The Christmas wish list for college basketball as a whole this season is pretty simple. Most people associated with the sport just want to get through conference play without an abundance of cancellations and be able to have a postseason that is something close to normal. But what about some of the individual teams? Every transfer has already been granted immediate eligibility, so that’s one big item off the list for many programs that were uncertain about the status of potential contributors.
But it’s far enough into the year now that most teams have a decent idea of who they are, what they are good at and the areas in which they need help. Outside of the rare mid-year enrollee showing up and making an impact, though, rosters are pretty much set at this point. So for this week’s edition of the dribble handoff, our writers are playing the role of college basketball Santa and giving a gift to the team of their choice to help them along their journey this season. Here’s what we decided to bestow upon for a few lucky programs this holiday season:
North Carolina: A shooter
North Carolina had two potential game-tying 3-point attempts in the final four seconds Tuesday night at NC State. Predictably, the Tar Heels missed both of them. It’s been that way all season. They cannot make shots.
So Merry Christmas, UNC!
Can I gift you a shooter or four?
After making only 2-of-12 3-point attempts in their 79-76 loss at NC State, the Tar Heels are now shooting just 25.6% from 3-point range through eight games. That’s partly why they’re 5-3. UNC doesn’t have a single starter shooting better than 33.3% from beyond the arc. Two starters are literally shooting 0.0%. In other words, the Tar Heels are no threat to anybody from the perimeter, which makes everything tough on their bigs, which is among the reasons UNC is shooting just 49.5% inside the arc. That ranks 169th nationally. The good news is that North Carolina is one of the nation’s very best offensive-rebounding teams. So the Tar Heels do grab lots of their own misses. But they still miss way too much. And it’s difficult to be elite in this sport when nobody averaging at least 17 minutes per game is a legitimate threat from the perimeter. — Gary Parrish
Missouri: Excellent health
First, let me say that if I’m College Hoops Santa and I have the power to grant things to help anyone and everyone, I am gifting every coach a magic mask that need not be pulled down 173 times during a game. Let’s tighten it up, fellas. I’m also ensuring we get a safe, complete NCAA Tournament. Those are the top two items on my list. But more to helping out teams in general: I’m going to give Missouri a healthy season — it’s first in the Cuonzo Martin era. This is Martin’s fourth season with the Tigers. The first one had Michael Porter Jr. on the bench for all but three games. The second season had Porter’s younger brother, Jontay, tear his ACL before the 2018-19 campaign began, torpedoing Mizzou’s chances; it finished 15-17. Last season, Jeremiah Tilmon only started 11 games and played in 17, due to a stress fracture in his foot. Mark Smith also had back issues that kept him out for some of the season as well.
Now Missouri is 6-0, fresh off its close-shave win against Bradley on Tuesday night, which featured a last-second score by Tilmon to complete the Tigers’ comeback. The Tigers are in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since 2014. This team ranks eighth out of 357 in experience, according to KenPom.com. It is veteran-laden, talented, gelled and can be a top-three team in the SEC. It is owed a season of full health for maximum output. Santa is dropping that condition under Missouri’s Christmas tree this year. — Matt Norlander
Kentucky: A catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter
Kentucky has three former five-star and five former four-star prospects on its roster. It also has two highly-regarded first-year transfers in Davion Mintz and Olivier Sarr. And yet the Wildcats — who have landed nothing but top-two recruiting classes every year since John Calipari’s been at the helm — can’t buy baskets this season from beyond the arc. They’re the worst 3-point shooting team in the SEC and sit in the bottom 10 of all college hoops teams — all 328 of them! — in 3-point percentage.
Calipari and Co. have myriad issues to deal with right now after a dreadful 1-5 start to the season, including some odd roster construction and internal struggles with ego. But its talent is much better than 1-5. If UK had a reliable catch-and-shoot threat from 3-point range it could really elevate this stagnated offense and unlock the potential of BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke that we’ve only seen in spurts thus far. — Kyle Boone
Arizona State: A bruiser
The Sun Devils have a star senior guard in Remy Martin, a five-star wing in Josh Christopher and seemingly as much depth as anyone in the Pac-12. But this team has been missing one critical ingredient during a disappointing 4-3 start: interior toughness. Deficiencies in rebounding and post defense have been laid bare over the past three games with freshman power forward Marcus Bagley out due to a leg injury. The issues were glaring in an embarrassing 76-63 loss to UTEP last Wednesday in which the Sun Devils were out-rebounded by 20.
It’s obvious this team misses the production of Romello White, who transferred to Ole Miss after three seasons as a starter. He averaged 12.2 points and pulled down 8.8 rebounds per game, which was tied for second in the Pac-12 last year. Even if Bagley comes back from his injury soon, he’s more of a stretch four than a bruiser. In fact, he was not credited with a single block in his first four games before getting injured.
That’s why for Christmas, I am getting Arizona State a bruiser: a dirty-work sort of player who thrives at blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. If this Arizona State team had someone who could do both of those things well, it would look a lot more like the national contender it was expected to be than the disappointment it has been so far. — David Cobb
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