After beginning the season 13-0 Oregon went through an incredible rough patch, starting Pac-12 play 3-8 and looking nothing like the team that managed to run and gun its way into the top ten of the national rankings. They weren’t particularly good defending on the perimeter, and offensively the pieces just didn’t seem to fit as they did during much of non-conference play.
Head coach Dana Altman clearly had some questions to answer, and by the looks of that 3-8 stretch the solutions did not appear to be readily available. Oregon (22-8, 10-8) would prove that assumption to be incorrect, closing the regular season with seven straight wins after beating No. 3 Arizona 64-57 in Eugene. And as a result of that victory, the Ducks will head to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament next week in very good shape with regards to making the NCAA tournament.
The difference on Saturday afternoon was simple: Oregon has more capable perimeter shooters than Arizona. The Ducks made ten of their nineteen shots from beyond the arc, outscoring the Wildcats (2-for-11 3PT) by a margin of 30-6 on three-point shots. Senior Jason Calliste was responsible for four of those makes, and his fourth shot gave Oregon a 56-51 lead with 3:43 remaining. That shot was part of a 16-4 run, turning a 50-45 deficit into a 61-54 lead with just over a minute left in the game.
Even with Arizona’s (28-3, 15-3) lack of consistent perimeter shooting, the Wildcats still entered the game ranked third in the Pac-12 in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Their ability to hurt teams on the offensive glass while also taking care of the basketball two reasons for this, but against Oregon the Wildcats weren’t able to take advantage of their athleticism on the boards. Arizona scored just eight second-chance points, which matched Oregon’s output in that statistical category.
During this 7-0 stretch Oregon has looked like a team more comfortable in its roles, with Calliste, Johnathan Loyd and Joseph Young seeing the majority of the minutes on the perimeter and Mike Moser posting a double-double in four straight games. Moser’s improvement has been one of the biggest reasons for the turnaround, as he’s reached double digits in all seven games. Doesn’t seem like a big deal? Well, during that 3-8 run Moser reached double figures in five of those 11 games.
Instead of having a plethora of players receiving minutes Oregon’s pared things down some, and that has worked to their benefit. And now that the Ducks have a good grasp on who they are and where they’re most effective, Oregon’s playing its best basketball at just the right time.
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.
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.