Sean Miller

Defending the three-point line a key for Arizona in 2013-14

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In Sean Miller’s three seasons as head coach at Arizona prior to the 2012-13 campaign, the Wildcats routinely ranked among the nation’s best when it came to defending the three-point line. After limiting opponents to 31.3% shooting from deep in his first season (ranking 50th nationally), Arizona landed in the Top 5 of that stat two years in a row.

That standard of excellence is what made last season’s performance, in which conference opponents shot nearly 38% from deep, all the more startling. However despite those defensive issues on the perimeter, Arizona reached the Sweet 16 before falling to Ohio State.

The Wildcats did lose three seniors from that squad (guard Mark Lyons and forwards Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom) as well as freshman forward Grant Jerrett. But with two McDonald’s All-Americans (Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) arriving and Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell (2.8 steals/game as a sophomore) eligible after sitting out last season, expectations are once again high in the “Old Pueblo.”

If the Wildcats are to make good on that promise however, they’ll need to improve defensively. And the feeling is that this group has the tools needed to do just that. With that being the case, coach Miller may do some tinkering according to Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star.

So he’s thinking about tweaking his man-to-man defense, which has generally improved steadily since Miller’s arrival in 2009 but struggled at times last season.

“I believe in man-to-man – that will always be the primary defense that you play – but there are a lot of different things you can do within man-to-man,” Miller said. “Using our athleticism is something I would be foolish not to take advantage of and I think our team has a lot of ability on defense.

“Trapping and pressuring the ball, maybe even changing defenses some, is something we’ve looked at all summer and again it’s always about putting your talent in the best position to be successful.”

Of the teams that reached last season’s Final Four Michigan was the “worst” when it came to defending the three, with opponents making 32.5% of their attempts. And of the last five national champions just one allowed opponents to shoot better than 33%, with the 2008-09 North Carolina squad limiting teams to 33.7% from three.

For the entire season Arizona’s opponents made 35.8% of their three-pointers, and after clamping down on Belmont (29.6%) and Harvard (27.8%) the Wildcats were burned by a group of Buckeyes who managed to shoot 53% from deep.

With the addition of athletic defenders such as Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon, and the solid McConnell at the point, the early feeling is that this group is capable of playing defense at a level that’s become the standard during Miller’s tenure in Tucson.

And if that proves to be the case, Arizona has a shot to do some damage next spring.

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.