Brian Rauf details his five biggest takeaways from the past weekend in college basketball in a brand new Rauf Report.
It’s officially the first Rauf Report of March! Feels good, doesn’t it?
February didn’t leave us empty handed, however. Baylor suffered their first loss to the season at the hands of Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, knocking them from the No. 2 spot in most polls and metrics in favor of Michigan, who capped their week with a trouncing of Indiana on Saturday. It has also created an internet war between Gonzaga fans and Michigan fans, but I digress.
There is plenty more we could dive into, including the runs both Arkansas and Oklahoma State are on (which I touched on in yesterday’s power rankings), but we need to talk more about Baylor as their play was clearly the biggest storyline of the weekend.
Baylor’s biggest weakness
There’s no denying that Baylor hasn’t looked like themselves since coming back from a three-week COVID pause on Tuesday. They trailed Iowa State for most of the game before pulling ahead late and then suffered their defeat to Kansas on Saturday. Rust played a significant factor in both games, which particularly showed itself in their shooting numbers.
The Bears are still the nation’s best three-point shooting team at 42.1 percent but in the 17 games prior to the COVID pause, they were shooting 43.9 percent from deep. In the last two games, those numbers have plummeted to 27.5 percent.
So, obviously, their struggles in that area play a huge role in why they haven’t looked like themselves over the last week. That said, the Jayhawks did expose a weakness in this Bears team inside.
Baylor’s guards get talked about a lot, as they should. They have five perimeter players who would start for 99 percent of teams and are capable of taking games over. But, inside, they can be exploited.
Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua are their only true big men with 6-5 Mark Vital playing a Draymond Green-like role, something he does very well on the defensive end. Still, he’s limited on what he can do given his height, and Thamba and “Everyday Jon” aren’t exactly dominant.
Baylor ranks 256th in block rate, 268th in defensive rebounding rate, and 102nd in 2P% allowed. In short, that means this group struggles to protect the rim, gives up a good amount of offensive rebounds, and allows teams to shoot a pretty high percentage inside the arc.
Normally, Baylor has enough offense that this weakness doesn’t matter, or their opponent doesn’t have an interior presence that can exploit it. Neither of these things were the case on Saturday.
David McCormack had a huge game, scoring 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting to lead Kansas’ offensive effort. Four different Jayhawks had multiple offensive rebounds as KU won the rebounding battle by 20 and they shot 67 percent from inside the arc, just for good measure. They were able to get to the rim off of both drives and post ups, and Baylor didn’t protect the rim well.
If Baylor continues to struggle or if/when they lose in the NCAA Tournament, this will be the reason why — it’s not going to cause them to lose early but could later on if the right (or wrong) matchup presents itself. Tuesday’s game against West Virginia, who is one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams, will be another telling data point in this area.
It felt like the book on Iowa was written three weeks ago. At that time, the Hawkeyes were coming off a loss to Indiana that marked their fourth defeat in five games. Iowa’s defense, which had been poor all year, was coming back to bite them.
Since that point, Fran McCaffery’s squad has figured something out. The Hawkeyes still aren’t great on that end of the court, but they have improved enough to where they are no longer a liability on that end, and that is more than enough. They’re now 5-1 in their last six games with that lone loss coming at Michigan which, let’s be honest, is not something that should be held against them.
Just look at how improved their defensive numbers are since that second loss to Indiana:
There’s no doubt their defensive improvement has been the driving force behind this resurgence from the Hawkeyes, but it’s also not the only factor. Sophomore CJ Fredrick is healthy again, and that has helped this offense return to peak efficiency as their best shooter.
Yes, Fredrick is only Iowa’s fourth-leading scorer, but his impact goes far beyond that. The threat of his shooting stretches opposing defenses and creates more space for Luka Garza down low and more driving lanes for Iowa’s guards. And, when he’s on, he gives the Hawkeyes a dangerous secondary option behind Garza and Joe Wieskamp.
Now that he’s healthy, Iowa has the potential to make an NCAA Tournament run if they can sustain this defensive improvement. Their coming games against Nebraska and Wisconsin won’t tell us that, but their play in the Big Ten Tournament will.
