Jigsaw Man provides missing pieces for title teams
Duke Blue Devils need a traditional point guard like Dominique Jones
John Robinson would give Purdue Boilermankers a defensive boost in backcourt
Mouphtao Yarou has not solved frontcourt problems for Villanova Wildcats
Last week, while most people were waiting by their chimneys for a jolly old fat guy, true Hoopheads were hoping their favorite team would get a visit from the Jigsaw Man. Unlike you-know-who, the Jigsaw Man is lean and mean, but his gifts keep on giving right through the Final Four.
Regular visitors to this space know all about the Jigsaw Man. His job is to figure out what is the biggest hole on your favorite team, then scour the nation in search of the perfect piece with which to plug it. The Jigsaw Man is not the master of the obvious. Instead of procuring first team All-Americans, he plucks obscure guys whose talents warrant greater attention.
Having made his list and checked it twice, the Jigsaw Man has once again shored up deficiencies of 12 of the nation's most prominent programs. If your team was among the lucky dozen, there is no need to thank him. Just know that while you were humming Christmas carols around your tree, the Jigsaw Man was in his hoops-addled workshop puzzling away, making sure your holiday dreams came true.
Presenting, the 12 teams of Jigsaw:
Biggest weakness: The Huskies have so little depth, they could use help at any position. Duquesne is the only team in the country that doles out a lower percentage of minutes to its bench. Since UConn just gained the services of 6-11 freshman Ater Majok, the Jigsaw Man will look to fill the remaining hole on the perimeter. This team doesn't need a rock star, just a guitarist with mystique who can shore up their three-point shooting (the Huskies rank last in the Big East in made threes) and tighten up those turnovers (they've committed more turnovers than their opponents this season).
Missing piece: Ben Hansbrough, 6-3 junior guard, Notre Dame. Yes, this is Tyler's younger brother, but he is a much different type of player who is quietly having a terrific season. Hansbrough is a capable scorer (12.9 ppg) whose 50.9% three-point shooting ranks 10th in the U.S. He is also an efficient distributor who is ranked in the top 10 in the U.S. in both assists (4.9 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.56). Hansbrough will help UConn execute in the halfcourt, but he will also flourish alongside Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson on the fast break, where Hansbrough can finish at the rim and spot up for open threes.
Biggest weakness: The Blue Devils were extremely lucky that they were able to get freshman guard Andre Dawkins, who was supposed to be getting ready for his senior year of high school, eligible after Elliott Williams unexpectedly transferred to Memphis last spring. But they are still one injury away from not having a single guard available off the bench, and while they are a stout defensive team they are not pressuring the ball the way they have in the past. (Duke is 11th in the ACC in steals.) Moreover, although Jon Scheyer has been arguably the best player in the ACC so far as a de facto point guard (he is second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio), this team could still use a more traditional and, yes, athletic playmaker who can create his own shot for those late-in-the-shot-clock situations when nothing else is working.
Missing piece: Dominique Jones, 6-4 junior guard, South Florida. Folks in the Big East will tell you that Jones is one of the country's best-kept secrets. Time to give him Duke-esque national TV exposure. Jones is a big scoring guard (18.6 ppg on 39.0% three-point shooting) who is averaging 4.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds. Jones is also ranked fifth in the Big East in steals (2.17), so he will give Mike Krzyzewski the ability to extend his defense. And Jones is doing all of this at a program that went 7-29 in its conference during his first two years. I'm sure he'd be willing to sacrifice a little scoring for a lot of winning.
Biggest weakness: All of those people who said the Gators would be better off without Nick Calathes may now leave the room. Calathes left a lot to be desired in the leadership department, but few guards were better at creating scoring opportunities both for himself and his teammates. Erving Walker, the Gators' jitterbug 5-7 sophomore point guard, is a good player to bring off the bench, but he is far too eager to jack up three-pointers despite converting just 31.3% from behind the arc. As a team, Florida is ranked 11th in the SEC in three-point percentage, yet they have still taken 14 more threes than free throws. This is the best defensive team Billy Donovan has had in a while, but they need a better replacement for Calathes, someone with similar size and flair, and who can lend the backcourt some veteran stability.
