Brian Rauf reveals his biggest weekly college basketball takeaways, including in-depth looks at Indiana and Iowa State, in a new Rauf Report.
The new year has already gotten off to a great start in college basketball. Yes, a number of high-profile matchups were canceled due to COVID, but the first weekend of 2022 still provided several intriguing contests and a teaser of what’s to come as conference play really kicks into gear in January.
No game was as anticipated as Saturday’s showdown between top-ranked Baylor and Iowa State, both of whom entered with undefeated records. The game lived up to the hype, too, with the Bears pulling out a narrow 77-72 victory on the road.
That victory is certainly a great one for Baylor, but I think that result told us more about how legitimate Iowa State is than anything else. The Cyclones are where we start this Rauf Report, recapping my biggest takeaways from the weekend.
Iowa State is a good team
I owe Iowa State fans an apology. I downplayed the Cyclones’ 12-0 start as something that couldn’t be sustained and their marquee victories as being more telling about the opponent (Memphis, Creighton, Iowa) than the strength of T.J. Otzelberger’s squad.
That performance against Baylor has me convinced that Iowa State — which I picked to finish last in the Big 12 — is a good basketball team.
The Cyclones really get it done on the defensive end. They pressure their opponents in a manner that forces turnovers (sixth nationally) and heavily contests 3-pointers (fifth in 3-point defense). Those traits have carried Iowa State to having a top-10 defense in the country.
Baylor is No. 1 for a reason, and Iowa State forced the Bears to commit a season-high 19 turnovers. That, coupled with some aggressive, attacking offense helped push the Bears to the limit. Given the way that formula worked against them, I feel confident in saying the Cyclones will remain relevant nationally for the rest of the season.
This team does have flaws, though, that cost them against Baylor and may continue doing so in the future.
For all the turnovers Iowa State forces, they give it back quite a lot, too. The Cyclones rank 241st in turnover rate and aren’t the best 3-point shooting team, either. They rank 138th in that category and 248th in the percentage of points they get from downtown.
Against Baylor, Iowa State turned it over 17 times themselves and shot just 1-for-14 from deep. Those two things ultimately squashed the comeback attempt.
Are the Cyclones a top-10 team as their No. 8 AP ranking suggested? I don’t think so given their offensive woes. But I do think Iowa State is a top-15-ish team that will stay in the AP poll for the majority of the season.
Considering where they were at the start of the season, that’s huge. It’s a testament to the job Otzelberger has done in his first year in Ames.
Texas’ defense is elite
Let’s move to another top-10 defense in the Big 12 in Texas. For all the talk about the things the Longhorns lack, we are overlooking a lot of what they have right now.
The Longhorns are an elite defensive team.
Texas beat West Virginia 74-59 on Saturday, marking the 11th time this season that the Longhorns have held their opponent below 60 points. To little surprise, those performances have all been victories. When they’ve allowed more than 60 points — 86 to Gonzaga, 64 to Seton Hall — Chris Beard’s squad is 0-2.
Texas currently leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 51.9 points per game. Some of that is due to pace (only North Texas and Virginia play at a slower tempo), but that mark is still 4.4 points better than anyone else. For framework, that difference between them and No. 2 (LSU) is the same as the difference between LSU and No. 19 Grand Canyon.
The biggest driver behind their defense is the amount of turnovers they force — Texas ranks second nationally in that category. That shouldn’t really be a surprise given how good Beard’s Texas Tech teams were at forcing turnovers. The Red Raiders ranked in the top 17 each of his last four years in Lubbock and he has brought his pressure style of defense with him to Austin.
This is where you can question Texas’ schedule. The Longhorns have only faced four KenPom top-150 teams this season and are 2-2 in such games.
However, that’s why Saturday’s victory over a good West Virginia team was important. The Mountaineers represent the best team Texas has beaten (even without Taz Sherman) and the Longhorns did so with a great defensive effort.
Expect this defense to carry the Longhorns all season long.
New year, same Indiana
I know we overrate teams every season simply because of their name. Indiana has consistently been one of these teams recently due to the program’s pedigree, the caliber of recruits, and, for this season, the hope that comes with a new head coach.
But false optimism can be a tricky thing.
