Last week, while most people were waiting by their chimneys for a jolly old fat guy, true Hoopheads were hoping their favorite team would get a visit from the Jigsaw Man. Unlike you-know-who, the Jigsaw Man is lean and mean, but his gifts keep on giving right through the Final Four.
Regular visitors to this space know all about the Jigsaw Man. His job is to figure out what is the biggest hole on your favorite team, then scour the nation in search of the perfect piece with which to plug it. The Jigsaw Man is not the master of the obvious. Instead of procuring first team All-Americans, he plucks obscure guys whose talents warrant greater attention.
Having made his list and checked it twice, the Jigsaw Man has once again shored up deficiencies of 12 of the nation's most prominent programs. If your team was among the lucky dozen, there is no need to thank him. Just know that while you were humming Christmas carols around your tree, the Jigsaw Man was in his hoops-addled workshop puzzling away, making sure your holiday dreams came true.
Presenting, the 12 teams of Jigsaw:
Biggest weakness: The Huskies have so little depth, they could use help at any position. Duquesne is the only team in the country that doles out a lower percentage of minutes to its bench. Since UConn just gained the services of 6-11 freshman Ater Majok, the Jigsaw Man will look to fill the remaining hole on the perimeter. This team doesn't need a rock star, just a guitarist with mystique who can shore up their three-point shooting (the Huskies rank last in the Big East in made threes) and tighten up those turnovers (they've committed more turnovers than their opponents this season).
Missing piece:Ben Hansbrough, 6-3 junior guard, Notre Dame. Yes, this is Tyler's younger brother, but he is a much different type of player who is quietly having a terrific season. Hansbrough is a capable scorer (12.9 ppg) whose 50.9% three-point shooting ranks 10th in the U.S. He is also an efficient distributor who is ranked in the top 10 in the U.S. in both assists (4.9 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.56). Hansbrough will help UConn execute in the halfcourt, but he will also flourish alongside Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson on the fast break, where Hansbrough can finish at the rim and spot up for open threes.
Biggest weakness: The Blue Devils were extremely lucky that they were able to get freshman guard Andre Dawkins, who was supposed to be getting ready for his senior year of high school, eligible after Elliott Williams unexpectedly transferred to Memphis last spring. But they are still one injury away from not having a single guard available off the bench, and while they are a stout defensive team they are not pressuring the ball the way they have in the past. (Duke is 11th in the ACC in steals.) Moreover, although Jon Scheyer has been arguably the best player in the ACC so far as a de facto point guard (he is second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio), this team could still use a more traditional and, yes, athletic playmaker who can create his own shot for those late-in-the-shot-clock situations when nothing else is working.
Missing piece:Dominique Jones, 6-4 junior guard, South Florida. Folks in the Big East will tell you that Jones is one of the country's best-kept secrets. Time to give him Duke-esque national TV exposure. Jones is a big scoring guard (18.6 ppg on 39.0% three-point shooting) who is averaging 4.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds. Jones is also ranked fifth in the Big East in steals (2.17), so he will give Mike Krzyzewski the ability to extend his defense. And Jones is doing all of this at a program that went 7-29 in its conference during his first two years. I'm sure he'd be willing to sacrifice a little scoring for a lot of winning.
Biggest weakness: All of those people who said the Gators would be better off without Nick Calathes may now leave the room. Calathes left a lot to be desired in the leadership department, but few guards were better at creating scoring opportunities both for himself and his teammates. Erving Walker, the Gators' jitterbug 5-7 sophomore point guard, is a good player to bring off the bench, but he is far too eager to jack up three-pointers despite converting just 31.3% from behind the arc. As a team, Florida is ranked 11th in the SEC in three-point percentage, yet they have still taken 14 more threes than free throws. This is the best defensive team Billy Donovan has had in a while, but they need a better replacement for Calathes, someone with similar size and flair, and who can lend the backcourt some veteran stability.
Missing piece:Greivis Vasquez, 6-6 senior guard, Maryland. It is unusual that a lower scoring average is evidence of maturity, but that is what is happening this season with Vasquez. He is scoring nearly three points per game fewer than he did as a junior, but he has improved his numbers in a variety of categories, including assists (6.3, sixth in the U.S.), steals (1.7, ranked 7th in the ACC), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.91, which is 6th in the ACC) and three-point percentage (a career-best 34.9%). Vasquez can alternate minutes at the point with Walker, or he can play alongside him. Either way, Vasquez's size makes him the ideal player to spearhead Florida's fullcourt press, and few players are more effective (or fun to watch) in the open floor.
Biggest weakness: Even as junior guard Chris Wright scored a career-high 34 points in the Hoyas' win over Harvard Wednesday night, he still committed four turnovers to just four assists. Wright is playing point guard out of necessity because Georgetown does not have a real point guard, and that really hurts this team at times. The Hoyas are ranked 45th nationally in overall offensive efficiency, they're 226th in turnover percentage, and among Big East teams they're 15th in assist to turnover ratio (0.9) and dead last in total turnovers (15.8). The Hoyas need a sure-handed upperclassman who can set the table for Wright and center Greg Monroe and knock down the occasional jump shot.
