In order to contend, what do the top teams need to resolve to fix in the coming months?
Admit it: Most New Year’s resolutions don’t last.
All those promises to eat healthier and exercise more go by the wayside after only a few months.
Lucky for the following college basketball teams, New Year’s resolutions only have to last until early April at the latest.
As the New Year has begun and teams are beginning to focus on conference play, Athlon has a few suggestions of what teams, players and coaches need to resolve to accomplish in order to thrive in the 2013 portion of the season.
Some coaches must resolve to find the best lineup or locate the right personnel for the right time. Some leagues need to keep the momentum going or just stay interesting. Some teams need to improve a stat here or there (Kentucky, cough cough, free throws, cough cough).
No team is perfect this season, so any team's resolution could go a long way to success into March.
2013 COLLEGE BASKETBALL RESOLUTIONS
ACC: Establish a quality No. 2 team.
Duke is a clear-cut top team in the ACC, but does the league have a worthy challenger for the Blue Devils? Duke is ranked second in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The only other ACC teams in Pomeroy’s top 30 are No. 25 Virginia (10-3) and No. 27 Miami (9-3). Meanwhile, top-ranked Duke and No. 23 NC State are the only teams ranked in the AP poll this week. The Wolfpack has shown signs of pulling its roster together since a 20-point loss to Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico. A 79-73 win over UNLV on Saturday showed North Carolina can’t be counted out. And Maryland has an intriguing roster, if not quality wins. All may be NCAA Tournament teams, but their ability to stand with the Blue Devils at the end of the season remains in question.
Arizona: Keep the momentum from the San Diego State victory.
Two of the Wildcats’ biggest weaknesses -- turnovers and 3-point defense -- weren’t a concern in a 68-67 win over San Diego State on Christmas. Against the Aztecs, Arizona had its fewest turnovers (eight) since the opener and held San Diego State to 4 of 17 from the 3-point line. The Wildcats already are the favorites in the Pac-12, but if they can keep up the trend from the Diamond Head Classic, Arizona will be that much more dangerous in March.
Atlantic 10: Be the most interesting conference race.
A handful of other leagues have established clear pecking orders, but who knows what will come of the Atlantic 10, which may have the most compelling conference race aside from the Big Ten. With wins over Indiana and Syracuse, respectively, Butler and Temple are better than anyone projected this season. VCU may be the best of the bunch after winning seven in a row by an average of 25 points. Eight of the league’s 16 teams have at least nine wins.
Baylor: Get its act together.
This is a recurring resolution: Baylor has one of the top rosters in the country but the results of a middling Big 12 team. Beyond Kansas, the Big 12 is a crapshoot, so a team with Baylor’s talent should be able to cruise into the NCAA Tournament. But then again, the Bears enter conference play at 8-4.
Catholic 7: Assemble a great pure basketball league.
Any calls for a break in conference realignment seem futile. The biggest victory, at least for basketball, would be for the Big East’s Catholic school defectors to assemble a quality league that makes sense geographically and philosophically, a throwback to the original Big East, in essence. Here’s hoping Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Marquette, et al., learned from the mistakes of their former football colleagues and make logical moves in expansion.
Cincinnati: Relocate the scoring touch.
Cincinnati is one of the best rebounding teams in the Big East, but the Bearcats are going to need to break the 70-point mark at a more regular pace if they’re going to deliver as a top Big East team. In its lone loss of the season to New Mexico, Cincinnati shot 31.3 percent from the field and reached the free throw line four times in the 55-54 defeat.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott: Lock up national player of the year honors.
Who else is in the running for national player of the year? Trey Burke? Russ Smith? Mason Plumlee? McDermott may still be the top candidate out there, though he’s not going to have much room for error in the Missouri Valley. McDermott is averaging 22.9 points per game, but he’s diversified his game with career bests both in efficiency and overall attempts from 3-point range and the free throw line.
Duke: Stay healthy.
All of Duke’s starters are averaging at least 10 points per game. Four are averaging at least 30 minutes per game. That’s nice, but no other Blue Devil is averaging more than 3.9 points per game. Given the way the season derailed after Ryan Kelly was hurt last season, culminating in the loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament, Duke can ill afford any prolonged absences.
Florida: Figure out the go-to option in the backcourt.
For two years in a row, Florida has faded late in the Elite Eight. A go-to scorer in the backcourt has to be a priority for another Gators team with the potential to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Kenny Boynton struggled against Arizona and is 7 of 32 from 3-point range in the last six games. The Gators may want to put more on the shoulders of Mike Rosario and/or Scottie Wilbekin, but they’ve been cold from long range in recent games, too.
Georgetown: Don’t fool us again.
