Hoop Thoughts (Cont.)
Biggest problem: The Golden Eagles' gaping hole in their puzzle goes about 6-11, 265 pounds. Those are the dimensions of senior center Chris Otule, whose season ended when he suffered an ACL tear during a Dec. 6 against Washington. That Marquette is still 18-4 without him is a testament to their grit and savvy. Still, this team's lack of size (they're 221st in the country in effective height) leaves them vulnerable on the boards (12th in the Big East in rebound margin). If they could somehow find another big body to replace Otule, that would leave Marquette less vulnerable to a cold shooting night, which is bound to happen at some point during the NCAA tournament.
Missing piece: Drew Gordon, 6-9 senior forward, New Mexico. Gordon is a fifth-year senior (he transferred from UCLA) who over the years has adopted a blue-collar mentality. He is the nation's 11th-leading rebounder (10.7) and he leads the Mountain West in blocks (1.3). He scores a respectable 12.4 points per game on 50.5 percent shooting, but the Jigsaw Man really likes his 73.6 free throw percentage. The Jigsaw Man watches a lot of Big East basketball and he knows how teams in that league love to get physical with big men. Gordon will make opponents pay for that at the foul line, which will only give more cushion for Marquette's slashing guards.
Biggest problem: It's hard to say a team that is 19-2 has any problems, but Missouri's two deficiencies are fairly obvious: size and depth. With only seven players on scholarship, the Tigers would be happy to have almost anything on two feet, but it would help if those feet are big. Missouri hasn't been getting killed on the boards this season, but it isn't making a living there, either. The Tigers rank eighth in the Big 12 in rebound margin (plus-3.0) and it is 140th nationally in offensive rebound percentage. Having another rebounding big man would help, but he has to be careful about getting in Ricardo Ratliffe's way. Ratliffe is averaging nearly 15 points per game, and he's on pace to set a new NCAA record in field goal percentage. He needs room to work.
Missing piece: Mike Moser, 6-8 sophomore forward, UNLV. It's fair to say Rebels coach Dave Rice is not a fan of the Jigsaw Man, who has now stolen two players from Rice's roster. Moser, however, is too good to resist. He is the nation's third-leading rebounder, and he's ranked in the top seven of the Mountain West in scoring (14.7 ppg), blocks (0.82) and steals (1.77). If that's not enough, Moser has also made 27 three-pointers this season. He can do many things very well. The Jigsaw Man is confident Frank Haith will find him useful.
Biggest problem: The Tar Heels have as much talent as anyone in the country, yet they seem to lack a certain je ne sais quoi. (Betcha didn't know the Jigsaw Man spoke French.) This is the tallest team in the country, so it's not surprising UNC's blocks and rebound numbers are solid. It is also piloted by Kendall Marshall, who ranks second in the country in assists. The Tar Heels, however, do not shoot it well from the three-point line or the foul line, and their perimeter defense is suspect, especially now that Dexter Strickland is lost for the season to an ACL tear. Their biggest problem is lack of toughness, which was on vivid display during that blowout loss to Florida State.
Missing piece: Donte Poole, 6-3 senior guard, Murray State. The Jigsaw Man is cruel. Murray State has a chance to run the table, yet Poole is pilfering one of the Racers' most important players. Poole, however, would fit too well in Chapel Hill. He ranks second in the Ohio Valley Conference in steals (2.25), he's sixth in three-point percentage (41.0) and he's ninth in scoring (14.6). And Poole's 85.4 percent clip from the foul line, which is ranked second in the OVC, is a full 21 points better than North Carolina's team average. Poole will make the Heels better on both ends of the floor, and he'll be a galvanizing presence in the locker room.
Biggest problem: Purdue usually excels at winning ugly. (I'm pretty sure that was a compliment.) Not this year. The Boilermakers are eighth in the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage and 10th in rebound margin. The guards have been fine -- Purdue leads the country in turnover percentage, and it's second in steal percentage -- but inside the Boilers are suspect. (When Robbie Hummel is your leading rebounder, that is a problem.) If they could just find someone to plug up the middle on defense and convert a post move once in a while, their whole dynamic would change.
