UCLA needs Tony Parker to build on career night

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Last summer UCLA forward Tony Parker arrived on campus as part of one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, with the expectation that he and his classmates (Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad) would be able to lead the Bruins back to prominence. While UCLA did manage to win the Pac-12 regular season title that isn’t the standard in Westwood, with the end result being a change at the top with Steve Alford replacing Ben Howland.

And for Parker personally the 2012-13 campaign was a disappointing one, as he failed to establish himself in the UCLA rotation and played just over six minutes per game. But the change has served as a rebirth of sorts for Parker, who’s earned more more minutes and just as importantly taken advantage of those opportunities. Up to eight points and just over five rebounds per contest, Parker’s shooting 60% from the field and has been a solid contributor for the Bruins in his sophomore campaign.

Thursday night Parker, facing a Stanford front court led by Dwight Powell, put together the best performance of his career by tallying 22 points, seven rebounds and three steals in the Bruins’ 91-74 victory. Parker made nine of his 14 attempts from the field and was far more active on both ends of the floor than in UCLA’s loss at Utah last Saturday.

“Tony Parker was terrific. That’s the sign of a good team,” Alford said after the win. “When others are hurting, you have others pick it up. Tony really stepped up for us. I thought he did a really good job once we got the ball inside to him. He played 28 minutes and he played with really good energy and urgency and battled on both ends.”

With Kyle Anderson running the show and players such as Adams and Zach Lavine capable of getting things rolling from a scoring standpoint (Bryce Alford and Norman Powell have also been good for much of the season), Parker doesn’t have the pressure of needing to score 20+ points every night. But for all that perimeter firepower at the elder Alford’s disposal, more will be needed from the big men if UCLA is to make a deep run in March.

Travis Wear, who averaged double digits in each of his first two seasons at UCLA, missed the first three games of the season due to a case of appendicitis and has struggled for much of this season. And twin brother David, who’s averaging seven points and four rebounds per game, has reached double digits in scoring just once since racking up 16 in a loss to Duke on December 19.

With this being the case UCLA’s going to need Parker to consistently be a factor inside, and with Cal’s tandem of David Kravish and Richard Solomon visiting Pauley Pavilion on Sunday this will be a good weekend to see if the sophomore’s capable of doing so.

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.