The Michigan State Spartans open the 2013-14 season as one of the early favorites to reach the Final Four, thanks to the return of the majority of their rotation from last season’s Sweet 16 squad and the presence of head coach Tom Izzo. One key component will be sophomore guard Denzel Valentine, who averaged 5.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game as a freshman. Valentine’s versatility allows him to take on multiple roles within the Michigan State attack, and he’s expected to take on an even greater role with a year of experience under his belt.
And on this journey that he and his teammates hope will reach the Final Four in Arlington, Texas, Valentine will have some company in the form of his older brother Drew. Drew, after completing his playing career at Oakland, made the decision to begin working towards establishing a career as a coach and is a grad assistant on Coach Izzo’s staff.
Working under one of college basketball’s best coaches should benefit Drew, especially when it comes to managing aspects of the game outside of the Xs and Os.
“Drew has a great understanding of the game of basketball,” Carlton Valentine, Drew and Denzel’s father, said last month. “He still has to learn a lot about the managing of people and managing of egos and switching the roles from becoming a player to a coach. I’ve said those would be his biggest challenges moving forward of being a coach, but he has a good basketball mind. He’s got good people skills. He communicates well, and so I think coaching collegiately would be a good fit for Drew.”
A grad assistant isn’t allowed to provide instruction to the players per NCAA rules, but Drew’s presence could be an asset to the younger players given his playing experience. And as Drew takes the next step in his life he’ll be able to do so with a familiar face in Denzel nearby, which would make a deep tournament run even more special for the Valentines.
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.