Baylor  v Texas Tech

Unless No. 12 Baylor’s defense improves, they’re not a Big 12 contender

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Jaye Crockett led five players in double figures with 19 points for Texas Tech as the Red Raiders blew out No. 12 Baylor at home.

The final score was 82-72, but trust me when I tell you, that doesn’t do the beatdown justice. It took 30 minutes for the Bears to show up on Wednesday night, and by then they were already down 20 points. Tech was up 43-22 at the half, having held Baylor to 7-for-27 shooting. Baylor didn’t have an assist in the first 20 minutes.

Tubby Smith’s boys deserve all the credit in the world. They came out and simply out-worked the Bears. Baylor looked half-asleep in the first half, which is something that can happen on the road in league play, and the Red Raiders took advantage.

But the bigger concern for Baylor is that this may not have simply been a bad outing.

The Bears haven’t done much of anything since beating Kentucky on December 6th. Part of that was their schedule. Like any other coach in the country, Scott Drew went ahead and put together a December full of cupcakes. The Bears had beaten Colorado and Kentucky and finished in second place in the Maui Invitational in November, looking every bit the part of a top 15 team that could compete for the Big 12.

But during that month long sabbatical from quality competition, the Bears seem to have lost their rhythm. They were run off the floor at Iowa State last week, with nothing but a blowout home win over TCU in between the two losses.

Here’s the question I have: can their issues actually be corrected? The concerns for Baylor entering the season were in their back court, but Kenny Chery has been a revelation while Brady Heslip is back to being one of the nation’s most fearsome snipers. Throw in the recent performances from Taurean Prince, and the Bears have plenty of weapons on the perimeter.

The issue is that Baylor’s front line was supposed to be one of the best in the country, but it has disappointed all season long. Isaiah Austin is a better shot-blocker than he was as a freshman, but the rest of his numbers are significantly down from a year ago. Cory Jefferson is still doing what he does, but he’s at his best in a complimentary role. He’s not a focal point as a low-post scorer, he’s a rebounder that will throw down a couple of thunderous dunks a night.

What’s worse is that despite having those two — plus one of the nation’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers — the Bears are still getting waxed on the defensive glass. I get it, they play a lot of zone and rebounding is difficult to do out of a zone, but it’s still unacceptable for the nation’s second-best offensive-rebounding team to fail to corral more than 32% of the available defensive rebounds.

In fact, the Bears simply are not a good defensive team. Before giving up 82 points to Texas Tech, they ranked outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. They don’t force turnovers, they can’t end possessions by getting defensive rebounds, and they’re struggling to defend the three this season.

Unless the Bears make some serious strides on the defensive end of the floor, this quite simply is not a team that can be put in the same sentence as Kansas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State.

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.