The Secondary Break: Friday’s Links

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After Syracuse falters, Florida and Wichita State jockey for No. 1 (Sports Illustrated)
With No. 1 Syracuse losing on Wednesday night many power rankings are undergoing changes, and that includes Luke Winn’s power rankings. The new team on top of the poll: Florida, which is a serious threat to run the table in the SEC. But they, like any other national title contender this season, have a flaw that can be exploited according to Winn.

On Rainier Beach (The Classical)
Rainier Beach High School in Seattle has given the game of basketball some special players over the years, including Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson. And this season they’re once again among the best teams in the nation, with Louisville signee Shaqquan Aaron being one of their talented prospects. How do they do it year in and year out? By being different.

Inside Kentucky Basketball: Why it’s now or never in 2014 (Bleacher Report)
Kentucky has one of the nation’s most visible programs, with factors such as their sustained excellence and prowess on the recruiting trail being two reasons why. John Calipari’s got a team that currently has an 18-5 record and hopes of making a run at the school’s ninth national title. And whether or not they get there will depend on the maturation of the freshmen.

Tall Firs history puts new spin on tourney (Eugene Register-Guard)
Oregon won the first national title in 1939, with a group dubbed the “Tall Firs” leading the way. Terry Frei has written a book on the first tournament entitled “March 1939,” which focuses not only on Oregon but also the NCAA and NIT tournaments with the latter seen by some as being the more prestigious at the time.

BYU, Gonzaga in their own incredible universe (Deseret News)
Late Thursday night BYU and Gonzaga played a game of high importance in Provo, with the Cougars looking to add a quality win to their resume and the Bulldogs hoping to clinch the WCC title. BYU ended up winning 73-65, and while many focused on the Duke/North Carolina tilt played earlier in the night the fans in attendance found this one to be important as well.

The “Gentle Giant” leads by example, on and off the court (The New Hampshire)
New Hampshire senior center Chris Pelcher has been a quality member of the UNH program since transferring in from Iona, and he’s been a good example both on and off the court for head coach Bill Herrion. After having missed time due to a leg injury Pelcher’s looking to find his groove during the stretch run.

Penn senior to be honored by basketball writers association (Philadelphia Daily News)
On Thursday the United States Basketball Writers Association announced its three winners of its Most Courageous Award, one of whom is Penn senior guard Dau Jok. Jok and his family, which includes a younger brother named Peter who currently plays at Iowa, fled South Sudan amidst civil unrest.

A program on the upswing (Sports on Earth)
When Larry Brown accepted the head coaching job at SMU, the question was whether or not he’d be around long enough to rebuild a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1993. Well in his second season at the school Brown has the program well-positioned to reach the NCAA tournament, and this could just be the beginning for SMU basketball.

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.