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AAC Tournament: Louisville looks like a title favorite with blowout win of UConn

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On Thursday, Louisville beat Rutgers by 61 points in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament.

On Friday, Russ Smith scored a school-record 27 of his 42 points in the first half of a semifinal win over Houston.

On Saturday, there were no records set, but Louisville beat UConn by double-digits for the fifth consecutive time, ending what had grown to be a terrific rivalry with a 71-61 AAC title game win that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. A Luke Hancock three, a Shabazz Napier turnover and a layup by Terry Rozier in the last 30 seconds of the first half put the Cardinals up 37-23 going into the break, and the Huskies never really challenged Louisville the rest of the way.

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That will vault Louisville into Selection Sunday as arguably the hottest team in the country.

Don’t believe me?

Well, the Cardinals won their three AAC tournament games by a combined 100 points. Seriously. 100 points. That came after they best UConn by 33 points exactly one week ago today. Ten days ago, they overcame a 14-point first half deficit at SMU, one of the toughest home courts in the country, to beat the Mustangs by 13. Since a Janaury 9th loss to Memphis at home, Louisville has won 16 of their last 18 games, with the two losses being by three points at home to Cincinnati and by six points at Memphis in a game that the Cards choked away an eight-point lead in the final three minutes.

For the third straight season, Rick Pitino has got his team playing their best basketball in March, which is a scary thought considering that Louisville is currently sitting at No. 2 in KenPom’s rankings and have spent the majority of the season sitting in the top five.

Do you want to play this team right now?

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I certainly don’t, and I’m sure that there are quite a few No. 1 seeds that are thinking the same thing. Because right now, not only does Louisville look like they are one of the three or four best teams in the country, but they did so little in non-conference play that there is a legitimate possibility that they could end up being a No. 4 seed.

Imagine that?

Imagine being a No. 1 seed that has to play the Cardinals in the Sweet 16?

Pretty miserable, right?

That’s still a long ways away, however, and with a number of games with significant seeding implications coming on Sunday, we can’t assume anything at this point.

But I will say this: With Russ Smith playing the best basketball of his career; with Montrezl Harrell dominating the paint for the last month; with Chris Jones finally finding a way to mesh with Smith; with Luke Hancock healthy; with the Louisville defense hitting another gear; with all of that happening right now, we’re realizing that there was a legitimate reason that the Cardinals were a consensus top three team back in the preseason.

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.