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College Basketball: One New Year's Resolution for Every Top Team

ByBryan Armetta

Published on Sat Jan 01 2022

|

4 min read

College Basketball: One New Year's Resolution for Every Top Team

Another calendar year has concluded, but the 2021-22 college basketball season has only just begun. While still early, we've reached the point where true contenders begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, while pretenders get exposed in conference play. For the NCAA's current elite, here are some New Year's resolutions to keep momentum and morale high in 2022.

*Statistics and rankings courtesy of Sports Reference CBB.

#1 Baylor: Keep Thinking It's 2021

It's nearly impossible to have a better twelve-month stretch than the Baylor Bears. With a national championship last year and the top-ranked team in the nation this year, Scott Drew has built a new superpower in Waco. This year's unbeaten Bears are extremely well-rounded, ranked 5th in the nation in adjusted offense and 4th in adjusted defense according to KenPom. If they can keep up this level of play, there really isn't anywhere to improve upon for the defending champs. A highly-anticipated New Year's Day showdown at #8 Iowa State could give us a good idea of the gap between Baylor and the rest of the Big XII.

#2 Duke: Make More Three-Pointers

Less than two months into the season, Duke has put any concerns to rest following a disappointing 2020-21 campaign. This year's Blue Devils, amid the media frenzy of Coach K's retirement tour, are a legitimate force, with quality wins over #18 Kentucky and #4 Gonzaga en route to an 11-1 record. The one area that could elevate Duke's offensive attack is better success on three-point shots. Outside of Wendell Moore and A.J. Griffin, the roster lacks perimeter threats, with guards Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels finding more success in the paint. If Duke can spread out defenses with their shooting, it could give freshman phenom Paolo Banchero (17.1 PPG) even more room to work in the paint.

#3 Purdue: Defend More Three-Pointers

Unlike Duke, Purdue has no problem shooting the three-ball; they hit at a stellar 40.4

, 7th best nationally. The problem is that Matt Painter's squad is more than content to let teams shoot, as Purdue gives up an average of 26.1 three-point attempts per game (329th out of 353). For a top-heavy roster, that means players other than the trio of Trevion Williams, Zach Edey, and Jaden Ivey need to bring extra effort on the other end of the floor. Luckily, Purdue's defensive lapses haven't hurt them often, as only 31
of their opponent's threes have gone in. They may not be so lucky giving open looks to stiffer in-conference competition, so added attention to perimeter defense should be a major focus in 2022.

#4 Gonzaga: Slow It Down (A Little)

Gonzaga's offenses under Mark Few have often thrived due to a fast-paced scoring attack. This year's group has operated similarly, with the 24th-highest Adjusted Tempo in college basketball per KenPom. Still, the current Bulldogs roster isn't structured like its predecessors; big men Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren are easily the Zags' two most talented players. To beat these two twin towers, opposing offenses may begin to speed things up themselves; Gonzaga's two losses to Duke and Alabama marked the only times they've given up more than 80 points, surrendering an average of 14.5 turnovers in the process. The team's defense, especially inside the paint, is a major advantage over just about everyone else; keeping it's big men fresh and lowering their pace of play slightly could be a major long-term boost heading into March.

#5 UCLA: Keep Cody Riley Healthy

Of all the 'elite' teams, none are more difficult to assess than UCLA. In their first and only real test of the season, the Bruins were blown out at home against Gonzaga. However, UCLA has yet to lose any other games, with a record of 8-1 on the season, while a month of Covid-spurred postponements (their last game was at Marquette on December 11th) has also allowed them to get healthier before Pac-12 play begins in January. Potentially returning after suffering a sprained knee ligament in UCLA's opening game is Cody Riley, a 6'9 forward who gives the Bruins size they lack outside of senior Myles Johnson. Riley's return gives Mick Cronin a capable offensive player down low while also limiting the amount of time playing out of position for the team's talented group of guards. If all goes well, an experienced crew could become more balanced, and much more difficult, for their conference foes.

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