Villanova v Butler

No. 11 Villanova survives Butler in the Bulldog’s Big East opener

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Hinkle Fieldhouse almost claimed another victim.

No. 11 Villanova did everything they could to give the game away against Butler. They allowed the Bulldogs to erase a second half deficit in the final minutes, tying the game and forcing overtime on a Kellen Dunham jumper with 25 seconds left.

In the extra frame, Villanova took a five point lead but then proceeded to miss five-out-of-six free throws, turn the ball over up one with 19 seconds left and then give up an offensive rebound to Khyle Marshall with just 9.5 seconds left in the game. Butler had a chance to win the game, but they were out of timeouts and couldn’t get the ball inbounds against the Villanova defense.

And that was that.

The Wildcats escaped — yes, escaped is the word to use here — with a 76-73 win in overtime.

What that should tell you, more than anything, is that the Butler team that we all wrote off when Brad Stevens left and Roosevelt Jones injured his wrist is going to be a problem this season.

The Bulldogs probably don’t have enough pieces to make a real push at winning the Big East. But Kellen Dunham has emerged into one of the nation’s best pure scorers. He’s more than just a jump-shooter this season. He’s not averaging 18.5 points this season by accident. Khyle Marshall has gotten better as well, and there’s enough rebounding, scoring and Butler Gumption (patent pending) on the rest of the roster for this group to be a thorn in the side of each and every other Big East member.

Can they make the NCAA tournament?

Well, it’s going to be tough. The Bulldogs didn’t pick up a marquee non-conference win, losing to Oklahoma State and LSU. Villanova is far-and-away the best win that can be earned in league play and Butler just lost to them at home. As competitive as the Big East is going to be this season, I’m not sure how many at-large bids the league will produce.

In other words, Butler is sitting in a hole that’s going to be tough to dig themselves out of.

But that says less about how good this team is than how much they are going to regret losing to Villanova, Oklahoma State and LSU by a combined six points.

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.