Christmas wish list

Christmas wish list: What does UCLA want and need?

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From now until Christmas, Beyond the Arc will detail what some teams need. Hey, we’re in a giving mood.

For the first month of the season, a couple embarrassing UCLA losses and the Reeves Nelson saga made UCLA the butt of the joke in college basketball.

With Nelson now gone the Bruins have made a comeback, of sorts, winning four in a row, albeit against some weaker opponents.

So, post-Nelson, what is Ben Howland hoping for under his tree?

What other teams have Christmas wish lists? Click here

Must Have: The ship under control

At this point in the season, with the struggles the Bruins have had, the goal may be more about damage control than competing for a Pac-12 title.

With top five prospect Kyle Anderson of St. Anthony (N.J.) and top 50 forward Jordan Adams of Oak Hill (Va.), while still being in the running for number one prospect Shabazz Muhammad, maintaining the public image of stability is paramount.

After Friday’s matchup with Richmond, a three-game stretch with games against Stanford, Cal, and Arizona may dictate the Bruins’ ability to bounce back in a shaky Pac-12 race. That stretch could set the tone for the rest of the conference schedule for UCLA.

If it doesn’t go so well, that is where Howland would have to make sure things stay under control and avoid the media scrutiny it endured early in the season.

Stocking Stuffer: Tyler Lamb’s emergence

Lamb has been reinvigorated after getting fluid drained from his hip to treat bursitis. What a difference some medical attention makes, right?

He had 14 points against Eastern Washington, followed by a near-triple-double against UC-Davis, and 17 points against UC-Irvine.

If he continues to emerge as a consistent scoring option, it will only spell good things for UCLA.

Planning to Re-gift: Reeves Nelson 

Well, they kind of already did.

Reports are that Nelson is close to signing a deal with a Lithuanian team, perhaps leaving as early as the day after Christmas.

Nelson was a headache for the Bruins early in the season, adding fuel to the media fire that accompanied the slow UCLA start.

His strong 14 points and nine rebounds per game last season dropped to five points and four boards this season, racking up two suspensions and, ultimately, dismissal from the team.

Though they played weak competition since his dismissal, a 4-0 record seems to be a step in the right direction.

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

Christmas wish list: What does Arizona want and need?

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From now until Christmas, Beyond the Arc will detail what some teams need. Hey, we’re in a giving mood.

Arizona began its holiday break with an ideal win – 100-60 over Bryant – that allowed Sean Miller’s team to continue working out the kinks from an up-and-down non-conference run and build some more confidence entering Pac-12 play. The Wildcats (9-4) haven’t been terrible, but spotty guard play and a lack of size made things though against good teams.

So what would Miller ask Santa to boost Arizona’s fortunes after the holidays? Here’s what:

What other teams have Christmas wish lists? Click here.

Must have: Lifts for the frontcourt.

Size will be an issue for Arizona until its big recruits arrive next season Jesse Perry (6-7), Solomon Hill (6-6) and Kevin Parrom (6-6) do their best, but it’s asking a lot when you’re consistently fighting for rebounds or trying to shoot over guys four or five inches taller. So why not sneak an extra inch or two into those guys’ sneakers?

Getting significant minutes from the likes of junior Kyryl Natyazhko (6-11) or freshman Angelo Chol (6-9)would be ideal, but until then, Perry, Hill and Parrom will have to find ways to boost Arizona’s offensive rebounding. Or just tell everyone to start hitting more shots. That’d cut down on the chance of offensive rebounds, too.

Stocking stuffer: A consistent perimeter threat.

For a team that made nearly 40 percent of its 3-pointers last season, Arizona would love to start hitting shots to space out the defense and create driving lanes for the guards. Derrick Williams isn’t around to clean things up, so that means guys like Kyle Fogg (44.7 percent) and Nick Johnson (37.5 percent) have to be consistent perimeter options. (Hill and Josiah Turner need to stop shooting from outside.)

Then again, maybe the answer is simply to find more PT for senior Brandon Lavender! He’s the Wildcats’ most efficient scorer (129.8 ORtg), its best outside threat (15 of 24 on the year) and is coming off a career high 18 points against Bryant. If Lavender’s a bit more selfish with his shot or gets another 4-5 minutes a game, that’s a start.

Planning to re-gift: That preseason hype for the 2011 recruiting class.

We’re guilty of this, but we were hardly alone. Johnson, Turner, Chol and Sidiki Johnson comprised a Top 5 class. But we were barely a month into the season before Turner landed in Miller’s doghouse, Sidiki Johnson transferred and Chol languished on the bench. Nick Johnson’s been good, but the freshmen class has hardly lived up to its billing.

There’s still time for them to make an impact, but it seems unlikely.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Christmas Wish List: What does Florida need and want?

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For the next five days, Beyond the Arc will detail what some teams need. Hey, we’re in a giving mood.

