New Year's Resolutions for College Basketball's Top 25 Teams' Coaches
With 2011 coming to a close and the New Year’s Day quickly approaching, most college basketball teams are preparing to start their conference schedules. One third of the season is already complete and coaches have a good idea of their teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
I don’t know what gifts will be under the tree for the coaches in the top 25, but I do have an idea of what each coach will resolve to do for the upcoming year.
Here are each of their resolutions for 2012.
25. Vanderbilt: Kevin Stallings
Resolution: Earn the Ranking
Vanderbilt started the season as the seventh-ranked team in the country, but has already lost to Cleveland State, Xavier and Louisville and is the only ranked team with three losses.
After falling out of the rankings, Vanderbilt snuck back in somehow with a win at Davidson, so someone thinks they’re worthy. It’s time they prove it.
The SEC schedule is no picnic, so they’ll get their chance.
24. Creighton: Greg McDermott
Resolution: Keep the foot on the pedal
Creighton has done a great job at scoring in droves with a great fast break. It suffered its first loss to St. Joe’s, which turned the tables on the Bluejays, but should bounce back nicely.
Creighton just needs to do what it does best: Push the basketball.
23. Michigan State: Tom Izzo
Resolution: Remember to keep scheduling an insanely tough early season
No one can argue with Tom Izzo’s success. He gets his teams prepared every year to battle and he does so by playing the best teams he can schedule every year. This year, Michigan State has already played North Carolina, Duke, Florida State and Gonzaga.
The Spartans opened the season with back-to-back losses to UNC and Duke, but rebounded by rolling to eight wins in a row.
Izzo’s squads tend to learn quickly.
22. Texas A&M: Billy Kennedy
Resolution: Be careful with Khris Middleton
The Aggies just got back their NBA prospect forward after missing seven games to a torn meniscus. They can ill afford to go any longer without his presence.
Texas A&M should exercise caution in his return.
21. Alabama: Anthony Grant
Resolution: Forget last year and Roll Tide
Alabama had a nice SEC season last year, but stumbled often when it counted. The Crimson Tide only lost four games in conference and even managed a win against Kentucky, but lost every other game that could have helped them to the NCAA tournament.
Alabama settled for an NIT bid, where it lost in the championship game.
This year’s installment of Alabama started off strong, but dropped two straight to Georgetown and Dayton. Alabama needs to exorcise the demons of last year and get back on the winning track.
20. Indiana: Tom Crean
Resolution: Have a short memory
Tom Crean’s tenure has been marked with disappointment at Indiana, only winning eight conference games in three years. Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers finally got the signature win the Hoosier faithful have been waiting for with a last-second, unbelievable victory over top-ranked Kentucky.
The Hoosiers are undefeated, but the road ahead is tough. With six Big Ten teams in the top 25, Indiana can’t afford to rest on their laurels and be happy with this victory.
They’ll be tested and need to stay focused.
19. Illinois: Bruce Weber
Resolution: Convince Meyers Leonard to stay another year
Illinois sophomore Meyers Leonard is 7’1” of raw NBA potential. He’s starting to blossom into a dominating force, but would do well to refine his talents. Teams don’t come across talents such as Leonard often and Illinois, which is already 10-0, desperately needs him.
I’m sure it’s very difficult to try to keep players in school who have the NBA knocking, but Coach Weber will need to find a way, or find another seven-footer.
18. Michigan: John Beilein
Resolution: Continue the rapid development of Trey Burke
Freshman Trey Burke has been a spark plug for Michigan and a fantastic complement to Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Burke will need to raise his three-point percentage, but he is managing to get off shots whenever he wants and is a fine distributor of the ball.
The sky seems to be the limit for this freshman, who has no problem getting the ball in the basket.
17. Georgetown: John Thompson, III
Resolution: Stay focused on the little things
Georgetown is turning out a very good season so far, with their only setback being a four-point loss to Kansas. The Hoyas are good at most things, but not great at anything.
The Princeton offense should help them stay focused and disciplined, but rebounding will have to improve if they want to continue their success into the Big East schedule.