Missing piece:Derek Glasser, 6-1 senior guard, Arizona State. I must say, in all the years the Jigsaw Man has undertaken this exotic exercise, he has never found quite so perfect a fit. Not only is Glasser a pure point guard who leads the Pac-10 in assists (5.7) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.74), but he already plays in Herb Sendek's Princeton offense, so playing for John Thompson III will be a seamless transition. Glasser also shoots 47.6% from three-point range and 88.7% from the foul line. The cherry on top is the fact that Glasser is a bona fide M.O.T. As my grandfather used to say, there's nothing wrong with a little extra mazel.
Biggest weakness: I was surprised to learn from kenpom.com that the Wildcats are ranked 147th in the nation in tempo. You might think they're playing at breakneck speed, but in actuality their pace is average. Thus, their 15.9 turnovers per game, the highest average in the SEC, cannot be attributed to a blazing tempo. They have an even larger concern on defense -- and by extension, with their attitude. As talented as these young guys are, they have not bought into the idea that you have to play tough, smart, persistent D to be a great team. Since they are already one of the best shot-blocking and rebounding teams in the country, the place where Kentucky needs an infusion is the backcourt. They need someone who can lock down his man, take care of the ball and provide some leadership in the locker room.
Missing piece:J.T. Tiller, 6-3 senior guard, Missouri. The Jigsaw Man developed his man-crush on Tiller after I named him captain of my All-Glue team last year. As a senior, Tiller will give the Cats the maturity push they need to get over the championship threshold. Not surprisingly, Tiller's stats won't blow you away (9.9 points, 3.1 assists, 2.6 rebounds), but just watch him sometime. Besides being a hellacious defender, Tiller is a terrific student who as the son of a military dad will give John Calipari's backcourt the tough, snarly, defensive-minded persona it lacks.
Biggest weakness: Count me among the many who underestimated how much of a step back the Spartans would take at the center position from last year. Not only did they lose Goran Suton, who was a critical part of their Final Four run, but they also lost his two backups, Marquis Gray and Idong Ibok -- and all three were fifth-year seniors. I'm sure Tom Izzo is concerned with his team's carelessness with the ball, but at least the Spartans have the personnel to address those deficiencies. When your starting center is a 6-6 sophomore (Draymond Green) whose backup (Derrick Nix) is a 10.7% foul shooter, what you really need is a big, bad center to erase everybody's mistakes.
Missing piece:Omar Samhan, 6-11 senior center, Saint Mary's. Samhan has never gotten enough credit for the Gaels' success, but now that uber Aussie Patty Mills is gone, it's time we let the big fella strut his stuff. At the very least, Samhan would make Izzo's legendary war drill (where he throws up the ball and tells the 10 guys on the floor to go get it) great viewing. Samhan is sixth in the U.S. in rebounding (11.5 average) and he has already grabbed 15 or more boards in four different games. On top of that, he leads the West Coast Conference in scoring (20.8) and field goal percentage (57.9%) and he is second in blocks (1.67). If that's not a Tom Izzo player, I don't know what is.
Biggest weakness: We know the Tar Heels are loaded up front and suspect in the backcourt, but finding the exact right piece is, well, puzzling to the Jigsaw Man. Sophomore point guard Larry Drew II has been surprisingly adept piloting the offense, but his defense leaves much to be desired, which partly explains why the Heels are ranked 10th in the ACC in three-point defense (33.9%). Freshman Dexter Strickland is fast improving, but he has nearly as many turnovers as assists. Senior forward Marcus Ginyard is an excellent perimeter defender who has raised his three-point shooting to 46.9%, but he is a catch-and-shoot guy, not a creator. What North Carolina needs is a jack-of-all trades, someone who can make open shots, set up his teammates and shut down the opponent's best perimeter player.
Missing piece:Al Nolen, 6-1 junior guard, Minnesota. This Minneapolis native will bring a blue-collar attitude to North Carolina's glitzy young squad. Nolen is only averaging 6.4 points per game, so he won't come in looking to score, but his 42.1% clip from three-point range (up from 29.4% last year) will force defenses to worry about him. More important, offenses will have to worry about him, too. Nolen is ranked 11th in the nation in steals (2.75), and besides contributing 4.9 assists per game for the walk-it-up Gophers, he is 10th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Biggest weakness: The Boilermakers are ranked 114th nationally in tempo, but all you have to do is watch them to know they have trouble speeding up the game. That's the result of the potentially season-ending injury that sophomore point guard Lewis Jackson suffered in the preseason. Jackson is a little spotty when it comes to running Purdue's halfcourt offense, but he is a jet with the ball, and his absence has drastically cut down the Boilermakers' ability to get easy baskets. It has also left them with no true point guard. But you can't just plug any point guard into this program. It has to be someone who can buy into Purdue's identity, which is built around defense and toughness.
