Midseason Catchups

Conference Catchups: Pac-12 takes three ranked teams, led by No. 8 Arizona, into league play

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source: AP
Arizona head coach Sean Miller (AP Photo)

College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

MORE: All of CBT’s Conference Catchups

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Pac-12.

MIDSEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyrone Wallace, California

Wallace has been outstanding at the point for the Golden Bears, averaging 19.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. One of the most improved players in America Wallace has been asked to do a lot for Cuonzo Martin’s team, especially with Jabari Bird out of the lineup to to injury. And the junior from Bakersfield has delivered, resulting in the Golden Bears entering conference play with a 10-3 record.

THE ALL-PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

  • Wallace
  • Delon Wright, Utah: Wright’s averaging 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game for the tenth-ranked Utes.
  • Chasson Randle, Stanford: The senior guard is averaging 18.5 points and 2.6 assists per game for the Cardinal.
  • Joseph Young, Oregon: The Pac-12’s leading scorer, Young is ranked in the top ten in the conference in scoring (19.6 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg; 7th in the conference).
  • Stanley Johnson, Arizona: We’ll give this last spot to the most productive player (14.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg; leads team in both) on the league’s best team. But keep an eye on Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson (15.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg), as the conference names ten players to its season-ending team.

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. There’s still plenty of room for growth in Tucson. No. 8 Arizona was seen as the class of the Pac-12 entering the season, and they retain that status as conference play begins. However with that being said, there are strides that need to be made both offensively and defensively if they’re to reach the Final Four for the first time under Sean Miller. The Wildcats could stand to become a more consistent perimeter shooting team, with Gabe York, Stanley Johnson and Elliott Pitts factoring into the equation for a team that ranks fourth in the conference in three-point shooting (37.4%).

Also, while good this group isn’t as stout defensively as they were last season with Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon in the fold. In their lone defeat Arizona was attacked relentlessly by UNLV in isolation sets that got Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood opportunities in one-on-one situations, and the Runnin’ Rebels were successful. That area needs to be tightened up moving forward.

2. Washington’s Robert Upshaw is one of the most impactful transfers in the country. What a difference a change of scenery has made for Upshaw, who has been the interior presence the 21st-ranked Huskies lacked a season ago. The former Fresno State big man is averaging 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and a Pac-12 best 4.6 blocks per game, and his presence allows Lorenzo Romar’s guards apply more pressure on the perimeter. Of course, Washington’s improved depth in the paint has been a factor in their 11-1 start, with Shawn Kemp Jr. playing better basketball and Jernard Jarreau back from a torn ACL. But the addition of Upshaw has had the greatest impact on Washington thus far.

3. Utah is every bit the contender they were expected to be entering the season. Larry Krystkowiak’s tenth-ranked Utes are off to an 10-2 start, and that’s with Jordan Loveridge playing in just five of those games due to a knee injury. Senior point guard Delon Wright has impacted games in a variety of ways this season, and a crop of newcomers led by freshman 7-footer Jakob Poeltl has contributed as well. Now that Loveridge is healthy Utah is at full strength heading into Pac-12 play, and they’re the greatest threat to Arizona when it comes to winning the conference title.

THREE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. UCLA’s attempt to overcome a serious lack of depth. Losing Jonah Bolden before the season began really hurt the Bruins, who don’t have a great amount of depth as a result. Seldom-used Wanaah Bail is academically ineligible for the remainder of the season, but the fact that freshmen Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Goloman need a lot of time to develop puts even more on the shoulders of Kevon Looney and Tony Parker inside. UCLA has more options on the perimeter, but they have to figure out a way in which Bryce Alford, Norman Powell and Isaac Hamilton enjoy a more even distribution of the shot attempts.

2. Whether or not anyone join Arizona/Utah/Washington in the Pac-12 race. There’s certainly room for another team or two to join the mix, but the question is which team(s) is best equipped to do so. Stanford relies on the experienced perimeter tandem of Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown, and Stefan Nastic has been improved in the middle. But how will they account for the loss of freshman Reid Travis? Like UCLA, California has depth issues especially as long as Jabari Bird remains sidelined. And Oregon’s been the best offensive team in the Pac-12 thus far, but the development of 6-foot-10 forward Michael Chandler is something to keep track of due to their lack of interior depth.