Georgetown has dispatched lesser opponents, but squeaked by Memphis and Alabama. Mistake-free basketball will be the key to Georgetown’s success.
16. Mississippi State: Rick Stansbury
Resolution: Find the real Renardo Sidney
Sidney, the 6’10” forward from Jackson, Mississippi has completely regressed from the season he put up last year.
He’s scoring five fewer points per game and averaging almost four fewer rebounds. He’s only managed double digits in scoring twice this year and hasn’t accomplished that feat in rebounding.
Rick Stansbury will need to figure this out sooner than later.
15. Wisconsin: Bo Ryan
Resolution: Keep milking that defense
Wisconsin is playing the kind of defense that coaches dream about their entire careers. They are allowing a minuscule 44.9 points per game, tops in the nation in that category. They have only allowed over 60 points twice this season.
The first time was a 60-57 loss to North Carolina and the second was its next game, a 61-54 loss to Marquette. Both respectable showings against top-tier teams.
If the Badgers can keep up the defensive tenacity, they should compete for the Big Ten title.
14. Pittsburgh: Jamie Dixon
Resolution: Stay on the boards
Pitt has managed to put together a nice season at 9-1, but they haven’t seemed to beat anyone of consequence. Their lone loss was a 10-point loss to Long Beach State, which is bad, but not too bad considering how tough Long Beach State played UNC (by the way, Long Beach State plays a crazy pre-conference schedule.) ....on second thought, it's just a bad loss.
Pitt has been able to beef up its stats, but the one thing that the Panthers always excel at is rebounding. This year is no exception.
Only time will tell how good this Pitt team really is, but rebounding will be the key to their success.
13. Florida: Billy Donovan
Resolution: Get taller
Florida has plenty of guard play. In fact, they have all guard play. Florida essentially runs four guards out on the court with a few forwards to clean up the mess. When Florida hits a high percentage of its threes, this is a good combination as is evident with Florida’s high scoring average.
When Florida runs up against a team that can defend the three, as against Syracuse, they become a gimmick offense.
Florida needs to integrate their height off the bench better or add a few new plays into the play book. Florida will win plenty of games, but gimmick offenses generally don’t work in the tournament.
12. Kansas: Bill Self
Resolution: Don’t rush Tyshawn Taylor back
The star guard has been hampered with a torn meniscus and sprained MCL in his right knee. Even with that problem, he managed to dish 13 assists against second-ranked Ohio State.
He also committed seven turnovers.
Taylor has finally blossomed into the player he was hyped to be coming out of Bobby Hurley’s program at St. Anthony’s in New Jersey, but surgery to repair his knee will keep him out of action for about three weeks.
There is no rush to get the senior guard out on the floor. He was playing through pain, but was a little sloppy with the ball.
Perhaps a pain-free knee can help fix his turnover problems.
11. Marquette: Buzz Williams
Resolution: Find a way to get players out of the trainer’s room
Marquette is being bitten by the injury bug. This is so much so that they only could dress eight players in their last game against Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Chris Otule, Juan Anderson and Jamil Wilson are all banged up with the Big East regular season on the horizon.
Marquette plays a very physical style and needs to get their guys healthy if they want to remain one of the top contenders for the Big East crown.
10. Connecticut: Jim Calhoun
Resolution: Stay under the radar
Jim Calhoun, coming off his third national championship, has another stacked team, minus Kemba Walker.
Already filling in for the departed star, freshman Ryan Boatright is having no problem fitting into the offense that also still has Jeremy Lamb and a lot of experience.
Connecticut finished ninth in the Big East last year but managed to get white-hot at the end of the season, willing themselves to the national title.
This is one of the better teams no one is talking about. Perhaps the head-scratching loss to UCF early in the season has something to do with that.
9. Xavier: Chris Mack
Resolution: Get disciplined
The fight against Cincy was ugly. Game tape is revealing that it may have been Xavier’s Tu Holloway who threw the first punch.
Afterwards, he exacerbated the situation by running his mouth.
You’re supposed to be better than that, Xavier. You’re one of America’s favorite mid-majors so much so that everyone has forgotten you are a mid-major and are now a basketball powerhouse.
