Rauf Report: Baylor’s offense; mid-major sleeper; other college basketball takeaways

The Rauf Report details the biggest college basketball takeaways from the week, including a detailed look at why Baylor is on a losing skid.

I started Friday’s Rauf Report with all the reasons that, despite the loss to Texas Tech, Baylor still deserved to be the nation’s top-ranked team.

I did not then expect the Bears to then go out and lose again at home on Saturday to Oklahoma State, but here we are.

They were the biggest story in what was a crazy Saturday in college hoops as seven ranked team lost to unranked foes with four of those losses coming on the ranked team’s home court.

We always talk about how playing on the road is the toughest thing to do in college basketball. But losing those games at home is another story, which is why Saturday was unique.

Baylor did make history — the wrong kind — by being the first No. 1 team to lose two games at home in a week.

After looking so dominant in the first half of the season, what changed for the Bears? That’s where we will start this week’s Rauf Report.

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Baylor’s offense has caused this losing streak

Baylor’s offense is a thing of beauty when it’s clicking on cylinders. It’s a drive-and-kick offense that also throws in a series of ball screens to help ball-handlers get downhill attacking the basket and back cuts to take advantage of overly aggressive help defense.

The idea is simple — when a defense is moving, it’s easier to attack. And the more you attack, the more help defenders you draw, creating either an open man or more defensive scrambling. It’s an ongoing cycle that builds on itself and requires a high level of basketball IQ and unselfishness.

But Texas Tech and Oklahoma State both had success slowing Baylor down by packing the paint in an effort to cut off driving lanes. Aside from the man guarding the ball, look how every other Red Raider defender has at least one foot in the paint!

Without a driving lane or a logical bail-out passing option, Adam Flagler tries to throw it across the court, and it ends up being stolen by Kevin McCullar.

Oklahoma State employed a very similar strategy. In this case, Matthew Mayer was able to drive by his man and Tyreek Smith (No. 23) rotates over to keep him from getting an easy layup. But, because the Cowboys didn’t help off the ball-side corner, that isn’t a bail-out, drive-and-kick option.

Instead, Mayer is forced to look opposite. Oklahoma State is ready for that with both weakside defenders moving further into the lane to block any cuts.

Mayer ended up forcing the layup without any clear passing options. That shot was blocked by Smith, and Oklahoma State went the other way and got an easy layup in transition.

Unsurprisingly, these games were two of Baylor’s three lowest-scoring outputs of the season. The other was that 57-36 drubbing of Villanova and the Wildcats had some success here, too, but it obviously didn’t matter because of their own putrid offensive performance.

Having this as your gameplan and being able to execute on it are two entirely different challenges. Baylor is extremely quick and athletic, and it has 3-point shooters all over the place.

Both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State were equipped to handle that challenge, both ranking in the top 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency with the length and quickness to match the Bears.

Not everyone is going to do this effectively, but I’ll bet most teams will try after watching the tape. It’s now on Baylor to respond and adjust.

LSU’s offense may cap its ceiling

The conversation around LSU this season has been almost exclusively about its defense, and rightfully so.

Will Wade’s squad leads the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is a stark contrast to his first four seasons in Baton Rouge. The Tigers ranked outside the nation’s top 120 in that category in three of those seasons as Wade, well, hasn’t put that much of a focus on that end of the court in his coaching.

That identity has completely flipped with LSU sporting a dominant unit on that end, yet its identity has unfortunately flipped on the other end as well.

The Tigers had top-12 offenses each of the last three seasons, including two consecutive years in the top 5, yet are currently ranked outside the top 100 (they’ve never finished lower than 33rd under Wade).

We’ve seen great defensive teams win without great offense before, but it’s the fact that LSU’s offense might be even worse than we think that’s concerning.

The Tigers entered SEC play with a perfect 12-0 mark largely thanks to their defense but have come back to the pack a bit in conference play, going 3-2 in their first five games.

The reason? LSU’s offensive production has gone down fairly drastically, largely due to the caliber of opponent. Its nonconference schedule ranked 205th nationally and only one game (Wake Forest) came against a team currently ranked in the KenPom top 50. That cakewalk is over in a loaded SEC, and the Tigers are having trouble handling it.

Wade’s offense doesn’t generally have a ton of structure. He can draw up good out-of-bounds and ATO (after time out) plays but, in the flow of the game, he likes to let his guys play fast and create for themselves.

That style has worked for him in his first four seasons because he had at least one quality guard who could create for himself or others off the bounce. Tremont Waters was phenomenal at that during his two seasons in Baton Rouge. Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays were underrated in this regard. And last year, well, Cam Thomas could basically score when he wanted.

LSU doesn’t have that guy this year. The Tigers are 274th in assist rate — showing how many of their shots come from one-on-one situations or isolation sets — and are just 240th in 3-point shooting.

Tari Eason and Darius Days are LSU’s two leading scorers, and both are forwards. Both are awesome, fun players, but neither can drive the offense the way it needs to simply because they aren’t playmaking guards. Xavier Pinson is probably the closing thing to that on this roster, but he’s more of a role player than lead guard.

We saw the perils of this down the stretch in LSU’s loss to Arkansas on Saturday. The Tigers only scored two points in the game’s final 10 minutes because no one could create.

LSU’s defense is going to give them a chance in just about every game it plays. But unless we see some offensive adjustments made by Wade to provide a bit more structure, this mini slide might turn into a trend.

