33 New Year’s resolutions for college basketball in 2016

UNC is a Final Four contender, playing up to expectations, and fans should focus on that … for now. (USATSI)

With the college hoops season hitting the midway point, we all turn the calendar to 2016. We choose not to look back, but instead hope ahead. Fun things await the sport over the next 12 months, but really the next 13 weeks. We’re going to have a lot of controversy this year, too, you just know it.

So let’s dish out some advice, ambition and optimism for what I hope we’ll see more of in college basketball as we move forward. Here are 33 resolutions worth tracking.

1. The sport in general should resolve to stop scheduling games wherein they get canceled because the playing surface is literally too dangerous.

2. College basketball and its ambassadors on the whole should resolve to accept the sport for what it is, but also be willing to criticize and realize its faults. Big steps were taken in 2015 toward this end, and there is still much mileage to go.

3. College basketball officials should resolve to absolutely continue to keep the whistles sharp and the games crisp. Early returns on the new rules changes have a lot of positive feedback, but there is still a lot of work to be done and plenty of concern that league play will welcome back way too much physicality, especially on the perimeter.

4. Providence’s Kris Dunn must resolve to give college basketball its first Division I vs. Division I quadruple-double ever. He came close when he went for 22 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and seven steals against NJIT on Nov. 24. Dunn is near the top of the list for POY; read up on his back story here.

5. Someone in the Big 12, be it Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia or Baylor, should resolve to entirely wrestle away a Big 12 title from Kansas for the first time since 2004. Watching Kansas’ dominance in the league has been awing, but it’s time for a new throne-holder in that conference.

6. The SEC should resolve to not reverting back to mediocrity. Kentucky is the best team in the league, again, and below the Wildcats we’ve got a cluster of teams who are good but far from elite: Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Ole Miss are the squads in line to compete for at-large bids.

7. Speaking of the SEC, Ben Simmons should resolve to doing whatever the heck he wants on the court to ensure he goes number one in the 2016 draft, because LSU is not making the NCAA Tournament. And it might not make the NIT.

8. North Carolina fans should resolve to just enjoy this season, see where it goes, and put all worries of the impending NCAA hammer that is coming in 2016 in the back of their minds. This year’s Tar Heels group might well be Roy Williams’ last chance to reach a Final Four. It’s a typically potent Williams team on the offensive end. Bask in the fun before the storm.

9. Louisville coach Rick Pitino should resolve to not make any more headlines for things he does off the court, like allegedly giving the middle finger to fans, especially when his school is in the midst of fighting some of the most explosive allegations to have ever surfaced at a men’s basketball program.

10. Oklahoma should resolve to truly make a big PR push for Buddy Hield’s national player of the year credentials (24.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.5 spg). He’s about reached the point where he should be considered the frontrunner for the award, and with the undefeated Sooners about to take their moment in the spotlight as college basketball moves more into the public eye, typically generic OU could get some really good mileage out of some very creative exposure for its Bahamian-born star.

11. Purdue should resolve its point-guard play if it wants to play in its first Final Four in 36 years. The 13-1 Boilermakers have great size up front with A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan. The team is ranked No. 1 on defense in college hoops. If P.J. Thompson and Johnny Hill can become a true PG combo, this could be the best team in the country.

12. SMU should resolve to trying its damndest to go undefeated. The more it wins, the more attention that’s brought to its unusual circumstances this season. The Ponies can’t play in the postseason in 2016, and so we could have this by February: An undefeated Mustangs team that’s ranked No. 1 in the country yet won’t be part of March Madness. Check the schedule; Larry Brown’s team has a favorable slate over the next month. It will make for a national story.

13. Duke’s Grayson Allen should resolve to going back to giving us incredible dunk highlights. The season started out so promising.

14. If Indiana wins at least one NCAA Tournament game this season, Hoosiers fans should resolve to lay off Tom Crean, because he won’t be going anywhere.

15. Villanova should resolve to be better when it counts more. The Wildcats have been very good in many aspects over the past 2 1/2 seasons, but the reality is this: a 7-7 record against teams ranked 25th or better dating back to November 2013. And that doesn’t include losing in the Round of 32 as a No. 1 seed to NC State last season. I’m still a believe in the Wildcats, but against the best competition, it’s fair to say Jay Wright’s team hasn’t earned widespread respect because it hasn’t consistently been nearly as good there as it has against the teams just a level below.

16. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon should resolve to getting Diamond Stone into the starting lineup. The freshman big man went for a program-record while coming off the bench and helping MD dodge a bad home L to Penn State this week.

17. Michigan State should resolve to force teams into more turnovers. At a 14.8 turnover rate, this year’s team is on pace to be the worst Tom Izzo team defensively, in that respect, in more than 17 years. Cal is similarly poor, forcing the ball back to their side only 13.9 percent of the time.

18. UConn coach Kevin Ollie should resolve to letting others handle the paperwork during games.

 (ESPN)

19. Northwestern (13-1), Houston (11-2), Memphis (9-3), Saint Mary’s (11-1) and Marquette (10-3) should resolve to schedule better for next season and beyond. All four schools probably consider themselves in good shape heading into league play for NCAA Tournament consideration, but the fact is their nonconference strength of schedules are abysmal, and will absolutely hamper them for at-large inclusion. Right now, Houston ranks 350th (!), while Northwestern is 342nd, Marquette 339th, Memphis 334th and Saint Mary’s is 331st.

20. Undefeated South Carolina must resolve to not be fraudulent, as the undefeated Gamecocks have yet to play an opponent ranked 65th or better in KenPom. Critical month ahead for Frank Martin.

21. Michigan should resolve to improving its power numbers fast. The Wolverines are 11-3 but have one win against a top-50 opponent (Texas).

22. Arizona coach Sean Miller should resolve to trust his freshman point guard, Allonzo Trier, even more. The Pac-12 is wide open, and if Trier takes the next step, the Wildcats will win the league in a rare season when they weren’t supposed to.

23. Oregon State’s Gary Payton II should resolve to being more openly willing to embracing his fabulous nickname: The Mitten. If you weren’t aware, GP2’s been playing like one of the best in the sport through the first seven weeks of the season.

Gary Payton II can get Oregon State to its first NCAA tourney in more than a generation. (USATSI)

24. We should all resolve to give West Virginia more credit for what it’s doing. The 11-1 Mountaineers are turning teams over on 30 percent of their possessions — best in the sport — and grabbing 46.7 percent of their misses, also No. 1 in college hoops. Bob Huggins’ team is quietly approaching the upper echelon.

25. Iowa should resolve to make this the season it doesn’t randomly drop a game to a sub-100 opponent. It’s happened at least once every year since Fran McCaffery took over. The Hawkeyes should go to their third straight Big Dance.

26. Gonzaga should resolve to not losing more than two WCC games if it wants to comfortably be in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs went 1-3 against their four best non-con opponents to date, and they still have a road game against SMU on Feb. 13.

27. Texas A&M should resolve to giving 6-foot-10 freshman Tyler Davis 30 touches per game. At least. He’s shooting 79.4 percent!

28. Florida State should resolve to get some sort of pun promotion in for freshman stud Dwayne Bacon, who hit a winning shot for FSU earlier this week. Think of the delicious possibilities. The Seminoles have the best freshmen duo in the country, by the way.

29. UCLA’s Prince Ali must resolve to give us a lot more of THIS in 2016, because I’m all too eager to toss out the Aladdin puns at a moment’s notice. Make way! Here he comes! Ring bells! Bang the drums!

30. The Florida Gators should resolve to take five times as many 3-pointers in practice because, at 27.4 percent from beyond the arc, Mike White’s team is far and away the worst 3-point shooting team from a power five conference. UF comes in a No. 341 in 3-point shooting in the nation.

31. Wichita State should resolve to stop fouling so much. Fifty-four percent of Shockers’ opponents shots are free throws, and that’s among the highest rate in college hoops.

32. Dayton must resolve to win the Atlantic 10 just so I look good for proclaiming three weeks ago that this would be Archie Miller’s best team yet.

33. The NCAA should continue to resolve that it will keep Selection Sunday as pure and anticipated as ever, meaning we will not get the college football TV model of unveiling official rankings or brackets at any point prior to the big day. It’s a waste of energy in so many ways, but most importantly, Selection Sunday in a lot of ways stands out as the most important college basketball day of the year. It’s weird in that regard, but its power comes with its massive unpackaging. Let’s resolve to keep March great, and that starts with Greg Gumbel telling us for the first time who’s playing whom, with you scrambling in excitement to interpret American’s greatest sports tournament as it’s unveiled all too quickly around 6:15 p.m. on a Sunday night.

Yeah, I’d say I’m about ready for the back half of college hoops season. Here’s to a maddening, thrilling and unpredictable 2016!

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