College Basketball 2012-13: Biggest Improvement Each Top-25 Team Needs to Make

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent INovember 5, 2012

College Basketball 2012-13: Biggest Improvement Each Top-25 Team Needs to Make

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    The start of the 2012-13 college basketball season is only days away.

    If you are ready for some hot hoops action, most Top-25 teams kick off their schedules on  Nov. 9.

    Every D-I team has been gearing up to take its best shot at getting to the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta.

    Even the best teams have improvements to make if they are going to have a shot of cutting down the nets five months from now.

    Here is a quick look at each Top-25 team's most critical area of improvement.

    These teams may have other things to work on, but these facets of their game may be the make or break of their season.


    *Note: The AP Top 25 poll was used for this article.

25. Florida State Seminoles: Taking Care of the Ball

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    There are few things that drive basketball coaches insane like players who commit turnovers.

    And for a coach like Leonard Hamilton, who stresses defense so much, you know that he goes ballistic when the 'Noles frequently turn it over.

    Last year, Florida State committed 565 turnovers, the third highest number in all of college hoops.

    What makes matters worse is the fact that FSU only handed out 427 assists.

    For the Seminoles to challenge for the ACC title, Michael Snaer and Ian Miller need to lead the way while handing out more assists and reducing their number of miscues.

24. Cincinnati Bearcats: Improve Free-Throw Shooting

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    The Bearcats went 26-11 last year, losing eight games by seven points or less.

    There's a good chance that if they shot better than 64.4 percent from the line (No. 302 in the country), they could have won at least half of those contests.

    Sean Kilpatrick, UC's stud wing, shot 75 percent from the charity stripe, which was best on the Bearcats.

23. Wisconsin Badgers: More Aggressive on the Offensive Glass

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    One of the calling cards of a Bo Ryan basketball team is discipline

    His teams play under control, which is why the Badgers usually are one of the best teams in terms of limiting turnovers.

    The downside to their restraint is that they also don't pound the offensive boards as well as they should. Last year, Wisconsin only pulled down 9.7 offensive rebounds per game (No. 267 in the nation).

    You kind of expect a player like Jared Berggren to pull down his share of missed shots.

    However, the 6'10" horse only snatched 51 offensive rebounds (1.4 per game) over the Badgers' 36 games.

22. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Get More Steals

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    Mike Brey gets every drop of talent out of his players and always helps them overachieve in the torturous Big East.

    One of the ways that the Fighting Irish could improve is by stealing the ball more.

    Notre Dame only averaged 5.2 spg—No. 263 in the nation.

    Jerian Grant (pictured) and Eric Atkins are a dynamic backcourt duo who tied for the team lead in steals with only 1.3 spg a piece.

21. Gonzaga Bulldogs: Play Better on the Road

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    Mark Few has elevated Gonzaga into a top-level program that plays one of the toughest non-conference schedules in college basketball.

    Usually, the Bulldogs take on a full slate of major conference schools, and once they begin their WCC schedule, they are ready to rock.

    Last year, the 'Zags went 26-7, losing all but one of their games away from the Kennel.

    The Bulldogs' only home loss was to Michigan State. No shame in that.

    What was unusual was that Gonzaga lost twice to St. Mary's, once on the road and once in the conference championship.

20. San Diego State: Work the Ball Better

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    Over the last few seasons, San Diego State has become one of the best teams in the west.

    The Aztecs have won 112 games in the last four seasons under Steve Fisher.

    One of the ways that the Aztecs can take it up a notch is do a better job of looking for open shooters and getting them the ball.

    Last  year, SDSU only had assists on 48.3 percent of its made field goals. That was No. 300 in the nation.

    To compare, some of the best passing teams in the country (UNLV, Notre Dame and Creighton) are over 60 percent in that category.

    This has to start with Xavier Thames (pictured), San Diego State's PG, who does his share by averaging 4.1 apg.

19. Baylor Bears: Find Someone to Hit the Boards

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    Baylor has made two trips to the Elite Eight in the last three years.

    The Bears have done it, in large part, due to some very nice inside play by their bigs.

    Unfortunately, Scott Drew is having to replace all three of his top rebounders (Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller), who collectively grabbed 20 caroms per contest.

    On a positive note, Drew will have Top-10 freshman Isaiah Austin (pictured) to hit the glass.

    At 7'1" and 220 pounds, Austin will do work down low, as will 6'8", 260-pound freshman Rico Gathers.