Lose the thug tag you seem to be desperately trying to attain.
8. Missouri: Frank Haith
Resolution: Let the healing begin
From the national media to supporters of Missouri basketball, it seemed no one was in favor of hiring Frank Haith, who won around 20 games a year in the ACC for the Hurricanes. He was never above .500 in conference play, but that's no knock against any team not named Duke or North Carolina.
Haith has the Tigers playing their best basketball in years, which goes a long way towards acceptance.
Missouri is one of the highest scoring teams in the nation and seems to be able to adjust to any style of play.
The only question mark is coming from allegations made against the Miami program, currently under investigation by the NCAA. As long as Haith is found without violations, this Mizzou team will be off and running.
7. Baylor: Scott Drew
Resolution: Be the best Drew
Scott Drew has revitalized a Baylor team that was, in actuality, never vitalized in the first place. After leaving the Valparaiso program he inherited from his legendary father, Homer Drew, Scott left for the greener pastures of…Baylor?
After a four seasons of struggling in the Big 12, Scott Drew got the Baylor Bears running, at least compared to what Baylor was used to.
Baylor’s run in the 2010 tournament removed any doubts that Baylor would be a second-rate program under Drew.
This year, Baylor hasn’t lost a game.
Drew’s brother, Bryce, and father, Homer, have enjoyed cult-status at Valparaiso for a long time. Scott’s move to Baylor may prove him to be the best Drew of all.
6. North Carolina: Roy Williams
Resolution: Play to your talent level, not your opponent's
I’ll keep this short and sweet. North Carolina is way too talented and Roy Williams is way too good a coach for Carolina to be messing around as it has.
You let Long Beach State compete with you?
As has been said so many times on ESPN… C’Mon, Man!
5. Duke: Mike Krzyzewski
Is there anything Mike Krzyzewski wants that he can’t get from his players? The winningest coach of all time doesn’t need resolutions. He says his team does.
That being said, Rivers, Curry, Dawkins and company could all clean their games up a little, but being that this is Duke, is there any doubt they will?
4. Louisville: Rick Pitino
Resolution: Get healthy
To date, Louisville has had seven players sit out due to injury. If not for Louisville’s intense defense, this team might not be undefeated.
But they are, and even with the health issues, Louisville is cruising. They haven't been truly tested, save for a two-point victory over Vanderbilt, so the jury is still out on whether Louisville can weather the storm.
Pitino needs to get his boys healthy if he wants to continue his winning ways this season.
3. Kentucky: John Calipari
Resolution: Resolve foul issues
No one will argue that John Calipari isn’t a great coach with a great eye for talent. Whether his players will ever hit clutch free throws is another story.
Calipari’s teams have historically been killed by poor free-throw shooting. Kentucky’s loss to Indiana was evidence of that.
What was surprising was that on the other side of the foul spectrum, his players completely forgot they had two fouls to give and could have easily forced Indiana into an impossible shooting situation.
Instead, they let Indiana set up for an incredible three as time expired to empty the stands and give Tom Crean the signature Indiana win he so desperately needed.
I imagine Kentucky’s practices have been a tiny bit more intense than usual.
2. Ohio State: Thad Matta
Resolution: Handle Jared Sullinger gently—very gently
Jared Sullinger’s bad back prevented him from playing against Kansas, allowing the Jayhawks a victory they normally may not have been able to attain.
Sullinger is a force to be reckoned with, but back issues should not be taken lightly. Ohio State will need Sullinger healthy for the long haul, but rankings this time of year don’t mean squat and the Buckeyes can afford to be without him for the time being.
Matta needs to make sure Sullinger is completely healed before inserting him back in the lineup.
1. Syracuse: Jim Boeheim
Resolution: Don’t change anything
There are parts of Syracuse’s game that could improve, such as more consistent play from some of its players and, as always, better free-throw shooting. All in all, amid the circus around Bernie Fine, Jim Boeheim has kept this team focused and energized.
Fab Melo completely reinvented himself and the Orange bench players are deep and able, while Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and company are keeping the ship righted.
This may not be Boeheim’s most talented team, but it certainly is his deepest.
He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing.
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