Surprising struggles from Indiana and Maryland, along with an impressive performance from Memphis, highlight a new Rauf Report.
This weekend — particularly Friday night — felt like we were really stepping into the college basketball season. The weekday games from Monday through Thursday certainly delivered, but there is a different feeling when you have so many power conference teams playing each other.
Arizona’s 78-73 victory over Duke was the biggest result and will cause some interesting ripple effects at the top of the polls. That’s not just because the Blue Devils lost, but also because Arizona looked damn impressive in the win. After the game, I broke down how the Wildcats look like national title contenders. Their performance is also why I jumped them all the way to No. 1 in my ballot for the HeatCheckCBB Top 25.
That game was the headline-stealer of the weekend, but there were plenty of other impactful results with takeaways that could shape things moving forward. Here’s what matters from the weekend, starting with a statement win by Memphis.
More from Heat Check CBB:
- Weekly awards: Pitt’s Carlton Carrington rides triple-double to Freshman honors
- Santa Clara more than a test for Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s
- Heat Check CBB Top 25 staff rankings: Arizona surges to No. 3
Don’t forget about Memphis!
FAU’s arrival to the American, coupled with some underachieving throughout Penny Hardaway’s tenure, has Memphis flying slightly under the radar nationally.
However, the Tigers made their first step in getting back on the map on Friday. Against a good Missouri team with NCAA Tournament aspirations, Memphis dominated the second half. The Tigers outscored Mizzou by 22 points to cruise to the easy victory.
Alabama transfer Jahvon Quinerly looked the part with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He was one of four players to score in double figures, but the Tigers really won on the defensive end. They limited Missouri to just 5-of-26 shooting (19.2 percent) in the second half. Memphis also dominated the rebounding battle all game and forced 12 Mizzou turnovers.
“In today’s game, you can’t panic,” interim head coach Rick Stansbury told reporters postgame. “It’s hard not to panic. Our guys deserve a lot of credit.”
Stansbury, filling in during Hardaway’s three-game suspension, used a smaller lineup in the second half. That allowed Memphis to slow Missouri down in transition and to play more aggressively on the perimeter. That ploy certainly worked, and it’s something Memphis may utilize moving forward.
This game was a measuring stick game between two teams trying to find their identities. Hardaway’s best teams at Memphis have always been able to lock up opponents defensively. This group appears to be in the same mold.
Saint Mary’s is the new Tennessee
Unfortunately, there were negatives over the weekend, too. We begin that section of proceedings with the Gaels.
Saint Mary’s had one of the best performances of the opening week. The Gaels dominated New Mexico, and the game was much more of a blowout than the 72-58 score indicated. Randy Bennett’s squad suffocated the Lobos with their patented defense. Star sophomore Aidan Mahaney (25 points) looked like an All-American candidate.
Then, Saint Mary’s reminded us on Sunday night that nothing is guaranteed in college basketball. Weber State walked into Moraga and upset the Gaels, erasing a 16-point deficit behind Dillon Jones’ 29 points and 10 rebounds.
A 23-4 run by the Wildcats in the second half ultimately proved to be the difference. Weber State, a quality team and the Big Sky favorite, did a lot of things well. Still, Saint Mary’s lack of offensive firepower and individual shot creators ultimately did them in.
It’s reminiscent of what we’ve seen from Tennessee throughout Rick Barnes’ tenure. Despite elite defenses and generally very good teams, the Vols have come up short in big games due to the lack of creativity on offense. This problem has plagued Saint Mary’s, too, on a smaller scale.
This year, Saint Mary’s has bigger expectations — and the talent to break the shackles of years past. However, its style of play is still defense-first and system-focused on the offensive end. That can win you a lot of games, but the difference is having players who can get a bucket when needed.
Of course, scoring four points in 10 minutes (while blowing a 16-point lead) shows that the Gaels’ offensive lulls didn’t magically go away this summer. Saint Mary’s should still have a solid season, but this trend under Bennett does not bode well for a deep March run.
What to make of Indiana
It’s too early to be “out” on a team, especially one that has only played two games. At the same time, I have a hard time finding anything positive for Indiana to build on.
Admittedly, my preseason expectations for the Hoosiers weren’t high given who they lost and questions about lineup fits. But those concerns have been confirmed, and perhaps even amplified, through two games.
