Caris LeVert (AP Photo)

Big Ten Tournament: Michigan survives furious Ohio State comeback


Caris LeVert finished with 17 points and eight boards, but it was his only offensive rebound of the night that was the single biggest play of the first Big Ten semifinal.

With 17 seconds left, Nik Stauskas missed a three with the Wolverines up 71-69, but LeVert came soaring in and grabbed the rebound from the outstretch hands of Aaron Craft. Spike Albrecht would hit a free throw and Craft would lose control of the ball as he tried to shoot a game-tying three to close the game as the Big Ten regular season champions advanced to the Big Ten tournament title game with a 72-69 win.

The win keeps Michigan in contention for the fourth and final No. 1 seed, and ironically enough, if Wisconsin can knock off Michigan State tonight, the Big Ten title may be played with a spot as a top seed on the line.

The Wolverines came out on fire on Saturday, hitting 8-for-13 from three in the first half, leading by as much as 16 before intermission, and then knocking down a triple on their first three possessions of the second half. But just like they did against Illinois on Friday, John Beilein’s club was unable to put Ohio State away. The Illini erased a big deficit in the second half and would have beaten the Wolverines if Tracy Abrams had made an open five-footer at the buzzer. The Buckeyes twice stormed back from double-digit deficits on Saturday.

The concerning part?

Neither Illinois or Ohio State are considered to be good offensive teams, and the Wolverines certainly aren’t considered a good defensive team. Is that just the result of March feistiness, or is this a trend that we need to keep an eye on moving forward?

Conversely, the last couple of days, Ohio State has done well to make themselves appear to be more of a contender than they looked for much of the season.

Michigan has their defensive issues, but scrapping back against them — twice! — when they were shooting as well as they were is impressive, especially when you consider that they expended a lot of energy digging themselves out of an 18-point hole against Nebraska on Friday night. 

We all know how good the Buckeyes can be defensively, but if they can find a way to tap into the offensive firepower they showed off in the last two games more consistently, they’ll make some noise in the next three weeks.

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.