The dog days of summer are when team camaraderie is shaped, with players attending summer classes on sparsely populated campuses and going through workouts with their teammates.
The summer is also an important period for strength and conditioning coaches across the country, thanks in part to NCAA rules limiting the amount of time basketball coaches can spend with their players. With this being the case, strength and conditioning staffers (in most cases) end up working with the players more than the basketball coaches do.
One program putting its players through the paces is the University of Florida, with the strength and conditioning staff using exercises made popular by those “World’s Strongest Man” competitions that tend to fill empty blocks of television time during the summer.
Having made three straight appearances in the Elite Eight the goal is a simple one for Billy Donovan’s program: take the next step and reach the Final Four for the first time since 2007.
The Gators lost three senior contributors from last season’s team (Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario), but the combination of returnees and newcomers has many expecting Florida to be one of the favorites (with Kentucky) to win the SEC.
Patric Young, who may be “pound for pound” the strongest man in college basketball, returns along with classmate Casey Prather and USA U-19 gold medalist Michael Frazier II. Florida adds one of the nation’s best freshmen in point guard Kasey Hill, and transfers Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and Damontre Harris (South Carolina) give the Gators two interior contributors with prior Division I experience.
But for all of Florida’s talent there are some question marks.
What will the statuses of guard Scottie Wilbekin (suspension) and Will Yeguete (knee surgery) be when practices officially begin in October? Will the NCAA approve Rutgers transfer Eli Carter’s request to be granted immediate eligibility? And there’s also the unresolved status of freshman big man Chris Walker, who also arrives in Gainesville amidst high praise but has some academic issues to take care of as well.
If all four players are ready to go when practices begin, Florida will be more than capable of getting over the Elite Eight hurdle that’s tripped them up each of the last three seasons.
h/t Jeff Eisenberg
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.