Holiday Wish List for Every AP Top 25 NCAA Basketball Team in 2016-17
First and foremost on every college basketball fan's holiday wish list is that Grayson Allen would stop tripping people, but each team in the AP Top 25 has a big request for the rest of the regular season.
For instance, all No. 1 Villanova wants for Christmas is its Phil Booth back from a knee injury. No. 4 Baylor wants to heat up from the three-point arc, while No. 9 Creighton is hoping it never cools off.
Several teams are hoping to get key players back from suspensions. Others are just wishing their opponents would stop making so many darn free throws against them. And for crying out loud, can we start talking about West Virginia as a national championship contender?
Season's greetings to you and yours. We hope you enjoy the brief hiatus from college hoops and come back ready for an 11-week sprint to Selection Sunday. In the meantime, cozy up next to the fireplace and find out what these 25 teams most need for the holidays.
Nos. 25-21: Notre Dame—Florida State
25. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Better Free-Throw Luck
Notre Dame is leading the nation in free-throw shooting at a ridiculous 85.6 percent. Matt Farrell is a perfect 27-of-27. Bonzie Colson and Steve Vasturia are both shooting better than 90 percent. But the rims have been wide on the other end of the floor, as well, where opponents are making 79.4 percent of their one-pointers against the Fighting Irish—the second-highest percentage in the nation. In the losses to Villanova and Purdue, Notre Dame shot a solid 13-of-14 from the line. The Wildcats and Boilermakers were a combined 39-of-45 (86.7 percent).
24. Cincinnati Bearcats: Good Things for Iowa State
AAC play is not going to present many opportunities for the Bearcats, and their only quality win to date was a road game against Iowa State. They do still have the Crosstown Shootout against Xavier in late January, but if the Bearcats lose that game and Iowa State struggles in Big 12 play, that would be a major issue. They should go at least 15-3 in conference to make the NCAA tournament, but lack of quality nonconference wins would make a huge difference in Cincinnati's seeding.
23. USC Trojans: More Crow for the Haters
The longer the Trojans remain undefeated, the dumber everyone looks for assuming this team was going to take a step backward after losing so many players from last season. Shaqquan Aaron has been a great transfer from Louisville, while De'Anthony Melton and Nick Rakocevic have exceeded expectations as freshmen. A win at Oregon on Dec. 30 would mandate a bunch of "Mea culpa" articles by national columnists.
22. South Carolina Gamecocks: Return of Sindarius Thornwell
South Carolina's leading scorer has missed the last four games due to a suspension for an undisclosed reason. Without him, the Gamecocks lost at Seton Hall and lost at home to Clemson. P.J. Dozier has been great, but Thornwell was the KenPom MVP in five of their first seven games. You don't just replace that production by divvying up minutes to other guards.
21. Florida State Seminoles: Fewer Bumps and Bruises
JUCO transfer P.J. Savoy didn't make his season debut until the final game of November due to turf toe. Stud freshman big man Jonathan Isaac missed the following three games with a hip flexor injury. Secretly stud freshman guard C.J. Walker has missed the past two games with a mild knee sprain. The Seminoles are 12-1, deep and versatile, but we haven't seen them at full strength yet. This team is going to be a problem in the ACC if it can get and stay healthy.
Nos. 20-16: Oregon—Indiana
20. Oregon Ducks: No More (Bleeping) Foot Injuries
Jordan Bell missed the first eight games of last season while recovering from surgery on a broken foot. Dylan Ennis missed the first 12 games with a foot injury, which he re-aggravated after two games and missed the rest of the season. Dillon Brooks missed the first three games of this season due to foot surgery. And now Chris Boucher is watching games in a walking boot because of an ankle sprain. This team has the talent to win a title if it can stop losing guys to foot injuries.
19. Saint Mary's Gaels: Anything but Texas in NCAA Tournament
Saint Mary's has looked great in most of its games, but the Gaels have had some issues with the state of Texas, losing at home to Texas-Arlington and struggling with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi before closing the game on a 20-4 run to make the final margin look like it was a laugher. They're done with Texas for the rest of the regular season, but there are quite a few teams from the Lone Star State they could be matched up against in the Big Dance.
