Christian Peterson, Getty Images

Holiday Wish Lists: What are the nation’s best teams in need of adding this holiday season?

Leave a comment

Over the course of the next three days, we at College Basketball Talk will be cruising through a list of college basketball’s best teams, attempting to figure out who or what they need to add.

Put another way, with the holidays right around the corner, if your favorite team was able to ask for one thing as a gift, what would it be?

Do they need to add a point guard?

Is there enough big man depth on the roster?

Can they shoot?

Can they guard?

Today, we’ll roll through everyone from Alabama to Louisville.

Let’s get into it.

MORE: Maryland-Seton Hall | Syracuse-Xavier
FUTURES: Alabama-Louisville | Maryland-Seton Hall | Syracuse-Xavier

ALABAMA: Another scoring threat

Collin Sexton is awesome, and Avery Johnson no doubt wants him to continue being so, but the Crimson Tide could really use a little more help. Sexton’s usage rate is at 32.8 percent, one of the highest in the country and he averages nearly as many points per game (21.8) as the Tide’s next top two scorers combined (24.5). (Travis Hines)

ARIZONA: A healthy Allonzo Trier

Just when the Wildcats seemed to be building momentum towards the Pac-12 opener against Arizona State, Allonzo Trier goes down with a left knee injury against North Dakota State. The exact diagnosis isn’t known just yet, but the Wildcats really need him on the court if they’re to reach their potential. Trier’s been incredibly efficient, and given how well he’s played having to sit out an extended period of time would be unfair. (Raphielle Johnson)

ARIZONA STATE: Improved defensive rebounding

While many of us seem to believe in the Sun Devils at this point, the KenPom numbers aren’t as sold and for one very good reason: this team has work to do on the defensive glass. Arizona State’s opponents rebound 30.6 percent of their misses, with ASU ranking 219th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage as a result. Adding Mickey Mitchell to the mix gives them another front court option, and eventually Kimani Lawrence will do the same once healthy. This isn’t the tallest team, but they’re capable of being better on the defensive glass than they have been. (RJ)

Tra Holder (David Becker/Getty Images)

ARKANSAS: Consistency from Daniel Gafford

Arkansas could probably use some more frontcourt depth, but I don’t think that is all that necessary given what they currently have on their roster. Their guards are good and old, which is an ideal combination in the collegiate ranks, and there are some big bodies on their bench that can, at the very least, take up space and provide fouls. Their x-factor, however, is freshman center Daniel Gafford, who has been excellent for the most part. In Arkansas’ eight win, he’s averaging 14 points, 5.9 boards and 2.3 blocks. In their two losses? He’s averaging 5.0 points, 6.0 boards and 1.o blocks in just 16.5 minutes.

BAYLOR: Anonymity

The Bears have gone somewhat under the radar this season with losses to Xavier and Wichita State depressing their national cachet, but that’s got to be what Scott Drew wants for his team. Baylor always seems to be at its best when its undervalued and not saddled with a ton of expectation. The computers love this team. Drew will probably be happy if they’re the only ones that really heap praise until mid-February. (TH)

CINCINNATI: The AAC to be better

The Bearcats and head coach Mick Cronin are hoping the American gives them a legitimate schedule to help them land a top-four seed on Selection Sunday. With the No. 215 non-conference strength of schedule right now, according to KenPom, Cincinnati didn’t exactly help its cause over the last several months. There were opportunities for wins over Xavier and Florida that failed. Wins over programs like Mississippi State and UCLA don’t look all that impressive. Cincinnati had better hope its conference gives them enough quality games to be considered on par with the other power leagues. (Scott Phillips)

CREIGHTON: More people to notice Khyri Thomas

Left off of the preseason All-Big East teams this fall, the Bluejays wish for more national respect for junior guard Khyri Thomas. Already regarded as one of the nation’s better perimeter defenders, the 6-foot-3 Thomas has expanded his offensive game enough to become a consistent second scoring threat behind Marcus Foster. But nobody ever seems to talk about Thomas. He consistently covers the opposing team’s best perimeter option while providing efficient offense for a 9-2 team. It’s time to start paying attention to Thomas. And don’t be surprised if he earns Big East honors at the end of the year. (SP)

DUKE: Frontcourt defenders

There are a handful of issues currently present on this Duke roster. Grayson Allen has been inconsistent this year. Trevon Duval is not a natural point guard. They don’t have the kind of depth they had hoped for. Wendell Carter has not been as efficient as the staff would have liked. But the biggest problem Duke is currently dealing with is on the defensive side of the ball, specifically with their big men. Marvin Bagley III, Carter and Marques Bolden are not great rim protectors. But they also are not great at defending perimeter fours. The biggest issue, however, is that none of them are all that good guarding ball-screens. That’s why they lost to Boston College, because Jim Christian schemed ball-screen after ball-screen after ball-screen, and Duke’s big men had no answer. (RD)

