A concern about Arizona’s defense, something interesting about Maryland and three mid-majors to monitor highlight the Rauf Report.

That was undoubtedly the best weekend we’ve had this college basketball season.

From Iowa’s insane comeback, beating Michigan State after being down by 10 with 40 seconds left, to Arizona State’s half-court buzzer-beater to upset Arizona to Matthew Cleveland’s buzzer-beater to push Florida State past Miami to Lamont Butler’s 3-pointer that gave San Diego State a road victory over New Mexico and so much more, the last weekend of February provided so many moments that felt like March.

Indeed, we have hit the most special time of year.

The ASUN Tournament tips off Monday night, meaning we’re just about out of time to “learn” things about teams. It’s make-or-break time for the 16 conferences starting their tournaments this week.

That said, there were some telling things from the weekend that should be kept in mind as we move forward, starting with why Maryland’s convincing victory over Northwestern on Sunday should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Maryland is a different team in College Park

The Terrapins are set to return to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season and are currently in a tie for second place in the Big Ten, something that was beyond anyone’s wildest imagination coming into the season. Heck, there’s still a chance Maryland wins a share of the regular season title!

That likely won’t happen — Purdue has to win just one of its remaining two games to claim the league outright — but that shouldn’t disparage the job Kevin Willard has done in his first season at the helm of this program.

Maryland has won 20 games already, including eight of their last 10, capitalizing on a beneficial portion of its schedule. Seven of those 10 games have come at home, all of which the Terps won.

In fact, taking care of business at the Xfinity Center has been one of the biggest keys to their success. Sixteen of Maryland’s 20 wins have come in front of their home crowd, largely thanks to the offense playing at a much higher level in familiar surroundings.

Three of the other teams atop the Big Ten standings – Purdue, Indiana and now Northwestern – have all suffered double-digit defeats in College Park, highlighting just how dominant Maryland can be at home.

Unfortunately, Maryland doesn’t have any more games at the Xfinity Center this season. As expressed in the graphic above, that might be a future problem for Willard’s bunch. As impressive as this turnaround has been, the Terrapins haven’t been anywhere close to the same team away from home.

That obviously matters moving forward and will play a factor in both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. It is worth noting, however, that on neutral courts, Maryland owns an 88-70 win over Miami and a near-upset of a top-10 Tennessee team, so don’t write them off completely.

Two winnable road games against Ohio State and Penn State await in the final week of the regular season. How Maryland performs in those contests will give us a lot more info on how we should look at the Terps going into the postseason.

Arizona’s defense may end up being a problem

Arizona is a very good team with an elite offense and a perfect 5-0 mark in Quad 1-A games. Generally, it’s hard to find flaws in anything it has accomplished this season, or even dating back to when Tommy Lloyd took over.

Because this program has re-entered the sport’s upper echelon, however, the lens through which we judge the Wildcats has changed. It’s no longer about being nationally relevant again or good enough to win the Pac-12 – it’s about being good enough to make a long run in March and challenge for a national championship.

And through that lens, Arizona is starting to show some cracks on the defensive end.

The Wildcats have allowed five opponents to score at least 80 points against them this season and are 1-4 in those games. However, two have come in the last two weeks — Stanford and now Arizona State. Both of those teams used smaller, quicker, more perimeter-oriented lineups and had success mitigating Arizona’s size advantage.

I’ve called Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo the nation’s best frontcourt duo, but neither are particularly quick. Couple that with Arizona’s inconsistent perimeter defense and it results in something that can be exploited.

Stanford spread the court against the Wildcats and attacked the basket whenever it could. As a result, the Cardinal shot 63.9 percent from inside the arc in addition to making 10 threes. Arizona State did the same with its small lineup and shot an even better 64.1 percent from inside the arc while getting Ballo in foul trouble.

We hear a lot about the 3-point shooting of both Stanford and Arizona State when these games are discussed, and rightfully so. However, it’s the effectiveness inside that’s more telling.

With Ballo and Tubelis, Arizona typically wins that battle inside. When they don’t, however, the Wildcats tend to lose. Per EvanMiya.com, Arizona is just 4-6 over the last two seasons when opponents shoot a better percentage from two. When the Wildcats shoot a better 2-point percentage than their opponent, they are 52-3.

That information, combined with how Stanford and Arizona State attacked Arizona’s defense (and how teams will likely attack them in the future), shows why this Wildcats team is vulnerable.

San Diego State’s sneaky rise

While Arizona might be trending in the wrong direction, San Diego State appears to be headed in the right one.