3. Colorado looking to rebound from what’s been a disappointing start. The Buffaloes were expected to be one of those teams in the “who can best challenge Arizona” discussion, but things haven’t worked out that way thus far. The main players in the rotation, led by guard Askia Booker and forwards Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott, have plenty of experience playing but for some reason things haven’t clicked in Boulder. Can Colorado find the level of consistency needed to make another trip to the NCAA tournament?

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. Five Pac-12 teams get into the NCAA tournament. Right now four teams (Arizona, Utah, Washington and Stanford) would be considered locks for the 68-team field, but who joins them? UCLA, Oregon, California and even Colorado have the talent needed to make a run in conference play and earn a bid. According to RPI Forecast, Cal currently has three Top 50 wins, with the other three teams having two apiece.

2. The Freshman of the Year race is more entertaining than many expected it to be. We’ve already seen some of this in non-conference play, with Utah’s Jakob Poeltl emerging as one of the league’s top freshmen. He’ll be part of a race that many conceded to Stanley Johnson before the season began, with Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, UCLA’s Kevon Looney and USC’s Jordan McLaughlin all players who should find themselves on the league’s all-freshman team come March.

3. Arizona wins the Pac-12, with Utah coming in second and Stanford third. Not making any waves with that prediction, as the Wildcats were picked to win the league back in late October. And while Washington’s off to an excellent start, look for the Cardinal to slip past them by the end of the season.

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

  • NCAA: Arizona, Utah, Stanford, Washington, Oregon
  • NIT: UCLA, California, Colorado, Arizona State
  • OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: Oregon State, USC, Washington State

Mountain West Midseason Catchup: No. 24 Colorado State leads what will be an entertaining race

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J.J. Avila and the Rams are off to the best start in school history (Getty Images)

College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

MORE: All of CBT’s Conference Catchups

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Mountain West.

MIDSEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: J.J. Avila, Colorado State

Avila (14.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.2 apg) currently leads CSU in points and rebounds and is second on the team in assists. He’s ranked in the top ten in the Mountain West in each of those categories while also shooting 54.8% from the field. There have been a lot of good performers in the conference thus far, but his all-around impact wins Avila this designation.

THE ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM

  • Avila
  • Derrick Marks, Boise State: Averaging 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, the senior guard is also shooting 52.3% from the field and 58.1% from beyond the arc.
  • Deshawn Delaney, New Mexico: Delaney (14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) ranks in the top ten in both scoring and rebounding, and he’s also shooting nearly 54 percent from the field.
  • Christian Wood, UNLV: Vaughn may be the team’s leading scorer, but Wood (14.6 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.2 bpg) is the lone player in the Mountain West averaging a double-double.
  • Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: The preseason pick to win league POY is averaging 14.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field.

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. Colorado State deserved more preseason respect than they received from many pundits. While some had a good idea of what Larry Eustachy’s transfer-laden group was capable of, they were picked to finish fifth in the preseason media poll (NBCSports.com picked them to finish second). Thus far it’s been thirteen up, thirteen down for the undefeated Rams who are off to the best start in school history. Seniors Daniel Bejarano and J.J. Avila have been good leaders for this group, and newcomers such as Gian Clavell, Stanton Kidd and John Gillon have contributed as well. The question now is whether or not this group can win the program’s first regular season conference title since 1990, and they’ve shown themselves capable of doing so in non-conference play.

2. San Diego State’s still searching for solutions offensively. While the focus of many has been the Aztecs’ struggles shooting the basketball, their issues on the offensive end of the floor begin with the caliber of shots they’re finding. Obviously accounting for the loss of Xavier Thames wasn’t going to be easy, but thus far the pick and roll game that was so successful last season hasn’t been as effective in 2014-15. What also hasn’t helped San Diego State are their health issues, with Dwayne Polee II now out of the lineup indefinitely and Aqeel Quinn, Matt Shrigley and Malik Pope all having missed time themselves (and Zylan Cheatham looking likely to redshirt). The good news for SDSU is that they still defend at a high level, and that will keep them in the Mountain West race.

