The Rauf Report details the biggest college basketball takeaways from the weekend, including a look at coaches on the hot seat.
The Big 12/SEC Challenge highlighted the weekend. As a result, most of the obvious college basketball takeaways came from those key matchups.
Kentucky’s stomping of Kansas solidified the Wildcats as a serious Final Four contender and pushed them to No. 3 in the HeatCheckCBB Top 25 Rankings. Alabama proved it’s still a factor on the national stage with a convincing upset of Baylor while Texas also got a needed win over Tennessee.
It was a great showcase for both conferences – but it could be better.
This Challenge was modeled after the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Since that contest is early in the season, those matchups are largely set based on expected fan interest. Sometimes that leads to two highly ranked teams facing off but can also lead to teams like Duke and North Carolina facing Indiana and Michigan State on a regular basis no matter how good any are projected to be.
The Big 12/SEC Challenge does something similar with projected standings playing something of a role. However, because the event is held in late January, these conferences have a great opportunity to create matchups based on team performance.
Here’s how it would work: every team in each conference has a placeholder date set for when the Challenge will be, but no opponent is originally assigned. Then, a week or two before the Challenge date, matchups are set based on either conference record or NET ranking. That way, we see the Big 12’s best team go up against the SEC’s best team, second-best plays second-best, and down the line we go.
It would make for more intriguing matchups that would be great for college basketball, but it would also differentiate itself as an event and provide real resume-boosting opportunities for everyone.
We’ll get back to the Big 12/SEC Challenge in a second, but we have to start this week’s Rauf Report with an alarming problem emerging with one of the nation’s elite teams that was on full display this weekend.
Purdue’s defensive struggles
Purdue deserves to be mentioned among this season’s national championship favorites. The Boilermakers have five Quad 1 wins, maintained a spot near the top of the Big Ten standings, and have the nation’s best offense, per KenPom. Jaden Ivey is a projected top-5 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and the combination of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams at the center position has been virtually unstoppable.
Unfortunately, Purdue hasn’t shown much of a propensity to stop its opponents.
The Boilermakers rank just 90th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. According to Torvik, that number falls to 106th against quality opponents and 121st in their last 10 games.
This is clearly something that could come back to bite the Boilers in the NCAA Tournament.
Purdue’s goal is to get to the Final Four, a place it hasn’t been since 1980. Since 2002, only three teams ranked outside the top 50 in AdjD made the Final Four. The 2003 Texas team led by TJ Ford checked in at No. 58, the 2011 VCU team was 78th, and the 2003 Marquette team was 109th.
The Golden Eagles are the only one to rank lower then Purdue currently does, and they had a guy named Dwyane Wade carrying the team.
Now, Purdue fans might argue that Ivey can be that kind of player in the NCAA Tournament. Even if he is, though, it’s the rest of the roster that is concerning defensively.
Edey is an elite shot-blocker, but his lack of foot speed can make him a liability on that end. Ivey is Purdue’s only perimeter defender that who plus athleticism, which has caused them to be exposed by quicker, more athletic backcourts. According to EvanMiya.com, Ivey and Isaiah Thompson are the only players who didn’t get worse defensively over the last 30 days.
Poor defense nearly caused Matt Painter‘s squad to blow a 20-point second half to Ohio State on Sunday. Once they got up 20, they allowed the Buckeyes to score 46 points in the game’s final 14:30 as Ohio State was more perimeter-oriented in its attack.
When opposing teams are able to slow Purdue’s offense down, they win. The Boilermakers are 0-3 when held below 70 points on the season while being a perfect 18-0 when crossing that threshold.
Two of the three that managed to do it are Indiana and Wisconsin, both of which are NCAA Tournament teams, the kind Purdue will have to face to make the Final Four and potentially go beyond. Its defense will have to step up at least once for this group to reach its goal and, so far, that hasn’t happened.
TCU is putting an 8-bid Big 12 in serious play
The SEC won the Challenge overall, capturing six of the 10 games on the schedule, yet the weekend may have been more impactful for the Big 12.
Since the Big 12 was reduced to 10 teams nearly a decade ago, the conference has never led the nation in NCAA Tournament bids. It regularly sends over half its membership to the Big Dance, but from a sheer numbers perspective, the Big Ten or ACC has typically sent more.
That could very well change this year and TCU’s victory over LSU on Saturday is a big reason why.
Of the conference’s nine tournament-eligible teams (Oklahoma State has a postseason ban), eight were projected to be in the field of 68 in HeatCheckCBB bracketologist Lukas Harkins’ update on Friday. Seven of those teams were comfortably in with the eighth, TCU, being one of the last four teams in. With no bad losses, the Horned Frogs needed a signature win or two to really boost their resume.
Beating LSU, which is ranked in the top 15 in the NET rankings, certainly qualifies as that.
TCU has to take care of business the rest of the way, obviously, but the Big 12 is strong enough that no bad losses will be added to their resume as long as they win some.
Now the Big 12’s attention will turn towards West Virginia. The Mountaineers have lost five games in a row. But, like TCU, WVU has no bad losses and a key win or two (UConn, UAB) is carrying the resume.
WVU will need to turn its season around to keep this intact, but the fact the Big 12 is positioned to send eight of nine of its eligible membership to the NCAA Tournament at the end of January is simply absurd.
