The Rauf Report looks at two teams with inflated records, why you shouldn’t worry about TCU and more from the week of college basketball.
Assuming things in college basketball can get you in trouble. This sport is built upon unpredictability, so assuming the status quo will hold on any given night is simply wishful thinking.
Let’s just look at what happened Thursday. Saint Mary’s, coming off a huge win over Gonzaga that stamped the Gaels as WCC favorites, lost to a Loyola Marymount team fresh off an eight-point loss to San Diego.
USC, on a four-game winning streak that included victories over Arizona State and UCLA, was blown out by an Oregon team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life.
That desperation is often what makes this portion of the college basketball calendar so great. Because everyone (at least, everyone eligible) is still in the mix to go dancing, bubble teams are desperate for resume-boosting wins and the weaker teams are desperate to get things going in the right direction before conference tournaments.
Couple that with some squads getting comfortable, perhaps letting their proverbial foot off the gas a little bit, and it amounts to wild results that many wouldn’t predict.
Then again, there are also teams – like Auburn – which are starting to struggle as the rigors of conference play reveal true warts that will hurt in March. We’ll start this Rauf Report with a look at the Tigers and why their recent slide is a major concern.
—Bracketology: Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 combine for 23 bids
—Bubble Watch: How every team can reach March Madness
—Breaking down Marquette’s high-flying offense
Auburn’s slide is an alarming indicator
Auburn’s 83-78 loss to Texas A&M on Tuesday marked the fourth loss in five games for Bruce Pearl’s squad, a stretch that has them entirely out of the AP rankings. None of the losses were particularly bad – all four were against KenPom top-35 teams with three of them coming on the road – yet, digging deeper, this might not be just a bad stretch.
There’s a good chance this is a more accurate reflection of who Auburn is as a team.
It’s hard to fake your way to a 16-3 start in a power conference, even though the schedule had its freebies. The Tigers played more Quad 4 games (four) than Quad 1 games (three) during that stretch and also lacked any win of true significance.
Now, after this stretch, Auburn’s resume really lacks much pop.
- Auburn only has one Quad 1 win, which came over Arkansas during a four-game losing streak for the Razorbacks.
- The Tigers are just 7-7 in games against the first two quadrants.
- Auburn has yet to beat a top-100 NET team on the road.
How problematic is that resume? Two of Auburn’s four most similar tournament resumes, per Torvik — 2019 NC State and 2009 San Diego State — missed the NCAA Tournament altogether. Only one of its 10 most similar resumes advanced past the first weekend and only three won a game in the Big Dance.
Auburn probably won’t miss the tournament. At the same time, the Tigers may very well continue to struggle down the stretch. They have the 14th toughest remaining schedule in the country, according to ESPN’s BPI, and the second most difficult slate in the SEC (behind Texas A&M). Four of their seven remaining games are against Quad 1 competition (Alabama twice, Kentucky, Tennessee) with another two (Missouri, Vanderbilt) serving as Quad 2 opportunities.
This is a make-or-break stretch and could put the Tigers in a precarious position on Selection Sunday.
TCU’s slide isn’t a concern
TCU is another team that was highly ranked and is sliding recently. The Horned Frogs are 1-3 in their last four games and just 4-6 in their last 10 games.
However, the alarm bells shouldn’t be going off.
Part of those struggles reflect the depth of the Big 12, and blowout victories over Kansas and Kansas State during this run show that TCU’s level of play hasn’t completely fallen apart.
The other aspect of this – and the most important aspect – is that the Horned Frogs have been without star guard Mike Miles for essentially the last four games. He suffered a hyperextended knee a few minutes into TCU’s game against Mississippi State, an overtime loss, and hasn’t played since. Miles also missed time early this season and it’s clear the Horned Frogs aren’t the same team without their leader.
Big man Eddie Lampkin also missed the losses to Mississippi State and Oklahoma State, and most teams will undoubtedly struggle without two of their most impactful players.
So, again, I’m not concerned about TCU unless Miles’ injury lingers. No exact timetable has been set for his return, but it’s expected to be within the next few games, allowing enough time to get back up to speed before postseason play.
