Over the course of the holiday week, we at College Basketball Talk will be detailing what we believe will be the New Year’s Resolutions of some of the nation’s most talented, most disappointing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood.
Who else made Resolutions? Click here to find out.
WHAT DOES ARIZONA PROMISE TO DO MORE OF?: Get more production from the bench.
Let’s start off by admitting that the Wildcats have a very good six-man rotation, with freshman wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson being the sixth man. But if this team is to make a run at a national title another reserve needs to step up, preferably one who’s proficient when it comes to knocking down perimeter shots. Arizona’s shooting 38.5% from beyond the arc, which isn’t a bad percentage at all. But given the amount of talent in the front court and the fact that the Wildcats have scored just 21.5% of their points on three-pointers there’s a good chance that they’ll see more zone in conference play. Can a Gabe York be that seventh man? He’s averaging 8.0 ppg over the last two games.
In the six contests prior to that two-game stretch York averaged 3.7 points per game, shooting 6-for-31 from the field. On the season he’s averaging 7.4 points per game, but that could be a product of outings such as he 20-point night in a win over Fairleigh Dickinson as opposed to consistent production. As the best option to supplement what Hollis-Jefferson’s provided off the bench, can he consistently produce for the Wildcats?
WHAT DOES ARIZONA SWEAR THEY WILL DO LESS OF?: Miss free throws.
Thus far the Wildcats are shooting 67.2% from the foul line, a mark that ranks tenth in the Pac-12, and of the top five players in free throws attempted three are shooting at least 73.8%. The two who aren’t? Freshmen Aaron Gordon (45.2%) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (66.1%). The hope is that as the season wears on they’ll get better from the charity stripe, thus raising the team’s percentage in the process. And given how good this team is around the basket, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to score with the clock stopped in conference play.
Even some of the most talented basketball players turn out to be poor foul shooters; for whatever reason some players have a hard time translating practice repetitions/success to game action. Could that be the case for a player like Gordon? Even if you remove his numbers from the Texas Tech (4-for-12) and Southern (4-for-1) games he’s still shooting just 50% from the foul line. As for Hollis-Jefferson he made six of seven against Northern Arizona, so things may be looking up in that regard.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.