Four-bid WCC is in jeopardy
The WCC is going the opposite way of the Big 12 after having a collectively stellar opening month to the season.
Gonzaga is still Gonzaga and is in line for a No. 1 seed. Everyone else, though, suddenly has legitimate concerns about their resume.
BYU also spent time in the top 25 earlier this season and has quality victories over Oregon and San Diego State, along with other WCC contenders Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. That said, the Cougars also have some disastrous losses to Utah Valley, Vanderbilt and 6-13 Pacific, which beat Mark Pope‘s squad on Saturday, handing BYU a debilitating Quad 4 loss.
Saint Mary’s does not have those bad losses, but it also doesn’t have the quality wins that would secure its place in the field. The Gaels are just 2-4 in Quad 1 opportunities and are only 5-4 in Quad 1 & 2 games. They need more of those victories, and opportunities won’t come until mid-February.
San Francisco, as we touched on in a Rauf Report earlier this month, needs help in both areas. The Dons pass the eye test, but their best wins are against Davidson and UAB. They’re also 2-3 in their last five games and have the stink of a Quad 3 loss to Grand Canyon on their resume.
All four teams were considered solidly in the NCAA Tournament field just two weeks ago. Now, two are headed in the wrong direction.
This was shaping up to be a banner year for the WCC, and it still could unfold that way. BYU, Saint Mary’s and San Francisco need to get back to taking care of business, though.
Murray State is an at-large contender
While we’re talking mid-major ranks and NCAA Tournament resumes, let’s take a look at Murray State!
The Racers have been on fire in OVC play, going 10-0 with an average margin of victory of 19.1 points per game. And, before you start thinking they’re beating up on lesser competition, it’s important to remember that Matt McMahon‘s squad beat KenPom top 55 Belmont by 22 and Morehead State – who was 8-0 in conference play – by 11 on Saturday.
Murray State looks the part eye-test wise. Tevin Brown (17.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.5 apg) is one of the best guards in the country, period – not just at the mid-major ranks. DJ Williams is also averaging 17.0 ppg while sophomore Justice Hill looks like the next great Murray State point guard.
That trio led them to a road victory over Memphis and had them hanging with Auburn for 40 minutes, too.
From a resume standpoint, the Racers are in position for an at-large bid if they were to falter during the OVC Tournament. They are No. 28 in the NET rankings, No. 35 in KenPom, and are 3-1 in Quad 1 & 2 games.
The key for Murray State from this point forward is not to falter for the remainder of the regular season. A home victory over Belmont should qualify as another Quad 2 win and a road victory over Morehead State might meet that threshold, too, but those are their only real chances to add anything of substance to their resume. It’s not just about avoiding a bad loss or two.
If they accomplish that, they’ll be dancing no matter what happens in the OVC Tournament.
Coaching hot seat update
With Chris Mack out at Louisville, who are the next coaches that may need to worry about their respective future in their job? Here’s a quick breakdown of some power conference coaches who are feeling the heat:
Kevin Keatts, NC State: Keatts is in his fifth season in Raleigh and hasn’t been to an NCAA Tournament since his first. He’s sub-.500 in ACC play and has lost at least 12 games four times. Administration knows there’s a window of opportunity with both UNC and Duke undergoing coaching changes. It also knows this program doesn’t have any positive momentum. Expect a change here.
Patrick Ewing, Georgetown: Despite Georgetown’s struggles, Ewing led the Hoyas to the Big East Tournament title and an NCAA Tournament appearance a season ago. He’s expected to get another year to turn it around.
Chris Collins, Northwestern: How far can making a school’s only NCAA Tournament take you? Collins continues to test those limits, though his leash is running out. A lot can be decided here over the next month and a half but it’s trending in the wrong direction.
Bobby Hurley, Arizona State: I wrote about the special circumstances surrounding Hurley’s future with Arizona State in a Rauf Report earlier this season, and those make this tricky. But Arizona State’s on-court performance is making this a very real conversation.
Mark Fox, Cal: It’s clear the Mark Fox hire didn’t work for Cal. At the same time, the Cal athletic department isn’t one that typically fires coaches after three years. I think we see him back next season on a very hot seat.
Mike White, Florida: Gators fans haven’t been happy with White for a while as the program is stuck in the SEC’s middle tier. An NCAA Tournament bid — or at least a late push — will likely result in him returning to Gainesville, but a pink slip may be arriving on his desk if Florida’s struggles continue.
Tom Crean, Georgia: A move will likely be made here. Crean has lost momentum on the recruiting trail and the program simply hasn’t won under him.
Kermit Davis, Ole Miss: Ole Miss is a hard place to win at. That said, Davis is in his fourth year and isn’t winning at the level Andy Kennedy was when he was fired. It doesn’t help that Kennedy has UAB looking like an NCAA Tournament team, either. The feel is he’ll be back but on a very hot seat next year, but the bottom falling out could cause the school to speed up that timeline.
Frank Martin, South Carolina: The Gamecocks are improved (though that’s not a hard bar to clear) and Martin’s buyout drops to zero at the conclusion of next season. I fully expect him to be back.
Penny Hardaway, Memphis: I mean, yeah. His recruiting has been unmatched during his four-year tenure at Memphis but is still looking for his first NCAA Tournament appearance. It doesn’t appear to be coming this season, though. That lack of on-court production, coupled with some of the off-court drama, might cause Memphis to make a change.