Rick Byrd’s team in this matchup, but if they can convert three-pointers at a rate near their numbers for the season look out.

2. (10) Colorado over (7) Illinois (East)

Illinois’ reliance on the three-point shot is no secret, but in the Buffaloes they drew a team that’s done a good job of defending the shot. Colorado limits opponents to 32.3% from beyond the arc, a mark that ranks second in the Pac-12. The biggest concern for Illinois is rebounding, an area in which they’ve struggled all season long. Opponents manage to grab nearly 34% of their missed shots on the season, and with Colorado boasting one of the nation’s best rebounders in Andre Roberson this is an area the Buffaloes can exploit. And look for Spencer Dinwiddie, their best perimeter defender, to match up with Brandon Paul for much of the night.

(CLICK HERE: To browse through the rest of our 2013 NCAA Tournament Previews)

3. (12) Oregon over (5) Oklahoma State (Midwest)

The Ducks were shown no respect by the selection committee in regards to their seeding. But the committee made up for that by placing them in San Jose against the 5-seed Oklahoma State. Oregon has athletic wings such as seniors Carlos Emory and freshman Damyean Dotson, which will help them when it comes to matching up with Le’Bryan Nash. And with their size inside the Ducks have the tools needed to exploit Oklahoma State’s defensive rebounding issues. The concern: Marcus Smart. Oregon’s small at the point with Dominic Artis and Johnathan Loyd, so they’ll need to be very good in the areas listed above in order to win.

4. (11) Bucknell over (6) Butler (East)

Dave Paulsen’s team has won 12 of its last 13 games, and with senior center Mike Muscala leading the way the Bison are more than capable of doing some damage this week. With Cameron Ayers and Bryson Johnson on the perimeter Bucknell shoots 36% from three, but given the presence of Muscala and their ability to convert inside of the arc it isn’t as if the Bison are in danger of becoming overly reliant on the shot. In order to beat the Bulldogs, Bucknell will have to do two things extremely well: don’t allow Rotnei Clarke to go off, and keep Butler off the offensive glass. Butler rebounds nearly 37% of their missed shots on the season.

5. (13) South Dakota State over (4) Michigan (South) 

Yes Michigan made an appearance on the list of ten teams capable of winning the national title. But that doesn’t mean the Wolverines can’t be picked off in their first game. This game matches two of the nation’s best point guards (Michigan’s Trey Burke and South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters), so it should come as no surprise that these are two of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. If the Jackrabbits are to pull off the upset, which looks to be a tough chore if you’re a fan of advanced stats, they need to do two things: keep Burke out of the lane (far easier said than done) and win the rebounding battle.

Four other games to consider: 

– (11) Middle Tennessee (provided they beat Saint Mary’s) over (6) Memphis (West)

– (12) California over (5) UNLV (East)

– (10) Cincinnati over (7) Creighton (Midwest)

– (13) Montana over (4) Syracuse (East)

One game to be wary of: (11) Minnesota over (6) UCLA (South)

This is the game many latched onto almost immediately, so much so that Vegas has the Gophers down as a three-point favorite. But even with UCLA’s poor rebounding (Minnesota is the best offensive rebounding team in the country) and the broken foot suffered by Jordan Adams, calm down. Minnesota enters the contest having lost seven of its last ten games, and while that came against Big Ten competition it isn’t a lock that the proverbial light bulb will turn on for Tubby Smith’s team. The Gophers certainly have some advantages they can exploit, but this is by no means a guarantee.

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.