Ah, Christmas. It's the best time of the year, and by far the most festive. The kids have already sent in their lists for Santa, and the big holiday is just a few days away. But little kids and adolescents aren't the only ones allowed to get involved in the wish list frenzy.
The non-conference portion of the college basketball season is almost over, and the meat of the season is nearing its arrival. With that in mind, several teams looking to make the NCAA Tournament and others looking to make a deep run in the Big Dance need some help. What would they ask Santa for if they could?
The Longhorns were expected to be one of the top teams in the country throughout the season, but back-to-back blowout losses to Duke and Tennessee have set them back. They have one of the best point guards in the country (Daniel Gibson), a matchup nightmare at small forward (P.J. Tucker), and one of the best post tandems around (Brad Buckman and LaMarcus Aldridge). However, they don't have a consistent wing scorer that can create his own shot and provide solid production from the perimeter. So far this season, Kenton Paulino and A.J. Abrams have attempted to play the second guard spot. Paulino is shooting 28% from beyond the arc, while Abrams is shooting 37% from the field and turns the ball over far too often. Neither of them is good enough offensively to take attention away from the star quartet that Texas has.
Coming into the season, the Demon Deacons had no true point guard. However, most thought that Justin Gray could just slide from his shooting guard position over to the lead guard role and everything would be fine. Wrong. For the first four games, Gray played the point, and had 29 turnovers (7.25 per game), including two ten-turnover performances. Coach Skip Prosser then moved freshman Harvey Hale into the lineup at the point and put Gray back to his old two-guard role. Wake Forest is 5-1 since that move, but they still don't seem complete. Even though Hale doesn't turn the ball over much, he isn't much of a playmaker. He has only 26 points and 13 assists in the six starts (and only 11 turnovers). In the ACC, you need a dynamic point guard to be successful.
During last season's run to the Elite Eight, everyone fell in love with the Mountaineers because of their ability to shoot the three. The main receiver of this affection was 6-11 center Kevin Pittsnogle, who shot lights-out in last year's tourney. However, that is the main problem affecting the team this season: they don't have a solid post scorer and defender. Pittsnogle is an excellent long-range shooter, but he does not provide a true offensive option down low. In addition, he is not a very good defender. WVU has wings and shooters all over the court, but no legit man in the paint. Rob Summers is the closest thing they have to a post player, but he is averaging all of 6.3 minutes per game. They need to develop someone down low who can score and defend consistently.
North Carolina State
The Wolfpack's perimeter-based, Princeton-style offense makes them a nightmare to prepare for, but the lack of players that can create their own shot hinders them greatly. No matter what offense a team runs, they need a go-to scorer that can take the ball and go one-on-one with the game on the line. Last season, NC State had Julius Hodge, but he is now wasting away on the Denver Nuggets bench, and no one else has really filled his go-to-guy role. Gavin Grant has come the closest, but he has not been able to do it consistently, and he turns the ball over too much. Cameron Bennerman has the athleticism to take over the job, but he doesn't seem to embrace it. If the Wolfpack develop a go-to player that can create his own shot when the offense breaks down, they will pick up a few extra wins.
The Wildcats are one of the best teams in the country, but they won't win the national championship with the type of production they have been getting from the post players. Nova plays four guards, and they have the best all-around backcourt in the country. However, to win a title, you need balance between the perimeter and the paint. The two primary post players for the Wildcats, Jason Fraser and Will Sheridan, combine to average 8.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. One of those two needs to step up and become a force down low if the Cats have legit thoughts about making it to Indianapolis. Look at the other top teams in the country: Duke has Shelden Williams, Connecticut has Josh Boone, Gonzaga has J.P. Batista, Michigan State has Paul Davis, etc. Villanova will have trouble beating those teams down he road without a go-to post player. Even though they beat a bigger and stronger Oklahoma team, it's tough to envision them doing that consistently.
Yes, the Blue Devils are #1 or #2 in the country, depending on who you ask. However, they aren't perfect. Well, other than their 10-0 record. J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams are the best inside-outside combo in the country, combining for 44.4 points per game, but they are sometimes forced to do too much. Duke needs a consistent third scorer in order to win a national championship. In most of the Blue Devils' wins this season, Redick and Williams have shouldered the load and carried the team. Both can takeover a game but would have a lot of their pressure relieved if a third scorer was found. Against Texas, Redick and Williams combined for 64 of the team's 97 points. They won't be able to do that every game, though. Sean Dockery has shown glimpses of scoring ability, as has Josh McRoberts, but until they become more consistent, this team won't win a national title.
Coming into this season, many people were high on the Cyclones because of their backcourt. However, they had absolutely no proven low post scorer that could take the pressure off the perimeter players. Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock have been one of the best backcourt duos in the country, while Rahshon Clark has been an excellent inside-outside threat at forward. They still don't have much going on in the paint, though. Freshman Shawn Taggart has been the best post player on the team, but he leads the team in fouls per minute. That hinders his ability to play extended minutes. Ross Marsden and Jiri Hubalek don't add much offensive game on the low block. If Taggart doesn't cut down on the fouls and ISU doesn't find a consistent post scorer, the Cyclones will remain on the bubble the entire season.
The Bruins have looked like one of the best teams in the Pac-10, likely number two behind Washington so far. However, they are not going to make noise in the NCAA Tournament if they do not find some post scoring. Jordan Farmar and Aaron Afflalo form one of the best backcourts in the nation, while Cedric Bozeman is a versatile player that can play four positions. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been solid at the power forward spot, but he isn't much of a legit scorer. UCLA has three players that have had their turn at the center position, but none have panned out. Michael Fey has played 14 minutes in the past five games after having a solid season last year; Ryan Hollins has 3 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 fouls in the past three games, that doesn't cut it; and Lorenzo Mata isn't much of a scorer. The perimeter is phenomenal, but the Bruins need some consistent production from the block.
The Wildcats have some of the best perimeter talent and depth in the country. However, no one in their guard group can hit three-pointers on a consistent basis. Their best long-range shooter on the team is power forward Ivan Radenovic. As good as that is for him, it does not bode well for the wings and guards of Arizona. Freshman wing Marcus Williams is hitting 43% percent of his threes but has only attempted seven of them. Aside from him, the next-best shooter is Chris Rodgers at 33%. All the guards on the team are athletic players that can take it to the basket, but there are going to be times when three's are necessary. The Wildcats need someone to be able to step up and knock down the long-range bomb.
Going into the season, everyone saw this coming. The Crimson Tide have one of the best interior duos in the country in Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson and another stud post player coming off the bench in freshman Richard Hendrix. However, other than point guard Ronald Steele, no proven perimeter players are on the roster. None of the wings that get significant playing time for Bama are dynamic scorers who can take the pressure off of Davis and Davidson. Even Steele isn't much of a point producer. Justin Jonus is an excellent three-point shooter; Alonzo Gee is a solid guy that can get some baskets and rebound; and Jean Felix is tremendously inconsistent shooting the ball (31% from the field). None of the aforementioned three players generate much attention from the defense, leaving Davis and Davidson double-teamed all day. Someone needs to step up.