Geno Auriemma

Undefeated UConn and Notre Dame highlight 2014 women’s NCAA Tournament

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The Bracket

While we’ve debated about the men’s edition of the NCAA Tournament for a little over 24 hours now, on Monday, attention turned to the women’s NCAA Tournament as defending champion UConn, Notre Dame, Tennessee and South Carolina were all given No. 1 seeds in this year’s event.

The women’s NCAA Tournament tips off March 22nd and 23rd with first-round action and finishes up with the Final Four in Nashville on April 6th, with the championship game occurring on April 8th.

Much has been made of Wichita State entering the men’s NCAA Tournament as the first unbeaten team since UNLV in 1991, but in the women’s tournament AAC champion UConn (34-0) and ACC champion Notre Dame (32-0) both enter the field unblemished on the season.

Entering the tournament unbeaten is more common in the women’s game — with Baylor last doing it in 2011-12 on its way to a 40-0 season and national championship — but it is only the second time that two teams have entered the women’s tournament undefeated.

The last time it happened was 1998 when Tennessee claimed the national title as the Lady Vols defeated the other unbeaten team, No. 16 seed Liberty, in the first round.

Speaking of the Lady Vols (27-5), they claimed a No. 1 seed after winning the SEC Tournament title and they’re joined as a one-seed by SEC regular-season champion South Carolina (27-4).

Many expected South Carolina to potentially fall from a No. 1 seed after the Gamecocks dropped two of their last three games, but No. 2 seed Stanford (29-3) fell in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals to USC, which helped South Carolina maintain its spot.

Other No. 2 seeds joining the Cardinal include Duke (27-6), West Virginia (29-4) and Baylor (29-4). Defending national runner-up Louisville (30-4) headlines the No. 3 seeds that also includes Texas A&M (24-8), Kentucky (24-8) and Penn State (22-7).

Among the interesting story lines surrounding the 2014 Women’s NCAA Tournament includes the return of schools hosting regional finals on their home floors. After nearly a decade at neutral sites for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, this season’s regionals will be played on campus at Nebraska, Louisville, Notre Dame and Stanford.

First and second-round games are commonly played on campus sites and this trend continues in 2014 as well.

The regionals returning to campus sites gives unbeaten No. 1 seed Notre Dame a homecourt advantage in regional play and it means No. 1 seed UConn could have what amounts to a road game in Lincoln at No. 4 seed Nebraska in the Sweet 16. No. 3 seed Louisville also could get a homecourt advantage over No. 1 seed Tennessee in the Elite 8 while the same thing could happen with No. 2 seed Stanford getting a home game against No. 1 seed South Carolina.

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.