FLORIDA: Toughness

This isn’t my idea. If it was me making this pick I would lean towards adding a big wing that can defend and make threes; another year of eligibility for Justin Leon or Devin Robinson to be allowed to play his senior season. Something like that. But if you listen to what the Florida players say after losses – and after their win over Cincinnati, the only game they’ve won in their last five – it’s toughness, both physical and mental, that they lack. (RD)

FLORIDA STATE: Better lead guard play

Florida State wishes to find players who can take care of the ball. The Seminoles have been one of the fun surprises in college hoops this season thanks to their depth and athleticism. This team also coughs up the ball 14 times per game, including 22 in a one-point loss to Oklahoma State last weekend. When you also factor that the Seminoles have faced an underwhelming non-conference schedule then how is this team going to handle pressure once they hit the ACC? (SP)

GONZAGA: Better perimeter defense

There isn’t a whole lot to single out when it comes to the flaws of this team. There have been times when the Zags have turned the ball over more than one would like, but with Josh Perkins running the show and weapons on the perimeter and in the paint the offense should be fine. Defensively, the three-point percentage defense could stand to improve some with opponents making 38.0 percent of their looks on the season. And given how good last year’s team was across the board on that end of the floor, asking Santa for better showings on that end of the floor may make the most sense for Mark Few’s team. (RJ)

IOWA STATE: Frontcourt production

Things are going better for the Cyclones than anyone could have imagined with eight-straight wins to offset a disastrous 0-2 start, but the Cyclones could still use some more production up front. Steve Prohm has to be hoping his two young forwards – Solomon Young and Cameron Lard – can consistently put up numbers come Big 12 play. (TH)

Bill Self (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

KANSAS: Bodies, preferably large ones

It’s pretty clear what Bill Self is hoping for, and that’s a couple of eligible big men. Self previously said that he’s optimistic about Billy Preston getting on the floor after the school – and NCAA – clear up the situation regarding the car he was driving around campus, and said Monday night they feel “really, really good” about Silvia De Sousa’s test scores that could clear the way for him to join the program. Self and the Jayhawks can probably count on a merry Christmas. (TH)

KENTUCKY: More of that three-point shooting

This one is obvious, right? Prior to Saturday, the Wildcats had played just a single team that had any business being in a game with a program like Kentucky. That’s probably why they entered that shootout with Virginia Tech as the program that had gotten the least amount of points from beyond the arc in all of college basketball. That changed against the Hokies. Kentucky shot 11-for-22 from beyond the arc, and quietly, they are shooting 37 percent from three on the season. That’s as much a product of the fact that they play the way Coach Cal wants them to play – he knows that they need to take advantage of their size and athleticism – but the fact they’re making the shots they’re taking is a good thing. If it continues to play out that way, Kentucky’s ceiling gets much higher. (RD)

LOUISVILLE: The V.J. King we saw on Saturday to hang around

King tied a season-high with 17 points on Saturday against Memphis at the Garden, and it’s not a coincidence that Louisville looked as good as they’ve looked against high-major competition all season long. The fact that they got hot from three helped, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that happened at the same time as King’s best game. He’s arguably the most talented wing on the Louisville roster, a guy that was getting some hype as a breakout candidate heading into the season. If he can play up to his ability – which is what we saw against Memphis – then it gives Louisville another dimension offensively. (RD)

Weekend Preview: Big East showdown headlines an interesting slate of games

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 11 XAVIER at No. 19 SETON HALL (-1), Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

The only game this weekend featuring two teams that are currently ranked in the top 25, Xavier and Seton Hall square off in a battle of programs trending in opposite directions. Now that Trevon Bluiett has rediscovered his shooting stroke, the Musketeers have reeled off back-to-back wins, including a beatdown of then-No. 25 Creighton. Seton Hall, on the other hand, lost by a combined 37 points at Marquette and Creighton in the last 11 days and struggled with a Georgetown team that was down 44 points at home against Villanova.

  • PREDICTION: Xavier’s new starting lineup will be interesting. The Musketeers are much more offensively oriented right now, but Kerem Kanter and Naji Marshall are not exactly known for their defense and physicality. Seton Hall has a big, old, tough and strong front line. I think they get this win they badly needed in front of a packed out. Seton Hall (-1)

No. 14 ARIZONA (-5) at STANFORD, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (CBS)

First place in the Pac-12 is on the line as 5-1 Arizona squares off with 5-1 Stanford. And yes, you read that correctly. In their last five games in league play, the Cardinal have swept the LA schools at home, the Washington schools on the road and beaten Arizona State in their place. Now they get the best team in the Pac-12. Stanford is healthy and playing the best basketball they’ve played in a long, long time.

