Jordan Bachynski preserves important weekend sweep for Arizona State (VIDEO)

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After splitting two games in the Bay Area last weekend Arizona State entered this week best served to sweep Oregon State and Oregon at home. Herb Sendek’s program hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2009, and at this point in the season Jahii Carson and company have put themselves in a spot where one of the goals is to simply avoid losing games they’re expected to win.

And after squeaking out an overtime win over Oregon State on Thursday night the Sun Devils put together one of their best halves of basketball this season against the reeling Ducks. Arizona State shot 68.2% from the field in the first half and 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski took full advantage of a size mismatch in the paint, accounting for 18 points and five rebounds. Closing the half on a 20-5 run, Arizona State held a 20-point lead at the half and looked well-positioned to not only win but deliver a crushing blow as well.

Then, Oregon’s Joseph Young got hot. Scalding hot. The Houston transfer scored 27 points in the second half, and the combination of his offensive excellence with Arizona State failing to execute resulted in a stunning comeback. Oregon would take a 61-59 lead, setting the stage for a tight race to the finish. And in the game’s climactic play there was Bachynski, blocking Young’s reverse layup attempt as time expired to give Arizona State (18-6, 7-4) the 74-72 victory.

Bachynski, who became the Pac-12’s career leaded in blocked shots on Thursday night, finished the game with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks. And this is his second “walk-off” block of the season, as he did the same against Marquette back in November. With Carson (2-for-10 FG, 11 points, 12 rebounds and six assists) and Jermaine Marshall (3-for-11, 12 points) struggling from the field, every point provided by Bachynski and fellow senior Shaquielle McKissic (5-for-7, 15 points) turned out to be needed in the end.

While Oregon (15-8, 3-8) suffered yet another defeat, could Saturday’s comeback be the spark this team so desperately needed? At this stage the Ducks aren’t an NCAA tournament team, with their defensive and interior deficiencies being the reasons why. After seemingly masking those flaws during their 13-0 start, the lack of size and defense is proving to be too much against teams better equipped to exploit those issues. But there are still seven games to be played before the Pac-12 tournament, and the talent is there for the Ducks to be anything but a pushover.

But there’s something to be said for a team’s pride, and Oregon displayed that in the second half as they fought back instead of simply accepting the outcome.

As for Arizona State, the Sun Devils have won five of their last six games and can undoubtedly argue that they’re the third-best team in the Pac-12 (remember, they won at Cal last week). And as a result of this weekend sweep of the Oregon schools, Arizona State has set itself up for a great opportunity next Friday when No. 2 Arizona visits Tempe. A ticket to the NCAA tournament is well within Arizona State’s reach, and for that they can thank Jordan Bachynski.

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.