Missing piece: Greivis Vasquez, 6-6 senior guard, Maryland. It is unusual that a lower scoring average is evidence of maturity, but that is what is happening this season with Vasquez. He is scoring nearly three points per game fewer than he did as a junior, but he has improved his numbers in a variety of categories, including assists (6.3, sixth in the U.S.), steals (1.7, ranked 7th in the ACC), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.91, which is 6th in the ACC) and three-point percentage (a career-best 34.9%). Vasquez can alternate minutes at the point with Walker, or he can play alongside him. Either way, Vasquez's size makes him the ideal player to spearhead Florida's fullcourt press, and few players are more effective (or fun to watch) in the open floor.
Biggest weakness: Even as junior guard Chris Wright scored a career-high 34 points in the Hoyas' win over Harvard Wednesday night, he still committed four turnovers to just four assists. Wright is playing point guard out of necessity because Georgetown does not have a real point guard, and that really hurts this team at times. The Hoyas are ranked 45th nationally in overall offensive efficiency, they're 226th in turnover percentage, and among Big East teams they're 15th in assist to turnover ratio (0.9) and dead last in total turnovers (15.8). The Hoyas need a sure-handed upperclassman who can set the table for Wright and center Greg Monroe and knock down the occasional jump shot.
Missing piece: Derek Glasser, 6-1 senior guard, Arizona State. I must say, in all the years the Jigsaw Man has undertaken this exotic exercise, he has never found quite so perfect a fit. Not only is Glasser a pure point guard who leads the Pac-10 in assists (5.7) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.74), but he already plays in Herb Sendek's Princeton offense, so playing for John Thompson III will be a seamless transition. Glasser also shoots 47.6% from three-point range and 88.7% from the foul line. The cherry on top is the fact that Glasser is a bona fide M.O.T. As my grandfather used to say, there's nothing wrong with a little extra mazel.
Biggest weakness: I was surprised to learn from kenpom.com that the Wildcats are ranked 147th in the nation in tempo. You might think they're playing at breakneck speed, but in actuality their pace is average. Thus, their 15.9 turnovers per game, the highest average in the SEC, cannot be attributed to a blazing tempo. They have an even larger concern on defense -- and by extension, with their attitude. As talented as these young guys are, they have not bought into the idea that you have to play tough, smart, persistent D to be a great team. Since they are already one of the best shot-blocking and rebounding teams in the country, the place where Kentucky needs an infusion is the backcourt. They need someone who can lock down his man, take care of the ball and provide some leadership in the locker room.
Missing piece: J.T. Tiller, 6-3 senior guard, Missouri. The Jigsaw Man developed his man-crush on Tiller after I named him captain of my All-Glue team last year. As a senior, Tiller will give the Cats the maturity push they need to get over the championship threshold. Not surprisingly, Tiller's stats won't blow you away (9.9 points, 3.1 assists, 2.6 rebounds), but just watch him sometime. Besides being a hellacious defender, Tiller is a terrific student who as the son of a military dad will give John Calipari's backcourt the tough, snarly, defensive-minded persona it lacks.
Biggest weakness: Count me among the many who underestimated how much of a step back the Spartans would take at the center position from last year. Not only did they lose Goran Suton, who was a critical part of their Final Four run, but they also lost his two backups, Marquis Gray and Idong Ibok -- and all three were fifth-year seniors. I'm sure Tom Izzo is concerned with his team's carelessness with the ball, but at least the Spartans have the personnel to address those deficiencies. When your starting center is a 6-6 sophomore (Draymond Green) whose backup (Derrick Nix) is a 10.7% foul shooter, what you really need is a big, bad center to erase everybody's mistakes.
Missing piece: Omar Samhan, 6-11 senior center, Saint Mary's. Samhan has never gotten enough credit for the Gaels' success, but now that uber Aussie Patty Mills is gone, it's time we let the big fella strut his stuff. At the very least, Samhan would make Izzo's legendary war drill (where he throws up the ball and tells the 10 guys on the floor to go get it) great viewing. Samhan is sixth in the U.S. in rebounding (11.5 average) and he has already grabbed 15 or more boards in four different games. On top of that, he leads the West Coast Conference in scoring (20.8) and field goal percentage (57.9%) and he is second in blocks (1.67). If that's not a Tom Izzo player, I don't know what is.
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