Billy Donovan has already gotten an early Christmas gift, as Erik Murphy’s knee injury wasn’t all that serious. He also has plenty of presents (read: rings) from Christmas’ past that he can play with if he has too.

But its a new year and a new holiday season, which is why Santa will have no problem taking a peak at what Billy the Kid wants:

Must have: Time in practice to work on entry passes

Florida has one of the most powerful and dominating interior presences in the country in Patric Young. Seriously, he’s a freak (look at his arms in the picture to the right!), the kind of physical specimen of that we rarely see last two seasons at the college level. He’s not yet an overwhelming back-to-the-basket scorer, but he is effective in one-on-one situations. And he sees quite a few of those one-on-one situations in the post as teams are afraid to double off of Florida’s legion of sharpshooters.

The Gators are a much better offensive team when young gets a touch in the paint, but far too often their offense devolves into one of their back court players dribbling aimlessly and hoisting up a tough shot. While those shots happen to be falling right now, there is no guarantee that a career 30% three point shooter like Kenny Boynton is going to continue to make nearly half of his threes, especially when so many of them are off-the-dribble and with a hand in his face. The other issue is that Young becomes more active and aggressive when he starts getting involved offensively. He’s a better defender and rebounder. Florida may have beaten Texas A&M by 20, but the fact that Young had two shots is an issue.

Stocking stuffer: More playing time for Will Yeguete

Look, I know why Erik Murphy is out on the floor. At 6’10”, Murphy may actually be the best stand-still jump-shooter on Florida’s roster. When he has a chance to get his feet set, he’s deadly. And putting a fourth deadly shooter on the floor with Patric Young in the post is a truly terrific way to create space for Young to operate on the block. (Seriously, get him touches!)

I don’t necessarily thinks that’s a bad thing, either. Murphy is a good player. I like his fit. But Will Yeguete has been terrific in the limited minutes that he has played this season. He’s an athletic and active 6’7″ forward that simply makes the hustle plays. He attacks the offensive glass. He is a pest defensively. He blocks shots and creates turnovers. His presence on the court is a different mentality than the rest of the Gators. He’s a valuable piece that deserves to get more time than he does.

Planning to re-gift: Guards

Kenny Boynton. Erving Walker. Mike Rosario. Brad Beal. Tough, right? Who wants a Scottie Wilbekin? Anyone?

What other teams have Christmas wish lists? Click here.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Christmas wish list: What does Pittsburgh want and need?

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From now until Christmas, Beyond the Arc will detail what some teams need. Hey, we’re in a giving mood.

Pittsburgh was picked to finish fourth in the preseason Big East media poll. They were the first team to be upset this season, losing to Long Beach State at home. But since then, they’ve won nine in a row, despite still lacking a signature win.

Moving into the holiday, let’s take a run down Jamie Dixon’s Christmas wishlist.

What other teams have Christmas wish lists? Click here

Must Have: Production From Zanna and Taylor

Pitt already had questions about their presence on the block, having lost big man Gary McGhee to graduation, and those pains were worsened when freshman Khem Birch decided to transfer. Just over a month ago, it looked as though Birch may have been cracking into the regular rotation.

But his transfer leaves Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna, who combine to average just over 13 points and 12 rebounds per game. If Pitt wants to compete at the top of the Big East, especially with frontcourt-heavy teams like Syracuse and Connecticut, it will be up to Taylor and Zanna to lead the charge.

Stocking Stuffer: Travon Woodall’s Return

The Panthers lost Woodall to a groin strain and abdominal tear in the first week of December, and was expected to be out for a month.

As the calendar turns to 2012, that means Woodall will be on the track to return to the Pitt starting lineup.

In the first month of the season, he averaged 14 points and eight assists per game, all while shooting 52 percent from the field. Freshman John Johnson has held down the fort in Woodall’s absence, but the Brooklyn native’s return will be welcomed.

Planning to Re-gift: Recent History

It’s been the knock on Pitt in recent years that, though they’ll have a strong regular season, the Panthers flame out in the tournament.

Despite Jamie Dixon’s impressive 227-61 record at Pittsburgh in eight-plus seasons, the Panthers have only advanced past the Sweet Sixteen once.

Lacking size down low and relying heavily on the backcourt for scoring production, could history repeat itself in March? Could the Panthers run into a mid-major with a sparkplug guard like Casper Ware at Long Beach State who could sink their tournament hopes?

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

Christmas wish list: What does Kansas want and need?

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From now until Christmas, Beyond the Arc will detail what some teams need. Hey, we’re in a giving mood.

Monday’s loss to Davidson might have felt like a massive lump of coal in Kansas’ stocking, but the Jayhawks can hardly be too disappointed in their season. The other losses were to Top 10 teams (Kentucky and Duke) and they’ve also knocked off Ohio State, Georgetown and UCLA. For a team that lost six rotation players – four of whom started – and had two freshmen denied eligibility by the NCAA, that’s hardly a bummer season.

