No. 1 UConn moves to 35-0 with win in NCAA tournament opener

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One day after fellow No. 1 seed Notre Dame improved its unblemished record to 33-0, No. 1 UConn moved to 35-0 with an 87-44 win over No. 16 Prairie View A&M in its NCAA tournament opener Sunday. Geno Auriemma’s Huskies, the top seed in the Lincoln Region, have won all 35 of their games by double digits with their 11-point win over Baylor on January 13 being the closest result.

Against the SWAC champion Lady Panthers, UConn would lead by as much as 50 in the second half with Breanna Stewart scoring 19 points and grabbing ten rebounds to lead the way offensively. All five starters scored in double figures for the Huskies, who led 44-12 at the half.

Next up for UConn is No. 9 Saint Joseph’s, which beat No. 8 Georgia 67-57 in the first game of the doubleheader in Storrs. The men’s programs met Thursday night in Buffalo, with the Huskies beating the Hawks in overtime.

Saint Joseph’s was one of five lower-seeded teams to win Sunday, with just three such teams were able to pull off the feat Saturday. Two 11-seeds were among the five, with Stanford Region No. 11 Florida beating Dayton 83-69 and Lincoln Region No. 11 James Madison knocking off No. 6 Gonzaga 72-63. CAA Player of the Year Kirby Burkholder put together quite the line for JMU, finishing the game with 28 points, 18 rebounds and four assists.

Both teams will have challenging road tests Tuesday, with the Gators taking on No. 3 Penn State and the CAA champion Dukes playing No. 3 Texas A&M.

The other one-seed in action Sunday was Stanford Region No. 1 South Carolina, which won the SEC regular season title. Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks held off Cal-State Northridge 73-58 in their NCAA tournament opener, with guard Tiffany Mitchell scoring 24 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists and center Alaina Coates providing 13 points and 16 rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.

Louisville Region No. 2 West Virginia and No. 3 Louisville were also winners Sunday, with the Mountaineers beating No. 15 Albany 76-61 and the Cardinals throttling No. 14 Idaho, 88-42. And in the game that provided the most suspense, Stanford Region No. 4 North Carolina came back from 18 down to beat UT-Martin, 60-58. Diamond DeShields scored 15 points and dished out four assists for the Tar Heels, and Xylina McDaniel’s putback with 56 seconds remaining proved to be the difference.

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.