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John Calipari’s return to Kentucky ‘solely’ due to loyalty to his players

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One of this offseason’s most intriguing story lines was that of Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

After leading a team that was completely written off in early March all the way to the national title game, he got great news when four of the six guys that were expected to head to the NBA made the decision to return to school for at least one more season.

The amount of talent on his roster immediately propelled his team to the top of any preseason top 25 poll worth considering.

And all this was happening while NBA teams were calling him and inquiring about whether or not he would like to coach their team. The most notable offer he received? From Cleveland, where he would have the chance to coach LeBron, Kyrie Irving and either Andrew Wiggins or Kevin Love, depending on who ends up getting traded.

Talk about a win-win situation.

On Monday, Mike DeCourcey of The Sporting News traveled down to Lexington and had a chance to chat up Coach Cal, who opened up about why he made the decision to turn down the NBA and return to school as well:

Current NCAA rules force college players to make their final decision about the draft in April. Calipari’s opportunities arrived subsequent to that date.

“Four kids said they need us and me to help them get more prepared for the rest of their lives,” Calipari said Monday. “If I came back after the date and left … tough move. If it was your son, how would you feel? ‘That rat, we could have left, why didn’t he tell us?’ “

Calipari said that was the reason he declined the NBA jobs. “Solely,” as he put it.

Cal is a master when it comes to spin, so I understand why you would be skeptical, but I think this is something that is rooted in truth. This is a guy that has been reported to be chasing NBA jobs in just about every offseason since he landed at Kentucky that turned down a massive offer from a team that had, at the time, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft and a real shot to bring back the best basketball player in the world.

Something kept him there.

“Around Calipari, there is a strong belief that he would’ve landed in Cleveland had those key players decided to turn professional this year,” Yahoo Sports reported back in June when they broke the news that he turned down a 10-year, $80-million offer from Cleveland.

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.