There’s no denying the fact that point guard Matthew Dellavedova graduated as one of the greatest players in the history of Saint Mary’s basketball. In four seasons at the WCC school “Delly” was a three-time All-WCC selection and a two-time honorable mention All-American. A personnel loss that big isn’t something a program simply glosses over and moves on, and for that reason more than a few prognosticators immediately decided that the Gaels were ill-equipped to challenge Gonzaga and BYU for the WCC title.
But now that they’re 8-0 on the season following an 82-74 win at Boise State on Saturday, it’s become quite apparent that it wasn’t wise to make that hasty conclusion.
Thanks to the hot shooting of Stephen Holt and James Walker III, who shot a combined 7-for-9 from three in the first half, Saint Mary’s led by as many as 16 points before the Broncos cut the margin to just two points at the half. More than a few teams in that spot would wilt when on the road against a formidable opponent, but Saint Mary’s didn’t. Instead the Gaels became even more balanced offensively, with four players scoring at least six points in the second half.
Holt led five players in double figures with 24 points and six assists, and the performance was his most productive of the season to date. With leading scorer Brad Waldow accounting for just five points in the first half the Gaels needed players to step up and Holt did just that, scoring 18 of his 24. It would be unfair to ask any one player to fully replace Dellavedova, given what the graduated point guard provided in both stats and intangibles. But it it isn’t unfair to expect Holt and Walker (can’t forget Kerry Carter either) to do much of the heavy lifting on the perimeter, and thus far they’ve done that.
It’s safe to say that Waldow’s going to score more than he did against Boise State (11 points, 11 rebounds), as he entered the game averaging a team-best 18.6 points per game. But with the guard play and the presence of forward Beau Levesque, a relatively quiet night for a player who’s one of the WCC’s best big men isn’t a deal-breaker for Saint Mary’s.
Next weekend the Gaels will play in the Diamond Head Classic, and with possible games against Boise State (semifinals) and No. 17 Iowa State (final) Saint Mary’s can potentially pick up another quality win or two before WCC play starts. But through eight games it’s become clear that at the very least Saint Mary’s can finish in the top three of the WCC for an 11th consecutive season.
And a conference title shouldn’t be considered unrealistic for this group either.
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.