Montrezl Harrell, James Michael McAdoo

No. 3 Louisville was not happy about the way they played at Mohegan Sun

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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.

UNCASVILLE, CT — Generally speaking, this is how the post game works at a neutral site event like the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic: around 10 minutes after the final buzzer, the winning coach, and maybe a player or two, will head to the podium for a press conference while their locker room is opened up for media access.

The press conference with the winning coach will usually last around 10 minutes, and maybe five minutes later the losing coach will come out to answer his questions for the TV cameras while their locker room is opened to the media. That generally goes a bit quicker, as most of the media will be looking to get interviews for stories on the winning team.

Assuming we aren’t dealing with an event like the Champions Classic or the Final Four, where the crush of the media reaches into the 100s, the teams are finished with their post game obligations in roughly 35 or 40 minutes, which is usually about the time it takes to get everyone showered and changed, all the gear packed up and the athletes themselves herded to the bus to leave the arena.

(MORE: UNC’s big men, point guards will determine their success)

On Sunday afternoon, Rick Pitino got his team the hell out of town. By the time I finished talking to the UNC players in their locker room, I managed to make it down to the Louisville locker room in time to see Rick Pitino heading out the door in a track suit. The locker room was already empty, the players already gone. I didn’t have a watch out or anything like that, but I’d guess that the Cardinals were gone within 25 minutes of the buzzer going off. I say that because I made it back out to the court before the first TV timeout of the Richmond-Fairfield game, which included 20 minutes to warmup, introductions and a trip that I made to the media hospitality room for some coffee (and a couple cookies) after realizing I missed out on talking with the Louisville guys.

This came a day after Louisville struggled to knock Fairfield. I wasn’t at that game, but the media members that were at Mohegan for the entire weekend said that Louisville’s locker room after that game did not look like a winning locker room. They weren’t jovial or celebrating. They looked like they had just gotten screamed at.

I think it’s safe to say Pitino was pretty unenthralled with his team’s play this weekend.

And could you blame him?

The Cardinals were a long, long way from impressive on Sunday. They looked nothing like a national title contender, mainly because their front court was useless for 40 minutes. Montrezl Harrell was active on the offensive glass in the first half, but he committed a couple of dumb fouls in the second half that got his disqualified. Chane Behanan was able to carve out space and get some loose balls on both ends, but he looked lost trying to figure out what to do once he got a rebound. Stephen Van Treese and Mangok Mathiang are solid, but they’re not ready to be playing starter’s minutes.

And all this was happening while seemingly everyone on North Carolina’s front line was having a career day.

There’s another issue at play here as well: Louisville’s transition defense was downright apathetic. Credit where credit’s due, UNC’s guards played really well. They weren’t flustered by Louisville’s pressure and were able to protect the ball fairly effectively.

But the Cardinals got into a bad habit of overpenetrating and failing to rotate back into defensive balance. What that means is that the Louisville ball-handler, either Russ Smith or Chris Jones, would try to break down the defense off the bounce. Both of the other wings would sit in the corner and wait for a kick-out for a spot-up three. The bigs would head to the rim to rebound the ball.

This becomes a problem because the point guard is generally supposed to be the safety valve, the last line of defense against leakouts. When the point guard drives, one of the two wings is supposed to rotate back. But with the wings spotting up in the corner and the big men crashing, the Tar Heels were able to pick UNC apart with easy layups.

That was ticking off the Louisville fans sitting behind me and leaving the beat-writers sitting next to me scratching their head.

Imagine what that did to Rick Pitino’s blood-pressure?

And you wonder why he wanted to get out of that building as quickly as possible?

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.