Oklahoma State’s X-factor
Cade Cunningham is often the only player discussed when the topic of Oklahoma State is brought up, and the star freshman deserves all the accolades and praise he has gotten and will continue to receive. But, as the Cowboys continue to win and rise up the rankings, other players are starting to get the respect they deserve as well.
To that end, I believe sophomore guard Avery Anderson III has as big of an impact for Oklahoma State as anyone other than Cunningham. He had a bit of a coming out party in last Monday’s win over Texas Tech in which he scored 16 points and made several key plays down the stretch in regulation and in overtime.
The sophomore has been coming through more and more for the Cowboys of late, scoring at least 13 points in five of Oklahoma State’s last eight games.
This group does have a balanced offensive attack behind Cunningham with five other players averaging at least nine points per game, but Anderson has emerged as the second leading scorer behind the projected top pick. His ability to attack the rim and create his own shot have been needed assets for the Cowboys. When he plays well and gives head coach Mike Boynton that legitimate secondary scoring option, Oklahoma State generally does well. When Anderson struggles, the Cowboys do, too.
It should go without saying that Oklahoma State isn’t going to do any sort of damage in the postseason unless Cunningham is at the center of their attack. However, they also won’t go anywhere unless he gets help, and Anderson has become the guy they depend on for that secondary help.
Matthew Hurt is saving Duke’s season
Moving on to another important player, Matthew Hurt has been the clear reason why Duke is in a decent spot for an NCAA Tournament berth, let alone in contention at all. The former five-star prospect has bounced back from a disappointing freshman season to be the Blue Devils’ go-to guy at the time this group needs one the most.
When Jalen Johnson left Duke following their loss to Notre Dame, the Blue Devils were 8-8 overall and didn’t appear to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. Well, Duke has won three of their four games since, including a big victory over Virginia last weekend. They nearly got another big one this past Saturday against Louisville, and it’s all because of the way Hurt has stepped up his level of play.
The 6-9 sophomore is averaging 24.0 ppg while shooting a scorching 68.8% percent from the field and 60.0% from three-point range, all of which is desperately needed.
Some of Duke’s biggest problems earlier in the year were a lack of shooting and not having someone they could depend on to get a basket when they needed one. Hurt has done all that and then some over the course of the last few weeks.
He’s not doing it singlehandedly, but Duke’s second-leading scorer over this stretch is DJ Steward at 13.2 ppg. The freshman has been important, yet his contributions pale in comparison to how hot Hurt has been.
And even with his heroics, the Blue Devils likely need to beat either Georgia Tech or North Carolina this week and win a game or two in the ACC Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. Hurt has to continue this level of play if that’s going to happen.
Mark Turgeon might be doing the best coaching job of his career
I want to close this Rauf Report with a nod to Mark Turgeon for the coaching job he has done this season. Maryland fans have not always been the most happy with him (to put it mildly) during his tenure, yet what he has done with this year’s team might be his best coaching job yet.
This program looked to be in shambles this offseason. The Terps were going to have to replace two bonafide superstars in Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith and five transfers, which is not an easy task considering both the caliber of players lost and the fact they had one of the Big Ten’s worst incoming recruiting classes. Turgeon and his staff had also missed out on most of the big-name transfers they had pursued (Carlik Jones, Bryce Aiken, David DeJulius, Marcus Santos-Silva, Olivier Sarr).
Instead, Turgeon was forced to develop his roster and build a bench out of what felt like spare parts, and he’s done it to the tune of a 15-10 record, 9-9 mark in Big Ten play, and a coming NCAA Tournament berth.
There aren’t any obvious All-Big Ten performers, but this is a group that plays well together and has gotten the most out of their abilities. Three of their five starters upped their scoring averages from a season ago by at least six points per game with another, Aaron Wiggins, raising it by three. Transfers Jairus Hamilton and Galin Smith have given them just enough depth, too, but the development of this core has been impressive to watch and unexpected to see.
Maryland isn’t good enough for Turgeon to win any national Coach of the Year awards, but the fact he has been able to take this group to the heights they’ve reached is telling.