Christmastime is here, but for some college basketball teams it is not bringing happiness and cheer. Aside from the COVID-19 issues ravaging the sport, the first two months of the season have also exposed the flaws in some teams that could keep them from reaching their goals. We've already covered some of the most disappointing teams in a previous edition of the dribble handoff, so we're not here to pick on anyone.
But we are going to play the role of Santa and give a few programs gifts they desperately need. Last season, Santa gave North Carolina and Kentucky outside shooting, while Missouri got clean health and Arizona State received a bruising post presence. The rest of the season showed how important those things were as ASU ranked among the nation's worst rebounding teams and both UNC and Kentucky struggled as they continued to stink it up from 3-point range. Missouri, meanwhile, remained relatively healthy and reached the NCAA Tournament.
Will our gifts this season be just as prophetic? Let's see with this week's Christmas edition of the dribble handoff.
A Herb Jones-like defender for Alabama
Alabama has wins over Gonzaga and Houston. That's strong. But the Crimson Tide have also already lost three games to unranked opponents. That's weird. Some have suggested the issue is that Alabama is too reliant on the 3-point shot -- but the truth is that Nate Oats' team is actually launching (slightly) less often from beyond the arc than they did last season when they were outright SEC champions. Last season, 46.5% of Alabama's field goal attempts came from 3-point range; this season, the number is 46.0%. So that's not the issue. The issue is that last season the Crimson Tide ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, meaning they were so good defensively that they could still win even when they shot poorly from three. This season, the Crimson Tide rank 52nd nationally in adjusted defensive-efficiency, according to KenPom, meaning they're no longer good enough defensively to beat quality opponents when they shoot poorly from three.
So what would I gift Alabama?
I'd just get the Crimson Tide something they used to have -- an incredibly savvy defender like former Alabama standout Herb Jones, who is now in the NBA because of his versatility and IQ on the defensive end of the court. The Crimson Tide really miss him. And if Alabama doesn't start guarding in a way that more closely resembles the way it used to guard when Jones was on roster, avoiding enough losses to repeat as outright SEC champion is obviously going to be a difficult task. -- Gary Parrish
A Hall of Fame-type season for Bob Huggins
There's a lot of options that spring to mind here. First and foremost is a magical wand that will cure all scheduling issues impacted by the omicron variant and COVID-19. Villanova could use another big man, Memphis needs a point guard, Georgetown needs more experience, Virginia needs its old players back, and Maryland needs a full-time coach. But if I'm gifted with the powers of Santa here, I'm making sure West Virginia easily cruises into yet another NCAA Tournament -- its 11th under Huggins -- to bring more attention to an oft-overlooked yet fairly reliable program. Huggins is up for Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame induction yet again this year. If he had a team that could be in the mix near the top of the Big 12, made another second-weekend run in the NCAAs and upped his win total past 920 (hit sits at 906) it would almost certainly have to clinch his overdue induction. There's no more accomplished men's coach who's yet to earn entry into the Hall. It should happen in 2022. -- Matt Norlander
A healthy Andre Curbelo for Illinois
Illinois has one of the more intriguing rosters in the country led by 7-foot big man Kofi Cockburn and a senior-heavy supporting cast comprised of Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams and Alfsonso Plummer. Yet the Illini are 8-3 on the season and looking increasingly rudderless without sophomore point guard Andre Curbelo, who has not played since Nov. 23. The pieces just don't quite fit without him. In his absence the Illini have still managed an offense that nearly ranks top 10 at KenPom, but they are struggling with turnovers (last among all Big Ten teams) and just don't have the same long-term ceiling without Curbelo, who entered the season as a true breakout candidate replacing Ayo Dosunmu. Here's to hoping one of the most talented guards in college hoops can return soon. -- Kyle Boone
A chill pill for Bill Self
The tug of war between Kansas point guard Remy Martin and coach Bill Self has been entertaining and all too predictable. That's why I'm getting Self a chill pill for Christmas this season. Bill, you should have known what you were getting yourself into here. With Martin in control of your offense, you've got to sit back and enjoy the ride. He is an undersized offensive dynamo who makes up for his frequent head-scratching miscues with highlights that are more brilliant. It's the formula he used to become a three-time All Pac-12 selection while playing a key role in getting Arizona State to national relevance during a four-year career with the Sun Devils. As a fifth-year college basketball player, it's just who he is at this point.
Martin's assist rate with KU is lower than it was at ASU, and his turnover rate is higher than it was, despite the fact that he has better players around him now. One explanation is that he's overthinking things and trying too hard to please Self, whose public remarks suggest that he and Martin get along fine but see the game quite differently. Self needs to realize that Martin is at his best when playing free and loose. Martin has already adapted his game by becoming more selective with his shots, and it's resulted in his 2-point and 3-point percentages hitting career highs. Now, if Self would instill confidence in Martin rather than second-guessing him, the rest of his game might come around, too, and Kansas would start showing its true potential.
Scott Drew at Baylor and Chris Beard at Texas are dealing with similar situations as Self, with each trying to coax transfer guards into fitting their systems. So far, it's Drew who is doing it best with Arizona transfer James Akinjo. But if Self would ease up on Martin a bit, he could reach the next level and help the Jayhawks challenge Baylor for Big 12 supremacy. -- David Cobb