Pitt v Syracuse

Tyler Ennis pushes No. 25 Pitt that much closer to being a bubble team


source: Getty Images

Pitt is going to have nightmares about Tyler Ennis for a long time.

Jim Boehiem’s stud freshman point guard hit a running, 35-footer with two defenders on him as the buzzer sounded to give the Orange a 58-56 win over the Panthers at the Peterson Events Center on Wednesday night. It was just the latest clutch performance in what has become a season-long exhibition on how to properly play the point guard position from a guy that has gone from overshadowed to the best freshman in the country.

But we’ve known that Ennis was a good player for a long time now. We had him fourth in our Player of the Year Power Rankings on Tuesday. He’s been awesome, the biggest reason that Syracuse is still undefeated, and I’m not just talking about Wednesday.

(MORE: Just how good as Tyler Ennis been?)

He’s also not the only story here, because in addition to making an undefeated season just that much more likely for the Orange, he also managed to put Pitt in a position where missing the NCAA tournament is no longer a nightmare scenario.

It’s an actual possibility.

Not a probability, mind you.

The Panthers’ computer numbers are awesome. They entered the night ranked 14th by KenPom and 24th in the RPI, and while they’re currently sitting at 20-5 overall and 8-4 in the ACC, none of those losses have come to a team outside the top 18 in the RPI or the top 22 of KenPom. Putting together a resume that includes no bad losses will be enough to get you into the NCAA tournament most years, and beating every team that you’re supposed to beat over the course of a five month season is not as easy to do as it sounds.

There are upsets every single night, and thanks to a couple of too-close-for-comfort overtime wins against Miami and Virginia Tech last week, Pitt is without one of those losses.

But they don’t have a resume-defining win, which is why this loss to the Orange is going to sting so much. The best win that Pitt has this season is against Stanford, who is currently sitting at No. 42 in the RPI. Beyond that, they’ve beaten six more top 100 teams, all ACC foes, the best being N.C. State. And here’s the worst part: they don’t have anymore of those games.

They play North Carolina on the road this weekend. After that, it’s nothing but a bunch of NIT-at-best teams. Let me paint you a picture: let’s say that the Panthers lose to the Tar Heels, win out in ACC play, and then end up losing in the ACC tournament before beating one of the teams at the top of the conference while Stanford happens to come back to earth at the end of the Pac-12 season.

Where does that put Pitt?

In a position where they don’t have any top 50 RPI wins on Selection Sunday?

Will that be enough to get them into the Field of 68?

Probably, but the Panthers will be looking at a seed that is much less than ideal with a margin of error that is slimmer than Panther fans are used to. One bad loss could end up being really, really costly.

How big does James Robinson’s four-point play to force overtime against Virginia Tech look now?

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.