3. Larry Nance Jr. is back to full strength for an entertaining Wyoming squad. Nance, who tore his ACL in mid-February, was the preseason pick to win Mountain West POY but there were questions as to whether or not he would hit the ground running for the Cowboys. Averaging 14.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game he’s been good and so have the Cowboys, who enter conference play with an 11-2 record. For too often people associate “entertaining” basketball with a high tempo, but Wyoming doesn’t run and with high-flyers Nance and Josh Adams they’re incredibly fun to watch. They’ve been more efficient on both ends of the floor than they were last season, and Wyoming also ranks fourth nationally in two-point field goal percentage (58.4%).

THREE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. The growth of UNLV’s underclassmen. Freshman Rashad Vaughn and sophomore Christian Wood have played well for Dave Rice’s team, with Vaughn leading the Mountain West in scoring (18.1 ppg) and Wood (10.0) being the lone player in the league averaging double-digit rebounds per game. But they aren’t the only youngsters to keep an eye on in conference play, as freshmen Patrick McCaw and Jordan Cornish have also contributed. The growth of these players will determine just how well the Runnin’ Rebels finish in the Mountain West.

2. Anthony Drmic’s back and Derrick Marks’ production at Boise State. Drmic hasn’t played since Boise State’s win over Saint Mary’s on December 6 because of a back injury, but the Broncos are off to a 10-3 start thanks in large part to the play of Marks. Averaging 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, Marks is playing the most consistent (and efficient) basketball of his Boise State career. Both missed Boise State’s 48-45 loss to Loyola (IL) two days before Christmas, with Marks nursing a sprained ankle. When will Drmic return? And can he and Marks lead the way for a group expected to contend once back on the court?

UPDATE: Drmic will undergo season-ending surgery on his ankle according to Dave Southorn of the Idaho Statesman.

3. Will Cullen Neal be able to return for New Mexico? Neal suffered a badly sprained ankle during the Puerto Rico Tipoff in mid-November and hasn’t played since, with head coach Craig Neal (also his father for those who somehow didn’t know) stating that a medical redshirt was possible. Neal’s injury was one of many for the Lobos during non-conference play, but despite those personnel issues they went 8-4 thanks in large part to improved play on the defensive end. If Neal can’t return Hugh Greenwood, who was supposed to spend the majority of his time off the ball this season, runs the show and fellow senior Deshawn Delaney will need to continue to score as he has for most of non-conference play.

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. Colorado State will win the Mountain West. For as well as the Rams have played offensively, with the newcomers giving Avila and Bejarano the consistent help they didn’t have last season, there’s still room for growth defensively. Look for the Rams to get the job done and win their first regular season conference title in 25 years.

2. Utah State manages to finish .500 (or better) in league play. With Fresno State performing as they have (and Cezar Guerrero proving to be even more valuable than imagined in his absence), there’s room for a team picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference to make a run at a 9-9 (or better) league record. Give me the Aggies, with Jalen Moore (15.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) being the Mountain West’s most improved player and freshman David Collette (58.8% FG) averaging 14.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

3. The Mountain West gets three NCAA tournament bids. Colorado State and, offensive struggles aside, San Diego State should hear their names called Selection Sunday. But who else gets in? Boise State, UNLV and Wyoming will all look to strengthen their respective cases in the next two-plus months, and it may come down to which team performs best in the conference tournament in Las Vegas.

POSTSEASON

  • NCAA: Colorado State, San Diego State, Wyoming
  • NIT: UNLV, New Mexico
  • OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: Boise State, Utah State, Air Force, Fresno State, Nevada, San Jose State (Spartans are ineligible for postseason play)

New Year’s Resolutions: Kentucky Wildcats

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Tyler Ulis (Getty Images)

Conference play is right around the corner, so 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 should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.

MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

KENTUCKY PROMISES TO: Give Tyler Ulis the major minutes at point guard.