  • PREDICTION: If Stanford is getting five points at home I am all over the Cardinal. The problem is that I don’t think they will be. KenPom’s projections don’t factor in that Stanford is healthy and hot. I think the line will be closer to Stanford (-2), and I would still probably take them. Stanford (-5)

FLORIDA at No. 18 KENTUCKY (-3), Sat. 8:15 p.m.

This matchup is fascinating. Two teams that still have quite figured things out that play polar opposite styles of basketball. Florida is loaded with quick, veteran guards that fire up threes. Kentucky is loaded big, athletic forwards that can’t really shoot. Coming off of a loss at South Carolina, I think this game is probably more important for Kentucky, who finally looks like they are going to be healthy.

  • PREDICTION: Can Kentucky overwhelm Florida with their size or will the Gators exploit the mismatches with their guards? That answer really comes down to whether or not the Gators get hot from deep. I’m going to guess that they will since they have a tendency to show up in big games. Florida (+3)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

  • No. 1 Villanova (-17) at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (CBS): The big question in this game for me, beyond “Will UConn lose by enough for UConn to fire Kevin Ollie on the spot?”, is whether or not Villanova is the elite team in college basketball that we swear doesn’t exist. Villanova (-17)
  • No. 7 Wichita State (-1) at Houston, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPNU): The Shockers have turned into a defensive liability out of nowhere, and on Saturday they will be traveling to visit a Houston team that badly needs this win. Wichita State (-1)
  • No. 4 Oklahoma (-3) at Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN): Trae Young hasn’t been right for a couple of weeks, and now he gets a rival on the road. Is this the game that he figures it out? Oklahoma (-3)
  • BAYLOR at No. 10 KANSAS (-8), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): Kansas has actually had some issues at home this season, more than they’ve had on the road. Baylor tends to play the Jayhawks tough. Is this a letdown spot after that massive win at West Virginia? Kansas (-8)

No. 10 Jayhawks back on top of Big 12 with fresh approach

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The hallmarks of Kansas under Bill Self over the years have been inside-outside post play and gritty defense, the kind of in-your-shorts man-to-man that leaves opponents gasping for air.

That trusted formula has produced 13 straight Big 12 championships.

But if the No. 10 Jayhawks are going to break a tie with the UCLA teams of the 1960s and ’70s for the most consecutive conference titles, their formula will look quite different this season: They are going to pour in 3-pointers, race around the court and simply outscore their foes.

“I do think you can get tougher. I do think you can get harder. I do think you can become more competitive and learn how to compete as you go,” Self said, “but the reality of it is we’re not changing right now playing four guards. Our second-best rebounder is 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. We’re not changing that. We’re not changing our next-best rebounder weighs 200 pounds. We’re not changing that fact.

“We’re playing four really average-sized guards,” Self said. “We’re not going to change that.”

So, best to adapt to it.

It helps that those four guards — Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman — form one of the best backcourts in the nation. Graham is a do-everything floor general, Mykhailiuk one of the best sharpshooters in the nation, Vick the most athletic of the bunch and Newman is capable of getting to the rim with as quick of a first step as anybody in the league.

It also helps that they’re experienced: Graham and Mykhailiuk are seniors with three title rings on their fingers, Vick is a junior and Newman is a third-year sophomore who redshirted last season.

Together, they’ve led the Jayhawks (15-3, 5-1) to four consecutive wins, including road wins over then-No. 16 TCU and sixth-ranked West Virginia. They’ve pushed Kansas back to the top of the league standings headed into Saturday’s game against Baylor, and back into the discussion of a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is revealed in about six weeks.

In other words, they have Kansas right where it is accustomed to being.

But the route has been much different, and that was evident in the Jayhawks’ comeback victory over the Mountaineers on Monday night. Graham and Mykhailiuk combined for 20 of their final 26 points, most of them on 3s and pull-up jumpers — each of them knocked down three from beyond the arc.

The comeback in years past would have featured a big man such as Darrell Arthur or Thomas Robinson in the post, or an elite guard such as Frank Mason III going right to the rim.

Different styles, even if the results have been the same.

“I think we assume some things because of the past,” Self said. “You look at the past, I mean, Landen Lucas was tough. We’re not replacing him with the same toughness. Josh Jackson was a monster. He was an assassin. We’re not replacing him with the same type of mentality. Certainly, you can’t match Frank’s mentality in that area. Which is OK. We were so spoiled with that in the past.”

