Has there been a more surprising breakout player than Casey Prather this season? The Florida senior went from being a bit player as a freshman and a sophomore to embracing a role as a defensive stopper off the bench as a junior. But this season, with Florida dealing with what felt like two-thirds of their roster missing time due to injuries or suspensions, Prather stepped up.
He’s averaging 18.5 points this season, with the highlight of the year being the 22 points that he scored in Florida’s win over Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic. I won’t get too far into how he developed into a star — I did that in the 900 word column I filed from the Garden that night — but I think it’s safe to say that those injuries and suspensions were the best thing that could have happened to both Prather and the Gators. Without them, I don’t think he’s the player that he is today.
They were good, too:
Tracy Abrams, Illinois: Abrams scored 22 points and had the game-winning bucket in a 65-64 win over Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game.
Jason Calliste, Oregon: Calliste went for 31 points as Oregon knocked off BYU in overtime in Eugene. He also popped off for 14 points in a win over UC-Irvine.
Melvin Johnson, VCU: Johnson had 27 points and his eight threes in VCU’s blowout win over Virginia Tech. That’s huge. The Rams desperately need a knockdown three-point shooter.
Aaric Murray, Texas Southern: Murray currently holds the nationwide season-high for points in a game after lighting up Temple for 48 points in a win in Philly.
Adreian Payne, Michigan State: Payne put together one of the most dominating performances of the season on Saturday afternoon in Austin, dropping 33 points on 10-13 shooting.
T.J. Warren, N.C. State: Warren led the Wolfpack to back-to-back wins at Tennessee and over East Carolina by scoring a combined 53 points.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Oregon Ducks
Dana Altman’s club picked up a pair of wins this week, knocking off BYU at home in an overtime thriller while also blowing out UC-Irvine. That wasn’t the big news of the week in Eugene, however. The big news is that both Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, both expected starters entering the season, are back in the lineup for the Ducks after missing the first nine games of the season.
Here’s the best news of all: the Ducks don’t necessarily need Artis or Carter. They combined to play just 17 scoreless minutes in the win over BYU. Johnathon Loyd has been flat-out terrific this season, and the combination of Richard Amardi and Elgin Cook has been more than enough in the paint. There is a reason the Ducks are still undefeated, and if they can figure out a way to keep everyone happy with their minutes — and iron out some rotation kinks — I think it’s safe to say that the Ducks are Arizona’s biggest challenger in the Pac-12.
They were good, too:
Auburn: How about them Tigers? Beating Clemson and Boston College isn’t exactly program-changing, but it does mean that a potential bottom-feeder in the SEC isn’t losing to bottom-feeders from other conferences.
Boston U.: The Patriot League favorites went into College Park and knocked off Maryland, 83-77. D.J. Irving gave Mark Turgeon’s club 25.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats knocked off Pitt in NYC at the Jimmy V Classic, earning themselves a win they really needed.
Florida State: The Seminoles picked up two big wins over the weekend, blowing out Charlotte before picking up an ugly win over UMass.
Kansas State: The Wildcats picked up a much-needed win over No. 21 Gonzaga on Saturday at home. Marcus Foster is one of the best freshmen in the country that no one is talking about.
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.