Since the start of December, the Aztecs have been the eighth-best team in the country, per Torvik’s power ratings. They rank No. 2 since the start of February, trailing only Houston. They have sported the nation’s best defense during this span, too, which is important given the way they (relatively) struggled on that end early in the season.

San Diego State was 45th in adjusted defensive efficiency through the first month of the season, a major drop-off for a group that returned nearly everyone from the country’s best defense a season ago. Brian Dutcher had made some offseason additions to improve their offensive capabilities, yet it appeared to come at the cost of its defensive dominance early.

Now, the Aztecs are back to playing the way we expected them to. Their length is bothering shooters all over the court and their pressure is running opponents off the 3-point line. Dutcher’s strategy of funneling everything to the basket where elite shot-blocker Nathan Mensah is waiting is working again.

Couple that with the program’s offensive surge since the start of conference play (which I broke down in a previous Rauf Report), and it results in a dangerous team that can beat teams on both ends of the court.

Saturday’s comeback victory over New Mexico showed something else, too – mental toughness. The Aztecs trailed by 13 points in the second half but ramped up the defensive pressure and found open shooters on the offensive end (Darrion Trammell hit four threes after the break), allowing them to re-take the lead late before Butler’s game-winner.

San Diego State is rounding into form at the right time and isn’t a team anyone wants to see in their region.

Oral Roberts might do it again

Let’s continue the discussion of dangerous non-power conference teams with a look at a past mid-major Cinderella in Oral Roberts.

The Golden Eagles, still led by 2021 March hero Max Abmas, currently hold the nation’s longest win streak at 14 games after Eastern Washington’s shocking loss to Idaho State. And, yes, ORU’s 27-4 record is boosted by playing in the Summit League, but it is also the only team in the country to go through conference play undefeated.

Paul Mills’ squad has also proven it can compete with some of the best teams in the country. They own a notable victory over Liberty and their only losses came away from home against top-end competition. There was an eight-point loss on opening night to Saint Mary’s, a 10-point loss to a Utah State team with a No. 32 NET ranking, and a seven-point loss to New Mexico (the Golden Eagles were blown out by Houston, but that happens to a lot of teams).

All in all, this team has been considerably better than the one that reached the Sweet 16 just two seasons ago.

This is the part where I come in talking about context mattering. That 2020-21 season was the COVID-shortened season, and the byproducts of that created a lot of chaos. Oral Roberts also had Kevin Obanor (who now plays for Texas Tech) emerge as a lethal pick-and-pop Robin to Abmas’ Batman during that run.

There doesn’t appear to be that caliber of a No. 2 behind Abmas, but the depth of this year’s team might be stronger. It also has a legitimate rim protector inside in 7-5 Arkansas transfer Connor Vanover, who is averaging 3.2 blocks per game on the season.

The normal bracket advice is to not pick the same Cinderella twice because consistently winning multiple NCAA Tournament games is a near-impossible feat for any mid-major. But Oral Roberts looks like it has the potential to play spoiler again should it be included in the tournament field.

Don’t sleep on Corpus Christi

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi beat Northwestern State on Saturday, securing at least a share of the Southland regular season title for the second time in program history. That was the goal for the Islanders, as they returned their top seven rotation players from last season’s team that won the Southland Tournament.

As head coach Steve Lutz told me for The Almanac this summer, his biggest concern with this group was complacency. He knew they were experienced and talented, but they needed to be more consistent.

The Islanders have done that and been rewarded. Now, if they deliver in the postseason again, Corpus Christi has the makings of a potentially dangerous low seed in the NCAA Tournament.

First and foremost is the experience factor. Lutz’s squad ranks 11th nationally in continuity, per KenPom, and has eight seniors or super seniors in its rotation. They’re not going to be overwhelmed by the stage.

Corpus Christi also has some very dangerous personnel. Trevian Tennison is a potent scorer from all three levels and a knockdown shooter (42.5 percent from three). Point guard Terrion Murdix ranks fourth nationally in assist rate and 17th in steal rate, serving as one of the best lead guards in the mid-major ranks. Then there’s Isaac Mushila, a 6-5 wing who does a little bit of everything. He has recorded 10 games this season with at least 20 points and has 11 double-doubles to his name to go along with being an elite defender.

That trio spearheads an overall attack that excels at forcing turnovers (35th in turnover rate) and hitting the three (36.5 percent).

Put all that together and you have a dangerous No. 15 or No. 16 seed, assuming the Islanders can finish the job and return to the NCAA Tournament.