18. UNLV Runnin' Rebels: Knock Down More Freebies

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    UNLV has re-entered the upper echelon of CBB, winning 75 games in the last three seasons.

    In Dave Rice's first season in Sin City, the Rebels went 26-9.

    Out of their nine loses, six games were lost by seven points or less. That's why the Rebels' 67.6 percent free-throw shooting (No. 228 in the nation) hurts so bad.

    Don't blame Mike Moser (pictured). He hit 78 percent of his free throws.

17. Memphis Tigers: Shoot More Three-Pointers

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    Year after year, the Memphis Tigers put one of the longest, most athletic squads in the country on the floor.

    Josh Pastner keeps pulling in slashers and crashers to challenge anybody who comes to the Home of the Blues.

    Even though the Tigers shot 49.1 percent from the field (No. 6 in the nation) and 36.2 percent (No. 84) from beyond the arc, they only shot 511 three-pointers for the entire season (No. 244).

    Adonis Thomas (pictured) may not put up a ton of shots from distance (37 in 19 games last year), but when he does, he connects 40.5 percent of the time. 

    Who knows, if Memphis (26-9) would have put up a few more threes, it may have won some of the six games that it lost by seven points or less.

16. Creighton Bluejays: Put More Pressure on the Ball and Challenge Shots Better

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    Creighton (29-6) is one off the best offensive teams in the country. Last year, the Bluejays were the best shooting team from the field (50.4 percent) and ninth-best  scoring team (79.2 points per game). Impressive.

    But the other end of the court was a different story, and the Bluejays know it.

    The Washington Post reported, "When the players were issued practice jerseys last month, they found the number '222' stamped on them—their national ranking in field-goal defense (44.4%)."

    Not only did Creighton let its opponents shoot a high percentage, the team also averaged only 4.8 steals per game (No. 317).

    If Greg McDermott can get his team to ramp up the defensive pressure just a little, we could see the Bluejays make a very deep run in March Madness.

15. Missouri Tigers: Crash the Boards

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    Last year, the Tigers had a dream regular season, winning 30 games and the Big 12 Tournament.

    Because of Laurence Bowers' (pictured) injury a year ago, Missouri played four-out, one-in. The four were, in most cases, guards.

    That's the biggest reason why Mizzou was one of the weakest rebounding teams in the country. The Tigers ranked No. 285 in total rebounds (32 rpg) and No. 288 in offensive rebounds per game (9.1).

    But this is a new season in Columbia.

    Not only is Bowers back to full strength, but Frank Haith now has a full complement of talented transfers in Alex Oriakhi, Earnest Ross and Keion Bell—all of whom will help crash the boards.  

14. Michigan State Spartans: Pick Up the Pace

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    Under Tom Izzo, Michigan State is one of the most successful programs over the last two decades.

    In 17 seasons in East Lansing, Izzo has won 410 games and seven Big Ten Championships and has been to six Final Fours. On his watch, the Spartans won the 2000 NCAA Championship and lost the title game in 2009.

    "Izzo Ball" is hard-nosed, smash-mouth basketball that focuses on tough defense and pounding the glass on both ends of the court.

    One area that MSU might make an improvement is in pace. Last year, the Spartans averaged 65.3 possessions per 40 minutes, good for No. 238 in the nation.

    Without entirely changing who they are, the Spartans could push it a little more. With Keith Appling (pictured), super freshman Gary Harris and Branden Dawson, they will have one of the most talented perimeter units in the country.

13. UCLA Bruins: Open Up the Offense

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    This is an important season for the UCLA Bruins.

    Not only did they get to move back in to an updated and improved Pauley Pavilion, but head coach Ben Howland now hopes that the Bruins will re-establish themselves as one of college hoops' elite teams.

    Last year was a season of frustration and faltering that thrust the program into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

    However, Howland pulled in the top-rated recruiting class (pictured) of 2012, and if the Bruins can get Shabazz Muhammad cleared to play, then life will be good again in Westwood.

    Even if Muhammad doesn't get cleared, the Bruins need to open up their offense a little.

    Last season, while they hit three-pointers at a 37.3 percent clip (No. 52 in the country), they only pulled the trigger from downtown 453 times (No. 310).

12. Arizona Wildcats: Be More Active on the Offensive Glass

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    Sean Miller has it going on in Tucson.

    He has had early success in his first three seasons at Arizona and is looking to thrust the Wildcats back into the national spotlight again.

    Last year, U of A played with one of the smallest lineups among high-major programs, with 6'7" Jesse Perry manning the middle most of the time.

