Brian Rauf reveals his biggest college basketball takeaways from the week, including a note about Bobby Hurley’s future and much more.
Feast Week is now officially in the books, capping an exciting week in college basketball. There were upsets galore, surprise champions in major multi-team events (MTEs), and, of course, buzzer-beaters.
More on Dayton in a little bit!
But first, we have to talk about the biggest game of the weekend in which Duke upset Gonzaga (we won’t talk about the 10:30 p.m. ET start time; I’ve ranted about the late start times in a past Rauf Report).
The loss was Gonzaga’s first regular season defeat in nearly two calendar years and the win vaulted Duke into the No. 1 spot in my rankings.
Coach K’s squad showed what they could be at their best. Paolo Banchero is the most talented player in the country and should be the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, big man Mark Williams cemented himself as a star with an incredible performance against Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, and Duke’s stellar defense stepped up to hold the Zags to their worst shooting night of the season.
All of that doesn’t even include the player who has emerged as Duke’s most important player in Wendell Moore. That’s where we start this Rauf Report, highlighting the most important college basketball takeaways of the weekend.
Moore was a solid player for the Blue Devils during his first two years in Durham but had his deficiencies. He struggled as a shooter, didn’t really have the ball in his hands much and bounced in and out of the starting lineup.
As our Jamie Shaw detailed prior to the Gonzaga game, Moore put in a lot of work this offseason to improve and refine his game. He has, and now he’s excelling in the most important role on the court — point guard.
Duke’s lack of productivity from the point guard position is one of the things that sunk them last season and one of its biggest questions coming into this campaign. Jeremy Roach returned for his sophomore season but was benched due to his ineffectiveness. Was he really the answer?
Roach has stuck in the starting lineup and has excelled at defending opposing point guards — forcing Gonzaga point guard Andrew Nembhard into a season-high six turnovers — but he’s not running the show offensively. That duty has been taken over by Moore and he has blossomed into a star. Just look at how he has progressed in several key production and efficiency metrics:
He was the unsung hero against Gonzaga yet still put up a monster stat line with 20 points, six rebounds and six assists to just three turnovers. Against Army, he became just the fifth Duke player ever to record a triple-double.
“He spent seven weeks this April and May changing how he ran, how he walked,” Krzyzewski told reporters about Moore following the Gonzaga win. “He’s an inch taller, he’s a better athlete, his force and how he runs has changed and he took a look at himself and said, ‘These are the things [I need to improve on], how I walk, how I run,’ and it’s worked out. But you have to be open to that, and then you have to work. He’s worked really hard. That kid is really having a hell of a year. He’s my captain.”
The Blue Devils are playing better than anyone right now because of Moore. He has immediately turned a weakness into a strength of this team.
Banchero is going to get most of the headlines, and rightfully so. He’s a dominant, talented player who can completely take over games. Yet Moore has become the most important player to Duke’s success.
Michigan State lacks a top gear
Michigan State has proven to be a good team this season. Tom Izzo’s squad picked up victories over Loyola Chicago and UConn at the Battle 4 Atlantis, following an easy win over Butler in the Gavitt Games. As far as a resume goes, those are solid wins.
At the same time, their resume also includes double-digit losses to both Kansas and Baylor. That’s not a bad thing — both will be in the top 10 in Monday’s Heat Check CBB Top 25 — but how the Spartans lost those games tells us about their current ceiling.
Against Kansas in the Champions Classic, Michigan State held a 31-30 lead with 3:33 left in the first half and trailed 52-48 with 15:00 left in the second. Close game, right? Well, the Jayhawks ripped off a 17-6 run in the next five minutes that broke the game wide open.
Against Baylor, Michigan State held a 36-31 lead with 2:14 left in the first half. The Bears then went on a 32-10 run that turned the game into a blowout.
Both Kansas and Baylor simply had an extra gear they can kick their game into when needed where their execution becomes crisper, defensive rotations sharper and their playmakers make plays. Elite teams have that ability to go on runs that create that separation. CBS analyst Clark Kellogg coined this as a team’s “spurtability.”
Michigan State doesn’t have that ability. This is a good, young team that will continue to grow, but they don’t have the offensive shot creators to go to or answer these kind of game-changing runs.