Oregon’s offensive resurgence

At the start of the week, Oregon was up there with Michigan and Memphis as one of the biggest disappointments of the season. The Ducks were thought to be a top-20 team in the preseason and the biggest threat to UCLA in the Pac-12 thanks to some impact transfers and key returners.

A 6-6 start had many writing this group off, and Monday’s 78-76 victory over Oregon State did nothing to instill confidence in this side.

Then, the Ducks went out and knocked off two top-5 teams on the road in three days, upending UCLA in overtime and handling USC in a double-digit victory. Oregon became just the second team in NCAA history to play consecutive road games against top-5 opponents and win both.

Dana Altman’s squad is now on a five-game win streak with that history in its back pocket. How did this turnaround happen? Well, Altman is a phenomenal coach who always gets his team playing at a high level at the right time, but the Ducks are also getting much better guard play and are leaning into that identity.

Rutgers transfer Jacob Young received a larger role during this winning streak with his minutes jumping from 27.0 per game to 33.6, and his on-court production has benefitted.

  • First 12 games: 9.1 ppg, 2.3 apg, 40.6 FG%, 22.6 3P%
  • Last 5 games: 15.8 ppg, 2.8 apg, 48.5 FG%, 37.5 3P%

Oklahoma transfer De’Vion Harmon has also seen a minute increase up from 29.9 to 33.4 per game. While he hasn’t had the same leap Young has had, the junior is turning it over less with more rebounding and playmaking production.

  • First 12 games: 10.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.8 TOpg
  • Last 5 games: 11.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.2 TOpg

As good as those transfers have been, though, it’s important to remember that Will Richardson is Oregon’s go-to guy. He did not always play that way early this season but during this five-game run he has been awesome.

  • First 12 games: 12.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 43.3 FG%, 41.8 3P%
  • Last 5 games: 19.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 54.8 FG%, 51.9 3P%

Guard play is always important, but even more so for Oregon given the way Dana Altman runs his offense. A large part of it is predicated on primary ball-handlers attacking and making smart decisions.

It took a while for this group to come together, and maybe that should’ve been expected given that two of them were transfers and the other, Richardson, was stepping into a larger role.

It appears they’ve found their footing now, though, and the Ducks put the rest of the Pac-12 on notice this week.

Seton Hall’s defense is slipping

Let’s shift from the offensive end of the court to the defensive end as we take a look at Seton Hall. The Pirates are just 2-4 in Big East play with the last two coming on the road against teams projected to finish in the conference’s bottom half in DePaul and Marquette.

Kevin Willard‘s squad hangs its hat on being a high-quality defensive team and, during the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Pirates were that. I wrote about how special Seton Hall’s defense can be in a couple Rauf Report columns earlier this season it was true during the first 10 games of the season.

But after beating Rutgers on Dec. 12, Seton Hall did not play again until its Big East opener against Providence on Dec. 29 due to a COVID pause. The Pirates were shorthanded when they came back as pretty much their entire frontcourt was still in protocols, yet they went toe-to-toe with the Friars and Villanova.

Well, Seton Hall has been just about fully healthy now for a couple, and its defense still hasn’t recuperated.

There is the same nonconference vs. conference play discrepancy at play here like there was with LSU’s offense (all non-conference games were played pre-pause) but, unlike the Tigers, Seton Hall played an extremely tough nonconference schedule that saw them play four KenPom top-100 teams. That’s the same amount they’ve faced in Big East play so far, too, but the defense hasn’t mattered.

The Pirates have allowed five of their six conference foes to score at least 70 points, something that only happened twice in their first 10 games. That landmark is important because this group is 2-5 when opponents hit that mark and 9-0 when they don’t.

Seton Hall still has all the tangibles that made them a great defense early in the season. This is a tall, long, athletic roster full of aggressive perimeter defenders and quality rim protectors. But, over the last few weeks, the Pirates aren’t as connected or as crisp with their rotations, are leaving more open shooters, and are giving up more offensive rebounds. Those areas need to be improved upon if this group is going to turn its season around.

Davidson is a legit threat from the mid-major ranks

We close this Rauf Report with a quick look at Davidson, which has somewhat quietly emerged as a top-25-caliber team.

The Wildcats have won 13 games in a row going back to mid-November and have three KenPom top-100 victories in that stretch, including that thrilling defeat of Alabama right before Christmas.

Bob McKillop‘s squad is not overly athletic or great defensively (those two things are connected), but it is an elite offensive team thanks to phenomenal shooting and a motion offense designed to generate open looks.

Davidson currently ranks in the top-5 nationally in both 3-point shooting and effective field goal percentage, and that efficiency is what drives this top-20 offense. Star Hyunjung Lee, Michigan State transfer Foster Loyer, and Michael Jones all rank in the top-75 nationally in true shooting percentage, making the Wildcats one of only two teams in the country with three players ranking that high (Gonzaga).

Davidson is also a really good team that doesn’t beat itself. It doesn’t turn the ball over (17th in turnover rate) and while it isn’t a great rebounding team, the Wildcats don’t allow many offensive rebounds (21st) or second-chance points.

We thought the A10 was going to run through Saint Bonaventure this season and it still might. But Davidson has looked like the league’s best team on a more consistent basis and as we saw against the Crimson Tide, one that could upset a higher-seeded foe in March.



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