Louisville v SMU

After win at No. 18 SMU, No. 11 Louisville is once again peaking in March

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source: Getty Images
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Russ Smith scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half, hitting all six of his threes in the final 13 minutes as No. 11 Louisville went into Moody Coliseum and knocked off No. 18 SMU, 84-71.

The win is impressive in and of itself. The Mustangs are as tough as anyone in the country on their home floor. Ask UConn, Memphis and Cincinnati, who were all run off the floor by Larry Brown’s club. What’s more is that SMU came out on fire, taking a 26-12 lead with just seven minutes left in the first half.

Do a little bit of math, and the Cardinals scored 72 points in 27 minutes on the home floor of a team ranked 17th in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. The Cardinals outscored SMU by 25 points during that stretch.

They forced 23 turnovers and scored 25 points off of them. Their back court of Smith and Chris Jones combined for 47 points, seven assists and eight steals while shooting 10-for-13 from three, numbers made all the more impressive when you consider that Smith was dealing with a stomach bug (he threw up in a trash can after hitting his sixth three) and that Jones’ step-brother was shot and killed during the Memphis game; Jones is a Memphis native.

No matter how you slice it, this was a dominating performance from the Cardinals. If it wasn’t for a late-game collapse at Memphis last Saturday, the Cardinals would be in a position where they would look like a favorite to make a run back to the Final Four. As it is, the biggest hinderance to the Cardinal’s chances of making it back to Dallas in April could end up being the seed that they draw on Selection Sunday.

Louisville struggled in the non-conference, losing their only two quality games in non-conference play, but with a game against UConn this weekend and a trip to the AAC tournament the following week, a No. 3 seed isn’t out of the question for Rick Pitino’s club.

Here’s the thing about the NCAA tournament this season: there are no dominant teams. The difference between the teams that end up on the No. 1 seed line and the teams that are No. 4 seeds won’t be all that much. Louisville can absolutely make a Final Four, even if they have to play Stephen Van Treese for 27 minutes a night.

That’s how good their perimeter is, and that’s how dominant Montrezl Harrell can be.

For the third straight season, Louisville appears to be peaking at the perfect time.

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.