c.j. wilcox

Washington’s talented, but they need massive defensive improvements

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — At this point in the season, Washington still deserves the benefit of the doubt. They are playing with Desmond Simmons, whose knee injury has kept him out for a month, and Jernard Jarreau, who is done for the year with a torn ACL.

Those are Lorenzo Romar’s two best big men. Losing them makes a difference, that fact undeniable.

But even with Simmons and Jarreau healthy and on the court, the Huskies don’t look like a team capable of competing in the Pac-12 thanks to a defense that, at best, is atrocious. Entering Friday night’s 2K Sports Classic consolation game, U-Dub was 181st in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. They haven’t allowed less than 1.00 points-per-possession (PPP) in their four games this season, and got lit up by Indiana for 102 points in just 76 possessions on Thursday night.

Then came Friday, when Boston College beat the Huskies 89-78 in a game that featured just 64 possessions.

On the weekend, Washington allowed a total of 191 points on 140 possession. Do the math, and that’s 1.364 PPP. I’m not Ken Pomeroy, but I can tell you that is not good. At all.

“We have to get better defensively. Much better,” head coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game. “Right now, we’re just having to many breakdowns.”

The biggest issue for the Huskies right now is dribble penetration. Their guards are not great on-ball defenders in the first place, and it certainly doesn’t help when they lose any semblance of a rim protector, but the bottom line is that Washington simply will not be able to compete with any tournament caliber team if they don’t find a way to get better on the defensive end of the floor.

“We’re still trying to learn this whole thing,” C.J. Wilcox said after scoring a career-high 30 points. “We’re playing a lot of new guys. They’re being thrown into the fire. We’re still trying to learn our rotations. If one guy misses a rotation, it throws everything off.”

“We tell our players all the time how important team defense,” Romar added. “Four guys can be out on the floor playing stellar man to man defense and one guy is out of position and it looks like you didn’t play it at all. I thought there were times when we were playing really good position defense and one guy blew. In the first half we were back in transition, but we weren’t as organized as we should have been and they got a few open shots that got them going.”

The good news is that Washington can score. They have a number of weapons on their perimeter and they are pretty effective when they get out in transition. But without a massive improvement on the defensive end of the floor, the Huskies are going to have a long season in a good Pac-12 conference.

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.