18. Arizona Wildcats: Definitive News on Allonzo Trier
With Parker Jackson-Cartwright missing the past six games (and expected to be out through January with an ankle injury), Arizona has been down to just seven scholarship players for the better part of the past month. The Wildcats are playing well, but it'd be nice to know if and when Allonzo Trier is coming back from the most mysterious suspension in recent years.
17. Xavier Musketeers: More Consistent Offense
We know Xavier has dudes who can score. The X-Men went nuts in the final 5:19 of the first half against Eastern Washington on Tuesday night, draining six three-pointers and scoring 26 points without committing a turnover or missing a shot of any kind, turning a six-point deficit into a 16-point lead in the blink of an eye. But the Musketeers haven't been able to harness that power often enough.
16. Indiana Hoosiers: A Healthy O.G. Anunoby
O.G. Anunoby has been every bit the breakout sophomore we were promised. When he has been healthy, that is. Anunoby was sick in the loss to Fort Wayne and was just in his first game back from an ankle injury in the loss to Butler. But he was great in big wins over Kansas and North Carolina and looked just fine Monday night against Delaware State, racking up 19 points, nine rebounds, four blocks, two steals and two assists in just 19 minutes. When he's out there impacting the game, the Hoosiers can beat anyone.
15. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue's Wish: Dakota Mathias Catches Fire Again
Through the first 10 games of this season, junior guard Dakota Mathias was hotter than the sun. He made 56.0 percent of his first 50 three-point attempts, including going 6-of-7 for a career-high 25 points against Utah State. Heading into the Crossroads Classic game against Notre Dame, he was averaging 10.8 points per game.
Since then, though, he has scored a total of 16 points in three games and is 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Fortunately, he's still making a huge impact in other areas. Mathias is averaging 4.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and just 1.1 turnovers per game. After Caleb Swanigan, there has not been a more valuable Boilermaker.
Aside from Minnesota and Rutgers both starting the season 11-1 while Michigan State sits at 7-5, Mathias becoming that valuable to this team is one of the biggest surprises in the Big Ten—considering it was anybody's guess whether he, Ryan Cline, Basil Smotherman or Spike Albrecht would get the third starting gig in the backcourt.
Despite the hot start, Mathias was cold in both of Purdue's losses, scoring just eight points while going 1-of-6 from downtown against Louisville and Villanova. The Boilermakers lost those games by a combined margin of 10 points, which is a testament to how badly they need him against quality opponents.
Asking him to shoot better than 50 percent in every game is ridiculous, but if he can shoot 40-45 percent the rest of the way while continuing to serve as a significant source of assists and defensive rebounds, Purdue's ceiling stretches even higher than we once thought.
14. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin's Wish: Better Free-Throw Shooting
Though the Badgers have won a lot of games over the past few years that necessitated insurance points from the charity stripe in the closing minutes, they are not a team that typically attempts a ton of free throws. Between their slow tempo and finesse (read: not-physical) style of play, it takes much longer for them to get into the bonus than it does for most teams.
Back in 2010-11, Wisconsin avoided the free-throw line almost as well as any team in the country, averaging just 15.7 attempts per game. The Badgers are sitting at 18.9 attempts per game thus far this year, but that's still below the national average—21.0 as of the start of play on Tuesday.
Regardless, it would be nice if they could make their shots when they get there.
They do have several reliable shooters. Bronson Koenig has made 90.0 percent of his attempts. Charlie Thomas, Zak Showalter, D'Mitrik Trice and Vitto Brown are all better than 80.0 percent.
But the problem is those five guys have combined to attempt fewer free throws than Nigel Hayes. In fact, the Badgers only have three players who have attempted more than 20 one-pointers: Hayes (74 at 60.8 percent), Ethan Happ (40 at 50.0 percent) and Khalil Iverson (22 at 59.1 percent). As a result, the team as a whole is only shooting 67.0 percent.
