Wichita State entered the day as the No.8-ranked team in the nation, as well as one of the seven teams without a loss on the season. The Shockers remain unbeaten, in the process continuing the program’s best start after a 67-53 win over Northern Iowa in their Missouri Valley Conference home opener.
The Shockers entered the season wondering how they would fill the roles left behind by the likes of Carl Hall and point guard Malcolm Armstead. Sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet served as Armstead’s backup, seeing 16 minutes per game. This season, he’s seen double the minutes in the starting role and on Sunday he continued to remind us that he is capable of running the show, going for a career-high 22 points to go along with his six rebounds and three assists and no turnovers. Cleanthony Early added 18 points while Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker combined for 5-of-17 shooting for 13 points.
VanVleet’s performance shows just how talented and deep this roster is for Gregg Marshall. That talent, coupled with the fact that Creighton is now a member of the new Big East, has raised the question: can the Shockers run the table?
According to kenpom.com the chances are less than 10 percent.
The Missouri Valley is still a tough, physical conference as we saw in Sunday afternoon’s game with the Shockers and Panthers. Wichita State, on Wednesday, heads to Illinois State, a team that upset then-No. 25 Dayton at home. Indiana State is an experienced team with a steady point guard of its own in senior Jake Odum. The Sycamores have previously knocked off Notre Dame in South Bend and will be a difficult place to win at. As will Missouri State. As will Northern Iowa, a team that handed VCU a 77-68 loss on Dec. 14.
Marshall has been asked about his team possibly going undefeated in the regular season. His comments suggest that it’s not an important question he or his team is looking to answer. One of the questions the Shockers faced at the season was how would VanVleet handle his role in the starting lineup? VanVleet, who holds an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.27 and has committed one in three games, proved once again on Sunday that he can for the 15-0 Shockers.
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.