Have Duke, Michigan and Indiana turned their respective seasons around? Answering that question – and more – in a new Rauf Report.
We just had our first college basketball weekend without any football to contend with it — and the hoop gods certainly delivered.
Four teams ranked in the top 10 lost, including No. 1 Purdue, with eight ranked teams losing overall. There were high-profile matchups, close games and big shots all over the place, even in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Yet some of the biggest news happened off the court, courtesy of Jim Boeheim.
The 78-year-old told ESPN’s Pete Thamel that he will “probably” return to coach Syracuse next season and that it’ll be his choice when he chooses to retire — no one will be forcing him out. Judging by something other things he told Thamel, that may happen sooner rather than later.
Here’s what Boeheim had to say about state of the sport:
“This is an awful place we’re in in college basketball. Pittsburgh bought a team. OK, fine. My [big donor] talks about it, but he doesn’t give anyone any money. Nothing. Not one guy. Our guys make like $20,000. Wake Forest bought a team. Miami bought a team. … It’s like, ‘Really, this is where we are?’ That’s really where we are, and it’s only going to get worse.
“It’s crazy. That’s why those guys got out — that’s why Jay [Wright] got out, Mike [Krzyzewski] got out. That’s the reason they got out. The transfer portal and everything is nuts. It really is.”
Boeheim tried walking those comments back on Sunday, saying he “absolutely misspoke” about Pitt and Wake Forest, but that’s not my biggest takeaway from his comments.
Boeheim has been a pillar of college basketball since the 1970s, and the college sports landscape has shifted drastically during that time — and over the last five years in particular. There has been a lot of change happening quickly, and being a college coach isn’t the same job it used to be. Some guys don’t want to do it anymore, and that’s OK! But, as Boeheim said, it’s his choice to stick around, and he doesn’t seem to be so appalled by what’s going on that he’s willing to walk away from it all.
And if he wants to bash NIL, that’s fine, too! But he said all this a week after Syracuse landed top-100 prospect Elijah Moore largely because a booster — the same one who has been paying millions in NIL money to Syracuse players and recruits — flew Moore on a private jet to sit courtside alongside recording artist Fabolous.
The hypocrisy is rich.
Anyway, let’s get back to the on-court action, because a college basketball cult hero saw his legend grow into something more over the weekend in Moraga, California.
Aidan Mahaney is a superstar
If you didn’t stay up to watch Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s this weekend, I understand. The overtime battle didn’t end until roughly 1:00 am Sunday morning on the East Coast. If you caught it, you witnessed one of the greatest performances of the college basketball season.
Gonzaga controlled most of the game and led by eight points with less than eight minutes to play. Then, Aidan Mahaney happened.
The Gaels’ star freshman completely took over the game down the stretch, carrying Saint Mary’s offensively. He pretty much singlehandedly forced overtime and ultimately earned his team the victory.
Mahaney did not have a good game prior to that surge — just two points on 1-of-10 shooting with no assists in the first 33 minutes — but the hometown hero turned it on when the Gaels needed it.
“He just has it,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett told reporters postgame. “A lot of guys would fold and just kind of hang their head and finish the game like that. That’s where he’s kind of special. He’s got great belief and he really, really competes to win. That’s where he’s special.”
The best part is that this isn’t a one-time thing for Mahaney. This is who he is! Last weekend, he hit this buzzer-beater to beat BYU in Provo:
Mahaney did come to Saint Mary’s with some pedigree. He’s the third highest rated commit in Saint Mary’s history, per the 247sports Composite, had interest from Arizona and turned down an offer from Stanford to stay hyperlocal and play for the Gaels. He is only the third four-star prospect the program has ever landed, but he’s already outperforming even that lofty ranking.
Saint Mary’s has an elite defense that ranks in the top five nationally for efficiency. The Gaels are fine offensively but can get stuck in the proverbial mud like they did against Gonzaga. That’s where having a playmaker and shot-creator like Mahaney is invaluable. He has elevated this team’s ceiling in a way that makes the Gaels very intriguing come NCAA Tournament time.
Duke might be the ACC’s most dangerous team (again)
The Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s showdown was the game of the weekend on a day that also featured Duke-UNC. While that may sound shocking at first blush, it shouldn’t really be a surprise given how the Blue Devils and Tar Heels have played this season — and the fact both were unranked.
Duke’s victory snapped a two-game losing streak in the series and preserved Jon Scheyer’s undefeated record as head coach at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The performance also signaled that more might be on the horizon for this young group.
Youth and injuries have forced Scheyer to play around with rotations more than expected and have largely kept the Blue Devils from maintaining any kind of momentum. Eight different players have started multiple games, and their best three players — Dereck Lively II, Jeremy Roach and Dariq Whitehead — have all missed time.
That’s why Saturday’s performance was so promising. Roach played all 40 minutes, something he hasn’t done since November, and posted back-to-back 20-point performances for the first time in his career. Lively is finally starting to look healthy following a calf injury that caused him to miss time early in the season and was dominant. He only scored four points, but he controlled the game with 14 rebounds and eight blocks while completely shutting down Armando Bacot.
Whitehead is still out with a left leg sprain suffered against Virginia Tech, but Duke expects to have him back before the end of the season. He was starting to find his groove before that, scoring in double figures six times in his last eight games.
