Rauf Report: Johnny Davis; Kansas X-factor; other college basketball takeaways

The Rauf Report details the biggest college basketball takeaways from the week, including looks at Johnny Davis and Kansas’ X-factor.

The first Rauf Report of 2022 is going to focus a lot on the players and teams that showed they will drastically impact conference races via statements that were made this week.

We’re fully into conference play just about everywhere, so I’m trying to pick up on things that may help tell us what will happen or where this season will go.

We’re going to touch on a negative trend for a ranked team that indicates they may underperform in the coming months, a potential surprise bubble team, and the biggest X-factor in the Big 12.

But, first, I’d be remiss if we didn’t start with the biggest story of the week: Johnny Davis is a freakin’ superstar capable of carrying Wisconsin to heights no one thought the Badgers could reach this season, making him the heavy midseason favorite for National Player of the Year.

Ten mid-majors eyeing at-large March Madness bids
—Ranking most likely first-time NCAA Tournament teams
—DPI: Game Predictions | Team Grades | Player Rankings

Johnny Davis is running away with National Player of the Year

I can’t help but gush about Davis’ game as a college basketball fan. The 6-5, 194-pounder can score at all three levels and create for himself at all three levels. It’s a marvel to watch him manipulate defenses, create space, and get to his spots virtually whenever he wants.

Want creative finishes around the rim? Davis has that in droves. Pull-ups and floaters? He makes those with regularity. Three-pointers? No one will mistake him for Steph Curry, but he’s a threat.

And he does it all without being selfish. He leads the Badgers in assists thanks to vision that shows his high-level understanding of the game. Oh, he also leads Wisconsin in rebounds and assists because he’s an elite defender, too.

That all-around game has turned him into a projected lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, yet it’s his impact that has Wisconsin emerging as a contender and is separating him from other All-Americans in the National Player of the Year race.

Davis led the Badgers to a surprising Maui Invitational title with wins over Texas A&M, Houston and Saint Mary’s, which is when the sophomore announced himself as a star.

He continued putting up good numbers in wins against Marquette and Indiana but took his game to yet another level this week.

Against another All-American and projected lottery pick in Jaden Ivey, Davis went off for 37 points and 14 rebounds in a road victory over Purdue — with 27 points and eight rebounds coming in the second half — while holding Ivey to just 14 points on 33.3 percent shooting.

Davis hit big shot after big shot against the Boilermakers, making all the plays needed against an elite defender to carry his team to a road victory over a top 3 team.

It was the single best individual performance of the season, which he then followed up with a 26-point, nine-rebound, five-assist game in a 87-78 win over Iowa.

Davis is far from the only worthy National Player of the Year contender. Kofi Cockburn has been a star for Illinois, EJ Liddell does everything for Ohio State, and Ochai Agbaji has been Kansas’ leader, to name just a few. But no matter who you look at, no one has had the kind of meaningful monster performances like Davis.

He had his “Heisman moment” and has been the biggest individual story of the season.

David McCormack is Kansas’ X-factor

David McCormack arrived at Kansas with expectations of being the next dominant big man for the Jayhawks. The five-star recruit sat behind Udoka Azubuike and since he became a full-time starter last season, he hasn’t been that force.

It’s something that has driven Bill Self and KU fans alike crazy considering his physical gifts and the flashes he displays.

But, despite that perceived underachieving, McCormack has proven to be the Jayhawks’ barometer over the past year and a half. Kansas needs him to play well in order for it to be at its best. Since McCormack became a full-time starter, the Jayhawks are:

  • 13-4 against power conference competition or in NCAA Tournament games when he scores at least 10 points.
  • 3-5 against power conference competition or in NCAA Tournament games when he scores fewer than 10 points.

That’s a pretty big swing!

And I know we don’t talk about McCormack as being on the same level as Ochai Agbaji or Remy Martin, and I’m not advocating for it. His importance to the Jayhawks isn’t necessarily about him being an elite player but is more about him being effective.

Self likes to run his offense through the post. McCormack is really the only true post player on the roster who can be a factor on the offensive end. Mitch Lightfoot is a solid rotation piece thanks to his experience but he’s not someone you’ll draw up a play for. Freshmen Zach Clemence and KJ Adams can be good players, yet neither has seen a big role.

McCormack has the ability to score efficiently from either block while dominating the glass, he just has been inconsistent in those spots. When he’s on, opponents have to account for him. He’s a good enough passer to find the open man and move the offense when defenses collapse on him (21st in the Big 12 in assist rate last season), which creates open shots for 3-point shooters or driving lanes for guys like Agbaji and Martin against a moving defense. Or, if opponents don’t send help, he’s strong and skilled enough to score in one-on-one situations.

He just has to actually do it. Good things happen when he finds his rhythm.

Last season, McCormack also got off to a slow start before hitting his stride during conference play. His scoring average, efficiency, and shot attempts all increased and Kansas, as expected, got back on track and turned its season around.

Similar things could be happening this season. McCormack had his best game of the year in KU’s conference opener, dropping 17 points to go along with 15 rebounds in a win at Oklahoma State. He was Kansas’ best player as he led its comeback effort.

McCormack doesn’t have to be KU’s best player every night but he does need to make a positive impact. When he does, the Jayhawks can beat anyone.

