Sean Miller

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

Leave a comment

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.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.