The Hoyas may not be a Big East frontrunner or a threat to reach the Final Four, but the 10-1 start with the only loss coming in overtime to Indiana is better than most expected for Georgetown. But then again, this is when things tend to go awry for the Hoyas. The young Georgetown team will start the Big East season with four road trips in the first six games, so we’ll find out by the end of the month of the Hoyas are a contender or fool’s gold again.
Gonzaga: Go on an NCAA Tournament run.
Mark Few may have his best team at Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs likely will be judged by their ability to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga has played in the Tournament every season under Few but has reached the Sweet 16 as many times in the last 11 seasons (twice) as he did in his first two. What might help is drawing a Big 12 team in the field: Gonzaga is 5-0 against the Big 12 this season.
Illinois: Become less dependent on 3-pointers.
Illinois is scoring 37.3 percent of its points from 3-pointers this season, an awfully high ratio for a team contending in a major conference. A cold shooting day could mean disaster for Illinois, and a team anchored by the streaky Brandon Paul could be doubly problematic if he's the one who loses he scoring touch from beyond the arc. Finding balance is going to be a key for Illinois if its going to remain among the top teams in the Big Ten.
Indiana: Give Victor Oladipo his due.
Though Cody Zeller appeared on magazine covers and remains Indiana’s top awards contender, it’s time for Oladipo to carve out a niche as the Hoosiers’ folk hero. The one-time defensive specialist is on his way to career highs in scoring (13.6 points per game), rebounding (5.9) and shooting (67.3 percent from the field).
Kansas: Don’t let point guard become a liability.
The Jayhawks seem to have all the pieces to dominate the Big 12 and to make a deep postseason run. The one glaring question is point guard, where Elijah Johnson has struggled. Freshman Naadir Tharpe has shown signs of become a quality option at that spot with 12 assists against American on Saturday and no turnovers in backup duty in the last four games.
Kentucky: Don’t let free throws sink the season.
This isn’t one of John Calipari’s best teams. That’s clear, but it can be better than it has been. The Wildcats are shooting only 64.2 percent from the line, including an 11-of-23 performance that helped sink UK against Louisville. In Kentucky’s four losses, the Wildcats are shooting 55.3 percent from the line.
Louisville’s Russ Smith: Play at this level all season.
Russ Smith is in the national player of the year conversation by averaging 20 points per game and playing great defense in the Cardinals’ press. But Smith can make risky decisions from time to time. When he’s on, he’s electrifying. And if he stays that way all season, he’ll be an All-American.
Related: Key college basketball stats from last week
Michigan: Stay humble.
At 13-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, Michigan is in a spot it hasn’t seen since the Fab Five days. Trey Burke has been hailed as the nation’s best point guard, and the freshman class has helped transform the Wolverines into a title contender. But Michigan isn’t that far removed from losing in the NCAA Tournament to Ohio (whose former coach, John Groce, will face Michigan twice this season at Illinois). In less than a month (Jan. 13-Feb. 12), Michigan will make road trips to Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Minnesota: Hold on to a spot in the top tier of the Big Ten.
Monday’s 76-63 win over Michigan State showed the Gophers have some staying power, but how much? The potential is there for a standout season in the Big Ten, but we haven’t seen Andre Hollins play consistently. Before scoring 22 against Michigan State, he scored five against Lafayette, and after scoring 41 on Memphis, he was 1 of 8 against Stanford. Same goes for Trevor Mbakwe, an Athlon preseason All-American, who is still working his way to full strength after last season's knee injury.
Missouri’s Phil Pressey: Avoid shooting slumps.
Pressey can be the best player on the floor even if he’s not shooting well, but imagine if Pressey knocked down more of his shots? He had 19 assists in the overtime loss to UCLA and 11 assists against Illinois, but he was also a combined 11 of 41 from the floor in those games.
Memphis: Dominate Conference USA.
Don’t let records fool you: Despite four teams with at least 10 wins, Conference USA is not in good shape. Memphis is the league’s only team in Ken Pomeroy’s top 50 and one of four in the top 100. With three standout recruiting classes, Memphis has the ability to rule the league, especially with key players hurting/ineligible at Marshall, the most likely foil for the Tigers this season. But Memphis can’t seem to get out of a season without drama. If Memphis can’t win the C-USA tournament, it may be sweating an NCAA Tournament bid.
Mountain West: Land five teams in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountain West has never had more than four teams in the Tournament field, but this may be the season to change that. UNLV (11-2) and San Diego State (12-2) seem safe for bids, as does New Mexico (13-2). But Wyoming (13-0) remains undefeated with a stingy defense and a signature win over Colorado. Colorado State (12-2) is a veteran team that defeated Washington on the road and pounded Virginia Tech 88-52 on Dec. 23. And although Boise State (11-2) has a loss to Utah, it has a 13-point win at Creighton on its resume. Perhaps most important, the league won’t have a glut of teams dragging down the conference RPI other than perhaps Fresno State.
