NCAA final four

2013 Final Four Primer


The last two participants in the Final Four punched their tickets on Saturday night, as Louisville knocked off Duke and Michigan ran over Florida, completing one of the most anticlimactic Elite 8s in the history of the Elite 8.

And that means it’s now official: No. 1 Louisville will be taking on No. 9 Wichita State on Saturday night at 6:09 p.m. ET in the Georgia Dome, with No. 4 Michigan taking on No. 4 Syracuse 40 minutes after the first game ends.

We’re going to have oh-so-much content rolling out over the next couple of days, but in order to get you prepped for the most anticipated three games of the college basketball season, here are seven thoughts to get the juices flowing:

1) Louisville has to be considered the favorite to win it all: Let’s start with the obvious: they were the favorite entering the tournament, and there is no one else left in the tournament seeded higher than fourth in their region. It’s simple math, really. Louisville was the best team in the country three weeks ago, and nothing about the way that they have played since Selection Sunday has done anything to convince us otherwise. Russ Smith has played like an all-american, Peyton Siva is showing everyone the value of having a veteran point guard as absurdly talented as he is, and Rick Pitino’s put them into a system where they can thrive.

2) But don’t be silly and count out Wichita State just yet: The Shockers beat Gonzaga, putting together one of the most impressive finishing kicks we’ve seen this season. They knocked off Ohio State, leading by as much as 20. Pitt and La Salle? They didn’t stand a chance. In fact, the Shockers have led by as much as 13 points in every game this tournament. They’re pretty good.

3) Michigan matches up pretty well with Syracuse: You need shooters to beat the Syracuse zone, and Michigan has that. You need length on the perimeter to be able to make that pass into the high post, and Michigan has that. You need someone to put at the high post that can be a threat to score, and Michigan has that. They also have Trey Burke, the best player in the country this season. Here’s the biggest question: who is Trey Burke going to guard? Can he stop Michael Carter-Williams or Brandon Triche if they want to get to the rim against him?

4) But that Syracuse zone is deadly: They’ve allowed just 0.72 PPP in four tournament games. By comparison, Stephen F. Austin led the country by allowing 0.843 PPP this season. Good luck, Michigan.

5) Don’t let me catch you calling the Big Ten overrated: It’s silly to base the success of a team or a conference on how well they perform in the NCAA tournament. Always has been and always will be. The NCAA tournament is all about matchups. That’s what happens when you’re dealing with a one-and-done knockout event. That’s what a team like Wichita State — or Butler or VCU or George Mason — is able to make a run to the Final Four. Do you think that the Shockers would beat Gonzaga in a five-game series? Do you really think that Florida Gulf Coast is one of the 16 best teams in the country?

To pull off an upset in the tournament, you need the right matchup, the right game-plan, flawless execution and a night where the opponent doesn’t play all that well. That Indiana and Syracuse, for example. The Orange had the length to bother Indiana’s guard, Cody Zeller picked the wrong night to struggle and Jordan Hulls was playing with a separated shoulder. Does that mean Syracuse is a better team? Or had a better season?

No. It means they had a better night.

And it certainly doesn’t mean that the Big East was a better conference that the Big Ten.

Because after all, the fifth-place Big Ten team is in the Final Four. Think about that.

6) Success in February isn’t a prerequisite to success in March: Wichita State started the season 15-1. They went 5-5 in their last 10 regular season games and lost to Creighton in the MVC title game. Syracuse was 18-1 before finishing the regular season 5-7. Michigan was 20-1 and was ranked No. 1 in the country at one point before going 5-5 in their last 10 and losing in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. All three of those teams managed to turn it around and make the Final Four. So much for momentum.

7) Another reason the demise of the Big East is sad?: This is the fourth straight year that the Big East tournament champion has made the Final Four. Louisville did it last year, UConn won the title in 2011 and West Virginia upset Kentucky to make the Final Four in 2010. In 2007, Georgetown made the Final Four as well.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.