    Because of that, the Wildcats were weak on the offensive glass, only pulling down 10 Offensive boards per game (No. 252 in the nation).

    Reinforcements have arrived, though.

    Instead of being undersized this season, Arizona will be super-sized. With 7'0" freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski (pictured) setting up shop down low and Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley crashing the boards, the Wildcats may become one of the most respected teams in the country in terms of interior play.

11. North Carolina Tar Heels: Replacing Tons of Points and Boards

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    Not too many teams have players selected in the NBA Draft.

    North Carolina had four players selected in the first 17 picks last year.

    Because they lost Harrison Barnes (7th pick), Kendall Marshall (13th), John Henson (14th) and Tyler Zeller (17th), the Tar Heels will need to replace 55 points (68 percent of their scoring) and 27.3 rebounds (61 percent  of their boards) per game.

    The good news is that Roy Williams is not lacking elite-level talent to put on the floor.

    Sophomore PF James Michael McAdoo and junior wing Reggie Bullock (pictured) are both ready for break-out seasons.

    Fortunately, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald should be healthy again as well.

    Freshman PG Marcus Paige should be ready to run the show.

    Production problems solved? We'll see...

10. Florida Gators: Finding a New PG and SG

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    Florida head coach Billy Donovan loves to roll with three-guard sets.

    And he usually has the players to do it.

    Last year, the Gators one-two-three punch of Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker helped U of F make a trip to the Elite Eight.

    The only problem heading into this year is that Beal was drafted and Walker graduated.

    Boynton (the team's leading scorer at 15.9 ppg) and sixth man Mike Rosario (6.6 ppg) are both back.

    4-star recruit Braxton Ogbueze will get his shot at starting at the point.

    If he can elevate his game to SEC level by the time the conference schedule starts, look for the Gators to challenge for the league title.

9. Syracuse Orange: Discover New Scorers

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    The old saying goes: "Some programs re-build; others reload." Jim Boeheim is on the board of directors of the second group.

    Even though his program sees talent move up or move on every year, the Orange consistently stay in the Top 10.

    Similar to North Carolina needing to replace a huge chunk of its scoring and rebounding, Syracuse needs to find some new scorers, too.

    Of the 74 points that the Orange scored per game last year, 42.7 points (58 percent) left town through graduation (Scoop Jardine) or the NBA Draft (Dion Waiters, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph).

    Fortunately for the 'Cuse, Michael Carter-Williams (pictured) has "next star" written all over him. Though he only saw limited action as a freshman (10.3 minutes per game), MCW is ready to rock.

    Watch for senior guard Brandon Triche to bounce back from a slight drop-off in production in his junior year.

8. Duke Blue Devils: Find a Consistent Playmaker

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    Duke never lacks for talented players. There is always a collection of McDonald's All-Americans cruising around Cameron Indoor Stadium.

    This year's Blue Devils are no exception.

    What is still unresolved as the 2012-13 season begins is the question of who is going to be Coach K's PG.

    Quinn Cook (pictured) is going to be given the keys to the car to start this year. If he can run the show and distribute the ball effectively, the job of floor general is his.

    If not, Tyler Thornton is the next likely suspect—unless Krzyzewski gives the latest Mickie D-marvel, Rasheed Sulaimon, a shot.

7. Kansas Jayhawks: Who Will Be the Force in the Paint?

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    Kansas almost always has a dominant big in the middle through which the Jayhawks' offense runs.

    Thomas Robinson blew up last year. The Morris twins were tandem trouble the season before. Cole Aldrich caused problems for virtually everyone when he was in Lawrence.

    With Robinson's early departure for the Association, Bill Self needs to find that next monster in the middle.

    You might be thinking, "What's wrong with you, Brodess? Jeff Withey? Duh?"

    Withey (pictured) more than fills the bill in terms of defense and rebounding, but can he turn into a consistent low-post scorer?

    In 2011-12, the seven-footer from San Diego scored in double figures in only 17 of KU's 39 games.

    It's possible that Withey continues to block shots and clog the middle effectively but never becomes a go-to guy down low.

    We'll see starting this Friday when the Jayhawks open against Southeast Missouri State.

6. North Carolina State: Win Against Ranked Opponents

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    North Carolina State had a great run at the end of the season, advancing to the 2012 Sweet 16 in head coach Mark Gottfried's first year in Raleigh.

    The Wolfpack had to knock off San Diego State and Georgetown to get there.

