With their leading scorer and leading rebounder both having graduated, few believed that Nebraska would be able to begin its climb to respectability during the 2013-14 season. Picked to finish dead last in the Big Ten preseason poll, Tim Miles’ Huskers held out hope that transfers Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford would be ready to assume starring roles.
And after an 0-4 start to conference play Nebraska’s turned things around in a big way, and their 77-68 win over No. 9 Wisconsin moved the Huskers closer to their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1998.
Petteway and Pitchford were once again key figures for Nebraska (19-11, 11-7), with Petteway accounting for 26 points and ten rebounds and Pitchford adding 15 points and five rebounds. But they weren’t alone, as guard Shavon Shields put together his second-best performance in conference play. Shield scored 26 points on 10-for-17 shooting, with his dribble penetration punishing Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) on numerous occasions.
As a team Nebraska shot 52% from the field, and after failing to attempt a single free throw the Huskers attempted 25 in the second. Granted some of those attempts came late when the Badgers were giving fouls in an attempt to close the gap, but Nebraska was able to force opportunities when the game was still in doubt with their ability to break Wisconsin down off the dribble.
Nebraska also took great care of the basketball, turning the ball over five times, and they also managed to make Wisconsin pay for its mistakes. Wisconsin turned the ball over just 11 times but Nebraska took full advantage, scoring 17 points off of those turnovers. That all adds up to a quality victory for Nebraska, with the Huskers also earning a bye in the Big Ten tournament.
How many wins will Nebraska, which will play the winner of the Ohio State/Purdue matchup, need in Indianapolis? That’s anyone’s guess, with the members of the selection committee being the only ones who truly know the answer. But for Nebraska to be in this position considering how they started conference play is a credit to Tim Miles and his program, which has made far greater strides than anyone expected in year two.
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.