Rauf Report: Baylor’s difference maker; Remy Martin’s importance; other college basketball takeaways

Brian Rauf reveals his biggest college basketball takeaways from the weekend, headlined by three star players, in a new Rauf Report.

The weekend slate of college basketball games felt like it was cut in half due to game cancellations/postponements caused by COVID-19 outbreaks. At least 32 teams are currently on pause or are dealing with outbreaks, posing major questions as to what should happen moving forward.

DePaul and Seton Hall had to forfeit conference games against Creighton and St. John’s, respectively, in accordance with Big East policy that was laid out at the start of the season. That conference is not the only one to have instituted that policy, however, and now those same conferences are looking into making adjustments to the rule.

The NFL made a change to its policy this weekend after several games were postponed and is now only requiring testing if a player or staff member is showing symptoms.

The NHL, which has had several teams go on pause until the new year and recently shut down travel between its US teams and Canadian teams, also made a change — but it changed to increased testing, rather than decreasing like the NFL.

As was noted during last season, one hurdle college basketball faces is the lack of a central power-wielding source like a commissioner. We’ll likely see some conferences follow a model similar to the NFL with others shifting more to the NHL’s approach. No one really knows what is going to happen, only that changes are needed to ensure we’re able to play as many games as possible while also preserving everyone’s safety.

OK, enough COVID talk, because — despite all the cancellations — there were a handful of games that produced impactful results over the weekend.

We had No. 1 on upset alert yet again as Oregon led top-ranked Baylor for the majority of their contest on Saturday night before the Bears pulled away late. Five-star freshman Kendall Brown led the comeback effort with an incredible display on both ends. It was the kind of performance that solidified himself as Baylor’s best player and the one it needs to make a difference every game. That is where we start today’s Rauf Report.

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Kendall Brown is Baylor’s difference maker

There aren’t too many 6-8, 205-pound uber athletes walking around college campuses, and those physical gifts automatically give Brown a major leg up when he takes the court. He’s way too quick for bigger defenders, way too big and strong for smaller defenders and way too bouncy for most players his size.

Add in a relentless motor and a high-level understanding of off-ball cutting and reading his defender, and you have a player capable of doing what Brown did Saturday night.

He used all of those physical gifts to take over the game in the second half, scoring 15 of his 17 points in an eight-minute stretch that took Baylor from being down two to up double digits.

Brown is not the most polished player from a skill perspective. He’s not going to create a jumper for himself off the bounce and is a reluctant shooter overall, but he knows when to put his foot on the accelerator.

Against Oregon, he raised his intensity defensively and ran in transition every chance he could get, which is where that athleticism really shines.

Brown did the same thing against Michigan State in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. A three-point game early in the second half, the freshman scored eight points in a three-minute span to help break the game wide open.

Those two games represent the only two times Baylor has really been tested so far this season. And, both times, Brown has responded with flurries that break the game wide open and push the Bears over the top.

James Akinjo is probably Baylor’s most important player and their depth is phenomenal — but there’s a reason Brown is the top NBA Draft prospect on this team. There aren’t many players in the sport like him, so there aren’t many that can stop him when he takes over a game.

That’s a nice card to have up your sleeve if you’re Scott Drew.

Big shots make Remy Martin irreplaceable

Let’s stay in the Big 12 to talk about another top player, shall we?

I know, I know. A lot of you likely rolled your eyes reading “Remy Martin” and “top player” linked together.

“He’s so inefficient! He takes dumb shots! He makes stupid passes!”

And I get it. Through his four years at Arizona State and now first month and a half at Kansas, we’ve all tried the Remy Martin Roller Coaster. There have been moments of sheer brilliance (which is why he’s a two-time first team All-Pac-12 selection) and moments of head-scratching befuddlement.

But Bill Self knew what he was signing up for when he landed Martin in the transfer portal and we saw why that was important on Saturday.

If you missed it, Kansas was in a dogfight with Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks were within single digits for virtually the entire game and stayed within a possession or two of Kansas for much of the second half. In fact, it was a one-point game with under four minutes to play.

However, if there’s one thing Martin is aside from up-and-down, it’s clutch. He scored or assisted on 11 of KU’s final 24 points (four of which were free throws by Dajuan Harris at the end of the game), including a huge three in the final moments.

“I saw the shot clock and it was about five seconds and I just wanted to make a play,” Martin told reporters after the game. “I did not play well, but in big-time moments, I wanted to make the best play possible.”

That shot, and those closing 10 minutes, are why Martin is invaluable to this Jayhawks team. Ochai Agbaji is Kansas’ best player but Martin is the team’s best scorer and creator. He’s the only one on this roster who can consistently create for himself and others at a high level with the ball in his hands.

Kansas didn’t have that dynamic a year ago and it cost them.

