Jigsaw Man solves biggest issues facing Mizzou, UConn, others
Defense-minded Alabama could use scorer like Indiana sharpshooter Jordan Hulls
Baylor is in desperate need of a big man like Colorado forward Andre Roberson
Scott Machado could help fill the lead guard role that Duke has struggled with
As college basketball teams across the country ready themselves for the stretch run, a certain reality is beginning to set in:
They are who we think they are.
Unless, that is, they get a visit from the Jigsaw Man. Regular visitors to this space know all about him. He is the hardworking piecemaker who spies deficiencies and scavenges for players who fit those holes. The Jigsaw Man may be generous but he prefers not to be obvious. He likes a challenge. We all know any team would be better if it had Anthony Davis. The Jigsaw Man would rather plug holes with obscure players whom he believes would benefit from the switch as much as their new teams.
I'm happy to report that the Jigsaw Man has recently rectified the deficiencies of 15 prominent teams. If you are a fan of the Fortunate Fifteen, he does not want your thanks. He just wants you to be who you think you are. And if your team was not chosen, take heart. You never know when you'll get a visit from the Jigsaw Man in his never-ending quest to beautify college basketball, piece by piece.
(Note: Many of the statistical info below comes from Ken Pomeroy's indispensable website, Kenpom.com.)
Herewith, the 15 puzzles:
Biggest problem: Watching the Tide is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. It's beautiful because they play so hard, especially on defense, but it's ugly because the ball never seems to go in the basket. There are only five teams in America whose three-point percentage is worse than Alabama's 27.0. (Yes, that's St. John's sitting at the very bottom.) The Tide is dead last in the SEC in threes made per game (4.0). The only reason they're still in the hunt for an NCAA bid is because of defense; they are giving up fewer points per game than any other team in the SEC. Intensity and effort is nice, but does the game really have to be so hard?
Missing piece: Jordan Hulls, 6-foot junior guard, Indiana. Coaches often refer to gifted shooters as "180 guys" -- meaning they shoot 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range, and 90 percent from the foul line, for a total of 180. Well, Hulls is a 190 guy; he makes 51 percent, 49 percent and 90 percent, respectively. Plus, he's used to wearing red. The Jigsaw Man envisions Alabama's starting power forward, JaMychal Green, kicking it out to Hulls from the post, or point guard Trevor Releford hitting him as a trailer on the fast break. If defenses have to worry about extending out that far, it will open up driving lanes for Alabama's many athletic wings. The Jigsaw Man likes this picture.
Biggest problem: Coming into the season, everyone thought Baylor's primary weakness was at point guard. Now that Pierre Jackson has settled into that role, it's apparent that the Bears are lacking a certain oomph in the paint. I know Perry Jones can be frustrating to watch, but the reality is, he's never going to be a force around the rim (not in college anyway). Senior forward Quincy Acy is the most physically mature front line player on Baylor's roster, which is ironic because at 6-7 he is undersized. This team does not need another scorer, and it doesn't need more size. What it needs is someone who plays big.
Missing piece: Andre Roberson, 6-7 sophomore forward, Colorado. The Jigsaw Man can't wait for Roberson to kick Perry Jones's butt in practice for a couple of weeks. Roberson tilts the scales at a modest 210 pounds, and he is surrounded by far less talent than Jones. Yet, he still leads the Pac-12 in rebounds and ranks seventh nationally at 11.1 per game. He's also second in the league in blocks (1.63 per game). He has a lot of heart, and the Bears need to dance to his beat.
Biggest problem: The Bearcats have been forced to play four guards for much of the season. (That number increased to five while senior center Yancy Gates was suspended for his role in the brawl with Xavier.) While they've managed to get by playing Smallball, that can only take them so far. With the offense often being relegated to a bombs-away approach, the Bearcats could use another frontcourt guy who is both big and skilled. That way Gates could concentrate on the blue-collar stuff and not have to worry about being an interior scorer.
Missing piece: Rob Jones, 6-6 senior forward, Saint Mary's. Don't let Jones's size (or lack thereof) fool you. He is the best rebounder in the West Coast Conference (10.7 per game). He is also second in the league in steals (1.86), fifth in field goal percentage (46.1) and sixth in scoring (14.5). When Gates is in the game, Jones can roam the perimeter and let the big fella go to work. Or, he can switch places with Gates and crash the rim. His ability to rebound will also spearhead the Bearcats' fast break. The Jigsaw Man also likes that Jones is a fifth-year senior. (He sat out his junior season after transferring from San Diego.) Cincinnati will benefit from his skills, his toughness, and most of all, his maturity.
Biggest problem: If the Huskies had just one weakness, they wouldn't be on a three-game losing streak. Yes, it is disappointing that Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi haven't developed into more dependable post scorers, but if you think about it, the one thing that has defined this program more than any other is defense -- and that has been sorely lacking this season. More specifically, the problem is perimeter defense. UConn ranks first in the Big East in field goal percentage defense and it is second in blocks, yet it's last in defensive field goal percentage and 11th in steals. Overall, UConn is 89th nationally in defensive efficiency. This team has two productive wing scorers in Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier, but both of those guys are better when they're off the ball. So UConn needs another perimeter player who is great defensively, can distribute the ball, and won't come in expecting to score a whole lot of points.
