The Rauf Report details the biggest college basketball takeaways from the week, including a look at Duke’s weakness and Michigan’s key.
This week’s Rauf Report will focus on the biggest on-court takeaways of the week even though perhaps the biggest storyline in the sport currently is happening off the court.
Louisville officially parted with now-former head coach Chris Mack on Wednesday, joining Maryland as high-profile openings that have become available since the season started. I wrote about how the situation with Mack was becoming untenable just two weeks ago, and things unraveled quickly.
Once it became clear things were headed this way for Louisville, it also became clear that Bruce Pearl was “interested” in the job and would be a leading candidate to replace Mack. Members of his camp made it known and soon, both “Bruce Pearl” and “Louisville” or “Chris Mack” were coinciding trending topics on Twitter.
Sometimes, though, coaches have ulterior motives for wanting their name linked to another opening.
I was told that Louisville would have interest in Pearl — who wouldn’t at this point, with Auburn being No. 1 in the country — and that Pearl would be interested in the job, too, so long as he didn’t get what he wanted from Auburn in the form of an extension, salary increase, and continued facility upgrades.
Magically, less than 48 hours later, those things appear to be in the works. What an incredible coincidence!
It’s something to keep in mind over the next few months as these coaching searches continue to take shape.
Now, let’s dive into the on-court stuff!
—Tournament Index: March Madness 2022 predictions, Cinderellas
—College basketball’s best down-transfers
—DPI: Game Predictions | Team Grades | Player Rankings
Duke’s rebounding may limit its ceiling
Duke has as much talent as anyone in the country. As we saw in November when the Blue Devils beat both Kentucky and Gonzaga, their best may be better than anyone else’s best.
Since then, though, they have fallen off.
Duke has played seven KenPom top 100 teams since that victory over the Zags on Nov. 26, and Coach K’s squad is just 4-3 in those games. The latest contest was a far-from-promising 71-69 victory over a Clemson team that isn’t currently close to the NCAA Tournament bubble.
So, why is this happening?
There are a number of smaller factors that range from a short bench to poor shooting nights (particularly from Trevor Keels, which was detailed in a Rauf Report last week), but one constant has remained: poor rebounding.
Duke ranks 124th nationally in offensive rebounding rate and 259th in defensive rebounding rate, which is second-to-last in the ACC (ahead of Miami).
The Blue Devils have been outrebounded in six of their nine total games against KenPom top 100 teams with the only notable advantages coming against Syracuse – who Duke soundly beat (like they should’ve!) – and a Miami team that is the worst rebounding team in the ACC.
The ultimate goal for this team is to win a national championship and there are recent national champions who have struggled in these areas. Villanova ranked 224th and 104th in offensive rebounding during their 2016 and 2018 title seasons, respectively. Baylor was 274th in defensive rebounding just last season.
However, each of those teams did other things at elite levels. Villanova made a historic amount of 3-pointers. Baylor had the nation’s No. 2 offense and forced turnovers at an incredible rate. Virginia wasn’t the best rebounding team in 2019, either, but got by thanks to its historically great defense.
That’s why this is a problem for this Duke team — its strength is supposed to be on the interior with Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams. Banchero is an elite offensive player and Williams is an elite rim protector. But when they’re not doing all that is asked of them or getting sufficient help from their teammates, that advantage inside becomes less and less advantageous and impactful.
The scary thing with Duke this season though is that it may not matter. Every team is flawed, and we’ve seen the Blue Devils’ potential. That said, no other top team this season is so consistently flawed in one particular area. It could cost them in the NCAA Tournament, too, unless things change.
Providence is legit
There are only 12 teams in the country that have two losses or fewer right now, seven of which play in a power conference. Six of those seven are all ranked in the top 15 in the latest AP poll with five ranking in the top seven.
The only two-loss power conference program that didn’t make the cut? Providence. And the Friars have been playing recently like that’s a mistake.
A road win over Xavier on Wednesday gave Ed Cooley’s squad its fourth Quad 1 win of the season while also allowing it to maintain sole possession of first place in the Big East.
The victory was also important because it’s Providence’s second Quad 1 win that doesn’t come with a caveat.
The Friars beat Wisconsin in Madison, but the Badgers were without Johnny Davis. They also beat UConn in Storrs, but the Huskies didn’t have star big man Adama Sanogo.
Providence had been hanging its hat on a Dec. 1 win over Texas Tech that keeps looking better and better, yet it’s fair to say the Red Raiders were not playing as well then as they are now.
Wednesday’s victory solidified this group as a top-15-caliber team, and they’re very aware of the lack of respect they have been receiving.
The next step for the Friars would be beating Marquette at home on Saturday. The Golden Eagles are red hot themselves, having won seven consecutive games, a stretch that started with an 88-56 victory over Providence in Milwaukee.
If Ed Cooley’s squad can redeem themselves by ending Marquette’s streak, the nation will be forced to give the Friars the respect they deserve.
