- Who would we make a New Year's resolution for in college hoops? We tackle that and more in this week's Tuesday Shootaround staff roundtable.
Welcome back to the Tuesday Shootaround roundtable! After a week off due to Christmas, we're back to discuss New Year's resolutions in college hoops, which non-favorites could steal a conference title and the non-conference matchup we'd have added to the schedule.
If you could write a New Year's resolution for one team, coach or player, what would it be?
Dan Greene: I would have Tennessee's Grant Williams resolve to stop fouling out. The 6' 7" forward is one of the country's best and hardest-playing players, and it's the latter quality that can get him into trouble, as he rarely shifts into careful mode once he's racked up three or four fouls. That's resulted in him fouling out of the final few minutes of the Vols' narrow loss to Kansas and win over Gonzaga. In the Zags game, his fifth foul—which came when Williams aggressively challenged a transition bucket from behind—was actually lauded by coach Rick Barnes for the way it demonstrated the tone and energy Tennessee needed to close that game out. But still, considering the potential this team has and how enjoyable Williams is to watch, you'd hate to see him relegated to the bench for the closing stretch of an elimination game in March.
Eric Single: The nation's No. 1 team and No. 2 offense in kenpom.com's adjusted efficiency ratings probably doesn't need tinkering, but I'd be interested to see what happened if Zion Williamson resolved to shoot at least three three-pointers a game. Since hitting his only attempt from beyond the arc in the season-opening Champions Classic, Williamson has made all of two threes, a 16.7% (3-of-18) clip that feels like it has to be below his true talent level. From a personal standpoint, he can only increase his sky-high draft stock if he demonstrates the deep ball as a skill; from Duke's perspective, adding Williamson to the list of halfway viable threats from outside by late February only adds to the challenge of covering them.
Molly Geary: For Jay Wright to unleash Jahvon Quinerly. There's obviously been some level of behind-the-scenes issues/frustration in this situation, and it's understandable if that's factored into the lack of playing time for the former five-star recruit, but I don't think Villanova reaches its ceiling this season unless he starts to see consistent minutes—and produces in them. So a big key to this resolution is Quinerly's own play too, of course, and the 10 points and four assists in the 25 minutes he saw against UConn with Collin Gillespie out were certainly a positive step forward. But after a long layoff and with Big East play starting, it will be interesting to see how Wright deploys the freshman guard with Gillespie back.
Jeremy Woo: North Carolina—please buy in on small ball. Roy Williams leaned on his quicker front line in last week’s win over Davidson, letting Nassir Little replace Garrison Brooks for a potent offensive look next to Luke Maye and Cam Johnson. This is not always going to be sustainable from a defensive standpoint, but for the Heels to hit their ceiling, it’s going to have to be the group that wins close games for them. A tricky non-conference schedule made it harder to experiment on the fly, but they’d be wise to get that group more time together in January and see what happens. Little, in particular, shouldn’t be stuck on the bench, even as he’s struggled.
Who are your top-three sleeper teams that could steal a regular-season conference title?
Greene: Arizona (Pac-12): Is there such thing as a sleeper in the Pac-12? The Wildcats have been somewhat of an afterthought in Arizona State's shadow during this rebuilding year, but they defend as well as anyone in the league and Sean Miller has won this thing a few times.
Mississippi State (SEC): Although I'm high on the SEC's presumed top tier, the Weatherspoons and company have had a quietly strong first two months and could sneak into the mix.
Nebraska (Big Ten): If someone is going to chase down Michigan and Michigan State atop the Big Ten, why not a top-15 Kenpom team with one of the league's best players in 6' 6" wing James Palmer?
Single: In an ACC race that looks to be Duke, Virginia and everybody else, more than one team is going to get a rude reminder of how tough Louisville is to play. Anyone outside those top two teams winning would be a stunner, but the Cardinals can hang around. Mississippi State is the forgotten member of the SEC's top tier, but the Bulldogs can score with anyone and could control their destiny when the calendar flips to March and they face road trips to Auburn and Tennessee. And of all the Pac-12 teams with reason to be ashamed of themselves at this point, Arizona's list of losses (Gonzaga, Auburn, Alabama and Baylor) doesn't look nearly as bad as some other contenders out west.
Geary: Iowa State (Big 12): The Cyclones finally have the full strength team they've been waiting for, and if Lindell Wigginton gets his outside shot going again they'll be a tough out in the Big 12.
Nebraska (Big Ten): By kenpom conference strength of schedule rating, the Huskers have the second easiest Big Ten slate (Ohio State has the easiest). Nebraska gets fellow contenders Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Indiana just once each, which certainly helps a path to the title for this talented, veteran team.
Marshall (C-USA): The Thundering Herd have become a bit of an afterthought after a 7–6 start to the season, including getting routed by every Power 5 team they've faced, but it feels like there's too much talent here to write Marshall off in a quite intriguing C-USA race (one that will be implementing its new pod scheduling in February).
Woo: Iowa State (Big 12): The Cyclones have their full complement, they zip the ball around the perimeter, and quietly have as much talent as anyone in the conference not named Kansas. They have ground to cover, but they’re not far off.
Creighton (Big East): The Big East is wide, wide open, the Bluejays are relatively experienced, and they have two underrated shot-makers in Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitchell Ballock. This group is capable of knocking off anyone on a good day.
Mississippi State (SEC): The Bulldogs are ranked but have somewhat missed the hype train, which may be to their benefit in the end. Tennessee is the favorite and Auburn and Kentucky are dangerous, but Mississippi State features three backcourt creators in the Weatherspoon brothers and Lamar Peters, plus emerging stretch big Aric Holman. Any of those guys can hurt you on a given day, and as long as they’re sharing the ball, they’re a tough out.
Which non-conference game that we didn't get to see would you have added to the schedule?
Greene: Kentucky-Indiana. As I wrote recently, I'm a firm believer in loading the non-conference slate with local rivalries to give November and December an injection of meaning to fans, players, and coaches alike. If the Wildcats and Hoosiers had renewed their series this year, we would have been treated to not only a heated matchup but a fascinating one between two teams looking to find their footing and prove just how good how good they will turn out to be. We might have seen Romeo Langford bolster his home-state legend or UK help wash out some of the bitter taste of its opening-night flop against Duke. But alas.
Single: Many people thought we'd see Virginia–Tennessee in last year's Elite Eight, but a meeting this winter could have been even more revealing, now that the Vols' offense has joined the ranks of the elite efficiency-wise. Virginia will have plenty of gut-check games in ACC play, but a truer test of its Final Four worthiness may be how that gear-jamming system plays against a team the Cavaliers don't see every year, especially one with the level of athleticism and experience that Rick Barnes has assembled in year four in Knoxville.
Geary: Duke-Michigan, especially in November/early December when the Wolverines were on their run of destroying everyone. Seeing how Texas Tech kept it close with the Blue Devils for so long, I think a team like Michigan, which is also elite defensively but better offensively, would be a very tough challenge for Duke. It would also present some fascinating strength-on-strengths, since the Blue Devils are fourth in offensive rebounding rate and first in defensive steal rate, while the Wolverines are 12th in defensive rebounding rate and first in offensive steal rate. Hopefully we get treated to this matchup in the Big Dance.
Woo: Michigan-Duke, for the clash of styles. We’ll have to wait for March and hope.