Siyani Chambers, AP Photo

Siyani Chambers, No. 12 Harvard upset No. 5 Cincinnati

AP Photo

No. 12 Harvard’s star point guard Siyani Chambers was just 2-for-10 from the floor, but he hit the biggest shot of the game, a 16-foot pull-up with just under two minutes left to end a No. 5 Cincinnati run and spur a 61-55 win.

Harvard was up by as many as nine points in the second half, but the Bearcats cut the lead to 54-53 before the jumper from Chambers. He finished with 11 points and just two turnovers against a relentless Cincinnati press, hitting three free throws in the final second to help ice the game.

Defense is what won this game for Harvard. Wesley Saunders, the Ivy League Player of the Year, did a great job slowing down Sean Kilpatrick. The first team all-american got a couple of easy looks from beyond the arc early in the first half, but he finished the afternoon with just 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting, turning the ball over five times and only making four trips to the charity stripe.

The Crimson also did an excellent job on the interior against Justin Jackson, who just could not seem to get a shot around the rim to drop. Jackson finished with 13 points, 10 boards (four offensive) and four blocks, but he was 5-for-15 from the field, the majority of those misses coming from point blank range.

For Harvard, this is the second straight season that they have won a game in the NCAA tournament. Last season, No. 14 Harvard knocked off No. 3 New Mexico. The last time a team from the Ivy League accomplished that feat was back in 1983-84, when Princeton won a pair of games.

But here’s the thing to remember: this isn’t a shocker.

Harvard was the most popular upset pick of the Round of 64, and that’s because the Crimson have as much talent, as much size and as much athleticism as just about any high-major program in the country. This program is recruiting top 100 players. They are landing guys that typically ended up at places like Stanford or Vanderbilt. They are pulling players out of places like Minnesota and California.

So while it is going to be easy to point and laugh at Cincinnati, to crack jokes about how bad the AAC is because it can’t beat an Ivy League team, remember that this Harvard team would have finished, at worst, sixth in the AAC.

The best part?

Most of those guys will be back next season.

The Crimson are almost at a point where they belong in the same conversation as Gonzaga and Wichita State when it comes to the nation’s best mid-major programs.

Harvard will face the winner of No. 4 Michigan State and No. 13 Delaware.

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.