Why Colorado is overrated and Kansas’ transition struggles are the main discussion topics in the latest Rauf Report.
Welcome into a new Rauf Report, where I highlight my biggest takeaways from the past week in college basketball.
I’ll just say it — this was a rather slow week in college basketball without a lot of marquee games. Some of that can be blamed on COVID-induced pauses that caused several games to be canceled or postponed. That said, the amount of mid-afternoon basketball we got this week was phenomenal and enjoyable. I know it won’t happen in a post-pandemic world, but it would be nice if we had more weekday afternoon games moving forward.
Despite the lack of high-end matchups, there was still plenty to learn from this week’s action. We’ll start with what passed for the game of the night on Thursday with Colorado which, despite its victory over Stanford, is not a team you should trust.
Don’t put faith in Colorado
It’s been a while since the Pac-12 was a legitimate force in the college basketball world. More recently, it has been a laughingstock among power conferences, and this season is no exception.
However, usually a team emerges from the conference as a “contender” for two reasons: an inflated record against weak conference competition and undue respect given because of said status as a power conference.
Colorado is that team this year and it is heavily backed by key metrics, seeming to provide some teeth to the notion that this is a group capable of making noise. After all, the Buffaloes rank No. 11 in KenPom and No. 15 in the NET rankings.
But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that those rankings are something of a facade.
The Buffaloes currently have more Quad 3 losses (two) than Quad 1 wins (one), showing how they’re unproven against the best teams they face while struggling with some of the worst. Heck, they lost to Washington, which only has three overall wins on the season!
Colorado is 10-4 in the Pac-12 without a notable nonconference win. Its best nonconference win, per KenPom, is on a neutral court over Grand Canyon. If the conference you play in isn’t very good, you have a pair of bad losses in conference play (Washington, Utah), and you don’t have any quality nonconference wins, how do we know you’re good?
The Buffs are the latest team to benefit in the analytics department from extremely large margins of victory. Head coach Tad Boyle’s squad has won 13 of their 16 games by double digits and eight were by 18 points or more. On the surface, that’s huge! But it’s also what they should be doing. Their poor strength of schedule means Colorado has been heavy favorites in most of its games, yet the Buffs are only 13-8 against the spread.
I don’t trust Colorado yet for all these reasons. If it were consistently dominant against lesser competition, that would be one thing. However, the Buffs haven’t won more than four games in a row.
Kansas’ transition struggles
I’ve picked up on something about Kansas watching it play this season and it has annoyed me to the point where I had to dive deeper into it and, now, write about it.
The Jayhawks turn down potential transition opportunities a lot. This usually happens off a miss and, instead of trying to push the ball, you’ll see players stop and try to find whoever is playing point guard (usually Marcus Garrett) so he can bring the ball up the court.
Per Hoop-Math, Kansas ranks just 144th nationally in transition shot rate. This is not an area the Jayhawks utilize much under Bill Self — they’re typically outside the top 100 — but this is one of their lowest marks since 2012. I found this especially interesting considering their offensive struggles and general inconsistency in the half court. Wouldn’t it make more sense to look for easy points in transition?
Not necessarily, as I found out. Kansas only ranks 246th in effective field goal percentage (51.7%) on transition shot attempts compared to 146th (50%) in non-transition attempts. That 1.7 percent difference is the 68th smallest in the country.
Long story short: Kansas hasn’t had success in transition and is nearly as efficient in half-court situations, so it makes sense to slow it down most of the time unless an obvious opportunity presents itself.
This also correlates with David McCormack’s increased usage rate. The junior big man has scored at least 15 points in five consecutive games and taken at least 11 shot attempts in each of them.
Personally, I think Kansas would have more success in transition if they capitalized on more opportunities, but it’s clear they prefer their chances slowing it down and trying to feed McCormack.