Still, coach Bill Self has a couple things he’d want from Santa.

What other teams have Christmas wish lists? Click here

Must have: No frontcourt injuries.

This obviously applies to junior forward Thomas Robinson, who gobbles up rebounds at a rate most of us gobble peanut M&Ms and also leads Kansas in scoring and does a fair job carrying Kansas o his broad shoulder. To say he’s indispensable would be an understatement.

But it also applies to center Jeff Withey, who before this season could’ve been confused with any stationary 7-foot object. Yet he’s somehow blossomed into a shot-blocking stud who also grabs any rebound Robinson doesn’t (yes, there are some) and even manages to score a few points. Without Withey’s development, Robinson would be hindered by guarding bigger guys and probably be in foul trouble.

And without these two, Kansas would be toast.

Stocking stuffer: A chance at that eighth straight Big 12 title. The last time KU failed to win at least a share of the league was 2004, Self’s first season. Since then, they’ve managed to treat the Big 12 as their own personal trophy shop.

But with Missouri stomping opponents and Baylor overwhelming teams, the Jayhawks will be decidedly behind the curve when conference play begins. Not to mention Texas A&M, Texas and Kansas State all perfectly capable of making title runs of their own.

Still, if Kansas pulls off a few unexpected wins and gets the gift of others stumbling, another title isn’t impossible.

Planning to re-gift: Most KU fans (and probably Self) would like to send back anything from the NCAA’s Clearinghouse. Not having Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor put a crimp in Kansas’ depth and overall talent, but there’s nothing to do now but wait until they can play next season.

That leaves Tyshawn Taylor’s decision-making skills.

I’m not referring to his off-court choices, but his tendency to make lamentable passes or simply make confounding moves. He’s hardly the only Jayhawks guard to turn the ball over too much (Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford also have issues) but he’s negating nearly all his good work (29.2 ARate) with turnovers (26.8 TORate). Anytime your point guard – and a four-year starter, no less – is sitting at a 1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, your offense will never be consistently good.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Christmas wish list: What does Louisville want and need?

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For the next five days, Beyond the Arc will detail what some teams need. Hey, we’re in a giving mood.

There is no team in the country that looks more comfortable and in control playing a game that is completely out of control than Louisville. At times, it seems like Rick Pitino is coaching his team by simply saying “the sloppier the better”.

With Christmas right around the corner, here is a look into just what Pitino has requested from Santa Claus:

Must have: Claire Bennett’s powers

I know you watched the first season of Heroes, back before the show had an Entourage-esque collapse. Claire Bennett was the cheerleader played by Hayden Panettiere — “Save the cheerleader, save the word”. Remember? — that had the power of regeneration. In other words, she couldn’t get injured, which would be a perfect skill for this Louisville team to have after the first month of the season. Wayne Blackshear is done for the season with a shoulder injury. Mike Marra and Steven VanTreese are out with knee injuries. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have missed a couple of games this season. Jared Swopshire and Rakeem Buckles are still recovering from injuries that ended their season in 2011.

Now, Louisville still has talent on their roster. Siva and Smith provide a dynamic back court, Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith are the veterans on the wing while Gorgui Dieng and Behanan have been excellent inside. But, as I said earlier, Louisville is at their best when the game becomes unorganized and out of sync. The best way to do that is to press, but given the limit that Pitino has on his bench players right now, the Cards can’t exactly press for 40 minutes, not with their limited bench. Louisville needs depth, and that depth will come with their health.

Stocking stuffer: Three-point range

Last season, Louisville shot 36.2% from beyond the arc and shot threes at the 28th highest rate nationally. While they aren’t attempting nearly as many this season, their percentage has dropped all the way down to 32.0%. Kyle Kuric has gone form a 44.9% shooter to 32.7%. Russ Smith has dropped from 41.2% to 38.5%. Chris Smith is down slightly from 40.4% at 39.5%. Rakeem Buckles, who shot 42.3% last season before he was injured, has taken just two three pointers this season. Hell, even Peyton Siva has gone from a 27.2% three point shooter to 23.3%.

The Cardinals are playing a big of a different style this season. They aren’t playing quite as uptempo as they have been known for and they are more concerned about getting the ball into the paint, whether it be off the dribble or on a post touch. Part of the reason for that is the penetration abilities of Siva and Russ Smith and the play of Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng inside. But the fact that the Cardinals aren’t shooting it that well has played a role; when the threes aren’t dropping, you start doing something else. Louisville has too many guys that can stroke the ball to continue struggling like this.

Planning to re-gift: Guards

Pitino already has a million of them. Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith, Chris Smith, Peyton Siva, Elisha Justice, Tim Henderson, Kevin Ware, Mark Jackson. Those are a lot of players to try and find minutes for. What’s more is that two of Pitino’s top six back court players — Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra — are out for the season. The good news? The battles in practice as guys try to earn minutes must be intense.

What other teams have Christmas wish lists? Click here.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.