Cold weather got you down? Or are you just feeling an uncomfortable chill because you know your favorite team doesn't quite have the pieces it needs to mount a run in the NCAA tournament?
Don't despair, Hoopheads. The Jigsaw Man is back. He's going to fix your problems and warm your souls.
Regular visitors to this space know all about The Jigsaw Man. For the last few months he has been pouring over stats and spreadsheets. He has studied video. He has pondered and pontificated. And he has scavenged the nation to find the exact right piece that will instantly transform your team from a wannabe into a gonna be.
As you know, The Jigsaw Man likes to challenge himself. He knows that any team would get better if it could plug in Jared, Kemba or Jimmer. He prefers to look for players who are a little less well-known, a little less obvious. Now he's ready to present his findings. What follows below are the 12 puzzles on which The Jigsaw Man has been hard at work. If your favorite team is among the lucky dozen, there is no need to thank him. The Jigsaw Man is not out for glory. He just wants you to enjoy the completed pictures.
Biggest weakness: The Gators are a favorite Jigsaw Man target because they always seem to be just one player away from becoming a great team. That player is usually a guard, which is why he gave them Maryland's Greivis Vasquez last year. Well, Vasquez is in the NBA, but Florida has the same old problems. The Gators are sixth in the SEC in three-point percentage and they're eighth in threes made. That wouldn't be such a big problem if they utilized the foul line, yet they're ranked 245th nationally in free-throw rate and 270th in free-throw percentage. What this team needs is a tough guard who can nail outside shots and do some damage at the stripe. It would also be nice to find someone who can hold onto the ball, since the Gators have committed just two fewer total turnovers than their opponents this season.
Missing piece: Jordan Taylor, 6-foot-1 junior guard, Wisconsin. Taylor is 195 pounds of brute strength. He would immediately give Florida some badly-needed toughness at both ends. Even though Wisconsin is ranked 345th nationally in tempo, Taylor has attempted 100 free throws this season, which would lead the team if he were on Florida's roster. Taylor converts 88 percent from the line, and he is also currently ranked third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.95-to-1). Throw in his 17.6 points and 4.6 assists a game, and you can see why The Jigsaw Man believes he would dramatically improve the Gators the moment he suits up.
Biggest weakness: The Seminoles are ranked third overall in defensive efficiency, but they're 146th in offensive efficiency. So they need someone who can knock down outside shots. Since Florida State also commits 16.4 turnovers per game, this person needs to take real good care of the rock. Still, if you're going to play for Leonard Hamilton, you'd better know how to guard. The Jigsaw Man understands that he can't just stick any standstill shooter on this squad. So he searched for someone who would fit into this team's defensive mindset while demonstrating he understands how to play with good players.
Missing piece: Jackson Emery, 6-3 senior guard, BYU. What, you didn't realize someone else played for BYU besides The Jimmer? Emery has been the perfect complement to Fredette's uncanny scoring ability, but he'll really give Florida State a boost by stretching opposing defenses. Emery doesn't get a ton of shots right now, but he's still averaging 13 points per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from three-point range. Best of all, Emery just passed Danny Ainge to become BYU's career leader in steals. He also boasts a ridonkulous 3.19 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Jigsaw Man loves him, and he knows Hamilton will, too.
Biggest weakness: You might think The Jigsaw Man would want to deliver the Hoyas a true point guard, which would allow Chris Wright to play off the ball where he belongs. But in this Princeton-style offense, the Hoyas don't need a pure point guard as much as they need more good passers. Yes, they miss Greg Monroe's scoring and rebounding in the post, but what they miss the most are his 3.8 assists per game. So The Jigsaw Man is prepared to leave Wright at the point and instead install someone in the frontcourt who can make JT3's offense run a little more smoothly.
Missing piece: Draymond Green, 6-7 junior, Michigan State. If Green can average four assists per game at Michigan State, imagine what he can do in an offense specifically designed for his skill set. Green is a much-improved post defender, and his three-point shooting has skyrocketed. (He made just two treys all of last season, but he currently has 22 makes this season while converting 43.1 percent.) However, the best thing about Green is his leadership. He has been a commanding presence in the Spartans' locker room ever since his freshman season. That's something that Georgetown could really use.
Biggest weakness: Immovable post scorer and rebounder? Check. (Trey Thompkins.) Jumps-out-of-the-gym athlete? Check. (Travis Leslie.) Backcourt scorer and playmaker? Check. (Gerald Robinson.) Deadeye three-point shooter? Uh ... can we get back to you on that one? The Jigsaw Man can. He wants the Dawgs to do a better job exploiting the three-point line. Robinson is the team's only consistent long-range shooter, but it would help immeasurably if he had another dagger thrower to fill the opposite wing. Georgia is fifth in the SEC in three-point percentage (34.1), but it's 11th in threes made per game (4.7). Imagine how much harder it would be for opponents to handle Thompkins inside if they didn't have the luxury of sagging off Georgia's outside shooters.