  • It will happen because: Tyler Ulis is the best point guard on the Kentucky roster. We’ve been talking about this since the preseason, and while Andrew Harrison has remained in a starting role for the Wildcats, it became plainly evident in Saturday’s win over Louisville who the real star of this back court is. Ulis was calm and collected, creating shots for his teammates, protecting the ball and hitting open shots. Harrison? He was 1-for-6 from the floor, had six turnovers and sulked his way through the final 20 minutes.
  • It won’t happen because: We all saw just how poor Harrison’s body language was Saturday, and that was simply a result of getting outplayed by Ulis. What happens if he loses his starting spot to the 5-foot-10 freshman? There are only two point guards on this Kentucky roster, so John Calipari canot afford to “lose” one of them. If that means sacrificing a couple of minutes and a starting spot to Harrison in games UK is going to win easily anyway, than it may be the best option for his team.

KENTUCKY ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Overlook any opponent, particularly in road games.

  • It will happen because: The SEC may not be all that strong this season, but even the worst teams in the league are better than the likes of Buffalo and Boston U. There’s an air of excitement about league play, and with the possibility of an undefeated season looking better and better, each game will carry with it just that much more importance. And without any marquee league matchups, there are fewer trap games — Kentucky won’t be overlooking Columbia because they have UNC, UCLA and Louisville afterwards.
  • It won’t happen because: If Kentucky does roll through the SEC, do they end up getting bored? What happens when they win five straight SEC games by 20 points and then visit a good Georgia team for a game in front of a half-empty arena three days before they host Florida? Every team in the country is good for a snoozer or two, at least, in conference play, and there’s an argument to make that Kentucky’s strength actually makes them more susceptible. Whether or not that costs them a win is a different story.

WCC Midseason Catchup: No. 8 Gonzaga leads the way

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Kevin Pangos and the Bulldogs are off to an 11-1 start (Getty Images)

College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

MORE: All of CBT’s Conference Catchups

Today we’ll be taking a look at the WCC, with conference play set to begin Saturday.

MIDSEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Haws, BYU

The 10-3 Cougars have four players averaging double figures, with one of the nation’s best scorers in Haws leading the way. Averaging 22.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, Haws is shooting 48.6% from the field, 41 percent from three and 88.6% from the foul line.

THE ALL-WCC FIRST TEAM

  • Tyler Haws, BYU
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Few transfers in America have been as productive as Wiltjer (16.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) has been for the Bulldogs.
  • Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: Waldow’s averaging 21.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, shooting 55.5% from the field.
  • Stacy Davis, Pepperdine: Davis (16.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.2 apg) is a big reason why the Waves are off to a 7-3 start.
  • Kyle Collinsworth, BYU: Averaging 14.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, Collinsworth is the WCC’s most versatile player.

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. Gonzaga should be respected as a Final Four contender. Mark Few’s Bulldogs are ranked eighth nationally with an 11-1 record, with their lone defeat coming in overtime at No. 3 Arizona. Gonzaga’s front court, which features Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis, has been very good and the addition of Byron Wesley on the wing has helped as well. Add in senior Kevin Pangos, and the Bulldogs enter league play with five players averaging at least ten points per game.

2. Anson Winder’s been an impact reserve for BYU. To this point in the season Winder has been the most improved player in the WCC, as he’s gone from averaging 6.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in 2013-14 to 14.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest for the Cougars. And after reaching double figures in ten games last season, Winder’s already done so in 11 of BYU’s 12 games in 2014-15. Haws and Collinsworth are going to do the “heavy lifting” for BYU offensively, but the production of Winder and Chase Fischer (13.7 ppg) has been important for Dave Rose’s squad.

3. Offensive balance will continue to be key for Portland. Eric Reveno’s Pilots are off to a 9-3 start to the season, and one reason for the start has been their balance. Four starters, led by guards Alec Wintering (11.7 ppg) and Kevin Bailey (11.5), are averaging at least 10.2 points per game. However Bailey’s missed time with a left foot injury, and it remains to be seen just how long the Pilots will play without their sixth man. Until then, freshman D’Marques Tyson (8.3 ppg) will be asked to step forward in his reserve role.

