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Memphis got a huge win Sunday, but calling it ‘narrative-changing’ is premature

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On Sunday evening down in Orlando, Memphis head coach Josh Pastner finally picked up that elusive, first top 25 win.

Entering Sunday, his Memphis teams had gone 0-13 against teams ranked in the AP top 25. If you want to quibble with that stat, you can. Technically the Tiger’s do have one top 25 win under Pastner. In the opening round of the 2013 NCAA tournament, the Tigers knocked off St. Mary’s, a team that a) needed to win the play-in game just to reach No. 6 seed Memphis and b) sat at No. 25 in the Coaches Poll.

So yes, Pastner had won a top 25 game before.

But quibbling with semantics belabors the larger point here: the Tigers had made an unhealthy habit of failing to show up in big games. They’d been getting drubbed in marquee non-conferences games and fizzling out of the NCAA tournament too early, their reputation being staked on their dominating performances against mediocre Conference USA competition.

The narrative was, quite frankly, valid.

For all his recruiting success and personability, Josh Pastner’s teams had never proven they could win big games. They couldn’t handle adversity. When the going got tough, Memphis folded. And nothing was more exemplary of that fact than the matchup with Oklahoma State two weeks ago, when Marcus Smart’s 39 points spurred the Cowboys to a 101-80 pasting of the Tigers in which Memphis seemingly rolled over and died.

That’s what makes Sunday’s win so important.

It’s not simply that Memphis beat then-No. 5 Oklahoma State. It’s that they came back from a double-digit deficit, winning a game against a very good team when they didn’t play their best and shot a measly 12-for-24 from the charity stripe.

Memphis showed fight on Sunday, and that’s more important than any stat about the top 25 or any ranking they’ll receive as a result. There’s a mental hurdle to clear when it comes to winning and winning big games. The ability to handle the pressure of the big moment, of a big game, is a learned skill, and Memphis took a huge step in the right direction on Sunday.

But that’s all it is at this point.

It’s a win that Memphis needed to get. It’s a win they got in a way that we haven’t seen out of them in Pastner’s tenure. It’s a win that will absolutely help with their NCAA tournament seeding, one that will provide a measure of confidence heading forward.

But this isn’t a narrative-changing win, as Gary Parrish wrote on Sunday evening, at least not yet. The Tigers play Florida on Dec. 17th at Madison Square Garden. They visit Louisville on January 9th and host UConn a week later. The play Gonzaga on February 8th.

You want to call this a narrative-changing victory? Win two or three of those games and you can.

Until then, the Tigers are just a team that finally broke through against a quality opponent.

Because if this ends up being the high-point of the 2013-2014 season for the Tigers, I’m not sure that anything will have actually changed.

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.