After controlling the run of play for much of the night, No. 6 Arizona found itself in need of a big play with San Diego State mounting a charge at Viejas Arena. With “The Show” roaring and the Aztecs within four points thanks to a Xavier Thames layup, the Wildcats were confronted with a baseline out of bounds situation late in the shot clock with 1:22 remaining.
The solution: head coach Sean Miller drawing up a play that freed up freshman forward Aaron Gordon for an impressive alley-oop. Gordon missed the ensuing free throw but the play itself allowed Arizona to regain control of the proceedings, and they’d go on to win by a final score of 69-60. Gordon, who made his first five shots, was all over the box score with 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots but he was just one of the key figures in the victory.
Nick Johnson scored a game-high 23 points and shot 7-for-9 from inside of the arc, knocking down shots at key junctures in the game when it seemed as if SDSU was one stop away from making things even tighter. Freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson gave the Wildcats some valuable minutes off the bench, and point guard T.J. McConnell handled his responsibilities with the maturity many expected when the Duquesne transfer was “handed the keys” to the attack.
But outside of Gordon and Johnson’s offensive output, what Arizona was able to do defensively against an athletic San Diego State squad may be the biggest thing to take out of the result. There’s no doubting the fact that the Aztecs have significant questions to answer offensively; the losses of both Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley are huge in that both players had the ability to get Steve Fisher’s team a basket when they needed one.
With those two gone SDSU had to rely on its athleticism to put points on the board, and Arizona made things difficult for much of the night. San Diego State shot just 36% from the field, and players other than Thames (19 points), J.J. O’Brien (19) and Winston Shepard III (12) accounted for ten points on 3-for-12 shooting. And in the paint Tulane transfer Josh Davis, who averaged a double-double last season and should be an impact player for San Diego State, struggled against the Arizona big men (Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski).
San Diego State will certainly get better as the season wears on, and given UNLV’s struggles (yes, it’s early) the Aztecs and Boise State look to be New Mexico’s biggest threats in the Mountain West. Arizona’s going to get better as well, and the experience of winning in a hostile environment will benefit them down the line.
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.