Rauf Report: Keys for Duke, Texas A&M; other college basketball takeaways

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

The Rauf Report details the biggest college basketball takeaways from the week, including a look at the biggest keys for Duke and Texas A&M.

These Rauf Reports are typically all over the place as I try to capture the biggest takeaways from the week or weekend in college basketball that will matter and impact the college basketball season moving forward.

This week, though, most of what I picked up center around a common theme — 3-point shooting.

That’s a weapon that can be the great equalizer in a positive way if shots are falling from deep, but it works the other way, too. Poor 3-point shooting can really limit how good a team can be because it limits the explosiveness of an offense.

Unfortunately, most of this week’s focus is on the negative side of things starting with the Duke Blue Devils.

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Trevor Keels‘ play dictates Duke’s ceiling

There are a number of different reasons why Duke is just 2-2 in its last four games and 2-3 in its last five games against KenPom top-65 teams. The Blue Devils’ defense has fallen off, they aren’t getting much from their bench, and they’re struggling on the glass.

Despite those weaknesses and inconsistencies, Coach K’s squad has the kind of top-tier talent that allows a team to overcome a lot. Paolo Banchero should be the No. 1 pick and both Wendell Moore and Mark Williams have played like All-ACC selections.

Duke looked special early in the season, though, because Trevor Keels was providing extremely efficient offense from the perimeter. That simply isn’t happening anymore, which is slimming Duke’s margin for error.

Keels averaged 12.6 points per game during the nonconference schedule while shooting 40.5 percent from the floor. In conference play, this average has dropped to 10.6 points per game on 38.7 percent shooting, including just 28.1 percent from three.

Keels is an elite perimeter defender, and the Blue Devils need to have him on the floor because of that. However, he has taken a much larger offensive role than one would think based on his low efficiency numbers.

Here is where Keels ranks on Duke in his usage statistics:

  • 2nd in minutes played
  • 2nd in shot attempts
  • 1st in 3-point attempts (two more per game than anyone else)
  • 2nd in usage rate

And here’s where he ranks on Duke in his efficiency metrics:

  • 9th in shooting percentage
  • 9th in 3-point percentage (lowest of any Duke player that has made a 3-pointer this season)
  • 8th in Player Efficiency Rating (PER)
  • 7th in Offensive Rating
  • 6th in Box Plus/Minus

Keels has a larger role than everyone but Banchero, yet is producing with the efficiency of a sixth man.

If Duke is going to return to being in the nation’s top tier of teams capable of winning a national championship, Keels has to start taking smarter shots and playing more efficiently or has to defer to others on the offensive end.

Texas A&M is legit but still limited

Texas A&M has been one of the most surprising teams in the country this season, but entered the week looking to validate a bloated record. The Aggies were 15-2 going into Wednesday’s showdown with Kentucky but had yet to beat a team in our projected NCAA Tournament field.

So, as you could imagine, Texas A&M was looking to make a statement on Wednesday, and it did. Their aggressive, strong brand of defense took Kentucky out of rhythm offensively, and 17 forced turnovers allowed the Aggies to get some easy buckets in transition.

It wasn’t enough, though, as Texas A&M’s offense eventually let it down in the second half.

Offense — particularly 3-point shooting — was thought to be the biggest weakness of this Aggies team before the season started, and we never really got a chance to truly assess them because of their weak schedule. Texas A&M played the 326th strongest nonconference schedule in the country out of 358 teams, meaning it was one of the weakest.

Texas A&M was simply able to out-athlete lesser opponents it faced, using the transition opportunities created by forcing turnovers at a high rate (ninth nationally) to generate a good deal of offense.

Even though they lost to Kentucky, the Aggies validated that style of play with their performance. The Wildcats are a really good team and Texas A&M played right with them playing that style.

Now, this is where those limits come into play. The Aggies shot just 4.5 percent (1-for-22) from 3-point range in that game. I don’t need to tell you that’s not good, but that’s not good!

