Jigsaw Man completes team puzzles (cont.)
Biggest weakness: The Jigsaw Man knew the Wildcats would miss graduated point guard Denis Clemente, but he never imagined they would miss him this much. Besides cranking up the Wildcats' transition game with his ability to push the ball, Clemente was a reliable scorer (16.6 ppg, second-best on the team), setup man (4.2 assists) and free throw shooter (74.4 percent). His ability to run the team enabled Jacob Pullen to play off screens and be a catch-and-shoot player. Pullen's three-point percentage didn't drop from 39.6 last season to 32.7 this year because he forgot how to shoot. He is simply not getting the same quality looks.
Missing piece: Norris Cole, 6-2 senior guard, Cleveland State. Cole is a jet of a point guard who can score in bunches while hounding the other team's point on defense. Pullen will love playing with him. Cole currently leads the Horizon League in scoring (20.1), assists (5.1) and steals (2.38). He is also making 83.6 percent of his free throws, an area where Kansas State has been epically bad all season.
Biggest weakness: The Jigsaw Man isn't quite sure how Rick Pitino has the Cards where they are, but he knows how much better they would be if they didn't suffer injuries to their two best forwards. Jared Swopshire, a 6-8 junior, is lost for the season because of a groin injury, and 6-7 sophomore Rakeem Buckles has missed the last seven games because of a hand injury. Not surprisingly, this has hurt Louisville on the glass. The Cardinals rank 12th in the Big East in rebound margin and 78th nationally in offensive rebound percentage. They need some help inside, but it should come from a player who is mobile enough to play free safety in their fullcourt press. This player should be able to score around the basket, but the last thing the Cardinals need is another guy looking to jack up a bunch of threes.
Missing piece: Ryan Rossiter, 6-9 senior forward, Siena. If you spotted Rossiter walking through an airport, you'd never guess he was the nation's second-leading rebounder. He's not overly tall and he only weighs 235 pounds, but his timing and positioning ability make him devastatingly effective on the glass. Besides his 13 rebounds a game, Rossiter is also averaging 19.2 points and makes 51 percent of his shots. He does most of his work in the paint, having made just three three-pointers during his entire career. Rossiter also converts 73.9 percent from the foul line, which can only help a team that ranks 12th in the Big East in that department (66.8 percent).
Biggest deficiency: If it's hard for The Jigsaw Man to watch the Terps lose games while Jordan Williams proves himself to be one of the best big men in America, imagine how aggravating it is for Gary Williams. The 6-10 sophomore is the nation's third-leading rebounder at 12.1 per game, and he's also fifth in the ACC in scoring (17.6) and first in field-goal percentage (55.3). Maryland's guards simply cannot put the biscuit in the basket. The Terps rank last in the ACC in both threes made per game (4.5) and free-throw percentage (63.3). With Greivis Vasquez now playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, the Terps need a guard who can do everything -- most of all score. And since he's replacing Vasquez, he should do it with some flair.
Missing piece: Mickey McConnell, 6-foot senior guard, Saint Mary's. McConnell is going to be Gary Williams' favorite new toy. Just wind him up and watch him go. McConnell is averaging a career-best 14.6 points per game and his percentages are off the charts: 51.4 from the floor, 89.8 from the foul line, 46.7 from three-point range. Remarkably, he is putting up such huge numbers while also leading the West Coast Conference in both assists (6.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.93). Having played three years with 6-11 center Omar Samhan, McConnell has also shown he is adept at feeding the post. Williams -- both Jordan and Gary -- will be sending The Jigsaw Man turtle-shaped chocolates for the rest of his life for having delivered such a perfect fit.
Biggest weakness: If you were coaching a team against Missouri, how would you attack them? By slowing them down, of course. The Tigers are at their best when they're on the run, but when they have to execute in the halfcourt their weaknesses start to show. They're not bad on the boards, but they're not great, either. (Mizzou is ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rebound margin, and they're 123rd nationally in offensive-rebound percentage.) Juco transfer Ricardo Ratliffe has given this team some nice muscle inside (11.8 points, 7.0 rebounds per game), but The Jigsaw Man is greedy. He understands that this team could really use another big man who can give them more pop in the post on both sides of the floor.
