Christmas Wish List: UNLV needs players to step up after Mike Moser’s injury

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Over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams need. It’s the spirit of the holidays. We’re in a giving mood.

What do other teams have on their Christmas Wish Lists? Click here to find out.

Gotta have it list-topper: Someone to fill Mike Moser’s shoes

When Mike Moser went down with an elbow injury in UNLV’s win over Cal on Sunday, Rebel nation held its collective breath. After tests, it was revealed that he will likely miss about a month as he recovers from a dislocated elbow.

Luckily for UNLV, Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch will come into the fold at the start of the second semester, which should help to fill the frontcourt gap while Moser works his way back. Birch is likely not the silver bullet that fixes everything for Dave Rice’s team, but his presence should take some pressure off of Anthony Bennett.

The freshman Bennett, in his own right, is having an All-American-type season, averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Without Moser, they’ll like look to him more, but it will be the responsibility of Birch, Quintrell Thomas, and Carlos Lopez-Sosa to pick up the slack.

Looking at the UNLV schedule over the next four-to-five weeks, there are three major tests that stand out. The Rebels meet No. 21 North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Dec. 29, then No. 17 New Mexico at the start of conference play on Jan. 9. If Moser takes more time to recover, that could keep him out for the Jan. 16 game against No. 18 San Diego State.

Stocking Stuffer: Better shot selection

It is often the case with young teams that they can fall into the trap of taking bad shots, and sometimes taking bad shots in large numbers. UNLV has fallen victim to that at points this season, ranking 203rd in the nation with an overall shooting percentage of 42.7 percent.

Much of the problem is in the backcourt, with Katin Reinhardt, Bryce Dejean-Jones, and Justin Hawkins all shooting 37 percent or less from the field. Dejean-Jones and Reinhardt are also shooting close to 30 percent from behind the three-point line.

As the Rebels move into Mountain West play, close games can be decided by shot selection down the stretch. They’re doing fine in other major statistical categories (scoring, rebounding, assists), which means patience can go a long way.

Without Moser for the next month, Anthony Bennett will likely become even more of a focal point, as well as Khem Birch as he becomes acclimated to the program and the system. Both are options around the rim, with Bennett shooting 54 percent from the floor.

Planning on re-gifting: Turnovers

A byproduct of both pace and inexperience, the Rebels are turning the ball over 15 times per game. Granted, they’re one of the best teams in the country at sharing the ball and have a solid assist/turnover ratio, but working to reduce turnovers will go a long way. Anthony Marshall is still settling into his role as a point guard and is leading the team in assists, but also leading in turnovers (5.8/2.8).

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Swanigan to stay in draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.