Texas A&M does not have the kind of shooters necessary to space the floor and execute a half-court offense at a high rate. Andre Gordon is its only good sniper (48 percent from deep) and the rest of Buzz Williams’ rotation players aren’t threats from deep. It limited them against Wisconsin, TCU and now Kentucky.

I do think we can now look at Texas A&M as an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. But how much of a threat they are and will be is very much tied to improved 3-point shooting.

Iowa State’s offense is a concern

Different team, same issue!

The Cyclones were one of the stories of the nonconference schedule, going 12-0 with wins against the likes of Xavier, Memphis, Creighton and Iowa. They did it on the back of elite defense, which currently ranks fourth in the country in adjusted efficiency.

But the Big 12 is a gauntlet and teams need to be sound on both ends of the court to continue winning games at a high clip.

Iowa State is another team that really struggles to shoot the three and its results have suffered because of it.

The Cyclones are 2-4 in conference play largely because they’re shooting 30.1 percent from deep. They’ve shot below 20 percent in two of those games and below 30 percent in three of them, both of which are the most among Big 12 teams.

Those four marquee wins I mentioned? Iowa State shot 41.3 percent combined in those games and exactly 50 percent against both Xavier and Creighton. It hasn’t come close to that level since.

If the Cyclones want to get back to contending in the Big 12, it starts with perimeter shooting.

Marquette’s shooting

Let’s keep the 3-point shooting theme rolling with Marquette, which is on a five-game win streak with victories over Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova, largely thanks to its performance from long range.

The Golden Eagles have not been a good 3-point shooting team, ranking 112th nationally in 3-point percentage despite taking a lot relative to the number of possessions they have in a game (85th in 3-point attempt rate). So, when Shaka Smart’s squad is making threes, they can go on a run like they have over the last few weeks.

Marquette made just shy of eight 3-pointers per game during its 8-6 start, shooting 31.5 percent from behind the arc in that stretch. That percentage would rank around 265th in the nation currently.

As the Golden Eagles have won five in a row, though, they’ve gotten hot. They’re making 10.8 threes per game during this run despite taking slightly fewer attempts from deep on average, resulting in a whopping 43.5 percent clip. That percentage would rank first in the nation.

Quite the difference!

Is this sustainable? Probably not, given the difference between the two sample sizes. But this is a very young team that is now more used to playing together, more used to playing at the college level, and is more used to Smart’s offense.

This Marquette team that may embody the “live by the three, die by the three” mantra the rest of the way, but it looks like that will be good enough to send the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament.

San Francisco has to start getting quality wins

The Dons are one of the most entertaining mid-major teams to watch. Guard Jamaree Bouyea can play with anyone, and head coach Todd Golden‘s squad has the size and experience to matchup with whoever is put in front of them.

San Francisco looks the part of an NCAA Tournament team — currently a No. 10 seed in HeatCheckCBB bracketologist Lukas Harkins’ latest projections — but, as we’ve seen with other mid-major nonconference champions, the margin for error for an at-large bid is quite small.

The Dons are currently in danger of pushing that line.

San Francisco is just 4-4 in Quad 1/2 games with two Quad 1 wins, yet those wins are the kind that may not hold up as such. One came against Davidson, the current favorite in the A10, and the other came against UAB, one of the currently favorites in C-USA. Neither rank in the NET top 35.

If both those teams win their respective leagues or make the NCAA Tournament, they will indeed be the notable wins. If either falter, though, that resume looks flimsy.

Golden is giving his team opportunities to further solidify their place in the tournament picture. He scheduled a game against Loyola Chicago this month and had great gameplans against both BYU and Gonzaga this week. The Dons ended up losing all three games with the first two coming by a combined seven points.

This team has been close but hasn’t yet picked up the signature win it desperately needs.

The 2020 San Francisco team felt this way, too, and never got that additional victory. Obviously, we’ll never know what would’ve happened for sure, but that was an NCAA Tournament-caliber team that was widely projected to miss the Big Dance because of the lack of marquee wins.

I don’t want San Francisco to meet the same fate because it’s a capable tournament squad. A home win against Saint Mary’s next week would go a long way in quelling any potential concerns about the Dons.