NC State: Make the most of its time out of the spotlight.
Remember, no one was on the NC State bandwagon until March last season. Maybe NC State will thrive again as a late bloomer. The Wolfpack are a long way removed from the 20-point loss to Oklahoma State but a long way from challenging Duke in the ACC. Now that no one’s talking about NC State as the ACC favorite anymore, the Wolfpack have been working on finding the right chemistry between its veterans and freshmen. The Pack will find out if the soul-searching has paid off when it faces Georgia Tech, Duke and Maryland in a three-game ACC swing.
Related: Top 50 individual sports performances for 2012
North Carolina: Find a lineup that works.
With few proven full-timers returning to North Carolina, perhaps it’s not a total surprise Roy Williams hasn’t found the right starting five. In filling in for Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston scored 15 points with four rebounds and four steals against UNLV in his first start of the season. When Bullock returns from a concussion, Williams will have to return Hairston to his bench role or play a smaller lineup. Either way, the key to the season may still be North Carolina’s ability to get the most out of James Michael McAdoo.
Ohio State: Find a second scorer.
Deshaun Thomas is scoring like Ohio State expected of him at 19.8 points per game, but who else is going to deliver? Lenzelle Smith Jr. was 3 of 13 against Kansas, including 0 for 7 from 3-point range. LaQuinton Ross has regressed since the start of the season. Aaron Craft isn’t scoring much either, but his best role is as a floor general. The lack of a secondary option was plainly obvious against Kansas and could continue to be that way through the Big Ten season.
Pac-12: Don’t embarrass yourself.
Let’s say this first: The Pac-12 is much better than it’s been. Arizona is a top-flight team. UCLA is getting better. Colorado and Oregon are in NCAA Tournament contention. In short, the Pac-12’s resolution should be to not screw it up. Four Tournament bids, after having eight total the last three seasons, would be a good place to start. Arizona advancing to the Sweet 16 or further would be better. And Tournament wins by the league’s second tier would be a nice touch.
Rivalries: Keep playing ‘em.
No longer conference rivals, Kansas and Missouri aren’t playing each other. Neither are West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Indiana and Kentucky couldn’t agree on where to play its series, so the matchup ended altogether. And Memphis and Tennessee will go on hiatus after this season. Ever wonder why college basketball’s regular season is fading? Maybe this is why.
Syracuse: Develop a Plan B after Michael Carter-Williams.
In Syracuse’s only loss of the season, Temple found a way to contain Carter-Williams to six assists (he averages 10.1) and 3 of 17 shooting. With Carter-Williams out of the picture some of the supporting cast failed to pick up the slack in the 83-79 loss. A backup plan needs to be in the works.
Tennessee: Become the SEC’s No. 4 team.
The top teams in the SEC are pretty clear with Florida, Kentucky and Missouri in NCAA Tournament contention. The bottom of the league, however, is a mess. In recent weeks, SEC teams have lost to Alabama A&M (Mississippi State), Southern (Texas A&M), Winthrop (Auburn), Iona (Georgia), Tulane and Mercer (Alabama). Where Tennessee fits in the equation is a mystery. The Volunteers guard with the best of them, but they’re challenged offensively. If Tennessee can figure things out in the offensive end, it could be the SEC’s No. 4 team.
Texas: Prove Myck Kabongo was the difference maker.
Kabongo’s NCAA-mandated suspension will end Feb. 13 against Iowa State, more than enough time for the sophomore guard to prove that he could have made a difference in the Longhorns’ stumbling start to the season. When Kabongo returns, he’ll be in the lineup against NCAA Tournament contenders Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor, plus the Big 12 tournament. If Texas finds itself on the bubble, Kabongo (9.6 ppg, 5.2 apg last season) could have a hand in putting the Longhorns into the field.
UCLA: Maintain the up-tempo offense.
Ben Howland strayed again from what helped UCLA reach three consecutive Final Fours early in his tenure. In recent games, he’s put more focus on running the court, a development that helped the Bruins defeat Missouri 97-94 in overtime on Dec. 29. His lineup is suited to the change, though Howland can’t be elated about the tradeoffs in the defensive end. Will he see this through to the end of the season?
UNLV: Develop chemistry among the glut of scorers.
Dave Rice doesn’t have the worst dilemma a basketball coach can have, but it is a dilemma nonetheless. UNLV has plenty of qualified scorers, especially in the frontcourt with Mike Moser and Khem Birch in the lineup. He has six players averaging at least nine points per game, though superb freshman Anthony Bennett (19.2 ppg) is the only one averaging more than 11. Making sure everyone is happy and involved may be an interesting challenge for the second-year coach.