Missing piece: Jordan Hulls, 6-foot sophomore guard, Indiana. Hulls is a specialist, but he's really good at what he does. Heading into last weekend he ranked sixth in the country in three-point percentage at 51.4. He doesn't take a ton of free throws (as you might imagine), but when he gets there he knocks them down (as you also might imagine). This will make him a valuable utility guy if Mark Fox wants to do some offense-defense substitutions at the end of games. It also helps that Hulls has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.14-to-1.
Biggest weakness: It's hard to quantify toughness. On paper Illinois is a pretty good defensive team. The Illini are ranked second in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense and first in three-point defense. They're also third in blocks. Yet, they seem to missing that certain je ne sais quois that prevents them from winning a big game like last Saturday's home tilt against Ohio State. The Illini could use some help on the boards, especially on nights when those three-pointers aren't falling. (They're ninth in the league in rebound margin.) But they need more than just another big man. They need a man with a big heart.
Missing piece: Kenneth Faried, 6-8 senior forward, Morehead State. The Jigsaw Man experienced his eureka moment while reading Luke Winn's elegant story on Faried in last week's issue of Sports Illustrated. Yes, Faried will grab a ton of missed shots for the Illini. He is currently averaging a nation's-best 13.7 rebounds per game. The more salient fact about Faried is that at 6-8, 225 pounds, there is no logical reason why he should be able to rebound this well. As Billy Donovan said, he is a modern-day Dennis Rodman. He simply wants the ball more than the other guy. Illinois has plenty of can-do. Faried will give this team some badly-needed want-to.
Biggest weakness: The Jigsaw Man knew the Wildcats would miss graduated point guard Denis Clemente, but he never imagined they would miss him this much. Besides cranking up the Wildcats' transition game with his ability to push the ball, Clemente was a reliable scorer (16.6 ppg, second-best on the team), setup man (4.2 assists) and free throw shooter (74.4 percent). His ability to run the team enabled Jacob Pullen to play off screens and be a catch-and-shoot player. Pullen's three-point percentage didn't drop from 39.6 last season to 32.7 this year because he forgot how to shoot. He is simply not getting the same quality looks.
Missing piece: Norris Cole, 6-2 senior guard, Cleveland State. Cole is a jet of a point guard who can score in bunches while hounding the other team's point on defense. Pullen will love playing with him. Cole currently leads the Horizon League in scoring (20.1), assists (5.1) and steals (2.38). He is also making 83.6 percent of his free throws, an area where Kansas State has been epically bad all season.
Biggest weakness: The Jigsaw Man isn't quite sure how Rick Pitino has the Cards where they are, but he knows how much better they would be if they didn't suffer injuries to their two best forwards. Jared Swopshire, a 6-8 junior, is lost for the season because of a groin injury, and 6-7 sophomore Rakeem Buckles has missed the last seven games because of a hand injury. Not surprisingly, this has hurt Louisville on the glass. The Cardinals rank 12th in the Big East in rebound margin and 78th nationally in offensive rebound percentage. They need some help inside, but it should come from a player who is mobile enough to play free safety in their fullcourt press. This player should be able to score around the basket, but the last thing the Cardinals need is another guy looking to jack up a bunch of threes.
Missing piece: Ryan Rossiter, 6-9 senior forward, Siena. If you spotted Rossiter walking through an airport, you'd never guess he was the nation's second-leading rebounder. He's not overly tall and he only weighs 235 pounds, but his timing and positioning ability make him devastatingly effective on the glass. Besides his 13 rebounds a game, Rossiter is also averaging 19.2 points and makes 51 percent of his shots. He does most of his work in the paint, having made just three three-pointers during his entire career. Rossiter also converts 73.9 percent from the foul line, which can only help a team that ranks 12th in the Big East in that department (66.8 percent).
Biggest deficiency: If it's hard for The Jigsaw Man to watch the Terps lose games while Jordan Williams proves himself to be one of the best big men in America, imagine how aggravating it is for Gary Williams. The 6-10 sophomore is the nation's third-leading rebounder at 12.1 per game, and he's also fifth in the ACC in scoring (17.6) and first in field-goal percentage (55.3). Maryland's guards simply cannot put the biscuit in the basket. The Terps rank last in the ACC in both threes made per game (4.5) and free-throw percentage (63.3). With Greivis Vasquez now playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, the Terps need a guard who can do everything -- most of all score. And since he's replacing Vasquez, he should do it with some flair.
Missing piece: Mickey McConnell, 6-foot senior guard, Saint Mary's. McConnell is going to be Gary Williams' favorite new toy. Just wind him up and watch him go. McConnell is averaging a career-best 14.6 points per game and his percentages are off the charts: 51.4 from the floor, 89.8 from the foul line, 46.7 from three-point range. Remarkably, he is putting up such huge numbers while also leading the West Coast Conference in both assists (6.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.93). Having played three years with 6-11 center Omar Samhan, McConnell has also shown he is adept at feeding the post. Williams -- both Jordan and Gary -- will be sending The Jigsaw Man turtle-shaped chocolates for the rest of his life for having delivered such a perfect fit.
