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Eight players you want with the ball in crunch time

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At this point in the season, one play in a close game will be the difference between survival and heading home. That makes the decision of who gets the basketball late in games all the more important, with those players needing to have the ability to properly dissect a defense in order to make the game-winning play.

Here are the eight players in the NCAA tournament field you want to have the ball in their hands when the game’s on the line:

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1) Doug McDermott (Creighton): Averaging 26.5 points per game, McDermott’s shooting 52.5% from the field, 45.4% from three and 86.6% from the foul line. Regardless of what look a defense gives McDermott, he shoots well enough to knock down the big shot from anywhere on the floor.

2) Jabari Parker (Duke): Averaging 19.3 points per game, Parker’s shooting nearly 48% from the field for the season. He’s a very difficult matchup for teams when committed to driving to the basket, can finish through contact and knock down perimeter shots as well. If Duke needs a big play, look for Parker to have the basketball.

3) Shabazz Napier (UConn): Are there times where Napier takes shots that boggle the mind? Yes. But are there also moments where he can step forward and make the big play? Yes. Measuring Napier’s ability when the game’s on the line isn’t solely about looking at his percentages (42.3% FG, 39.0% 3PT). He’s definitely capable of making game-winning plays.

4) Nik Stauskas (Michigan): There aren’t many perimeter shooters better than Stauskas, who’s shooting 47.6% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arc. And his improved ability to beat teams off the dribble has made Stauskas a tougher cover in his sophomore season. He’s definitely a player to trust in the final minutes of a tight game.

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5) DeAndre Kane (Iowa State): The foul shooting (65%) leaves something to be desired, but Kane’s shooting 49.1% from the field and 39.8% from beyond the arc on the season. But Kane’s ability to not only get a shot for himself but also for his teammates (Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang chief among them) will prove valuable in close games.

6) Xavier Thames (San Diego State): When Thames struggles so do the Aztecs. But more times than not the Mountain West Player of the Year has been there to lead the way. With his ability to get into the lane Thames (he’s also a 38.7% shooter from deep) is a tough matchup for many opponents, and he’s also shooting 82.7% from the foul line.

7) T.J. Warren (N.C. State): Warren won ACC Player of the Year largely because of his ability to score despite not having a clear secondary scoring option. The sophomore isn’t a great three-point shooter but it’s all about the mid-range game and the ability to get to the rim, as Warren’s shooting 52.5% from the field.

8) Marcus Paige (North Carolina): “Second-half Marcus” has been excellent for the Tar Heels this season, averaging 17.4 points per game on a team that struggled with perimeter scoring before he took over as the team’s primary option. And in ACC play Paige averaged more than ten points per contest in the second half.

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.