Max Christie could become that type of player. AJ Hoggard might, too. But right now, that’s currently the one thing separating the Spartans from joining the sport’s top tier.
Is Dayton legit?
Ok, now back to Dayton.
A week ago, the only reason I thought I’d be writing about the Flyers this season was if Anthony Grant found himself on the hot seat or not. This team was 1-3 with three straight home losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay. Not great!
Then they did the unthinkable, winning the ESPN Events Invitational in a field that included Kansas (who they beat) and Alabama. Now, the Flyers are the most notable 4-3 team in the country.
“Every game is a growing experience for our guys,” Grant told reporters following the win over Kansas. “I think today showed them that when they lock in, when they’re focused on the things that are most important, they’re capable of doing what they did tonight.”
So, moving forward, what are we to make of this team?
I would certainly caution you before assuming Dayton is now going to be playing at the level of Kansas for the rest of the season. That’s not going to be the case. At the same time, I do think the Flyers are showing more of who they are and will be now than they did a week ago.
In those three losses, Dayton shot very poorly from three (24.6 percent) and were essentially even in the rebounding battle.
In the three wins in the ESPN Events Invitational, the Flyers shot a higher percentage from deep than their opponent and won the rebounding battle in each game.
That was their formula for success and it must continue. Dayton still has serious flaws — the Flyers turn it over a lot, ranking 283rd nationally in turnover rate, and don’t force any (313th) — but this is a young team that ranks dead last in the county in experience. Inconsistency comes with young teams, but so does growth.
We saw freshman point guard Malachi Smith emerge in Orlando — he was named the Invitational’s MVP — and Grant found more stability with his rotations. It won’t be perfect from here on out, but Dayton is certainly a team worth monitoring in the A10.
Parity is at historic levels
This is a quick point I wanted to make about college basketball as a whole this year and Dayton perfectly exemplifies it. Parity has completely dominated the season’s opening month.
We’ve already seen 17 ranked teams fall to unranked foes, many of which were ranked in the top 10 at the time of the loss (looking at you, Kansas, Michigan, Illinois, Memphis, Alabama).
To the point mentioned above with St. Bonaventure, many of these teams who are losing have already solidified themselves as good teams. The Bonnies were coming off wins over Boise State, Clemson and Marquette before losing to Northern Iowa. That Marquette team had already beaten Illinois, too.
This should make for an unpredictable season and incredibly exciting NCAA Tournament, and I’m very much here for it.
Bobby Hurley’s future
We’ll close this Rauf Report with some insight on Bobby Hurley’s future with Arizona State.
There was a thought in the offseason that Hurley was going to enter the season on the hot seat, and that is somewhat the case. I’m told this was very much looked at as a “show us the direction of the program” season by the administration because of past collapses in Pac-12 play and last season’s disaster, which led to a mass exodus of transfers. Hurley hasn’t led the Sun Devils past the NCAA Tournament’s first round.
A 2-5 start to the year, coinciding with Arizona’s quick resurgence under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd, has quickly increased the level of displeasure with Hurley. A loss to UC Riverside and finishing last in the Battle 4 Atlantis is not something the administration will enjoy, either.
Arizona State’s football coach, Herm Edwards, was also on the hot seat and there was a thought in some circles that a move would be made there, especially with the program under an NCAA investigation. However, athletic director Ray Anderson is sticking with Edwards for at least another season, which is not a surprise given how tight the two are (Anderson used to be Edwards’ agent).
This month, there has been a movement for school president Michael Crow to fire Anderson due to fan and university dissatisfaction with the athletic department. Anderson, for now, appears to be safe, but knows he’s on borrowed time. Because of the nature of the business, firing Hurley could allow Anderson to buy some time along with replacing an underperforming coach.
If Arizona State’s season continues to go in this direction and Anderson is still in charge, it could be a reality.
At the same time, there is also the question if Crow would let Anderson do so. Hurley is under contract through 2023 and, if Anderson is on his way out, Crow could wait and let Anderson’s replacement make the call and potential hire.
Hurley’s job status is in jeopardy based on lacking performance, but there is a lot more going on behind the scenes at Arizona State that could make the situation about more than just wins and losses.