Wisconsin has yet to play in a game decided by fewer than nine points, so it hasn't been a major concern yet. However, this is the type of thing that will inevitably rear its ugly head in conference play if it doesn't improve. (Hayes and Happ were each about 14 percent better last year, so there's reasonable hope they'll do better the rest of the way.)
13. Butler Bulldogs
Butler's Wish: Kethan Savage Returns to Form
For the two years before he decided to transfer, Kethan Savage was arguably George Washington's most important player. He averaged 12.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game in his sophomore and junior seasons.
With Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham both graduating, there was a reasonable expectation that Savage would come in and immediately rank second or third on the Bulldogs in scoring.
Between sitting out the 2015-16 season after transferring and dealing with those health factors, it's no surprise that he has been considerably less than crisp over the past several weeks.
If and when he gets back up to speed, though, it'll be huge for Butler.
A far cry from his aforementioned averages at GW, Savage is merely putting up 2.2 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 12 minutes per game. In his absence, freshmen Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott carved out massive roles in this rotation, so Savage will need to fight to show he deserves a bigger chunk of the pie.
12. Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia's Wish: A Reliable Secondary Scorer
Virginia doesn't need to score much to win. It has already held five opponents to 41 points or fewer this season and has yet to allow more than 66 points in a game. This is hardly groundbreaking news, as the Cavaliers have only allowed one of their last 106 opponents to score more than 75 points in a game, and Miami needed two overtimes to pull that off in January 2015.
Still, they need to put some points on the board in every game, and they aren't reliably coming from anywhere.
Aside from the 11 points Austin Nichols scored in his one game before being dismissed from the team, London Perrantes is Virginia's leading scorer at 10.0 points per game. However, everyone knows he's the go-to guy when it matters. In Virginia's five games against major-conference opponents, Perrantes has averaged 12.4 of the team's 62.6 points.
The problem is no one else has averaged more than 8.2 in those games. Eight non-Perrantes Cavaliers are averaging at least 4.2 points against major-conference foes—six of which scored at least 10 points in one of those games—but it's not good when you have no idea where the points are going to come from in a given night.
Case in point, after Perrantes scored the team's first nine, UVA couldn't buy a bucket in the first half against California on Wednesday night, because it wasn't until late in the second half when Kyle Guy finally exploded. He scored 14 of his game-high 17 after the intermission.
Diverse scoring attacks can be great. One of the main reasons UCLA has been so deadly is it has six guys averaging better than 11 points per game. But Virginia is taking that to a dangerous extreme.
Guy has scored at least 13 points in each of his last three games and has contributed at least a dozen off the bench five times. Among players being used on at least 20 percent of possessions, he leads the nation in O-rating by a downright silly margin. (Guy is at 148.0; Josh Hart is second at 137.8.) Guy has always been Virginia's most likely candidate to replace the production of Malcolm Brogdon, and it's starting to look like he's ready to be the reliable secondary (or perhaps even primary) scorer.
11. West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia's Wish: More Respect
There's a national bias against West Coast teams in college athletics, but it's weird that also applies to West Virginia, isn't it?
When the Mountaineers first started implementing this "Press Virginia" style of aggressive defense and offensive rebounding, everyone wrote it off as a gimmick—something they used to make up for the fact that they couldn't shoot and couldn't stop opponents from scoring. But it just kept working and they earned a No. 5 seed before reaching the Sweet 16.
After losing Juwan Staten, we counted them out again in the preseason and instead spent most of the year marveling over two other Big 12 teams: Kansas and Oklahoma. Yet, they went 26-8, finished second in the conference and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This year, they're up to their old tricks, and so are we. Even though the Mountaineers look like the most dangerous team in the country and already have a true road win over Virginia, they're still only No. 11 in the AP Top 25.
Maybe it's because most of their games have come against lackluster opponents. Maybe it's because there's only room in the national conscience for two Big 12 teams, and Kansas and Baylor currently have those spots on lockdown. Whatever the cause, this ridiculous defense is getting disrespected for a third straight year.
Perhaps we should start letting players from Manhattan, Western Carolina and Radford vote in the AP polls. Then WVU would get some first-place votes.
