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_

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?