The lack of shooting isn’t a surprise. Indiana is making just a third of its attempts while ranking 307th in 3-point attempt rate, per KenPom. The Hoosiers are also 297th in turnover rate, another projected issue given the lack of proven guards. Even the proven ones, namely Xavier Johnson, have struggled with turnovers in their careers.
However, other weaknesses give me significant pause now. Despite being one of the nation’s tallest teams, Indiana ranks outside the top 250 in rebounding rate. Even with two or three bigs on the court at all times, the Hoosiers have not imposed their will inside. Keep in mind that this was against FGCU and Army, two of the smallest teams in the country.
Those woes extend to the perimeter. Guard play was not expected to be Indiana’s strong suit, but FGCU and Army should not be able to drive into the paint at will. The Hoosiers have looked listless on defense, causing both games to be much closer than necessary.
I don’t know how much of this is fixable, either. Other than rebounding, most issues are due to how the roster was built. And in terms of rebounding, Kel’el Ware wasn’t a good offensive rebounder as a freshman with Oregon, and five-star freshman Mackenzie Mgbako looks lost.
The Hoosiers will improve, but this is an incredibly flawed group that appears to have a fairly low ceiling.
Legitimate concerns about Maryland
Maryland overachieved in Kevin Willard’s first season with the program, winning 22 games and earning an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in three seasons. That, coupled with a strong returning core led by star guard Jahmir Young, had the Terps projected to be a fringe top-25 team.
But going 0-2 at this weekend’s Asheville Championship, with losses to Davidson and UAB, has raised significant red flags.
The most obvious one is the lack of shooting. Maryland is a combined 14-of-62 from 3-point range so far this season, which works out to just 22.6 percent. That mark puts the Terps well outside the top 300 nationally, per TeamRankings. They were not a good 3-point shooting team last season (32.8 percent, 237th nationally), but they were respectable enough to have the kind of spacing that opened up the lane.
This Maryland team doesn’t have that, at least not yet. Sophomore wing Noah Batchelor and freshman guard DeShawn Harris-Smith are stepping into big roles alongside Young on the perimeter. Unfortunately, they’ve been non-factors from beyond the arc. Batchelor was even put into the starting lineup in Sunday’s loss to UAB, in an effort to help with that spacing. However, that duo is a combined 3-of-20 (15.0 percent) through three games. They’ve also had issues with turnovers.
Julian Reese, Jordan Geronimo and Caelum Swanton-Rodger are not players that can stretch the floor. With Batchelor and Harris-Smith struggling like this, all the shooting falls on Young and Donta Scott. But those are Maryland’s most effective players at attacking the basket, so others need to step up to create spacing.
In the meantime, Maryland’s offensive ceiling is limited.
terps don’t run deep
Shooting may remain an issue, but it’s hard to imagine the Terps staying this cold all season. The more alarming issue is the lack of depth.
As mentioned previously, the hype around Maryland was largely due to the returns of Young, Scott and Reese. That extremely talented trio showed it could compete with anyone in the Big Ten last season. Those three have been fine — there just hasn’t been anyone stepping up around them.
Harris-Smith came in as a highly-rated freshman but has yet to live up to that billing. Geronimo has not had the impact the coaching staff hoped for when he transferred from Indiana. Jahari Long is an excellent defender, but he hasn’t taken steps forward offensively. Batchelor’s struggles have been documented here, too.
There is enough talent here and Willard is a proven enough coach to think that Maryland is going to be better than what it showed in Asheville. At the same time, the issues with spacing and depth are serious enough to lower this team’s ceiling if they’re not resolved soon.
Georgetown’s reality check
Sticking in the DMV, Georgetown also got a reality check Saturday night against Holy Cross thanks to a 68-67 loss to the Crusaders.
Ed Cooley’s hire immediately raised expectations for the Hoyas, as it should have. I firmly believe he’ll have Georgetown back in the NCAA Tournament mix and Big East title races in the not-too-distant future.
That said, it’s still in the future.
Depth of talent is still an issue, which was expected given the state the program was in when Cooley took over. The coaching staff was able to immediately overhaul the frontcourt via the transfer portal, but the Hoyas still use roughly a seven-man rotation short on big men. That is because Fairfield transfer Supreme Cook is the only consistent big man on the roster.
Georgetown has enough talent in the backcourt to pull up a significant upset or two during Big East play, but this is still an uphill battle. A significant on-court turnaround likely won’t happen for another season or two, which should be expected. This was a reminder that Hoyas fans need to remain realistic about this group.