So no, Martin isn’t a perfect player, and he doesn’t necessarily provide Kansas with that type of contribution all the time. But he earned a reputation as one of the most clutch players in the country during his time at Arizona State and has carried that with him to Lawrence.

Martin is that guy whenever Kansas needs him to be that guy, and that might just be good enough.

Jaden Ivey‘s 3-point shooting

Jaden Ivey‘s talent has always been obvious. Put him on any college basketball court and his athleticism and length just pop.

In a Rauf Report last month, I broke down how his emergence as a legitimate playmaker has been one of the driving forces behind Purdue’s breakout season. However, Ivey’s improvement as a shooter has been even more important in his personal development as a player and is why he’s jumped into the top-5 of ESPN’s Top 100 prospects.

Perimeter shooting was a gaping hole in Ivey’s game a year ago. He shot over four 3-pointers per game but made them at just a 25.8 percent clip — one of the worst shooters in the country at that volume.

Opponents simply sagged off him defensively and packed the paint in an effort to limit his effectiveness attacking the rim and to force him to beat them from the perimeter. It largely worked.

This season, though, Ivey’s 3-point percentage has skyrocketed to 46.2 percent. He’s already made nearly as many threes (24) as he did all last season (25) despite playing 12 fewer games and taking 45 fewer attempts. That kind of improvement is monumental and makes him virtually unguardable at the college level, especially with the way he’s making shots off the bounce.

Just ask Butler. The Bulldogs were OK with the sophomore taking perimeter jumpers — at least early. Ivey responded with a game-high 22 points and went a perfect 6-for-6 from 3-point range in a 77-48 blowout.

If this continues, I’d expect Ivey to become the clear National Player of the Year frontrunner sooner rather than later.

Nonconference failure for St. John’s

While Purdue has fulfilled its preseason promise of a breakout campaign, St. John’s has not.

The Red Storm has aspirations and expectations of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019 — and potentially winning a game for the first time since 2000 — with a group that returned a lot of key contributors from last year’s team, headlined by All-Big East forward Julian Champagnie.

Mike Anderson‘s squad can still get it done, but they looked like anything but an NCAA Tournament team during the nonconference portion of their schedule.

The Johnnies wrapped up nonconference play with a puzzling 59-57 loss to a Pitt team that has losses to The Citadel, UMBC and Monmouth on its resume. Champagnie did not play in the game but it was a dismal performance and effort from the rest of the squad.

It counts as a Quadrant 4 loss for St. John’s, giving them as many Q4 losses as wins against Q1-3 competition.

That’s right — the victory over Monmouth is the Red Storm’s only non-Quad 4 win.

The Johnnies scheduled light, meaning there were no opportunities for slip ups. A loss to Indiana and blowout loss to Kansas meant this group missed its two chances for a marquee nonconference win, so it at least had to take care of business elsewhere.

St. John’s did not and now has the Big East’s worst resume outside of Georgetown.

Now, the Johnnies are technically 1-0 in Big East play since the conference credits them with a win following Seton Hall’s COVID-induced forfeit. However, it’s worth noting that does not count as a win on their overall record or NCAA Tournament resume. Essentially, it cost St. John’s a chance at redemption against perhaps the Big East’s best team.

Being the preseason A-10 favorite is not a good thing

The Atlantic 10 is an awesome basketball conference and is annually one of the best non-power conferences in the country. It has recently produced some legitimate top 25 teams, like St. Bonaventure a year ago, and occasionally even produces a national title contender like Dayton in 2019-20.

Yet being dubbed the preseason conference favorite, however, has not been a good omen for anyone over the last few seasons.

St. Bonaventure began this season as a top 25 team because of what it showed last season and the fact the Bonnies returned everyone of importance. Well, the Bonnies already have a loss to Northern Iowa and got trounced 86-49 by an underachieving Virginia Tech team this past weekend. Mark Schmidt‘s squad is no longer the NCAA Tournament lock we thought they were a month ago.

Richmond was the A-10 favorite at the start of the 2020-21 season for much of the same reason St. Bonaventure was this year. The Spiders had an excellent team that season before and that core came back for more. They ended up finishing 8th in the conference.

VCU was the preseason favorite in 2019-20 and finished with a sub-.500 record in A-10 play.

Saint Louis was the favorite in 2018-19. The Billikens finished 6th with a 10-8 record, though they made the NCAA Tournament by winning the A-10 Tournament.

St. Bonaventure still has plenty of time to turn its season around but recent returns have been concerning. Its defense, one of the nation’s best a year ago, has been shredded as the Bonnies have struggled defending the three (247th nationally) and forcing turnovers (279th). Schmidt’s top 20 defense in 2020-21 currently ranks 107th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

The Bonnies will look to get right this week against Northeastern before starting conference play but, if recent history is any indication, they may continue to struggle.