It’s been the story for West Region No. 4 San Diego State all season long: when senior point guard Xavier Thames is rolling, the Aztecs are a very difficult team to beat. North Dakota State became the latest team to learn that lesson the hard way, as Thames led San Diego State to a 63-44 victory with 30 points and six assists.
Taking the points scored on the six baskets Thames assisted on into consideration, the point guard was responsible for 45 of the 63 points San Diego State scored against the Summit League champions.
Thames did much of the heavy lifting for San Diego State offensively, with his ability in ball screen situations proving to be too much for the Bison to handle as the game progressed. It should also be noted that the fifth-year senior had help in the form of junior wing Dwayne Polee II, who scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench. This is the fourth consecutive game in which Polee’s scored in double figures, and he’s a much-improved player for San Diego State since not having much of an impact during the first month of Mountain West play.
Counting last weekend’s Mountain West tournament Polee’s averaging 14.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in San Diego State’s last five games, and his growth is an important development for the Aztecs moving forward. If Polee can continue to have an impact off the bench, he gives San Diego State a needed supplementary option on the offensive end of the floor.
San Diego State’s win can’t be discussed without a mention of the defense, with the Aztecs making life difficult for Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun throughout the contest. Braun, who averaged 18.0 points per game, shot 2-for-14 from the field and scored seven points. San Diego State’s length was a significant issue for Saul Phillips’ team, with North Dakota State shooting 30.6% from the field and 2-for-11 from beyond the arc.
Yet even with the team defense and Polee’s contributions, it will be the play of Thames that sticks out for a San Diego State team headed back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011. And with Thames leading the way, the Aztecs are capable of accomplishing even more.
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.
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.