The Rauf Report details the biggest college basketball takeaways from the weekend, including an in-depth look at Colorado State.
I spent a majority of my weekend with the Colorado State program, and I couldn’t have picked a better time to do so considering most of this weekend’s biggest college basketball takeaways came from the Mountain West.
The league is currently projected to send four teams to the NCAA Tournament, and we’ll touch on three of them in this column, but I need to start with the Rams.
Colorado State entered the weekend facing as much adversity as it had all season. Once 16-1, the Rams had lost two straight and were welcoming a very good San Diego State team that is also in the NCAA Tournament mix. Yet there was no sense of panic within the program.
Head coach Niko Medved and the coaching staff kept things loose and fun, but there was also this underlying focus and confidence that could be felt amongst the players. The combination of that focus, Colorado State’s overall talent level, and smart gameplan helped the Rams build a 20-point lead in the first 30 minutes against the Aztecs. It was incredibly impressive to see how Medved got his team prepared and how well it executed.
Of course, we all know the story of what happened next. San Diego State came all the way back in what felt like the blink of an eye, leading to the craziest finish of the weekend:
It was an incredible ending to a wild game featuring two teams that should be in the NCAA Tournament. I firmly believe the Rams can make some noise there, too.
Colorado State’s defense is good enough for a March run
We know what Colorado State can do offensively. It has a top 30 offense, per Torvik, ranking in the top 25 in effective field goal percentage, 3-point shooting, and turnover rate. David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens are finalists for the Karl Malone and Bob Cousy awards, respectively, and Medved’s motion offensive sets continually generate open looks or put his players in advantageous positions.
The biggest question with this group came on the defensive end of the court. The Rams rank just 137th in adjusted defensive efficiency, a mark that would put them on the lower end of tournament-caliber teams.
This is where Colorado State focused most of its preparation and I was again impressed with what I saw. Rotations were crisp, shots were contested, and their perimeter pressure was controlled. It didn’t look like the nation’s No. 137 defense in practice in or a game setting.
San Diego State did not crack 30 points until 9:58 left in the game and failed to score 40 until the 5:07 mark. The Rams played like a great defense until that point.
“We have a veteran group that knows when you’re playing a conference game like this at this time of the year with everything that’s on the line right now, they know what it’s going to be,” Medved said of the defensive effort following the game. “There are no choices. You have to meet [the challenge]. I think these guys embrace that.”
Things nearly fell apart late as Colorado State suddenly struggled with turnovers and San Diego State got hot, but the overall defensive performance was solid.
In fact, it was one of the best the Rams have had at home this season. Colorado State has been a very solid defensive team (on par with UConn and Saint Louis) in its eight games away from Moby Arena but, for some reason, the Rams have really struggled defensively at home.
Because Colorado State is an elite offensive team (especially at home), it is easy to get comfortable and not bring the intensity defensively when it has a lead. The Rams did let up on that end after building the 20-point lead and the Aztecs capitalized.
That hasn’t been happening away from Moby, though. Perhaps playing on the road in an unfamiliar environment generates an increased level of relentlessness with this group.
Given what I saw this weekend and what those numbers suggest, I think Colorado State is a solid defensive team. There are some limitations size-wise, and this group will always lean more offense-heavy, but I don’t think defense will be the kind of concern on a neutral court in the NCAA Tournament that some might believe. They are better than the numbers suggest.
Matt Bradley deserves more credit
Another reason San Diego State’s comeback was so crazy is because it suddenly couldn’t miss. Yes, Colorado State gave them some openings, but the Aztecs basically capitalized on every single one.
No one did so more often and more efficiently than Matt Bradley, who should be getting more love nationally.
The Cal transfer is the only San Diego State player averaging over 10 points per game and is SDSU’s only consistent scorer and shot creator. It was the same way each of his last two seasons with the Golden Bears, too, yet he still finds a way to produce.
Colorado State made it a point to make life difficult for Bradley. The Rams wanted to show him bodies and collapse on him, which you can see below. There are three defenders around him on a drive and no San Diego State player is looking to take a shot or make a play off the ball.
It’s The Matt Bradley Show, and he somehow makes it work! He had 27 points against Colorado State while the rest of his teammates combined for 30. In Sunday’s two-point win over Nevada, he did the same thing with 26 of his team’s 65 points.
Bradley ranks in the top 75 nationally in both usage rate and shot rate while also being top 500 in true shooting percentage and assist rate.
