Tom Izzo, 30 second shot clocks, and why zone presses will be more popular this year

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One of the biggest wins for the sport of college basketball this offseason was the reduction of the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds, but there are many that believe that the change could end up hurting the sport.

Less time on the shot clock means more possessions that come to an end with the shot clock winding down, which in turn means more ugly, 1-on-1 isolations that result in jacked up jumpers. Losing the five-second rule only strengthens the argument of the opponents of the rule change.

Case in point: Tom Izzo. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Izzo said that he has spent a good amount of time during his team’s pre-Italy trip practices implementing a 2-2-1 zone press, which is something that is unheard of for Izzo’s teams. Izzo is a half-court, man-to-man coach, so listening to him talk about zone presses is akin to The Walking Dead becoming reality television.

But don’t be surprised if this — zone presses — become a common theme this season.

A zone press is not designed to force turnovers. There may be some trapping at half-court, depending on the coach and the opponent, but generally speaking, it’s a way to force the offensive team to use more of the shot clock before getting into their offense. Assuming it takes 10-12 seconds for an opponent to break the press, call an offensive set and initiate that set, they have less than 20 seconds left to actually run their stuff and get off a shot.

Here’s an example. Villanova runs a 1-2-2 zone press instead of a 2-2-1 press, but the intent is still the same. It takes nine seconds for N.C. State to get the ball over half court and another five seconds for point guard Cat Barber to get the ball, call an offense and begin to run it. A good 17 seconds run off the shot clock before Barber makes the first pass in N.C. State’s set.

The Wolfpack finally get a shot off with just one second left on the clock:

N.C. State scored in this example, but you should get the point. Using that token pressure drains the shot clock and, ideally, will force offenses into isolation situations where a player — usually the point guard — will have to try to make a play going 1-on-1 or using a ball-screen action.

There are good college point guards out there, but outside of a handful that play for the best teams in the country, most coaches would be thrilled if every possession ended with a player trying to beat his man 1-on-1. Think about how many late-clock scenarios end with deep, contested jump shots, and then think about the difference in the level of shot-making ability between the college and professional ranks.

Then think about how often those shots are forced up with three or four seconds left on the clock. It’s rare for a college player to have the composure to understand that, when the shot clock hits five seconds, there is still a ton of time left to get a good shot.

This season, you’re to see half-court, man-to-man traditionalists like Tom Izzo try to take advantage of that by testing out a zone press. You’re going to see teams that have this kind of defense in their arsenal use it more often, particularly early in the year, as teams are still learning each other and figuring out the new rules.

The best way to combat this offensively?

The easy answer is to emphasize execution offensively. It shouldn’t take more than 10 or 15 seconds to get a good look offensively, and running crisp offense is the best way to do that. The other option is to trim the fat on offensive sets. College coaches use a lot of false motion offensively, a way to get the defense moving before getting into the action that they hope will get them a good shot.

Here’s a quick example: Watch how much movement BYU has here before the ball-screen/pin-down action that frees up Tyler Haws for a three:

Innovative offensive coaches will find themselves successful in situations where the shot clock gets rundown.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.