10. Louisville Cardinals
Louisville's Wish: A Go-To Scorer
Down by two with 10 seconds to go, who's getting the ball?
Most of the title contenders know the answer to that question. Villanova's going to Josh Hart or Kris Jenkins. UCLA's letting Lonzo Ball make that decision on the fly. Kansas has Frank Mason. Duke has Luke Kennard. North Carolina and Virginia have Joel Berry and London Perrantes, respectively.
Louisville has...Quentin Snider? Donovan Mitchell?
It's not uncommon for Louisville to be less than lethal in the half-court offense. The Cardinals won the national championship in 2013 while shooting 33.3 percent from three-point range. Including this season, they've had an effective field-goal percentage below 49.0 in three of the past six years.
But at least previous teams had a go-to guy. Whether it was Damion Lee, Terry Rozier, Russ Smith or Preston Knowles, someone was consistently going to step up in the clutch and try to make something happen.
When they needed a bucket the most this season, though, Rick Pitino called on freshman Ryan McMahon to attempt what would have been a game-tying three against Baylor with five seconds remaining.
McMahon played a grand total of five minutes in Louisville's three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis. And it's not like anyone had fouled out, forcing him to be on the court in those closing seconds. Rather, it's a testament to Louisville's lack of an established finisher that the best option was bringing in a guy who hadn't even made a shot in eight days.
My gut says Mitchell will eventually be that guy, but Louisville's three leaders in field-goal attempts (Snider, Mitchell and Deng Adel) are each shooting below 37.0 percent from the field this season. It's a good thing this team is leading the nation in defensive efficiency and holding opponents to 60.3 points per game.
9. Creighton Bluejays
Creighton's Wish: Never Cool Off
In most areas of the game, Creighton is average, at best.
The Bluejays have allowed half of their opponents to average better than one point per possession. They struggle on the offensive glass and rank outside the top 100 on the defensive glass. They don't block many shots or record many steals. They don't get to the free-throw line often and shoot worse than 65 percent when they do.
But goodness gracious can this team make shots from the field.
Creighton is leading the nation in three-point percentage at 45.5. It has made at least 10 triples in 50 percent of its games, including draining 14-of-25 in Tuesday night's win over Arizona State. And the crazy thing is the Bluejays are significantly better away from home, shooting 52.5 percent from downtown in their five road/neutral games compared to 39.6 percent in Omaha.
Led by redshirt freshman Justin Patton, they're also darn good inside the arc, connecting on 58.2 percent of those attempts. Patton is shooting 76.9 percent from two-point range and is one of five players on the roster averaging at least two two-point attempts per game while making at least 60.0 percent of them.
UCLA's offense is more fun to obsess over because it has more NBA-ready talent and is even more efficient at a faster pace, but the Bluejays aren't 12-0 by accident. They're every bit as good on offense as they were with Doug McDermott and will remain a serious threat for the national championship for as long as they keep shooting like this.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina's Wish: Fewer Fouls in the Frontcourt
The good news is North Carolina has four quality big men on the roster. Between Tony Bradley, Kennedy Meeks, Luke Maye and Isaiah Hicks, the Tar Heels are relentless on the glass, ranking second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. Paired with a solid offensive-turnover percentage, they score on a ton of possessions and have one of the most efficient offenses in the country, even though they don't shoot all that well.
The bad news is all four of those guys have had some problems with the referees, each averaging at least 3.8 personal fouls per 40 minutes.
And in losses, it has been even worse.
Meeks lasted just 20 minutes before fouling out against Kentucky. Hicks and Bradley each played just 15 minutes against the Wildcats, committing a combined seven fouls of their own. Maye played the most of the bunch because he was able to avoid the whistles.
Against Indiana, though, Maye committed three fouls in eight minutes. Bradley had four in 15 minutes. Hicks fouled out and Meeks had his least effective game of the season, partially because he had two fouls by the second media timeout.
In theory, they have 20 fouls between them. They just haven't been afraid to use them against quality opponents, which is probably costing them wins.
7. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga's Wish: Enough Resistance to Remain Tournament-Ready
Over the past decade-and-a-half, Gonzaga has a NCAA tournament record of 17-15—a far cry from their regular-season record of 396-80 during that same stretch. And even most of those 17 wins are nothing special, as more than half of them have come against double-digit seeds. Against teams seeded No. 5 or better, Gonzaga is 1-8 since 2002 with the one exception coming last year against No. 3 Utah.
People use those numbers and the complete lack of Final Four appearances as a reason to doubt Mark Few and the Zags, but what do you expect from a team that goes nearly three months without any real competition and annually has a 10-11 day layoff between the end of its conference tournament and the start of its NCAA tournament run?
Save for the Derrick Rose-fueled run to the national championship that never officially happened, Memphis faced a similar dilemma during its eight-year stint as the only team worth a darn in Conference USA. The Tigers went 113-13 in conference play during that time, including four undefeated seasons, only to routinely bow out of the tournament before the Final Four.
But for all the "This might be the best team Mark Few has ever had at Gonzaga" conversations, the more important hypothesis is that this might be the best West Coast Conference ever.
Saint Mary's is almost always the top challenger to Gonzaga, but the Gaels are better than they've ever been. BYU has struggled, but it's finally starting to make some perimeter shots and will inevitably give Gonzaga at least one good fight this year. Loyola Marymount is considerably more competitive than it has been the past few years. And with a scoring machine like Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara is a threat to pull off a shocker.
There's a reasonable chance Gonzaga enters the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record. KenPom gives the Zags a 6.1 percent chance of at least getting to the WCC tournament without a loss. But they won't be able to sleepwalk through the next 10 weeks like they usually can. That might pay dividends when forced to play consecutive games against quality opponents in the NCAA tournament.
6. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky's Wish: Another Jump Shooter
Kentucky's starting five for five of the past six games has been De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, Wenyen Gabriel and Bam Adebayo. Considering those are the five Wildcats most likely to be drafted this June, that's not much of a surprise.
However, when those five guys are on the court together, Malik Monk is the only one you need to worry about guarding more than eight feet from the hoop.
Adebayo has not attempted a three-pointer yet this season and does the vast majority of his damage on dunks. Briscoe (5-of-18), Fox (4-of-26) and Gabriel (3-of-16) are shooting a combined 20.0 percent from three-point range, averaging one made triple per game. And don't be fooled by Gabriel's 63.2 percentage on two-pointers, either. Of those 24 buckets, 11 were layups, four were dunks and four were tips. He has only made eight jumpers all season.
Thus, when Monk went 1-of-9 from beyond the arc in Wednesday night's loss to Louisville, the Wildcats didn't have much of a plan B other than letting Fox and Adebayo try to create at the rim—which can be a fool's errand against a Louisville defense that usually ranks among the best in the nation in shot blocking.
The thing is, though, John Calipari has a pair of good shooters on the bench that should be getting significantly more touches, even though they don't have anywhere near the NBA potential of the current starters.
Derek Willis was Kentucky's diamond in the rough last year. It was in January when he started making it rain from three-point range and became a regular in the starting lineup that the Wildcats finally started to look like a title contender. But he has been relegated to the bench and hasn't had much of an impact in Kentucky's four games against marquee opponents, taking a combined 17 shots in 85 minutes played in those games.
But that's way better than what Mychal Mulder is getting. Kentucky's senior shooting guard is converting at a 42.9 percent clip from beyond the arc this season, but he played a grand total of 11 minutes against Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina and UCLA.
Mulder is probably the biggest defensive liability on this team, which is why he isn't playing much against quality opponents despite a reliable stroke. But at a certain point, it's worth giving up an extra bucket or five on defense by having him out there for 20 minutes to help spread the floor and open up lanes for the rest of the offense to thrive.
5. Duke Blue Devils
Duke's Wish: Rotation Works with Harry Giles
Save for some slow starts against Tennessee State and Elon, Duke has been firing on all cylinders since getting Jayson Tatum back from his ankle injury.
