Last March the Providence Friars entered the Big East tournament squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. Faced with an important quarterfinal matchup against St. John’s, it was anyone’s guess what Ed Cooley’s team needed to do in order to earn the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in a decade. Cooley’s Friars did something even better than leaving their fate in the hands of the selection committee: they removed all doubt by winning the automatic bid.
Now the Friars move forward, and they’ll be doing so without two critical players who have since graduated. Guard Bryce Cotton, one of the nation’s best scorers, and forward Kadeem Batts are now professionals, leaving two holes the Friars must account for if they’re to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament in 2015. With that being the case their opportunity to go on a summer trip comes at just the right time, with returnees and newcomers alike looking to fill the void, and Providence picked up a win in their first game in Italy on Thursday.
Led by guard Junior Lomomba’s 32 points, Providence rolled to a 135-50 victory over Nelson Basket in Milan. In total four players scored at least 20 points, with Rodney Bullock (29 points), LaDontae Henton (24) and Tyler Harris (21) joining Lomomba as the team’s top scorers.
Lomomba is one of two newcomers to keep an eye on during this trip, with freshman point guard Kyron Cartwright being the other. Unlike Cartwright however, Lomomba was a part of the Providence program last season after transferring in from Cleveland State. In his lone season at Cleveland State Lomomba posted averages of 5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds, and there are multiple reasons why he and Cartwright (13 points, eight assists against Nelson Basket) are important figures for the Friars in 2014-15.
One reason is the loss of Cotton, and the other is the health of Kris Dunn. Dunn, who arrived on campus as a McDonald’s All-American, has played in just 29 games due to shoulder issues with 25 of those games coming during his freshman season. While Dunn is certainly a talented player to be reckoned with at the point guard position, there’s a need to have help at the ready should he once again be nagged by health issues.
If Lomomba and Cartwright can use their time in Italy as a springboard into the 2014-15 season, not only will Providence have some help in accounting for the loss of Cotton but they’ll also improve their depth on the perimeter.
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.