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: Improved shooting
With their lack of a marquee post threat New Mexico asks a lot of players such as Kendall Williams and Tony Snell. But despite their 12-1 record the Lobos are shooting 42.1% from the field and 34.3% from three, numbers that rank eighth and sixth in the Mountain West respectively. New Mexico has shot 45% or better in just three games this season, and in their 70-65 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday Steve Alford’s charges shot 37%. The reason why the shooting didn’t cost them until Saturday: the Jackrabbits were just the third team this season (USC and Valparaiso being the others) to shoot better than 45% against UNM. The Lobos can defend, but if they’re to win another Mountain West crown their best shooters need to knock down shots at a higher rate.
Stocking stuffer: Alex Kirk continues his comeback
Kirk sat out all of last season due to a back injury, and he’s made up for lost time through 13 games. Kirk’s averaging 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds thus far, essentially doubling his averages as a freshman in 2010-11. Kirk is also averaging 1.2 blocked shots per game, a number that ranks fifth in the Mountain West. With San Diego State adding James Johnson to the fold, UNLV getting Khem Birch and Colorado State having Colton Iverson, Kirk’s play will be one of the keys for New Mexico as they get into conference play. Off to a good start, he’ll need to continue on that path for UNM to be successful.
Planning on re-gifting: Demetrius Walker’s 13 games
With his play in the Mountain West and NCAA tournaments there was the feeling that Walker was beginning to figure things out, and would thus become an even greater weapon for the Lobos. But that hasn’t happened to this point in the season, as Walker is averaging 6.1 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. His field goal percentage (38.8%) is about the same as last year’s mark (38.9%), and while he is making 40% of his shots from beyond the arc Walker is also shooting 56.5% from the foul line. Walker’s had his moments this season, with his 19 points in a win over Idaho being the most notable, but New Mexico needs more from their most athletic asset as the season rolls on.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
Tonight’s schedule. This post will be updated as the games are completed.
UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46) at Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69), 7:00 p.m.
Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38) at Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44), 7:00 p.m.
VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40) at UMass, 7:00 p.m.
Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 4 Iowa at Indiana, 9:00 p.m.
As a result of their surprising loss at Penn State Saturday night, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers enter this pivotal contest a game back of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. And with their backloaded conference schedule, this is a game Indiana has to get if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning the Big Ten title. Two of the Big Ten’s best players will be on display in Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, but both have plenty of help behind them offensively.
Iowa’s Peter Jok has been one of the conference’s most improved players, and the Hoosiers can counter not only with forward Troy Williams but with freshman center Thomas Bryant as well. The key in this one: turnovers, as Indiana has lost the ball on more than 20 percent of their possessions in conference play. That can’t happen tonight if they’re to win.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m.
The Ducks have been the class of the Pac-12 to this point, but a win in Berkeley won’t come easy. The Golden Bears may not be enjoying the success many expected before the season began, but Cuonzo Martin’s team has won all 14 of its home games this season, most recently whipping rival Stanford last weekend.
The problem for Cal: Tyrone Wallace is still out due to injury, and given Oregon’s many versatile scoring options that’s a problem. Pac-12 POY candidate Dillon Brooks leads the way, but Chris Boucher has emerged as one of the conference’s best big men in recent weeks. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews will need to come up big, as this is a huge contest for Cal’s NCAA tournament hopes.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- The top two teams in the Big West get together in Honolulu, as Hawai’i hosts UC Irvine (1:00 a.m.) in the first of their two meetings this season. This will be a matchup of strengths when the Bows have the ball, as they lead the Big West in two-point field goal percentage (54.7) while UC Irvine leads the conference in two-point percentage defense (38.9) thanks in large part to 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has been a much-improved player under first-year head coach Eran Ganot, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
- Two ACC teams with matching 6-5 league records meet at the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse hosts Florida State (7:00 p.m.) in a game both teams need for their respective NCAA tournament résumés. Jim Boeheim’s team should be well-rested, as they haven’t played in nine days, and they’ll need that energy to slow down FSU guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. The Seminole backcourt is young but talented, and they’ll face two fifth-year seniors in Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
- Picking up a home sweep of Utah and Colorado may have given Oregon State’s NCAA tournament hopes some life, but they really need to go on a run here. Tonight’s game at Stanford (11:00 p.m.) represents a good opportunity for Gary Payton II and company to win their third straight, but the Cardinal did win the first meeting in Corvallis back on January 6. In that game rebounding was the deciding factor (Rosco Allen finished with 21 and eight boards, too), as Stanford grabbed half of their available missed shots. OSU can’t let that happen again.
- With SMU ineligible for postseason play, the other American Athletic Conference teams are jockeying for position in next month’s conference tournament. Tonight UConn looks to avenge its home loss to Temple January 5 with a win in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m.). Since Amida Brimah’s return the Huskies have played much better basketball, as they have their rim protector and a finisher for Daniel Hamilton’s alley-oop passes back on the court. The Owls have won their last three games, and tonight is their second-best remaining opportunity for a quality win (they play No. 1 Villanova next Wednesday).
- At this point, no one’s catching Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular season title without the Shockers collapsing in epic fashion. But when it comes to who can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, both Illinois State and Evansville have a shot. The two teams meet in Evansville tonight (8:00 p.m.), with three of the Valley’s best players on display in ISU’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Edigijus Mockevicius. Evansville won the first meeting by 11 in mid-January, as the Redbirds shot 6-for-31 from three on the night.
OTHER NOTABLE GAMES
- Mercer at Wofford, 7:00 p.m.
- Hofstra at William & Mary, 7:00 p.m.
- High Point at Coastal Carolina, 7:00 p.m.
- James Madison at College of Charleston, 7:00 p.m.
- Milwaukee at Oakland, 7:00 p.m.
- Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s, 11:00 p.m.