Missing piece: Ronald Nored, 6-foot senior guard, Butler. Having coached against Butler in last year's NCAA championship game, Jim Calhoun knows full well what a pest Nored is for opposing dribblers. Calhoun will love coaching this kid. Nored is only averaging 8.2 points per game this season (that's the best average of his career, by the way), but he ranks in the top three in the Horizon League in assists (4.9), steals (1.95) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.87-to-1). Nored is also well-spoken and highly intelligent, and anyone in his program will tell you he is a first-rate leader. His intangibles will rub off well on these young Huskies.
Biggest problem: The Jigsaw Man is bedeviled by this team. The point guard position at Duke is usually one of the most bankable certainties in college hoops, but not this season. Coach K tried to use Seth Curry, but it's clear that Curry is a catch-and-shoot guy. Ditto for Andre Dawkins. Freshman Quinn Cook might be the answer, but he is inexperienced and has battled health and injury issues the last couple of weeks. No wonder Duke ranks last in the ACC in field goal percentage defense. (Read that sentence again. It's pretty mind-boggling.) This team needs a confident, capable lead guard to infuse it with some swagger.
Missing piece: Scott Machado, 6-1 senior point guard, Iona. Machado is gonna show Duke how they do it in the 718. His game is straight-up Queens. Not only does Machado lead the nation in assists at 10.2 per game, he is also fifth in the MAAC in steals, and he is grabbing 5.2 rebounds per game. Think he can put the D back in Duke? Moreover, Machado is shooting 83 percent from the foul line. The Jigsaw Man is hoping he will give Mason Plumlee some pointers.
Biggest problem: As long as Leonard Hamilton is working the sidelines in Tallahassee, this team will defend. Unlike a lot of Hamilton's teams over the years, this team also has a couple of guys who can knock down outside jumpers: Deividas Dulkys and Michael Snaer are both ranked in the top 10 of the ACC in three-point percentage. The Seminoles' main problem is their tendency to get sloppy with the ball. They commit more turnovers (17.1 per game) than any other team in the conference and they rank 323rd nationally in turnover percentage. Luke Loucks is making nice progress as a point guard (as evidenced by his game-winning assist to Snaer against Duke), but this team could really use another steady ballhandler who will fit into the defense-first culture.
Missing piece: Grant Gibbs, 6-4 junior guard, Creighton. The Jigsaw Man puzzled over the decision to choose between Gibbs and his teammate, 6-foot senior Antoine Young. Gibbs scores about four fewer points per game, but he shoots 53 percent from the floor to Young's 40. The Jigsaw Man believed Florida State would benefit from his efficiency. Gibbs also ranks second in the Missouri Valley Conference in assists (5.7), and he's third in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4-to-1). He also averages 4.5 rebounds per game. A strong, tough, efficient, smart, upperclassman point guard? Sounds like a Leonard Hamilton type of player.
Biggest problem: Here's another team with a point guard problem. Sam Maniscalco was supposed to be the remedy after he transferred in from Bradley, but he is a liability on the defensive end. He has also been hampered by injury and is making just 28 percent from three-point range. That's a big reason why Illinois is ranked 10th in the Big Ten in both steals and three-point percentage. This team has three very capable scorers in Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Meyers Leonard. What it needs is a mature, steady lead guard who can set the table on offense and attack the ball on defense.
Missing piece: Oscar Bellfield, 6-2 senior guard, UNLV. There is nothing flashy about Bellfield's game. He doesn't possess blazing speed, but he is able to get by his man and usually makes the right decisions. Bellfield leads the Mountain West in assists (5.2) and ranks third in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.04-to-1). He also makes 34.5 percent from three-point range, which is just enough to make opposing defenses have to worry about him.
Biggest problem: What the Jigsaw Man would really like to get for this team is a new doctor. Or better luck. The Cardinals have suffered a rash of injuries that have them fighting for their postseason lives. They are hurting inside (10th in the Big East in rebound margin) and out (14th in three-point percentage). Losing their best rebounder, Rakeem Buckles, was a tough blow, but the basic problem is that there are not enough players who make outside shots. Louisville doesn't just need a shooter, it needs a scorer. This player should be able to come off screens and catch passes from Peyton Siva, but he should also be able to create off the bounce.
Missing piece: Terrell Stoglin, 6-1 sophomore guard, Maryland. Stoglin is quick and crafty, and he really knows how to fill up a stat sheet. He is the nation's fifth-leading scorer at 21.3 points per game and he's also ranked in the ACC's top 10 in field goal percentage (42.9) and three-point percentage (39.7). Most of all, the Jigsaw Man likes his moxie. He thinks Stoglin would enjoy getting up and down the court for Rick Pitino and would fit right in with a corps of perimeter players who love to drive and kick to each other. Stoglin would have to sacrifice some of his scoring average, but that would be a small price to pay to be part of a great team. The Jigsaw Man appreciates the importance of sacrifice while searching for the perfect fit.