West Virginia has a higher ceiling post-Oscar Tshiebwe
It’s never a good thing to lose a preseason All-Big 12 player in the middle of the season like West Virginia did with big man Oscar Tshiebwe (if you’re unaware, the former five-star prospect left the team and transferred to Kentucky less than a week later). That said, the Mountaineers have looked more efficient and more dangerous since his departure.
WVU is 7-3 in the 10 games since Tshiebwe left, including 5-1 over its last six in which the Mountaineers appear to have settled into their new style of play. Switching from a two-big, interior-focused attack to a much more perimeter-oriented is normally a challenge for teams, yet West Virginia has adapted pretty quickly. Derek Culver is having success as the lone featured big while Miles McBride (17.7 ppg, 5.0 apg 4.9 rpg in last nine games) has played like a bona fide superstar.
Of course, this surge wouldn’t be possible without other role players stepping up, and a pair of Mountaineers have done that in a big way on the perimeter. Taz Sherman has upped his scoring average from 11 ppg with Tshiebwe to 15.1 ppg without Tshiebwe while Sean McNeill has emerged as a consistent three-point sniper.
The extra spacing of their new perimeter-oriented attack has made them more explosive, and Bob Huggins thinks all of this is a result of better chemistry without Tshiebwe.
“First and foremost, we’ve got a great bunch of guys,” Huggins said after the Mountaineers beat Texas Tech this week. “We’ve got guys who really care about each other and really support each other, I think that’s really important. And I think they’re tired of hearing all the other stuff. This is our team. This is West Virginia’s team.”
West Virginia did lose perhaps its most notable name, but this seems like it may be an instance of “addition by subtraction” given its recent success — and the new style may make the Mountaineers a tougher out in March.
Effect of COVID pauses on Baylor, Michigan, other top teams
We’re going a little Big-12 heavy in this week’s Rauf Report because I want to issue this warning: do not be alarmed if either Baylor or Michigan (or both) struggle more than normal whenever they return from their respective COVID pauses.
Both the Bears and Wolverines were rolling before they had to halt basketball activity and will have endured fairly long breaks before they return. Baylor’s next game is scheduled for Feb. 20 against Oklahoma State, 18 days from its last game, while Michigan is hoping to get back Sunday against Wisconsin, which would be 22 days from its last outing.
There are tangible negative effects for teams coming off of COVID pauses, as broken down by Evan Miyakawa of EvanMiya.com.
Each of these teams have been through a bit of a break already, and each of them didn’t look sharp in their return. Michigan went 12 days without a game in December and returned with an 11-point win over Nebraska. Not concerning, but also not what you’d expect from the No. 3 team in the country. Most recently, Baylor had a mid-week game canceled against West Virginia and nearly lost to Texas Tech in its return.
I would not expect either group to be clicking on all cylinders. They might even lose when they return — but that should not cloud your judgment of these teams. Keep that in mind as they *hopefully* return over the course of the next week. If problems persist after a few games, then we can re-evaluate them. Let’s be careful not to overreact.
We need to re-teach the charge rule
If you’ve watched any college basketball this year — or at any point over the past several seasons — you don’t need me to tell you about the epidemic of refs making awful, awful charge calls.
There are too many videos to grab to belabor the point so, instead, here’s the most notable one from the week that was called against Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs. He doesn’t drive into the defender but makes contact with the defender’s arm — or the defender’s arm makes contact with him, however you want to describe it — and the defender falls down.
By definition, a player should only be called for charging when he does just that — “charges” into a defender in firm position without making an attempt to avoid the defender. Over time, that has gradually eroded into “[the defender is] not permitted to move into the path of an offensive player once he has started his upward motion,” according to the NCAA and, in actuality, it is being interpreted as “does the defender have his feet set?”
I’m not a fan of the #BanTheCharge movement because there is a place for the charge in basketball. Offensive players should not be allowed to run over defensive players without penalty. But only true charges where there’s a lowered shoulder, firm defensive position, and direct contact need to be called as such.
Seems like we really need to re-emphasize that.