In the first half of Penn State’s 85-60 loss to Akron in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last November, Penn State guard Tim Frazier saw his senior season come to an end due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. Without their starting point guard the Nittany Lions struggled for much of the 2012-13 campaign, winning just ten games and finishing last in the Big Ten (2-16).
On Saturday Frazier played in his first regular season game since the injury and despite some struggles from the field the fifth-year season posted his first double-double since February 11, 2012, accounting for 25 points, ten rebounds and four assists in Penn State’s 74-62 victory over Wagner. Frazier made just six of his sixteen shots from the field but made up for that with a solid outing at the charity stripe, making 12 of 17 free throws. And Frazier wasn’t the only Nittany Lion to finish with a double-double, as fellow guard D.J. Newbill tallied 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Penn State outscored Wagner by ten points at the foul line (30-20), a margin that helped make up for the Seahawks scoring 32 points in the paint. If Penn State is to improve on its conference (and overall) win total of a season ago, the interior play has to get better. But it certainly helps head coach Patrick Chambers that he’s got his leader back on the floor.
With Frazier back in the fold the Nittany Lions should improve when it comes to taking care of the basketball, as last season they ranked tenth in the Big Ten in turnover margin and 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio. And the hope at Penn State is that the experienced tandem of Frazier and Newbill will open things up for their teammates and make the Lions a tougher group to corral.
“Obviously it’s exciting to have that dynamic duo to put a Penn State jersey on this year. I think D.J. learned so much about the point guard position in general. And now you have two guys that can make plays for teammates,” Chambers said at Big Ten Media Day last month.
“You can’t just focus on one or the other. You’ve got to focus on both those guys. There’s gotta be a lot of space on the floor for other guys to step up and make plays.”
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.