In the latest mailbag, Brian Rauf takes a look at Virginia’s recent surge and why Arkansas might still be a year away.

Welcome into another College Hoops Mailbag, where we answer all your biggest questions from around the college basketball world — and whatever else — from the past week!

Now that we have official dates for the 2021 NCAA Tournament, it feels like every game is of heightened importance. That might also be the case because we’re into the thick of conference play and it’s nearly February but, either way, it feels great to have meaningful games and to move past the “trying to figure out who’s actually good” phase.

This week’s mailbag centers around a Virginia team that is playing its best basketball of the season and a pair of teams that, well, aren’t. Let’s get into it by starting with Tony Bennett’s squad.

March Madness 2021: Schedule, locations, TV info
Eight intriguing conference races
SUBSCRIBE to today!

We post these mailbags every Wednesday throughout the course of the season, so make sure you join the conversation on Twitter at @brauf33. Thanks as always to those who contributed this week.

Virginia’s X-factor

Virginia definitely played its best game of the season on Saturday, beating Clemson by 35 points. Its defense returned to form and it was the best offensive game Tony Bennett’s squad has played this season.

The biggest thing for me was the crispness, balance and unselfishness of their offense. Three different players had at least five assists (Reece Beekman, Kihei Clark, Jay Huff) and five players scored in double figures. The Cavaliers gave up good shots to get great shots and, more importantly, knew where and how to attack Clemson’s defense. It helps when you make 15 threes in a game, too.

We know UVA will be able to carry over its defensive performance. This is a group that still had to get up to speed on that end and this is about the time when the Wahoos tend to kick it into high gear defensively. Offensively, the Cavaliers showed what they have the potential to do, but I don’t think that’s sustainable.

Remember, Clemson was coming off a COVID break and looked out of sync themselves. Virginia also made everything, which the law of averages says simply isn’t going to happen all the time.

It was a phenomenal performance and re-asserts the Cavaliers as the clear favorite in the ACC, yet I also don’t think it’s something they can replicate on a nightly basis.

Arkansas’ struggles

First off, let me just say that the SEC is not that good. But that also doesn’t mean Arkansas hasn’t been exposed against better competition, either.

The Razorbacks looked awesome during their 9-0 start, yet it didn’t come against great competition. Auburn (No. 70 in KenPom) was — and still is — the highest-rated team they’ve beaten and six wins fall outside the KenPom top 160. So, while teams like Missouri and LSU aren’t juggernauts, they are significantly better than the teams Arkansas had beaten.

Arkansas is a talented team and Musselman is a really good coach. But they’re also really young! I think everyone may have gotten ahead of themselves during that hot start. This group is still a year away from fully delivering on the hype.

Jay Wright is a phenomenal coach! With that said, what are your thoughts on Nova being top 5 team without playing since before Christmas? – MattyMc1 (@triaxmax)

Villanova has absolutely benefitted in the polls from its break. The Wildcats were a borderline top five team before they were forced into their 27-day stretch between games, but they have risen to No. 3 in the AP top 25 (and in my rankings) because, mostly, they haven’t lost!

It is worth noting that Jay Wright’s squad also has that great road victory over Texas which continues to help, too. Once Texas leapfrogged into the top five after drilling Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, Villanova rose as well because of that victory.

The Wildcats are certainly good enough to have remained unbeaten during this three-week stretch — they did beat a good Seton Hall team in their first game back — but it’s helped them avoid the slip-up we’ve seen from similar teams. The fact they’ve stood pat while other top five teams have suffered disappointing losses has worked to their favor.

Drake predictions

Another team that has been on the sidelines, Drake is one of the biggest stories in college basketball this season because of its undefeated record. I expect more of the same when the Bulldogs return even though they’ll undoubtedly look rusty. However, I also don’t think they’ll finish undefeated.

Drake closes the season with two games on the road against a very good Bradley team. It could very easily slip up there or if it faces Loyola-Chicago, another quality team, in the Missouri Valley Tournament.

I really hope we see the Valley get two teams into the NCAA Tournament because all three teams I mentioned have the potential to win a game. Drake is putting itself in position for a solid seed and I think that continues when it resumes play.

Being a loyal fan

Because it’s sports! And, honestly, it’s the teams that consistently cause pain and agony that are the most fun to support because you know everyone is invested.

There are diehard Yankee fans, Laker fans, Duke fans, etc., yet they’re largely scoffed at or dismissed as bandwagon fans. That’s never the case for teams/programs without a winning history. In fact, being a fan of those kind of teams often warrants respect from your peers.

Plus, when your favorite teams do finally win, it MEANS something. SEC football titles are nothing for Alabama at this point under Nick Saban. But if Ole Miss were to win one, that’s a level of joy consistent winners don’t get to experience.

Brian Rauf
Brian Rauf

Heat Check CBB Lead National Writer