Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

SMU: Markus Kennedy

Christmas came early for Larry Brown and the Mustangs when Markus Kennedy was ruled eligible last week. The junior averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds a season ago and will give SMU a skilled, physical offensive weapon to throw into an already deep frontcourt. Yanick Moreira, Ben Moore and Cannen Cunningham have performed admirably in filling the void Kennedy left behind, but the return of a preseason All-Conference selection is never a bad thing. The Mustangs, who have won six straight after a 2-3 start, are only getting stronger as we head into conference play. With Kennedy and Nic Moore (14.7 points per game with 2P/3P/FT shooting splits of .56/.49/.91) leading the way, SMU suddenly appears to be favorites in the American.

Michigan State: Free Throw Attempts… and Makes

The Spartans have not only forgotten how to get to the free throw line, but also what to do on the rare occasion they find themselves there. Michigan State has received just 14.3 percent of their points from free throws (345th nationally), which is only partially explained by the team’s miserable percentage from the line — 63.2 percent, 301st nationally. The Spartans’ defensive efficiency has been uncharacteristically bad – 2006 was the last time a Tom Izzo team finished a season ranked lower in defensive efficiency than where they are now – so Sparty would be wise to squeeze out every possible ounce of offensive efficiency. There’s plenty of it waiting out there for Michigan State, and it’s all sitting at the charity stripe.

Mid-Majors Far and Wide: A Weak Tournament Bubble

The expanded Tournament field has created some of the weakest Tournament bubbles we have ever seen, and a crop of mid-majors who are off to good-but-not-great starts will surely be hoping for the worst version of it yet. Some are better positioned than others, but Green Bay, BYU, Dayton, Wyoming, Old Dominion, Georgia State and Stephen F. Austin (among others) will all be hoping for high-major chaos in the post-holiday seasons. Poor showings in conference play would derail any of these teams’ hopes before they could even begin to take that glance around, but each have done enough this non-conference season to entertain legitimate Tournament aspirations. Little guys: Keep winning now and into March, get a little help elsewhere (wink, wink , Santa) and the real Christmas gift will arrive in mid-March.

BHayes (244 Posts)

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