Missing piece:John Roberson, 5-11 junior guard, Texas Tech. Pat Knight will be justifiably angry at the Jigsaw Man for pilfering his best player, but instead of helping Texas Tech fight for an NCAA tournament bid, Roberson would be better-served leading Purdue to the Final Four in nearby Indianapolis. Roberson may not be the tallest cat in the gym, but he is plenty wide and smart, and he excels at both ends of the floor. Besides scoring 14.5 points per game on 38.8% three-point shooting, Roberson leads the Big 12 in assists (5.8), and he is in the top 10 in that conference in steals (5th, 1.91), assist-to-turnover ratio (8th, 2.29) and free throw percentage (8th, 81.1%). I'd pay just to watch him and Chris Kramer go at it in practice.
Biggest weakness: Now that this program finally has a few guards who can knock down outside shots, it figures they have absolutely no size inside to complement it. This will leave the Johnnies literally defenseless against the best post players in the Big East. Even if they get their best frontline defender, Justin Burrell, back from his high ankle sprain this week, he is still a 6-8 power forward. What St. John's needs is a nice big tree to guide them through the forest, someone who can alter shots at the defensive end and make everyone better on offense by stepping away from the post and firing smart passes.
Missing piece:Jeff Foote, 7-foot senior center, Cornell. At the very least, putting Foote on the Red Storm's roster ensures they'll never have to play against him. Foote absolutely carved up St. John's in Madison Square Garden last week, when he had 19 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks in the Big Red's 71-66 victory. Foote is stronger than he looks, and besides adding 14.0 points (on 57.6% shooting) and 9.5 rebounds per game, his 2.3 assists average would currently rank second on the Red Storm.
Biggest weakness: You can make a strong case that this is the best team in the country, so to the rest of the nation, the idea of helping the Longhorns is decidedly uncharitable. Yet, the Jigsaw Man can't help but wince when he sees Texas struggle in its halfcourt offense and at the free throw line. The Longhorns have no knockdown shooter to replace the graduated A.J. Abrams. They are ranked 11th in the Big 12 in three-point shooting (35.8%) and they are 303rd nationally in foul shooting (62.5%). With a surfeit of dribble penetrators and swarming defenders, all the Longhorns need is someone who can knock down open shots off handoffs and ball reversals, and who Rick Barnes can turn to at the end of games for his ability to convert free throws.
Missing piece:Rotnei Clarke, 6-foot sophomore guard, Arkansas. Clarke is arguably the most deadly long-range shooter in the country. It's a shame he's languishing at a program that probably won't make the NCAA tournament. He'll be a folk hero in Austin, though, thanks to his 54.4% clip from three-point range (second in the nation) and his career 87.2% free throw percentage. Clarke will have to sacrifice his playing time and scoring average, which at 19.8 ppg currently leads the SEC, but I'm guessing he'll gladly take a more subordinate role for a chance to win a title.
Biggest weakness: You don't have to have the Jigsaw Man's discerning eye to know that Nova, as usual, has a big, gaping hole in the middle. That was apparent during the Wildcats' only loss of the season, when they got out-rebounded by eight at Temple. This was supposed to be the year that hole got plugged, but freshman center Mouphtao Yarou was unexpectedly sidelined (probably for the season) after he was diagnosed with Hepatitis B. This team has a greater need for a guy who can score in the post than in past years because Nova's guards are inconsistent outside shooters.
Missing piece:Trevor Booker, 6-7 senior forward, Clemson. Booker is a load down low, and since he already plays in a program that loves to run and press, he should have no problem keeping up with Scottie Reynolds and company. Booker is a rugged lefty who is fifth in the ACC in rebounding (9.0) while also contributing 15.0 points and 2.5 assists. Morevoer, he will give Villanova some much-needed high-percentage shots. Booker's 53.8% field goal shooting is ranked eighth in the ACC, while Villanova's 45.0% clip is 10th in the Big East.
Biggest weakness: This is one of those cases where a team's strengths and weaknesses have flip-flopped from preseason expectations. The Huskies were supposed to be suspect inside, but they are ranked 5th in the nation in rebound margin. They are also a very good perimeter defensive team, ranking 19th nationally in defensive field goal percentage (28.0%). But whereas you'd think this team would have no problem dialing it in from long-distance, they are 8th in the Pac 10 in threes made (4.9) and 9th in three-point percentage (31.6%). They need another guard who likes to run, play D and knock down threes.
Missing piece:Ramon Martinez, 6-6 senior forward, New Mexico. Martinez is a crafty lefty whose excellence in all phases of the game has helped the Lobos become one of the biggest surprises of the season. He makes a ridiculously high percentage of his threes (48.3%) and is still a solid defender, ranking in the top 10 in the Mountain West in both rebounds (7.8) and steals (1.46). The Mountain West league may get more teams into the NCAA tournament than the Pac-10, but Martinez will still get a lot more exposure playing for a first-place team in a power conference. The Jigsaw Man believes he is ready for his close-up.