THREE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

source:
BYU guard Tyler Haws (Getty Images)

1. Gonzaga’s point guard depth. With Josh Perkins (broken jaw) out since late November and possibly redshirting, Pangos has spent even more time on the ball. With his experience having Pangos run the show is no problem at all, but who steps forward to give him a rest or allow Pangos to look for his offense off the ball on occasion? One thing to keep in mind here is the addition of Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan, who becomes eligible in early January. In 12 games at Vanderbilt last season, McClellan averaged 14.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.

2. The development of BYU’s front court. This became even more important when Nate Austin went down with a torn hamstring, thus leaving the Cougars without much in the way of experience in the paint. Players such as Luke Worthington, Isaac Neilson and Corbin Kaufusi have been asked to step forward, and they’ve all had their moments in the games since Austin’s injury. Austin’s numbers (3.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) don’t jump off the page but he is BYU’s best big man when it comes to rebounding (Kyle Collinsworth leads all Cougars with 8.1 rpg), so the sooner he returns the better.

3. How many NCAA tournament bids will the WCC receive? Gonzaga’s a lock barring an epic collapse, and BYU looks to be in solid shape as well with their home win over Stanford looking better thanks to the Cardinal winning at Texas. But can the WCC earn more bids? Saint Mary’s has a win at Creighton on its resume, and they’ve also defeated two teams in New Mexico State and UC Irvine that should contend for their respective league titles, but that loss to Northern Arizona doesn’t help matters.

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. Gonzaga loses no more than three conference games for the 17th consecutive season. The Bulldogs will be challenged in conference play, especially on the road with a game at BYU opening things up Saturday. But this is a rather safe prediction to make given their track record. And they’ll once again win the WCC regular season title in the process.

2. Pepperdine will finish in the top half of the WCC. The Waves haven’t shot the ball as well as they would like, ranking eighth in field goal percentage and ninth in three-point percentage. But they’ve been good defensively, which is an important development for a team looking to account for the graduation of WCC Defensive POY Brendan Lane. Look for Stacy Davis and company to finish higher than seventh, which is what the league coaches predicted in October.

3. The WCC gets two NCAA tournament bids. While the story line to follow leaves open the door for Saint Mary’s, two bids seems likely for the WCC with Gonzaga and BYU being the recipients. Will Gonzaga have a shot at earning a one-seed for the second time in program history? By the time we get to late February, that may be the biggest NCAA tournament-related question for the WCC.

The top 15 most improved players in college basketball

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Ty Wallace (AP Photo)

 MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

Ty Wallace, Cal: I’m firmly entrenched on the Ty Wallace bandwagon, having said repeatedly that there is no player in the country as underrated as Cal’s star point guard. Look at this stat line: 19.3 points, 8.8 boards, 4.2 assists and 46.9 percent shooting from three.

Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson’s emergence into Virginia’s leading scorer has been the biggest surprise of the season for me. Always known as a great athlete and teammate, Anderson is now averaging 15.1 points and shooting 60.0 percent from three. He’s not a go-to guy, but he’s been Tony Bennett’s most valuable weapon thus far.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is starting to live up to his potential this season, becoming the nation’s most versatile defender while anchoring on college basketball’s best defense. A 7-foot-1 center, he can switch ball-screens and has been tasked with stopping an opponent’s best wing scorer at times this season.

source: Getty Images
Robert Upshaw (Getty Images)

Robert Upshaw, Washington: Washington’s emergence as a top three team in the Pac-12 can almost entirely be credited to Upshaw, who has become the nation’s premiere shot-blocking presence. He’s averaging 4.6 blocks in just 20 minutes and has completely changed the way that Washington is able to defend. I’d argue he’s one of the ten most valuable players in the country right now.

Christian Wood, UNLV: Wood is playing like a first round draft pick, averaging 13.9 points, 9.6 boards and 3.0 blocks for the Rebels. He had 24 points and 10 boards in UNLV’s win over No. 3 Arizona on Tuesday night.

Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier has done much of what was expected of him this season. His scoring is up to 16.5 points from 7.0 as a freshman, and while he’s not shooting quite as well from the perimeter this season, his percentages are up overhaul and he’s turned into one of the nation’s best, and most important, secondary options.

Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: Someone had to become a scorer for Syracuse this season, and thus far in the year it’s been the senior big man that’s done it. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 8.7 boards, a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for the Orange.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: Auguste has always had the potential to be a big-time scorer in the paint for the Irish, and he’s finally reaching it this year. Auguste’s averaging 14.8 points through the first month, although it will be interesting to see what happens when the Irish start to play some tougher competition.

Levi Randolph, Alabama: Randolph has become a go-to guy for Alabama as a senior, as he’s now posting some impressive numbers: 16.5 points, 4.9 boards and 3.1 assists for the 8-3 Tide.

Dylan Ennis, Villanova: Who saw this coming from Ennis? He’s Villanova’s leading scorer, their most dangerous three-point shooter and one of the best defenders on the roster.

Stefan Nastic, Stanford: With so much of Stanford’s front line graduating, Nastic’s role has been dramatically increased this year, and it’s paying off. Nastic is averaging 14.5 points and has become one of the better low-post scorers on the west coast.

Justin Moss, Buffalo: As a sophomore, Moss averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 boards playing behind Javon McCrea. As a junior, those numbers have bumped up to 17.3 points and 10.2 boards. Oh, and he did this.

Malcolm Hill, Illinois: Hill started a handful of games as a freshman, but as a sophomore he’s moved into a major role for John Groce. His scoring has bumped up to 12.8 points this year, as the Illini look like they could contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones has developed into the star we expected him to be as a sophomore, averaging 16.5 points and 7.1 boards.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans have been a disappointment through the season’s first month, but Valentine has been terrific. These numbers are nothing to joke about: 14.5 points, 5.5 boards, 4.3 assists, 50.0 percent from three.

New Year’s Resolutions: Arizona Wildcats

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T.J. McConnell (AP Photo)

Conference play is right around the corner, so 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 should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.

MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

ARIZONA PROMISES TO: Get back to defending at the level they did a season ago.

  • It will happen because: Their head coach won’t demand anything lesss, with last year’s group being tops nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (per kenpom.com) and in the top five in both field goal percentage (4th) and effective field goal percentage (2nd). Losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from that team was a big deal, and the Wildcats continue to work to account for those losses defensively. With Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson the Wildcats have two high-level athletes on the wings, and their big men are solid defensively (even though UNLV’s Christian Wood did whatever he wanted Tuesday night). One loss doesn’t mean that it’s time to panic, and overall Arizona has been good defensively, and there’s plenty of time between now and their Pac-12 opener January 4 (against Arizona State) to work out the kinks.
  • It won’t happen because: While Hollis-Jefferson has proven to be one of college basketball’s most versatile defenders, the other pieces have some strides to make if Arizona is to defend at a level similar to that of last season’s team. Gabe York, who this far has given the Wildcats solid contributions offensively, was the player UNLV looked to attack at nearly every opportunity Tuesday night and he still has work to do when it comes to defending. The same can be said for Johnson, and a key for this group moving forward will be center Kaleb Tarczewski avoiding foul trouble. Tarczewski’s committing 3.2 fouls per game this season, and he’s fouled out of three games so far.

ARIZONA ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Continue to have issues at the foul line.

  • It will happen because: Of Arizona’s top six players in free throw attempts just one, Gabe York (77.4%) is shooting better than 70 percent from the charity stripe. That includes point guard T.J. McConnell, who’s made 14 of his 21 attempts and four front court players shooting between 63.6 (Brandon Ashley) and 68.3 (Kaleb Tarczewski) percent from the line. Foul shooting was a problem for Arizona last season as well, and their team free throw percentage has dropped from 65.9 to 64.9 percent.
  • It won’t happen because: The player who attempted the second-most free throws last season was Gordon, who connected on just 76 of his 180 attempts. There’s no such player on this year’s roster, and one would think that Ashley can move closer to the 75.7% he shot before suffering the foot injury that ended his 2013-14 season in early February. And McConnell and Stanley Johnson (66.3%) are both capable of shooting better than they have to this point in the season.