Missing piece: Nikola Vucevic, 6-10 junior forward, USC. The Jigsaw Man is tired of seeing Vucevic toil in obscurity. Last year, the Trojans couldn't go to the NCAA tournament because of a postseason ban. This year they won't go because they're not good enough. So Vucevic is going to have to head to the great midwest to get his love. He currently ranks first in the Pac-10 in rebounding (10.0), fifth in scoring (6.1), third in blocks (1.3) and eighth in field-goal percentage (48.9). On top of all this Vucevic has made 17 three-pointers this season and is converting 34.7 percent from behind the arc. The Jigsaw Man loves to imagine Vucevic grabbing an offensive rebound, pitching the ball out to one of Missouri's blazing guards, and then knocking down a three-point shot as a trailer on the break.
Biggest weakness: The Tar Heels are not getting great production from the point guard position, to put it mildly. Part of the problem is that the fellas their point guards are dishing off to are not knocking down shots. Just one player, sophomore Leslie McDonald, is making better than 40 percent from three-point range, and as a team the Heels are ranked 11th in the ACC in three-point percentage. They're also committing more than 14 turnovers per game. What this team need is a bona fide do-it-all lead guard -- a points guard as well as a point guard. More than points and assists, however, this player should bring some swagger. Lord knows this team could use a jolt of confidence.
Missing piece: Tu Holloway, 6-foot junior guard, Xavier. You think Holloway is itching to strut his stuff on a bigger stage? The Musketeers have been devastated by injuries and other personnel issues this season, but Holloway still has them at 5-0 in the Atlantic 10. He is a winner as well as a stat-sheet stuffer. Even though every Xavier opponent lists Holloway at the top of its scouting report, the little bugger leads the league in scoring (20.4 ppg) and is second in assists (5.4) and free-throw percentage (85.3). And if he can create scoring opportunities for a big, lumbering center like Kenny Frease, just imagine what he'll do for Tyler Zeller. Plus, The Jigsaw Man has always loved Holloway's moxie. He can just picture Holloway turning to the bench and saying, "Yo, Roy, chill. I got this."
Biggest weakness: The Red Storm have had the same problem for years. The guys play as hard as they can on the defensive end, they grind it out on the boards ... and then they lose by a few points because they can't knock down outside shots. The Johnnies are ranked 12th in the Big East in three-point percentage (31.5) and 15th in threes made per game (4.1). The Jigsaw Man has a feeling that there are times when Steve Lavin has had visions of Jason Kapono dancing in his head. Not only should the player who fills this void be able to light it up from the perimeter, he also has to be dynamic enough to handle the klieg lights of Madison Square Garden.
Missing piece: Klay Thompson, 6-6 junior forward, Washington State. Thompson is another one of those players who is totally unknown outside of Hoophead circles. The Jigsaw Man pines to see him play in the Big Apple. New Yorkers will love this kid. He puts up huge numbers -- 22.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He knocks down 46.2 percent of his shots (including 42.8 percent from three-point range) and 83.8 percent from the foul line. Plus, his father, Mychal, played in the NBA for 13 years, so he'll fit right in on Broadway.
Biggest weakness: So much of Syracuse's high hopes in the preseason revolved around the expectation that 7-foot freshman Fab Melo, a native of Brazil, would have a one-and-done kind of impact. Melo has not come close to living up to that hype. Baye Moussa Keita, a 6-10 freshman from Africa, was a pleasant surprise during the nonconference season, but his impact has dwindled as the Orange have gotten into more the physical play of the Big East. The Jigsaw Man is impressed that Syracuse has played so well with so little production from this vital position. Imagine how hard the Orange would be to stop if they had an experienced, strong, efficient center to anchor that 2-3 zone and get a few buckets off the offensive glass.
Missing piece: Festus Ezeli, 6-11 junior center, Vanderbilt. First of all, The Jigsaw Man believes that if you're going to look for someone to rotate with guys named Fab and Baye, he should have a name like Festus. It has been a real pleasure watching this 255-pound Nigerian native blossom into a stout, dependable center. Last year, Ezeli averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game. This year he's averaging 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds in 21.9 minutes. He doesn't need a lot of shots to score points because he is converting 58.9 percent from the floor. That means Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph will still get plenty of his shots. Most of all, Syracuse could really use Ezeli's 2.3 blocks per game, which ranks fourth in the SEC.
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