Mike Tobey takes step forward in Virginia’s beating of N.C. State

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Less than two weeks ago Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers took their worst beating of the season, losing 87-52 at Tennessee with many wondering if Virginia had what it took to turn things around and be the ACC contender they were expected to be. Since that result: three wins, all by double digits, with their latest conquest being a 76-45 win at N.C. State.

One reason for the margin was Virginia’s defending of T.J. Warren, who they limited to just four points on 1-for-9 shooting. The Cavaliers were also solid offensively despite shooting 3-for-13 from deep, with three starters finishing in double figures and the other two scoring eight points apiece.

Joe Harris scored 16 points on the evening, and since leaving the Florida State win early in the first half due to injury the senior’s averaged 13.5 points per game and has been a more efficient player on that end of the floor. Against Tennessee Harris, a first team All-ACC selection last season, shot 2-for-9 from the field and turned the ball over three times with the Volunteers doing all they could to limit his quality touches.

Saturday’s win marks the second consecutive game in which Harris has shot 50% from the field, and while the shot attempts may not be all that high (4-for-8 in both games) he’s still an offensive threat that opponents have to be mindful of. But even with Harris’ two-game stretch, his play on Saturday may not be the most important development to take from Saturday’s blowout win. That would be the play of sophomore center Mike Tobey.

After averaging 6.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game as a freshman and making the United States Under-19 team that won a gold medal at the U-19 World Championships this past summer, Tobey was pegged as a possible breakout player in the ACC by more than a few pundits. With Tobey up to 7.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game it can be argued that he hasn’t reached that status just yet. But against N.C. State’s talented (but young, with the exception of Jordan Vandenberg) front court Tobey tallied 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting and seven rebounds.

Tobey’s afternoon comes on the heels of a two-game stretch in which he accounted for a total of six points and six rebounds, with the 6-foot-10 big man going scoreless at Florida State. Tobey’s now reached double figures in scoring in five games this season, so the ability to be an impact player offensively is there. The next step for Tobey, beginning with Monday’s game against a Duke team that is lacking in the post, is to do so on a consistent basis.

That would certainly help the Cavaliers in their quest to make a run at the ACC title, because Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell can always use some help carrying the load.

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.