Colorado State v Louisville

Previewing the Midwest Regional: Is it 2009 all over again?


Favorite: Louisville

The Cardinals have been the most impressive team in the NCAA tournament to date, and it’s all thanks to their defense. It’s simply been overwhelming, and it’s not like they are changing anything. Louisville is just doing what they do on a nightly basis. Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and Kevin Ware pressure their opponent’s back court. Luke Hancock and Chane Behanan pick off the errant passes that float out of the back court. Gorgui Dieng and Montrezl Harrell swat away anything that happens to make its way to the rim.

Louisville’s defense is streaky. Once they get one steal and a layup off of it, their confidence grows. It builds on itself and snowballs until opponents are seeing flashes of Smith and Siva when they close their eyes at night. You see, Louisville is not a great half court team. They are much better when they can score in transition. And when they do score, they are able to get right back into that press. It’s not fun to play against.

But they could also win: Michigan State

The Spartans actually matchup well with Duke on the interior. Derrick Nix is big enough that he won’t be overpowered by Mason Plumlee, which means that he’ll be able to guard Duke’s all-american center one-on-one in the post. That will make things difficult for the Blue Devils on the perimeter, as the Spartans will be able to matchup with them. The key to Michigan State making it out of the weekend, however, is going to be the health of Keith Appling’s shoulder. When he’s playing well, Michigan State is a much better team.

(Click here to browse through all of our Sweet 16 previews)

Most Important Player: Point guards playing Louisville

It will be Dominic Artis and Jonathan Loyd on Friday night. On Sunday, it will either be Appling or Duke’s Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton. You know what you’re getting when you do up against this Louisville team, but that doesn’t mean that it’s possible to prepare for. You just simply cannot replicate that kind of speed, quickness or defensive tenacity. Protect the ball and have a chance. Turn it over, and go the way of Colorado State.

Story line to watch: Rewind to the 2009 tournament. No. 1 overall seed and title favorite Louisville played No. 12 seed Arizona in the Sweet 16 and blew them out, advancing to take on Michigan State in the Elite 8. In Indianapolis. In the Midwest Region. Sound familiar? Well, Michigan State won that game. Can the Cardinals reverse their fortunes this time around?

Rank ‘em:

1. Louisville
2. Michigan State
3. Duke
4. Oregon

And the winner is?: Louisville

Louisville is rolling right now, and unfortunately I just don’t see anyone in this region that has the back court play to handle the press. Oregon has turnover issues. Michigan State has turnover issues. In fact, I think that if Duke can get by the Spartans in the Sweet 16, they may actually have the best chance to take down Louisville; they’ve done it once already this season. But at the end of the day, Louisville is streaky, so you might as well ride the hot hand while it lasts.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.