Florida Gulf Coast v Duke

Duke’s Christmas Wish List: What do you get for the nation’s No. 1 team?

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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: More rebounding

If the nation’s No. 1 team has one thing that it doesn’t do especially well, it’s rebounding the basketball. Mason Plumlee has turned into a dominant double-double machine (19.2 points, 11.3 rebounds per game), but no other player averages more than 5.2 boards per game.

In perhaps Duke’s most tightly contest game of the season, a 76-71 win over Louisville, the Blue Devils were outrebounded by six. That came from a Cardinals team that was without center Gorgui Dieng, who was sitting with a wrist injury. Of Louisville’s 37 rebounds in that game, 13 were offensive rebounds, which afforded second-chance opportunities.

In close games in conference play and come tournament time, those types of stats can decide close games. It’s not a glaring hole, but for a team that is first in the nation, and improvement could only help to solidify them near the top.

Stocking stuffer: Added depth

Duke relies heavily on six players for the majority of its minutes, then uses Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy, and Josh Hairston to fill in the gaps. As the season goes on, that type of minutes distribution could be less than desirable. Over the past two games, the freshman Jefferson has shown that he can be efficient in the time he’s on the floor. Against Temple in nine minutes, he was 3-of-5 from the field and had seven points.

He is a high-IQ basketball player with a good feel for the game and an ability to get offensive rebounds and be in the right place at the right time around the rim. If Coach K incrementally gives him more minutes, there’s a good chance he could produce.

Planning on re-gifting: Memories of last year’s loss to Lehigh

Duke wants to be a new team this season, one different than the group that lost to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the Round of 64 of the NCAA tournament last season. Though there was no enormous influx of new talent, different pieces are stepping into key spots and this Duke team looks hard to beat. For Seth Curry to improve in nearly every statistical offensive category and have Quinn Cook become an effective true point guard are both important. All of those players need to keep rolling if Duke is going to be Final Four-bound.

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

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.