Biggest weakness: If you were coaching a team against Missouri, how would you attack them? By slowing them down, of course. The Tigers are at their best when they're on the run, but when they have to execute in the halfcourt their weaknesses start to show. They're not bad on the boards, but they're not great, either. (Mizzou is ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rebound margin, and they're 123rd nationally in offensive-rebound percentage.) Juco transfer Ricardo Ratliffe has given this team some nice muscle inside (11.8 points, 7.0 rebounds per game), but The Jigsaw Man is greedy. He understands that this team could really use another big man who can give them more pop in the post on both sides of the floor.
Missing piece: Nikola Vucevic, 6-10 junior forward, USC. The Jigsaw Man is tired of seeing Vucevic toil in obscurity. Last year, the Trojans couldn't go to the NCAA tournament because of a postseason ban. This year they won't go because they're not good enough. So Vucevic is going to have to head to the great midwest to get his love. He currently ranks first in the Pac-10 in rebounding (10.0), fifth in scoring (6.1), third in blocks (1.3) and eighth in field-goal percentage (48.9). On top of all this Vucevic has made 17 three-pointers this season and is converting 34.7 percent from behind the arc. The Jigsaw Man loves to imagine Vucevic grabbing an offensive rebound, pitching the ball out to one of Missouri's blazing guards, and then knocking down a three-point shot as a trailer on the break.
Biggest weakness: The Tar Heels are not getting great production from the point guard position, to put it mildly. Part of the problem is that the fellas their point guards are dishing off to are not knocking down shots. Just one player, sophomore Leslie McDonald, is making better than 40 percent from three-point range, and as a team the Heels are ranked 11th in the ACC in three-point percentage. They're also committing more than 14 turnovers per game. What this team need is a bona fide do-it-all lead guard -- a points guard as well as a point guard. More than points and assists, however, this player should bring some swagger. Lord knows this team could use a jolt of confidence.
Missing piece: Tu Holloway, 6-foot junior guard, Xavier. You think Holloway is itching to strut his stuff on a bigger stage? The Musketeers have been devastated by injuries and other personnel issues this season, but Holloway still has them at 5-0 in the Atlantic 10. He is a winner as well as a stat-sheet stuffer. Even though every Xavier opponent lists Holloway at the top of its scouting report, the little bugger leads the league in scoring (20.4 ppg) and is second in assists (5.4) and free-throw percentage (85.3). And if he can create scoring opportunities for a big, lumbering center like Kenny Frease, just imagine what he'll do for Tyler Zeller. Plus, The Jigsaw Man has always loved Holloway's moxie. He can just picture Holloway turning to the bench and saying, "Yo, Roy, chill. I got this."
Biggest weakness: The Red Storm have had the same problem for years. The guys play as hard as they can on the defensive end, they grind it out on the boards ... and then they lose by a few points because they can't knock down outside shots. The Johnnies are ranked 12th in the Big East in three-point percentage (31.5) and 15th in threes made per game (4.1). The Jigsaw Man has a feeling that there are times when Steve Lavin has had visions of Jason Kapono dancing in his head. Not only should the player who fills this void be able to light it up from the perimeter, he also has to be dynamic enough to handle the klieg lights of Madison Square Garden.
Missing piece: Klay Thompson, 6-6 junior forward, Washington State. Thompson is another one of those players who is totally unknown outside of Hoophead circles. The Jigsaw Man pines to see him play in the Big Apple. New Yorkers will love this kid. He puts up huge numbers -- 22.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He knocks down 46.2 percent of his shots (including 42.8 percent from three-point range) and 83.8 percent from the foul line. Plus, his father, Mychal, played in the NBA for 13 years, so he'll fit right in on Broadway.
Biggest weakness: So much of Syracuse's high hopes in the preseason revolved around the expectation that 7-foot freshman Fab Melo, a native of Brazil, would have a one-and-done kind of impact. Melo has not come close to living up to that hype. Baye Moussa Keita, a 6-10 freshman from Africa, was a pleasant surprise during the nonconference season, but his impact has dwindled as the Orange have gotten into more the physical play of the Big East. The Jigsaw Man is impressed that Syracuse has played so well with so little production from this vital position. Imagine how hard the Orange would be to stop if they had an experienced, strong, efficient center to anchor that 2-3 zone and get a few buckets off the offensive glass.
Missing piece: Festus Ezeli, 6-11 junior center, Vanderbilt. First of all, The Jigsaw Man believes that if you're going to look for someone to rotate with guys named Fab and Baye, he should have a name like Festus. It has been a real pleasure watching this 255-pound Nigerian native blossom into a stout, dependable center. Last year, Ezeli averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game. This year he's averaging 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds in 21.9 minutes. He doesn't need a lot of shots to score points because he is converting 58.9 percent from the floor. That means Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph will still get plenty of his shots. Most of all, Syracuse could really use Ezeli's 2.3 blocks per game, which ranks fourth in the SEC.