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.

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.