Sweet 16 Previews: Michigan State’s essential pick-and-roll defense

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Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com contributed to this post.

Louisville’s bread and butter offensively in the high-ball screen, as they use it on 12.4% of their possessions offensively, 27th most in Division I. Peyton Siva alone uses 41.7% of his possessions in the pick-and-roll, which in the second-highest total in the country behind Xavier Thames of San Diego State.

Based on the entire season, you wouldn’t think that this would be a smart decision by Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. Louisville only scores 0.728 points-per-possession (PPP) in pick-and-roll situations while Siva is even worse, at 0.701 PPP in pick-and-roll situations.

The problem with those numbers, however, is that Louisville is a different — a much better — team over the course of the last three weeks than they were for much of the season. That’s why they were able to run through the Big East tournament and have now moved their way onto the Sweet 16. Siva is the catalyst for that change. His season averages are 9.2 ppg and 5.5 apg, but in the five games prior to the Cardinal’s win over New Mexico in the round of 32, he averaged 14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 2.6 spg.

Siva didn’t play his best game against New Mexico — he only had six points and five assists — but he was the difference-maker down the stretch, as New Mexico was completely unable to defend Siva coming off of that high-ball screen.

What makes Siva so dangerous is his explosiveness. He may be the quickest player in the country, which makes him a nightmare to try and stay in front of. But he’s equally capable of using the screen to get into the lane and score as he is at creating an opportunity for a teammate.

Here are two examples of what I mean.

In the first one, you’ll see Gorgui Dieng setting the screen for Siva:

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Drew Gordon tries to step out and hedge, but Siva goes right around him:

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He gets into the teeth of the New Mexico defense, where he is under control and able to jump-stop, finding Dieng rolling down the lane for a dunk:

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Two possessions earlier in the same game, Siva once again came off of a high-ball screen from Dieng:

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Only this time, Gordon hedged out too hard, and Siva was able to split the defenders:

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He made it all the way through New Mexico’s defense, elevating and finishing at the rim:

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Given No. 4 seed Louisville’s reliance on ball-screens, particularly late in the game, this is where the matchup with No. 1 seed Michigan State on Thursday gets really interesting. The Spartans are one of the best teams in the country at defending the the pick-and-roll. They allow just 0.709 PPP in these situations, good for 11th in Division I.

How?

For starters, they have terrific individual defenders on their roster. Keith Appling is one of the better on-ball defenders in the country while Draymond Green’s versatility allows him to step out and hedge hard — a technical term for, essentially, trying to make the ball-handler dribble away from the basket — and recover to his man very effectively.

Michigan State also has a system to defend ball-screens, and this is the perfect example. In the first picture, you’ll see Wisconsin’s Mike Breusewitz setting a ball-screen for Jordan Taylor. Green steps out and doesn’t allow Taylor to turn the corner:

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Center Adreian Payne, while the ball-screen action is happening, has slid into the middle of the paint to help protect the basket on Breusewitz’s roll:

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Payne was guarding Jared Berggren, and as Breusewitz rolled, Berggren rotated to the top of the key. Michigan State’s big men are versatile enough that they can switch here. With Green now guarding Berggren, you’ll once again see Green hedging hard on a ball-screen to keep Taylor from finding a driving lane:

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The Spartans stop Taylor’s momentum, and Green is able to recover and get back to Berggren without allowing him a chance to spot-up for an open look. All the while, Payne is still is perfect help position:

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Payne and Derrick Nix are both better than you would think at defending ball-screens as well, and that is why the Spartans are so good at defending it. Their bigs can cut off driving lanes and the rest of the team is always in perfect help-side and executes their defensive rotations.

So how to you beat it?

Michigan offered up a good example. Here, you’ll see Stu Douglass setting a down-screen for Jordan Morgan, who is being guarded by Nix:

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Morgan goes and sets a ball-screen for Burke. Nix got hung up trying to fight through the Douglass screen, meaning he is late hedging:

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This allows Burke to get the corner and, after a couple of dribbles, a clean look at a three:

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Given the style that both the Cardinals and the Spartans play, it’s reasonable to expect this to be a low-scoring game that is tight down the stretch. Whoever wins the pick-and-roll battle, especially in late-game situations, will win the game.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.