Missing piece: Jeff Withey, 7-foot junior center, Kansas. Withey's improvement is a major reason why the Jayhawks are exceeding expectations. He has been the perfect complement inside to Thomas Robinson, but the Jigsaw Man believes he would thrive if given the chance to be a leading man. Withey is one of the nation's premier shot blockers; his 3.3 blocks per game ranks eighth nationally and is tops in the Big 12 and is ranked eighth in the country in blocks (3.3). He's also 10th in the Big 12 in rebounds (6.1) and seventh in the conference in free throw percentage (84.7). Withey isn't going to beat many basketball players in a 40-yard dash, but his physical nature will fit even better in the Big Ten than it currently does in the Big 12.
Biggest problem: This team Can. Not. Score. The Aggies are the lowest-scoring team in the Big 12 (62.3), they're ranked ninth in both field goal percentage (43.8) and three-point percentage (32.2) and they're last in free throw shooting (62.5). Billy Kennedy has done well to continue the culture of toughness and defense instilled by Mark Turgeon, but there's nothing wrong with getting a few quick and easy buckets, is there? The Jigsaw Man certainly doesn't think so.
Missing piece: Reggie Hamilton, 5-11 senior guard, Oakland. The Jigsaw Man is tired of watching Hamilton toil in obscurity. He knows Hamilton is one of the nation's most exciting players. He just scored 37 points (on 6-for-12 shooting from three-point range) in a loss to North Dakota State, and he barely trails Weber State guard Damian Lillard in the race for the national scoring title. Hamilton is also ranked 15th nationally in steals (2.45), he's fifth in the Summit League in assists (4.7) and he's 10th in the country in free throw shooting (90.0). In other words, there's nothing he can't do. The Jigsaw Man wants him to do those things for a power conference team that badly needs him.
Biggest problem: This is the team everybody loves to pick on. Yes, the Commodores still play too often like a "country club team" (as ESPN's Hubert Davis so memorably put it). But their bigger problem right now is technical: Their point guard play is not good enough. Brad Tinsley does a serviceable job manning that position and he is a very good outside shooter, but he is not going to strike fear into a defender's heart. Vandy doesn't need another perimeter marksman, but it does need someone who can set up scoring opportunities at one end of the floor and lock down his man at the other.
Missing piece: Brandyn Curry, 6-1 junior point guard, Harvard. The Jigsaw Man respects Vanderbilt's academic mission. He would not bring someone there who couldn't handle the work in the classroom. And when Curry takes the floor at Memorial Gymnasium, he'll take his opponent to school. He has the skills and command of a top-flight point guard. Curry ranks in the top four of the Ivy League in assists (5.1), steals (2.11) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6-to-1). He is also a great communicator and team defender. He would fit well in to any country club, but if the Jigsaw Man gets into a street fight on the way home from Friday night dinners, he wants Curry on his side.
Biggest problem: The Huskies aren't worried about stopping people as much as outscoring them. Washington's interior defense isn't bad (mostly due to the presence of 7-foot junior Aziz N'Diaye), but the Huskies' perimeter guys don't seem all that interesting in working both ends. Freshman guard Tony Wroten is second in the Pac-12 in steals (2.0), but as a team the Huskies are fifth in the conference in field goal defense (41.9) and eighth in three-point defense (35.0). They're also 225th nationally in defensive free-throw rate. So they're not closing out on shooters, and they're not preventing dribble penetration.
Missing piece: Fuquan Edwin, 6-6 sophomore guard, Seton Hall. The Jigsaw Man likes Edwin's size and versatility, but what he loves most is Edwin's commitment to defense. Edwin leads the nation in steals (3.1) and he is also chipping in 6.7 rebounds per game. Moreover, Edwin blends in with his teammates. He is averaging 13.7 points per game, but with his 49.8 percent shooting (42.0 from three), you get the idea he could score more if he had more possessions. Edwin will thrive in Lorenzo Romar's up-tempo, trigger-happy system, but he will also have a positive effect on this team's culture. The Jigsaw Man can envision Edwin and Wroten competing to see who can get more steals. Wouldn't that be a refreshing change?