Amile Jefferson is a rebounding aficionado at the 5. Tatum is filling that stretch/small-ball 4 role where the best Duke teams always seem to thrive. There's still no true point guard, but the Blue Devils move the ball well and pretty much everyone can create shots for themselves, if and when necessary. Luke Kennard shows no signs of cooling down. Even Grayson Allen is tripping dudes, per usual. Factor in Matt Jones as a defensive specialist and guys like Frank Jackson and Chase Jeter providing valuable minutes off the bench and things are dandy in Durham.
But will working a healthy Harry Giles (AKA Chris Webber 2.0) into the rotation make this the most unbeatable team since the John Wooden-era UCLA Bruins, or will it upset the balance of an already great team?
It will definitely be good for the team's fatigue. The four guards played a ton of minutes while waiting for the three freshman frontcourt guys to get healthy and would benefit from a slight reduction in playing time the rest of the way. That isn't to say studs like Kennard and Allen are suddenly going to be platooning one spot in the lineup. Once Giles is up to the task, Mike Krzyzewski could give the freshman 25-30 minutes per game by simply giving him all of Jeter's minutes (14.6 on average) and taking 2-3 away from each of the other six regulars.
We're also not worried about it becoming an ego or alpha dog issue. Jones and Jefferson are the senior leaders of this team and two of the least selfish players in the country. Giles could come in and immediately demand a Jahlil Okafor-like number of touches, and Duke would somehow make it work.
From an offensive style point of view, though, playing Giles and Jefferson (or any two-man combination of them, Jeter and Marques Bolden) together would be a shift from the norm. Spreading the floor with four perimeter players is the crux of this offense. It opens up lanes for the guards to drive the rim. It clears out space for the one big (usually Jefferson) to dominate the offensive glass. And the way they can swing the ball around the arc wears out opposing teams.
Putting two bigs on the court together could muddy up that approach, regardless of how much NBA potential that second big has.
4. Baylor Bears
Baylor's Wish: Better Three-Point Shooting
One quirk of Baylor's schedule to date is it has had the luxury of almost exclusively facing teams that aren't good from three-point range.
Texas Southern, Jackson State, Sam Houston State and Oregon all rank outside the top 275 in three-point percentage. VCU, Oral Roberts, Southern, Louisville and Xavier are average three-point shooting teams that don't rely heavily on that part of the game. The one major exception to the rule is Florida Gulf Coast, and the Eagles shot 10-of-19 in the process of giving the Bears a run for their money in Waco, Texas.
The zone defense has been great, but it will face significantly more resistance in Big 12 play, where Kansas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech all rank in the top 50 nationally in three-point percentage. Texas is the only Big 12 team that hasn't yet shown an ability to bury opponents from the perimeter.
The point here is that, despite holding its five best opponents this season to an average of 58.8 points, Baylor is eventually going to run into a lot of opponents that can put points on the board in a hurry and will need to be able to keep pace with triples of its own.
Outside of Al Freeman, who has drilled 12 of his last 20 attempts, the Bears are mediocre from the perimeter. Everyone who suits up for Scott Drew can shoot the long ball—Terry Maston is the only Bear who has played this season without making at least one three-pointer—but they only have one reliable threat.
But if Manu Lecomte can shoot 40-42 percent the rest of the way or if King McClure can start actually making a few more of his 8.3 attempts per 40 minutes, Baylor could be the best team in the country.
3. Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas' Wish: Better Free-Throw Shooting
We've already mentioned the charity stripe as an area of concern for Notre Dame and Wisconsin, but it's a massive problem for a Jayhawks team that otherwise doesn't have many flaws.
Kansas is shooting a putrid 59.2 percent from the free-throw line this season, and the freshman class is mostly to blame. Josh Jackson (32-of-59), Udoka Azubuike (11-of-29) and Mitch Lightfoot (1-of-8) are a combined 45.8 percent—though Azubuike is out for the rest of the year following wrist surgery, so he won't be missing any more free throws.
But even the best guys on the roster aren't doing so great. Lagerald Vick is leading the way at 77.8 percent, but he has only attempted nine. Frank Mason is the only other player above 70.0 percent, and 71.2 is well below the norm for a senior lead guard.