I explained in a previous Rauf Report why Roach is Duke’s most important player. They need his leadership and ability to step up in big spots. Meanwhile, Kyle Filipowski has proven to be a dynamic scorer, and Tyrese Proctor appears to have found his rhythm next to Roach in the backcourt, averaging 12.4 points over the last seven games. Those three have essentially buoyed Duke to this point.
However, if Duke is going to take another step forward and play like the team we thought it would be in the preseason, it needs Lively and Whitehead to have major impacts. Whitehead was on his way before the injury, but Lively’s impact had been limited. The UNC game served as his breakout and showcased the role that best suits him and the team alike.
That performance was the peak, but Lively is averaging 8.4 rebounds and 4.0 blocks through the last five games. He is emerging as the elite interior force — particularly defensively — that Duke needs and thought he would be when it recruited him. That added element makes the Blue Devils perhaps the most dangerous team in the ACC moving forward.
Indiana’s resurgence is legit
Another blueblood has turned things around recently, as Indiana has shaken off a sluggish start to Big Ten play to put together some fantastic performances over the past three weeks. After starting 1-4 in the league, including a 19-point drubbing at Penn State, the Hoosiers are 6-1 in their last seven games — including two Quad 1A wins and three Quad 2 wins.
Their victory over top-ranked Purdue on Saturday — a game in which they essentially led wire-to-wire — stamped this turnaround, showing Indiana should be taken seriously.
Mike Woodson’s squad is still without starting point guard Xavier Johnson, but the Hoosiers have adjusted. Star freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino is running the show now, and it’s never a bad thing for your most talented perimeter player to have the ball in his hands more. He is still an elite scorer but more recently has demonstrated improved playmaking chops, averaging 4.3 assists per game in Johnson’s absence.
That development has helped IU’s turnaround, but no one has been more impactful than Trayce Jackson-Davis. The senior has had an incredible career in Bloomington, but he’s undoubtedly playing the best basketball of his career.
Often criticized by some (including me) of not having a significant impact against the better teams Indiana has faced over the last three and a half seasons, TJD has met the moment during this seven-game stretch and is playing like an All-American.
I’ve written in these pages that Indiana is only going to go as far as Hood-Schifino takes them, and I still believe that’s true due to the importance of guard play in March. However, if Jackson-Davis continues to play at this level, which is a lot to ask from anyone, it may not matter what anyone else on the roster does.
As they demonstrated on Saturday, the Hoosiers are capable of beating anyone when Jackson-Davis is at his best.
Michigan is undergoing its annual turnaround
Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Michigan also looked like it had hit a low point with a loss to Penn State two weekends ago. It dropped the Wolverines to 11-10 overall and an even 5-5 in Big Ten play without any kind of real signature win.
But Juwan Howard’s squad won both games it played this week, handily beating both Northwestern and Ohio State. Hunter Dickinson is back to playing at an elite level and Kobe Bufkin was superb in both victories.
Michigan is hoping this momentum continues through at least the end of this homestand (both Nebraska and Indiana head to Ann Arbor this week), and history tells us it will.
Much like we’ve discussed the historical struggles that Kevin Willard-coached teams have had in the middle of the season and the late surges Eric Musselman’s teams tend to go on, this time of the season has consistently been an inflection point for the Wolverines since Howard took over. Here is a look at how each season has gone.
- 2019-20: Started 11-8, went 8-1 from Jan. 28 through Feb. 26
- 2020-21: Undefeated from Jan. 19 through March 1
- 2021-22: Started 7-7, went 6-2 from Jan. 18 through Feb. 11
- 2022-23: Started 11-10, 2-0 since start of February
This Michigan team does have talent and a schedule that sets up pretty well for it the rest of the way. Four of its remaining eight games are against teams currently ranked outside the KenPom top 40, a luxury for a Big Ten team.
If the Wolverines are able to get to 18 or 19 wins, they may very well find themselves in the NCAA Tournament again – and will have peaked at exactly the right time, as Howard-coached teams typically have done.
Tim Miles is doing historic things at San Jose State
No one is going to mistake San Jose State for a basketball power. The program has only finished above .500 once in the last 29 seasons, and the Spartans haven’t posted a winning record in conference play (whether in the WAC or the Mountain West) since leaving the Big West in 1996.
All that history makes what Tim Miles is doing there even more impressive.
San Jose State is now 14-9 after beating Wyoming by 20 points on Saturday. The program hasn’t won more games in a season since 2010-11, and if the season ended today, the Spartans would have their highest-ever ranking in the KenPom era (No. 106; SJSU’s best final ranking came in 2001, when they finished 110th). The win over Wyoming also pushed the team to 5-5 in league play, and those five conference wins are the most they have had since going 7-11 in Mountain West play in 2016-17.
Omari Moore has emerged as an all-conference caliber player in his senior season, averaging 16.4 points, 5.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds to pace the Spartans. Only one other player (Alvaro Cardenas) is averaging double figures, but this is really a balanced attack around Moore (six other players average at least 5.6 points).
Moore’s individual play, plus the offensive balance in Miles’ system, have been the catalysts for this surprising season. The Spartans rank 75th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom, their highest mark since finishing 62nd in that category in 2009-10.
There may not be a lot of national praise to go around for a team sitting in the middle of the pack in the Mountain West, but even that is a huge accomplishment for this program and Miles, especially considering he is only in his second season at the helm.