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Posted: Monday December 28, 2009 1:09PM; Updated: Monday December 28, 2009 1:52PM
Seth Davis
Seth Davis>HOOP THOUGHTS

Jigsaw Man provides missing pieces for title teams (cont.)

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North Carolina

Al Nolen
North Carolina could use a defender and distriubtor like Minnesota's Al Nolen to aid its quest for a third straight Final Four appearance.
Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated

Biggest weakness: We know the Tar Heels are loaded up front and suspect in the backcourt, but finding the exact right piece is, well, puzzling to the Jigsaw Man. Sophomore point guard Larry Drew II has been surprisingly adept piloting the offense, but his defense leaves much to be desired, which partly explains why the Heels are ranked 10th in the ACC in three-point defense (33.9%). Freshman Dexter Strickland is fast improving, but he has nearly as many turnovers as assists. Senior forward Marcus Ginyard is an excellent perimeter defender who has raised his three-point shooting to 46.9%, but he is a catch-and-shoot guy, not a creator. What North Carolina needs is a jack-of-all trades, someone who can make open shots, set up his teammates and shut down the opponent's best perimeter player.

Missing piece: Al Nolen, 6-1 junior guard, Minnesota. This Minneapolis native will bring a blue-collar attitude to North Carolina's glitzy young squad. Nolen is only averaging 6.4 points per game, so he won't come in looking to score, but his 42.1% clip from three-point range (up from 29.4% last year) will force defenses to worry about him. More important, offenses will have to worry about him, too. Nolen is ranked 11th in the nation in steals (2.75), and besides contributing 4.9 assists per game for the walk-it-up Gophers, he is 10th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Purdue

Biggest weakness: The Boilermakers are ranked 114th nationally in tempo, but all you have to do is watch them to know they have trouble speeding up the game. That's the result of the potentially season-ending injury that sophomore point guard Lewis Jackson suffered in the preseason. Jackson is a little spotty when it comes to running Purdue's halfcourt offense, but he is a jet with the ball, and his absence has drastically cut down the Boilermakers' ability to get easy baskets. It has also left them with no true point guard. But you can't just plug any point guard into this program. It has to be someone who can buy into Purdue's identity, which is built around defense and toughness.

Missing piece: John Roberson, 5-11 junior guard, Texas Tech. Pat Knight will be justifiably angry at the Jigsaw Man for pilfering his best player, but instead of helping Texas Tech fight for an NCAA tournament bid, Roberson would be better-served leading Purdue to the Final Four in nearby Indianapolis. Roberson may not be the tallest cat in the gym, but he is plenty wide and smart, and he excels at both ends of the floor. Besides scoring 14.5 points per game on 38.8% three-point shooting, Roberson leads the Big 12 in assists (5.8), and he is in the top 10 in that conference in steals (5th, 1.91), assist-to-turnover ratio (8th, 2.29) and free throw percentage (8th, 81.1%). I'd pay just to watch him and Chris Kramer go at it in practice.

St. John's

Biggest weakness: Now that this program finally has a few guards who can knock down outside shots, it figures they have absolutely no size inside to complement it. This will leave the Johnnies literally defenseless against the best post players in the Big East. Even if they get their best frontline defender, Justin Burrell, back from his high ankle sprain this week, he is still a 6-8 power forward. What St. John's needs is a nice big tree to guide them through the forest, someone who can alter shots at the defensive end and make everyone better on offense by stepping away from the post and firing smart passes.

Missing piece: Jeff Foote, 7-foot senior center, Cornell. At the very least, putting Foote on the Red Storm's roster ensures they'll never have to play against him. Foote absolutely carved up St. John's in Madison Square Garden last week, when he had 19 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks in the Big Red's 71-66 victory. Foote is stronger than he looks, and besides adding 14.0 points (on 57.6% shooting) and 9.5 rebounds per game, his 2.3 assists average would currently rank second on the Red Storm.

Texas

Biggest weakness: You can make a strong case that this is the best team in the country, so to the rest of the nation, the idea of helping the Longhorns is decidedly uncharitable. Yet, the Jigsaw Man can't help but wince when he sees Texas struggle in its halfcourt offense and at the free throw line. The Longhorns have no knockdown shooter to replace the graduated A.J. Abrams. They are ranked 11th in the Big 12 in three-point shooting (35.8%) and they are 303rd nationally in foul shooting (62.5%). With a surfeit of dribble penetrators and swarming defenders, all the Longhorns need is someone who can knock down open shots off handoffs and ball reversals, and who Rick Barnes can turn to at the end of games for his ability to convert free throws.

Missing piece: Rotnei Clarke, 6-foot sophomore guard, Arkansas. Clarke is arguably the most deadly long-range shooter in the country. It's a shame he's languishing at a program that probably won't make the NCAA tournament. He'll be a folk hero in Austin, though, thanks to his 54.4% clip from three-point range (second in the nation) and his career 87.2% free throw percentage. Clarke will have to sacrifice his playing time and scoring average, which at 19.8 ppg currently leads the SEC, but I'm guessing he'll gladly take a more subordinate role for a chance to win a title.

Villanova

Biggest weakness: You don't have to have the Jigsaw Man's discerning eye to know that Nova, as usual, has a big, gaping hole in the middle. That was apparent during the Wildcats' only loss of the season, when they got out-rebounded by eight at Temple. This was supposed to be the year that hole got plugged, but freshman center Mouphtao Yarou was unexpectedly sidelined (probably for the season) after he was diagnosed with Hepatitis B. This team has a greater need for a guy who can score in the post than in past years because Nova's guards are inconsistent outside shooters.

Missing piece: Trevor Booker, 6-7 senior forward, Clemson. Booker is a load down low, and since he already plays in a program that loves to run and press, he should have no problem keeping up with Scottie Reynolds and company. Booker is a rugged lefty who is fifth in the ACC in rebounding (9.0) while also contributing 15.0 points and 2.5 assists. Morevoer, he will give Villanova some much-needed high-percentage shots. Booker's 53.8% field goal shooting is ranked eighth in the ACC, while Villanova's 45.0% clip is 10th in the Big East.

Washington

Biggest weakness: This is one of those cases where a team's strengths and weaknesses have flip-flopped from preseason expectations. The Huskies were supposed to be suspect inside, but they are ranked 5th in the nation in rebound margin. They are also a very good perimeter defensive team, ranking 19th nationally in defensive field goal percentage (28.0%). But whereas you'd think this team would have no problem dialing it in from long-distance, they are 8th in the Pac 10 in threes made (4.9) and 9th in three-point percentage (31.6%). They need another guard who likes to run, play D and knock down threes.

Missing piece: Ramon Martinez, 6-6 senior forward, New Mexico. Martinez is a crafty lefty whose excellence in all phases of the game has helped the Lobos become one of the biggest surprises of the season. He makes a ridiculously high percentage of his threes (48.3%) and is still a solid defender, ranking in the top 10 in the Mountain West in both rebounds (7.8) and steals (1.46). The Mountain West league may get more teams into the NCAA tournament than the Pac-10, but Martinez will still get a lot more exposure playing for a first-place team in a power conference. The Jigsaw Man believes he is ready for his close-up.

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