Those past teams may have had bruising big men, tough guard play and pure scorers all over the floor, and they may have been one of the best defensive teams in the country. But they also had deficiencies, and in many cases, they are the same areas where this year’s team excels.

The Jayhawks have already hit 195 shots from beyond the arc, tops in the Big 12, and are shooting 41 percent from that range. They are among the league leaders in assists and shooting percentage, numbers that help to offset the fact that Kansas ranks ninth out of 10 teams in the league in rebounding.

“We’re going to be scrappy, tough. We got to do a way better job of rebounding, obviously,” Graham said. “But yeah, basically we’ve just got to get way tougher, like I’ve been saying.”

That toughness could get a boost now that Silvio De Souza, a five-star prospect from Florida’s IMG Academy, has been cleared to play. He graduated in December and promptly joined the Jayhawks, and Self is hopeful the big man will be up to speed by the time February rolls around.

It could get another boost if Billy Preston, another five-star prospect, is ever cleared. The school and NCAA have been looking into the ownership of a car he was driving on campus last fall.

In the meantime, the Jayhawks head into their game against the Bears on Saturday riding a win streak, winning high-scoring affairs thanks to 3-pointers and an offensive flair.

“We don’t have the same team we’ve had in the past,” Self said, “and we have to understand that.”

TCU PG Jaylen Fisher to miss rest of season following knee surgery

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
1 Comment

FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU point guard Jaylen Fisher had surgery Thursday to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season for the No. 24 Horned Frogs.

Fisher got hurt Tuesday, the second time in less than six months he injured a knee in practice. He had surgery after a meniscus tear in his left knee in early August.

The sophomore guard missed the team’s trip to Australia after the previous surgery, but was ready for the regular season. He averaged 12.1 points and was fifth in the Big 12 with 5.4 assists while playing the first 17 games. He had a career-high 22 points in an overtime loss Saturday at No. 4 Oklahoma, and he made 11 of 20 shots from 3-point range his last four games.

Fisher will need three to four months of recovery.

“I feel bad for him. We all feel bad for him,” coach Jamie Dixon said.

Even with his knee locked in a bent position and having to use crutches, Fisher attended TCU’s 96-73 home win over Iowa State on Wednesday night. He sat in a chair near the TCU bench.

Bracketology: Searching for No. 1 seeds

Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images
Leave a comment

That search for No. 1 seeds?  It may take a while.  We have some very good basketball teams.  But, at least to this point, we’re absent that handful of elite teams we’ve seen in recent years.  So if you’re writing teams on seed lines – including the top line – you might want to use a pencil.

Kansas is squarely back in the race after beating West Virginia in Morgantown.  And keep eye on North Carolina, too.  The Tar Heels are quietly putting together the type of profile that Selection Committee members traditionally like.  They currently own the No. 1 overall SOS (strength of schedule) in the nation, and have six wins over “tourney” teams in today’s bracket update.

Here’s the latest:

UPDATED: January 19, 2018

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • LSU vs. SMU | Midwest Region
  • Texas AM vs. UCLA West Region
  • ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T | East Region
  • FLA GULF COAST vs. JACKSON ST | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION

EAST Boston                           MIDWEST – Omaha     
Pittsburgh Detroit
1) VILLANOVA 1) PURDUE
16) NC A&T / ROB MORRIS 16) FL GULF CST / JACKSON ST
8) Louisville 8) Miami-FL
9) Georgia 9) Providence
San Diego Boise
5) RHODE ISLAND 5) Arizona State
12) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 12) NEW MEXICO ST
4) Ohio State 4) CINCINNATI
13) BUFFALO 13) LOUISIANA
Dallas Nashville
6) Tennessee 6) TCU
11) Notre Dame 11) LSU / SMU
3) Texas Tech 3) Clemson
14) VERMONT 14) WILLIAM & MARY
Nashville Wichita
7) Michigan 7) Florida
10) Missouri 10) Butler
2) North Carolina 2) KANSAS
15) IONA 15) MONTANA
WEST – Los Angeles SOUTH – Atlanta
Charlotte Charlotte
1) Duke 1) VIRGINIA
16) PENNSYLVANIA 16) BUCKNELL
8) Texas 8) SAINT MARY’S
9) Arkansas 9) Marquette
Boise Dallas
5) Seton Hall 5) Michigan State
12) Texas AM / UCLA 12) MISSOURI STATE
4) Wichita State 4) AUBURN
13) BELMONT 13) E. TENNESSEE ST
San Diego Detroit
6) Creighton 6) Gonzaga
11) WESTERN KENTUCKY 11) NC State
3) ARIZONA 3) Xavier
14) S.F. AUSTIN 14) WRIGHT STATE
Wichita Pittsburgh
7) NEVADA 7) Kentucky
10) Alabama 10) Florida State
2) Oklahoma 2) West Virginia
15) CS-FULLERTON 15) RADFORD