I was more down on the Hoosiers than others this offseason because I didn’t understand the Mike Woodson hire and he didn’t make enough significant upgrades to the roster.
Now, Indiana is having most of the same issues that have plagued them in the past. Unsurprisingly, the Hoosiers are struggling.
One of the Big Ten’s worst offenses from a year ago (70th nationally), Indiana has actually been worse this season (73rd). The Hoosiers are still a below average rebounding team (121st in offensive rebound rate) despite having Trayce Jackson-Davis, who still is not a threat with his right hand in the post.
This season, Indiana is also turning the ball over at an alarming rate (261st), which was supposed to be a strength with two primary ball-handlers in Xavier Johnson and Rob Phinisee. They also don’t force any (253rd), either.
The Hoosiers have always been able to handle lesser opponents with a sheer size and athleticism advantage. Against tougher competition, though, those flaws shine through and have for the past few seasons.
- This season: 2-3 vs. KenPom top 100; 10-3 overall
- Last season: 8-15 vs. KenPom top 100; 12-15 overall
- 2019-20 season: 10-12 vs. KenPom top 100; 20-12 overall
- 2018-19 season: 12-16 vs. KenPom top 100; 19-16 overall
This is the same Indiana team struggling against the same level of competition because of similar problems. At some point, we may have to accept that this roster isn’t capable of winning at the level many anticipated.
Key to Seton Hall’s success
Seton Hall is a big team. The Pirates rank 30th nationally in average height but are one of the few that, at full strength, can trot out three players standing 6-10 or taller, headlined by 7-2 senior Ike Obiagu.
Obiagu would rank fourth nationally in block rate if he qualified while both Tyrese Samuel and 6-8 Alexis Yetna are also among the Big East leaders in that category. With that front line holding down the fort, plus wings with good positional size in Jared Rhoden and Kadary Richmond, the Pirates should dominate the interior.
When Kevin Willard‘s squad does so, they typically win. When they are outplayed by their competition down low, they typically don’t.
The bad news for Seton Hall is that it has lost each of the last two games to fellow Big East contenders Providence and Villanova. Unsurprisingly, the Pirates were outrebounded in both losses and blocked fewer shots than their opponent.
The good news is that Seton Hall was not at full strength for either contest. The team has dealt with a COVID outbreak and Obiagu and Samuel missed both games, putting that stellar frontcourt at lesser strength. The Pirates have enough size elsewhere that there shouldn’t be this much of a decline in collective rebounding, but that’s an issue for Willard to address.
Seton Hall has to get back to dominating the interior if it’s going to stop this trend before it becomes a concerning slide. Of course, getting healthy should help in that regard, but this area is emerging as the biggest key to Seton Hall’s season.
Miami might be the ACC’s surprise
The ACC is bad bad this season. If you’ve watched any ACC team play outside of Duke, you’ve probably thought the same thing. There’s a reason the Blue Devils are the only team from the conference that’s ranked in both the HeatCheckCBB Top 25 and AP Top 25.
Of course, poor play is going to leave the door open for a mediocre team to break through and finish the season much higher in the conference standings than anticipated in the preseason.
Duke is expected to win the league pretty easily. North Carolina is the heavy favorite to finish in second. Behind them, though, the race for third in the ACC is wide open.
Miami is already in prime position to be that team.
The Hurricanes picked up a convincing win over Wake Forest on New Year’s Day, which made them the first ACC team to hit the 3-0 mark. Jim Larranaga‘s squad has also already knocked off NC State and Clemson, all three of whom are candidates to be that breakout team as well.
Miami won those games — and is on a seven-game winning streak overall — because of its offense.
The Canes rank in the top 25 nationally in offensive efficiency largely thanks to the perimeter trio of Charlie Moore, Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty. They combine to average nearly 46 points per game and are the team leaders in assists. All three can create their own offense and everything runs through them, making this unit tough to slow down.
If Miami is going to legitimize this great start to conference play, they will do so this month. After hosting Syracuse on Wednesday, Miami’s next five games are against teams that were picked in the preseason to finish in the top five in the league: Duke, Florida State twice, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Three of those games are on the road.
Picking up multiple wins during that stretch would be huge for the Canes. Doing so would put them in the driver’s seat for a top four seed and a double bye in the ACC Tournament with a fairly easy schedule over the season’s final month.