The irony here is that their best game came in their only loss. Kansas was 30-of-38 (78.9 percent) from the line in the season-opener against Indiana and has shot 55.8 percent since, including five games below 48 percent.
Unlike Wisconsin, where Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ are shooting much worse than last year and should theoretically improve, Mason and Devonte' Graham are right around where they have been for the past two years.
What the Jayhawks miss is Perry Ellis making close to 80 percent of his 4.7 attempts per game. Replacing that type of consistency with the coin-flip situation of sending Jackson to the line is why they've dropped from a marginally above-average free-throw shooting team to one of the worst in the country.
2. UCLA Bruins
UCLA's Wish: Better Perimeter Defense
Make no mistake about it: UCLA is better on defense than it was last year. But most of that improvement has come in the paint where Thomas Welsh (when healthy) has progressed nicely from last season and where T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu are making significant contributions as freshmen.
On the perimeter, the Bruins are still meh. They don't force many turnovers and opponents are shooting slightly better than the national average from three-point range against them.
As a result, they're giving up points in bunches against teams that can actually shoot the ball.
They "held" UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara to a combined 118 points in 153 possessions, but those teams rank 328th and 351st in the nation in three-point percentage. Texas A&M and Nebraska also rank outside the top 300 in three-point percentage, but they both gave Kentucky a battle in the Wooden Legacy.
Now, when you're scoring 95.8 points per game, defense is more of a luxury than a must-have. UCLA let Michigan score 84 points in 64 possessions and still won that game by 18 points. The Bruins have given up at least 77 points six times and only one of those wins (at Kentucky) was decided by fewer than 15 points.
But only two teams in KenPom history have finished a season with an effective field-goal percentage of 59.0 or better—Samford (60.3 in 2004-05) and Florida (59.6 in 2006-07). The Bruins are currently leading the nation in that category at a likely unsustainable 63.3 percent. They may well set a new record, but it's hard to believe they can continue to hover at this stratospheric level all year.
At some point—likely several—their shooters are going to have an off night against a team that can score and will need to play some D. Otherwise, they run the risk of getting blown out of the NCAA tournament like Creighton's 30-point loss to Baylor in Doug McDermott's college finale.
That might seem like something that could never happen to this team, but keep in mind Creighton was setting records in offensive efficiency that year and entered that game with an effective field-goal percentage of 59.3. And when you can't defend the perimeter or force turnovers, it doesn't take long for things to spiral out of control.
1. Villanova Wildcats
Villanova's Wish: A Healthy Phil Booth
Everyone remembers the game-winning shot that Kris Jenkins made in the 2016 national championship, but he never would have gotten that chance without the play of Phil Booth. Villanova's now-junior shooting guard scored 20 points on seven shots in that game, including an impressive buzzer-beater at the end of the first half that few can probably even recall more than eight months later.
But Booth hasn't played in a game since Nov. 17 due to a knee injury, and the Wildcat depth chart is taking a hit without him.
The beauty of this roster is that so many guys can play multiple positions that they basically don't have any defined positions. Aside from Darryl Reynolds at the 5 if he's in the game and Jalen Brunson as a guard who isn't going to do much rebounding, pretty much everything is interchangeable. Donte DiVincenzo is getting a good amount of run in Booth's absence, but Villanova works just fine with Mikal Bridges, Jenkins or Josh Hart playing where Booth normally would.
With just seven guys in the rotation, though, how long can they go without Booth before fatigue becomes a factor?
Guys have been able to rest a bit in the less competitive games, but Bridges, Jenkins and Hart have been logging a ton of minutes in the games decided by a margin of fewer than 15 points—which figures to be the case in most of their Big East battles.
You might think these 18-22-year-old kids never need to worry about fatigue, but it has to be somewhat of a factor for a team so reliant on three-point jumpers. That isn't to say they're suddenly going to start having 4-of-32 shooting performances reminiscent of that December game against Oklahoma last year, but it could make enough of a difference to cost Villanova a game—possibly one in the NCAA tournament.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.