    But if you rewind further back into the season, the Wolfpack struggled in games against ranked opponents.

    In fact, NC State didn't beat a Top-25 team during the 2011-12 regular season.

    C.J. Leslie (pictured) came back to campus for his junior year to help the 'Pack make a run to the Final Four in Atlanta.

    NC State's first chance to prove that it can beat the big boys is a Nov. 27 matchup at No. 5 Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

    This game will be a good gauge to see where Gottfried's gang stands at the front side of the 2012-13 campaign.

5. Michigan Wolverines: Put More Pressure on Opponents

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    John Beilein has re-established the Michigan basketball program.

    Through solid recruiting and player development, Beilein has set things right again in Ann Arbor.

    One of the best ways for the Wolverines to stay successful is get better at putting pressure on their opponents on both ends of the court.

    Last year, Michigan was one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, averaging a measly 8.6 offensive rebounds per game (No. 308 in the nation).

    On the other end of the court, the Wolverines only stole the ball 4.9 times per game (No. 311).

    Talent isn't the problem.

    With Trey Burke (pictured) and Tim Hardaway Jr. returning, Michigan should be able to make its opponents cough it up more often.

4. Ohio State: Get Back Beyond-the-Arc Touch

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    Over the last three seasons, Ohio State has gone 94-19, made two trips to the Sweet 16 and, last year, advanced to the Final Four.

    Two years ago, the Buckeyes were the best beyond-the-arc shooting team in the country, knocking down 42.3 percent of their three-pointers.

    Last year, OSU struggled from downtown, hitting just 33.4 percent—good for No. 213 in the country.

    None of Thad Matta's three primary perimeter players—Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith or Sam Thompson—have proven themselves as reliable options from distance. Smith was the best of the three last season with a 37.8-percent mark.

    If OSU doesn't open things up with solid three-point shooting, its opponents may collapse on Deshaun Thomas (pictured), making it harder for him to do his thing.

    Now that Jared Sullinger and William Buford are gone, Thomas will be the primary focus of most teams' defensive game plan.

3. Kentucky Wildcats: Start from Scratch...Again

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    Under John Calipari, Kentucky turns over its roster on a yearly basis. Everyone in Lexington is getting used to this.

    But in most years, Calipari has had some carry over from the previous year's team. Last year, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb were the cagy veterans (sophomores) on the squad.

    This year, Coach Cal really is starting over after losing his top six scorers from last year's championship team.

    Kyle Wiltjer is the only returnee who logged any regular minutes, and he averaged only 11.6 minutes per game.

    Archie Goodwin (pictured) is the most likely candidate to be a lead scorer night in and night out.

    The 6'4" SG put up 22 points in the Wildcats first exhibition game. If he can come close to that kind of output on a nightly basis, the Big Blue Nation may be taking over the ATL in April. 

2. Louisville Cardinals: Who's Gonna Score?

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    Rick Pitino has built this year's Louisville team to win a championship.

    Tons of talent returning...check. Elite-level recruits arriving...check. Team focused on playing lockdown defense...big check.

    While the Cardinals may be the most fierce defensive team among this list of Top-25 teams, the question remains: Who is going to lead them on the offensive end of the court?

    Pitino has no shortage of players who can score eight to 10 points per game. What he needs is a go-to guy that he can count on to put up 15-17 points per night.

    Could George Mason transfer Luke Hancock be that guy? Maybe super-sophs Chane Behanan or Wayne Blackshear? Someone needs to step forward so that this team isn't talking about what could have and should have happened in 2012-13.

1. Indiana Hoosiers: Crash the Offensive Glass

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    Indiana is the preseason No. 1 pick.

    The Hoosiers return virtually everyone from last year's team that made it to the Sweet 16.

    Cody Zeller is considered to be one of the top players, if not the top player, in the nation.

    The Hoosiers could go from wire to wire if Tom Crean's crew can make some important adjustments.

    One of those adjustments is getting better at going to the offensive glass. Last year, IU only grabbed 10.6 offensive rebounds per game (No. 218 in the nation).

    Christian Watford should be the person who gives Zeller the most help inside. But because he spends a majority of the time looking for opportunities to spot up, he may still do little to get the Hoosiers some second chances.

    The problem for Indiana, and other teams set up like them, is that when its shooting is off, the Hoosiers are only getting one shot per possession.

    With as good of a shooting team as the Hoosiers are, they are still going to have "those kind of nights."

    The Hoosiers will be better prepared to come out on top if they can do a better job of crashing the offensive glass.