How legitimate is Oklahoma State’s surge?
Oklahoma State’s win over TCU is part of what has been a stellar run for the Cowboys. They are victorious in six of their last seven games to enter Lukas Harkins’ latest NCAA Tournament bracket projections, serving as a massive turnaround from a 9-8 start.
A resurgent offense has been the key for Mike Boynton’s squad. One of the worst power conference units in the country through the season’s first two months, the Cowboys have been much more efficient of late.
Bryce Thompson and Avery Anderson have continued to maintain solid contributions during this stretch (Anderson has missed the last two games but was excellent at the start of the run), yet Kalib Boone’s emergence from part-time contributor to consistent offensive threat has been huge. The big man is averaging 16.8 points over the last seven games, way up from the 10.2 he was averaging previously.
Now, is this level of offense sustainable?
That’s where things get tricky. Boone will need to continue to be this kind of force, which certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
But things will also get harder for the Cowboys. Five of the seven games during this stretch were home games, all of which Oklahoma State won. They did pick up a road victory over Oklahoma but also benefitted from the aforementioned TCU injuries. Moving forward, four of their remaining seven games are on the road – and six of those games are against KenPom top-25 teams. Oklahoma State has the second most difficult remaining schedule, according to ESPN’s BPI.
Each of its next three opponents – Iowa State, Kansas and TCU – boast top-15 defenses. Oklahoma State’s offensive performance in these next three games will say a lot about its legitimacy.
Syracuse’s inflated record
Speaking of the bubble, there are (naturally) the annual jokes about Syracuse somehow finding its way into the picture. The Orange always seem to find a way to be in the mix.
This season is different, though. There are a few bracketologists who currently have Jim Boeheim’s squad in that position, largely thanks to an 8-6 record in ACC play, but doing so now is just wrong.
Syracuse is the beneficiary of a hugely inflated record, and one that could very well come crashing down over the season’s final three weeks.
The Orange are currently 0-5 in Quad 1 games, 1-7 in Quad 1-2 games and 7-10 in games against Quads 1-3. They have only one victory against a team that’s currently ranked in the KenPom top-100, and that’s a Virginia Tech team that’s 4-9 in ACC play.
That’s not too encouraging. Just look at how the Orange have performed in games against legitimate competition compared to lesser foes.
The bad news for Syracuse is that more legitimate competition is coming. The Orange have already faced everyone in the bottom half of the ACC, using the likes of Boston College (twice), Notre Dame (twice), Louisville and Florida State to reach an 8-6 conference record. Yet five of their remaining six league games are against teams that rank in the KenPom top 75.
Some regression appears to be on the horizon for the Orange.
Nevada’s path to a Mountain West title
We’ll close in the Mountain West, where things have been pretty wild this season. Preseason contender Wyoming is currently in last while New Mexico and UNLV are in fifth and seventh, respectively, after incredibly hot starts.
The top of the league has essentially turned into a three-team race. San Diego State (unsurprisingly) is sitting in first with both Boise State and Nevada a game behind in the loss column. The Wolf Pack is the surprise of the group, yet things are set up for Steve Alford’s squad to claim at least a share of the regular season title.
Five of Nevada’s six remaining games come against teams with sub-.500 records in Mountain West play, four of which (Fresno State twice, San Jose State, Wyoming) are teams that rank outside the KenPom top 100. The lone test is a Feb. 18 trip to Logan, Utah, to face a Utah State team the Wolf Pack beat by 15 points earlier this month.
Boise State and San Diego State still have one game remaining against each other (Feb. 28). That game alone will likely either eliminate the Broncos or leave the Aztecs with very little room to spare. Both also have games remaining against New Mexico, a projected NCAA Tournament team despite its 6-5 conference record.
Nevada’s one-point victory over the Lobos on Tuesday — in a wild ending — sets up a nice stretch to close the regular season.
Kenan Blackshear has been a revelation while Will Baker and Jarod Lucas are putting up career-best numbers. As long as the Wolf Pack take care of business and win the games they’re supposed to win, Alford’s team might be celebrating a conference championship and a likely NCAA Tournament berth.
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