San Diego State has the nation’s best defense, per both Torvik and KenPom, but are 281st offensively in Torvik. The fact the Aztecs are even in the NCAA Tournament conversation with that split is a huge testament to Bradley’s ability.
San Diego State will go as far as Bradley takes them. On Friday, it was nearly to a historic comeback over a very good Colorado State team.
Wyoming deserves your attention
Now we can talk about the team that had the most impressive week in the Mountain West in Wyoming! The Cowboys picked up two huge Quad 2 victories by knocking off Colorado State and Boise State on Monday and Thursday, respectively, before getting their second Quad 1 victory by beating Fresno State on the road on Sunday.
Head coach Jeff Linder’s squad is now 19-3 with two of those losses (Stanford, Boise State) coming by three points each. They are at the top of the Mountain West and are in the top 30 in the NET rankings, putting themselves in prime position for an at-large bid with some room to spare.
But not only does Wyoming have the resume of a team that can potentially win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament, it has the personnel, too, in the form of Hunter Maldonado and Graham Ike.
The duo both rank in the top 50 nationally in usage rate with Ike actually leading the country in that category. The 6-9, 252-pounder is incredibly strong and crafty around the rim, making him incredibly tough to stop on the block.
He went for 33 points and 10 rebounds against Boise State, but that wasn’t even this team’s best individual performance of the week. That belongs to Maldonado, who had 35 points and seven assists in an overtime victory against Colorado State.
Both players are unique in their style of play and their effectiveness makes Wyoming extremely tough to play and prepare for. This is a team worthy of your attention with two players who can become superstars in March.
Auburn isn’t the same away from home
Let’s move away from the Mountain West now to talk about the nation’s No. 1 team and the weakness it has shown in recent weeks.
I’m not here to argue against Auburn being atop the polls. I have Gonzaga, personally, but I can buy that the Tigers have played at a higher level more consistently and more recently against better competition.
The problem is that those special performances have all come at home. When the Tigers aren’t at Auburn Arena, things can get dicey. Auburn’s efficiency drops 1.85 efficiency margin points away from home, according to Haslametrics, which is 312th in the country.
Yes, you read that correctly. When dissecting how Auburn plays on the road vs. how it plays at home, the dropoff is 312th out of 358 teams. Digging deeper into the numbers explains how and why that’s the case.
For context, Notre Dame currently ranks 64th in overall offensive efficiency and Oklahoma ranks 31st, per Torvik. That’s who Auburn is playing like whenever it leaves The Plains.
Look at the last four road games Auburn has played:
- Four-point victory over Alabama.
- Nine-point win over Ole Miss in which the Tigers trailed by as many as 14 points.
- One-point win over Missouri in which the Tigers trailed by double digits.
- Two-point win over Georgia in which the Tigers trailed in the final minute.
Bruce Pearl and the Auburn administration have worked really hard to build one of the nation’s best home-court advantages and I don’t want to discredit that. It’s a good thing!
At the same time, the Tigers have looked mortal on the road against some of the SEC’s worst teams. Auburn can’t play its NCAA Tournament games at Auburn Arena, unfortunately, so this is a trend worth monitoring over the next month.
Baylor’s offense causing recent slide
This time last month, we were wondering if Baylor was the clear best team in the country and the obvious favorite to repeat. The Bears were in the midst of an impressive 15-0 start that included convincing wins over the likes of Michigan State, Villanova, Oregon and Iowa State and looked like they had the potential to go all the way.
Then Scott Drew’s squad suffered its first loss to Texas Tech and it hasn’t been able to recover since.
After Oklahoma State upset the Bears, too, the lead topic in that weekend’s Rauf Report centered around how the Red Raiders laid out the defensive gameplan for how to slow Baylor’s attack, which the Cowboys used with similar results.
Everyone appears to be catching on now and Baylor hasn’t had many answers. Here’s how its offense has completely dropped off since the Texas Tech loss.
There are a few things to keep in mind, like the fact Baylor has had players coming in and out of the lineup due to injury and that Big 12 play is just generally more difficult, but there is no doubting the struggles this offense is enduring.
Saturday’s 83-59 loss to Kansas was Baylor’s least efficient offensive performance of the season. The Jayhawks executed the Texas Tech gameplan well, packing the paint to limit drive-and-kick and cutting opportunities.
Teams are going to keep doing that to the Bears until they figure out a better way to attack. The Bears are still searching for those answers.