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed – followed by Purdue, Virginia, and Duke

Last Four Byes (at large): Florida State, Missouri, NC State, Notre Dame

Last Four IN (at large): LSU, Texas AM, SMU, UCLA

First Four OUT (at large): Washington, Houston, Baylor, Boise State

Next four teams OUT (at large): Syracuse, Maryland, USC, St. Bonaventure

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, Miami-FL, Notre Dame, NC State

SEC (9): AUBURN, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, LSU, Texas AM

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, Marquette, Providence, Butler

BIG 12 (6): KANSAS, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech, TCU, Texas

Big 10 (4): PURDUE, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan

Pac 12 (3): ARIZONA, Arizona State, UCLA

American (3): CINCINNATI, Wichita State, SMU

West Coast (2): SAINT MARY’S, Gonzaga

Atlantic 10 (1): RHODE ISLAND

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Missouri State (MVC), Iona (MAAC), Western Kentucky (C-USA), Louisiana (SBELT), Penn (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), S.F. Austin (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Fullerton (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), William & Mary (CAA), Radford (BSO), North Carolina A&T (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Robert Morris (NEC), Jackson State (SWAC)

New coach, healthy star push Buckeyes to unexpected heights

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State’s elimination from the Big Ten tournament by lowly Rutgers last March showed the depths to which Buckeyes basketball had fallen in a just few short seasons.

First-year coach Chris Holtmann showed his players video cuts of that debacle before Sunday’s game, the first against the Scarlet Knights since the tournament. Ohio State then went out and routed Rutgers 68-46 .

On Monday the Buckeyes cracked the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in nearly three years. On Wednesday night they beat Northwestern to improve to 7-0 in the Big Ten — matching the number of conference wins they had all of last season.

Ohio State, 16-4 overall, is tied for first place in the conference with No. 3 Purdue and has forced its way into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Holtmann is the first coach in 95 years to win his first seven Big Ten games.

Who would have thought?

The Buckeyes missed the tournament for the second straight season last year. The loss of three of the top four scorers, transfers and a thin recruiting class led to a gloomy forecast for 2017-18. Thad Matta , who oversaw the rebuilding of Ohio State basketball in his 13 seasons, was fired and Holtmann, who had success at Butler, was brought in.

Holtmann managed to pull some pieces together but Ohio State lacked depth, especially at point guard. The coach did his best in the preseason to keep expectations low for what looked like another lost season.

He’s still trying to temper expectations, but the Buckeyes haven’t yet taken the lumps that he or anybody else were sure would come.

“Any coach that, through a third of the season, went undefeated would have to say they’re surprised,” he said. “I just think fortunately our team in general has played well and our really good players have led the way with that, both at home and on the road.”

None of those players has been better than Keita Bates-Diop , who missed all of the Big Ten schedule last season with a left leg injury that required insertion of a steel rod in his shin. He didn’t play again after Jan. 5 and not much went right for the Buckeyes after that.

Averaging 19.8 points per game, the 6-foot-7 forward has earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors for the past two weeks in a row.

Jae’Sean Tate, last year’s leading scorer, again is a major contributor. Point guard C.J. Jackson is second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points per game. Freshman Kaleb Wesson, 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, is providing needed bulk inside while averaging 11.2 points per game. His brother Andre, a sophomore, missed all of the summer and the first few weeks of fall practice with an illness but is contributing again.

Center Micah Potter, slowed by ankle injury this season, stepped up with a season-high 13 points on Wednesday as Northwestern applied pressure on Bates-Diop and Tate.

And Andrew Dakich, a graduate transfer who was a bit player for three years at Michigan, has been a bulldog at guard. His career high 11 points against Maryland Jan. 11 included three 3-pointers at the end of the first half that helped propel the Buckeyes to a 91-69 blowout. He is 12 of 18 for the season from 3-point range.

Holtmann, with an emphasis on defense and proper response to adversity, continues to publicly promote the theme that his team can’t possibly keep scoring at this pace and having this kind of success.

Don’t tell his players, though.

“I think it’s been all about approach,” Tate said. “Our approach every day in practice, our approach pregame. We always say we were picked (to be) one of the last teams in the Big Ten. We’re going to continue to play with that chip on our shoulder.”