Traevon Jackson’s growth a factor in Wisconsin’s Final Four run

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In order to enjoy success in March a team needs solid guard play, especially at the point guard position where so many of the decisions on both ends of the floor are made. And this weekend’s Final Four is certainly an example of that, with Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin and UConn’s Shabazz Napier being two of the best at the position and Andrew Harrison’s improved play one of the keys for Kentucky over the last month or so.

The same can also be said for Wisconsin junior Traevon Jackson, who spent his freshman season learning from Jordan Taylor and began his sophomore campaign as part of a two-man “platoon” of sorts with George Marshall. For some players the prospect of not getting handed the keys to their team in short order results in sulking as opposed to learning and working harder to be prepared when their number is called. That wasn’t the case for Jackson, and the rewards have been reaped by Wisconsin this season.

“I remember coming in freshman year just seeing Josh [Gasser], and Jordan especially when he was here, and Josh being a guy that, no matter what it was, that he always was just rock solid,” Jackson said during the team’s media availability earlier this week. “A lot of that had to do with his maturity and just learning from him, and I think that’s just a blessing just being able to go through a couple years here and just embracing the moment, embracing the opportunity that has been given.

“Just trying to learn from the mistakes I made in the past or the past failures and stuff and just capitalize on [the opportunity]. I’ve been given a special role on this team as a point guard, and it’s important to embrace that.”

Before the start of Big Ten play in Jackson’s sophomore season, he played 25-plus minutes in just four games. However as conference play progressed he strengthened his grip on the point guard role, playing no fewer than 25 minutes in any of the Badgers’ last 20 games of the 2012-13 campaign as a result. Jackson finished the season with averages of 6.9 points and 2.8 assists per game, and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.4 was solid if not spectacular.

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Traevon made strides as the season progressed, which was noted by his father Jim, who was a great player at Ohio State and is currently an analyst for the Big Ten Network.

“One, his mental growth in how to run a team at this level,” Jackson told NBC Sports. “In high school he played the point but he also played the two, so it wasn’t a full-time ‘job.’ He had to get comfortable in that role, and you have to add to that the fact that Bo Ryan is extremely hard on his point guards. [Traevon] understands that the point guard is the captain of the ship and the one to make things go.”

Fully entrenched as the starting point guard when the 2013-14 season began, Jackson continued to make progress throughout his junior campaign. There’s been a greater understanding of what’s expected of him at the point, and the growth has been noticeable in both the numbers and the areas that aren’t seen in the box score. Traevon’s scoring (10.7 ppg) and assists (4.0 apg) averages have improved, as has the assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9).

A confident and fearless player Jackson’s the one who has the ball in his hands in the game’s most important moments, and as seen in the Badgers’ win over Michigan State earlier this season he’s certainly capable of making the winning play. And according to Ryan, it’s the confidence where Traevon has exhibited the greatest amount of growth.

“A very strong‑willed young man. He feels he’s got it, okay,” Ryan said earlier this week. “That means a player in baseball, wants that last ball hit to him so he can throw the guy out, that guy that wants the last shot. There are some people who talk about it, and there’s some people that can do it and get it done.

“His confidence level and his ability to believe that he’s got everything under control, even though none of us ever do totally have that. But he at least believes that, and therefore his confidence level has been able to get some things done for us in tight situations.”

The confidence in part comes from preparation, as hard work has placed Jackson in position to not only take over the starting point guard role for Wisconsin but flourish. According to the elder Jackson, Traevon also played with the likes of Russell Westbrook and Andre Miller in pickup games before he even had a chance to earn the starting role with Jordan Taylor still in Madison. The combination of those experiences, be it the pickup games or going up against Taylor every day in practice, have led to Traevon being the point guard Wisconsin needs.

Clearly this Wisconsin team doesn’t lack for leaders, with Gasser and Ben Brust both being fourth-year players (Gasser’s a redshirt junior) and four of the five starters are upperclassmen with sophomore Sam Dekker being the exception. But it can be argued that the Badgers don’t reach this point without the growth exhibited by Traevon Jackson, and he’s one reason why they arrive in the Metroplex capable of winning the program’s second national title.

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
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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.