Caleb Houstan is the key to Michigan’s turnaround
I honestly thought we were done talking about Michigan when it fell to 7-7, yet a three-game win streak that includes a road victory over Indiana has put UM right back on the bubble.
The biggest issue facing the Wolverines this season has been their lack of offensive explosion, particularly from the perimeter, which I detailed in a Rauf Report earlier this season. Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante’ Jones hasn’t been as productive as Juwan Howard hoped, nor have most of Michigan’s strong recruiting class that ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Memphis.
Michigan is still a team that has an interior-focused attack with Hunter Dickinson in the middle, and Eli Brooks has provided some consistent production from the perimeter. That said, Brooks isn’t a star or someone who can carry an offense, so Michigan has needed a second perimeter option to emerge.
This is where five-star freshman Caleb Houstan comes into the mix. The 6-8, 205-pounder has also underperformed the lofty expectations that come with being a consensus top-10 recruit, yet he has also shown flashes of potential. He has just been inconsistent, which is relatively normal for freshmen.
The good news for Michigan is that Houstan might be turning a corner. He is averaging 17.7 points per game during this win streak compared to just 9.2 points in the 14 previous games.
This is the kind of play Michigan was hoping to get from Houstan. If it continues, the Wolverines will obviously be in a much better position. That said, they don’t necessarily need this level, more so just some consistency.
Houstan has scored at least nine points 10 times this season and Michigan is 9-1 in those games. When he scores eight points or fewer, the Wolverines are a measly 1-6.
Think his production is important?
Simply having Houstan as another viable threat from the outside gives Howard three scoring options to work with as opposed to two, which obviously opens up the offense tremendously. No one else has shown the propensity to step up either, so that option has to be Houstan.
Bryson Williams has unlocked Texas Tech’s offense
Speaking of opening up an offense, I’ve written about both Texas Tech’s early season struggles on that end and how improved play allowed the Red Raiders to beat both Kansas and Baylor in previous Rauf Report columns.
That newfound offensive improvement is here to stay thanks to the emergence of Bryson Williams.
The UTEP transfer has become the focal point of Texas Tech’s offensive attack in Big 12 play, and the transition from secondary option to go-to guy hasn’t slowed his efficiency. His minutes, usage, shot attempts, and production have all increased as his efficiency metrics have remained roughly the same, if not increased slightly.
Williams currently leads the Big 12 in usage rate in conference games while also ranking in the top five in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, and turnover rate.
As covered previously, so much of Texas Tech’s offensive struggles centered around a lack of direction and a lot of one-on-one play. Dumping it down to Williams to work in the post isn’t a bad thing and if opposing defenses collapse on him, the 6-8 forward excels at finding the open man (22nd in the Big 12 in assist rate).
The Red Raiders are also utilizing his excellent 3-point shooting (46.9 percent; 45th nationally) in pick-and-pop situations to stretch defenses since they don’t have much shooting elsewhere.
It’s no coincidence that Williams’ increased usage has directly correlated with Texas Tech’s offensive improvement. It was always going to take some time for Mark Adams to figure out exactly what he had with this group given the abundance of transfers, and he has clearly settled in on Williams be the guy. It’s been beneficial for everyone in Lubbock.
Johnny Juzang‘s relocations
Johnny Juzang has also been on a tear recently for UCLA. The preseason All-American has scored at least 23 points four times in the past two weeks, helping to steer the Bruins back into first place in the Pac-12.
Tuesday’s victory over Arizona was a major statement victory for UCLA given the success of the Wildcats this season. Juzang did struggle a bit in this one, only shooting 6-for-18 from the field, but his three first half 3-pointers helped the Bruins build a comfortable lead.
He got some of those clean looks off a new wrinkle in Mick Cronin’s offense that has proven to be very effective. In the clip below, you’ll see Juzang get open for triple and bury it in the corner.
How he got there, though, is the fun part. As you can see, Juzang starts with the ball at the top of the key. The right side of the floor is completely cleared out for a Cody Riley post up. Riley is a reliable scorer from the block, so Arizona sends a double team with the closest defender crashing down.
That defender happens to be Juzang’s man. But since Arizona (obviously) doesn’t want to leave Juzang open, the defender at the top of the key, Christian Koloko, is responsible for rotating out to defend the UCLA star.
Juzang knows this and knows he isn’t available to be an outlet for Riley where he currently stands, so he sprints to the open area in the corner. Here, he becomes an obvious outlet for Riley while — at the same time — forcing Koloko to travel further than he possibly can to defend him.
Riley quickly kicks the ball out to an open Juzang, who gets a clean look at the rim before Koloko can get to him.
Cronin and UCLA have been using this wrinkle on and off throughout the season when the defensive coverage calls for it. If the double doesn’t come, Riley can go one-on-one in the post. If it comes from the weakside, Jaime Jaquez will follow and cut to the rim.
The options off this simple action gave Arizona fits in the first half and ultimately propelled the Bruins to victory. Expect UCLA to use this whenever it can over the next two months.
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