Texas Tech’s offensive woes

Mark Adams was known as the defensive specialist on Texas Tech’s staff under Chris Beard. So, when Beard left for Texas and Adams was given the head job in Lubbock, it was a foregone conclusion that the Red Raiders would continue playing elite defense.

That’s been the case so far. Texas Tech ranks fifth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and has held all but two opponents below 70 points. In fact, no one has scored more than 74 on TTU this season.

How the Red Raiders would perform offensively, though, was a major question. It had not been known as Adams’ specialty and there were personnel questions stemming from a lack of shooting or a true point guard.

It looked like things were moving in the right direction when the Red Raiders scored at least 84 points in each of their first six games. It was against lesser competition, though, and that is noteworthy because the disparity of Texas Tech’s offense against good teams vs. bad teams is stark.

To this point, all of Texas Tech’s games have come at one end of the college basketball spectrum or the other. Four games have been against KenPom top-50 teams, while the other nine have been against teams that rank in the bottom half of the nation.

The Red Raiders have absolutely lit it up against those bad teams.

Against those good teams, though? Texas Tech’s offense has been absolutely dreadful.

Texas Tech’s offense by the numbers

Like most power conference teams, Texas Tech can simply overwhelm lesser opponents with size and athleticism, which is what they’ve done — particularly with its ability to turn defense into transition opportunities.

But when the Red Raiders are actually forced to execute their offense, it’s bad bad. There’s movement, but it’s mostly just movement for the sake of movement. Aside from the occasional pick-and-roll, half-court possessions usually end with someone going one-on-one with their defender.

A vast majority of their points come either in transition or in a secondary break when the defense is still getting set. But with the 244th-slowest pace in the country, there aren’t as many of those opportunities.

Texas Tech either needs to play faster offensively or have more purposeful movement. My advice: Get players the ball when they’re moving towards the basket or in attacking position.

Is Vanderbilt good?

Maybe?

I don’t know if I’m just grading on a curve with Vanderbilt or what but, either way, it’s clear the Commodores have made marked improvement in Jerry Stackhouse’s third season at the helm.

Vandy’s defense has gotten better every year and is now a top-50 unit in the country. They force turnovers (21st in 3-point defense) and defend the interior with a focus on forcing contested 3-point shots.

The offense is still a work in progress but the Commodores do have a trump card in the form of Scotty Pippen Jr. After seeing his numbers dip early this season, the junior has taken his game to another level and become the go-to leader this program has needed.

He has scored at least 21 points in five of Vanderbilt’s last seven games, including a 23-point outing in a win over BYU and 22 points in an upset win at Arkansas.

Those two things — a quality defense and a true star — have actually made Vanderbilt a formidable team. Other players have stepped up, too — Jordan Wright and Quentin Millora-Brown, in particular — but that’s the formula Vandy is going to try to ride to its first NCAA Tournament since 2017.

The Commodores have had a better start than many realize.

They have two KenPom top-50 wins (BYU, Arkansas) and were competitive in all of their losses, going toe-to-toe with Loyola Chicago and holding leads against both VCU and SMU. A home loss to Temple is bad, absolutely, but it did come in overtime.

Just how good is Vandy? Well, the SEC is an absolute gauntlet with five teams ranked in the KenPom top 16 and eight in the top 50. The Commodores will be battle-tested and will have earned any positive accolades that come their way by February and March.

But at this point, after a road win over Arkansas, it looks like Vanderbilt has cleared the bottom tier of the SEC. They’ll be battling in the middle of the conference and may be a bubble team if they can steal a couple more Quad-1 wins.

And, for the first time in what feels like forever, that doesn’t seem outlandish.

Mid-major shoutouts!

There are two awesome things happening in the mid-major ranks this week, and I want to touch briefly on both because the news needs to be more widespread.

For starters, how much fun was the San Francisco-Loyola Chicago game? Both programs already put together stellar nonconference resumes but in the face of having games canceled due to COVID cases among their expected opponents, these two decided to fit in another high-caliber game to their schedule. The uniqueness of the ambiance — a Thursday afternoon contest at a community college that was only broadcast via streams on WCCSports.com and Stadium — added to the effect.

But this was great because there were no real losers. Yes, San Francisco did lose the game, but it’s a Quad-1 loss that won’t hurt come NCAA Tournament time. The reward for that risk was a rare Quad-1 victory. Loyola Chicago answered the call.

Both teams also kept their rhythm and were tested against NCAA Tournament-caliber competition on a neutral court. The programs received added publicity and fans saw a really well-played basketball game.

No downside, all fun. I hope we see more teams look for these opportunities as we deal with the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The other ultra-fun happening comes courtesy of the Southland Conference, which is starting conference play with a tournament!

OK, so these actually count as nonconference games, but the Southland put its eight teams in a bracket, MTE style.

The event has gotten players excited, fans excited, and is another “championship” for the teams to fight over, even though this tournament does not result in a title bid.

It’s also giving the conference more attention, as I can confirm the only time I have mentioned the Southland in a Rauf Report is when Stephen F. Austin (now a member of the WAC) beat Duke.

I’d LOVE to see more conferences — especially mid-major conferences — do this, but actually count these games as conference wins and losses. It’s a fun way to have a league’s best teams play each other more, which helps tournament resumes and potential seeding.