Chris Mack

Bubble Banter: Xavier misses out on a big win

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There are 11 days left until Selection Sunday. Every morning from now until the bracket comes out, we’ll help you get caught up on the happenings with impact on the bubble from the night before. 

Xavier finished up their regular season on Thursday night, and it wasn’t a happy occasion.

The Musketeers lost to Villanova at home, their second straight defeat, their fourth loss in the last seven games and their seventh loss in their last 12 games. They have a pair of top 15 wins, beating Cincinnati by 17 and knocking off Creighton last week, but they were swept by No. 145 Seton Hall and lost to No. 177 USC in the Bahamas.

The Muskies are 8-8 against the top 100, but they’ve been hurt by the fact that Tennessee, Providence and Georgetown have all fallen out of the top 50 in recent weeks.

Is that an NCAA tournament profile?

RELATED: Which bubble teams missed the cut in our latest bracket projection?

Maybe. It’s certainly not strong enough to be considered a lock, which is why Xavier’s season will come down to their performance in the Big East tournament. Regardless of how the final weekend plays you, the Musketeers will get a first round game against another one of the Big East’s bubble teams, and they simply cannot afford to lose it. Even then, a loss in the Big East semifinals would likely leave Xavier sweating out Selection Sunday.


Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs have a win at Oklahoma and a 25-6 record with their worst loss coming during the two month stretch when Raheem Appleby was out with an ankle injury. But they’ll need quite a bit of credit for playing without Appleby, as their RPI is weak and they have just four top 100 wins.

Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles earned a share of the Conference USA regular season title on Thursday night. They have a strong RPI (35) and a gaudy record (23-5), but with just one top 50 win and four top 100 wins to go along with a pair of sub 100 losses, USM will want to earn an automatic bid if they want in.

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.