Brian Rauf details his five biggest takeaways from the past week in college basketball in a brand new Rauf Report.
Who doesn’t love March basketball?
This week had it all. A top five matchup, multiple top 10 matchups, conference tournament action, upsets, and everything else we love about the sport. No one made a bigger statement than Illinois in their blowout win at Michigan, creating some intrigue in the Big Ten title race.
At the same time, there was also some bad. Creighton suspended head coach Greg McDermott for his insensitive and inappropriate postgame comments. Villanova star Collin Gillespie suffered a torn MCL that will cause him to miss the rest of the season, which is terrible news all around.
We’ll go in-depth on what Gillespie’s injury means for Villanova moving forward in just a little bit, but we have to start with some coaches on the hot seat. I know it’s obvious that Indiana’s Archie Miller and Minnesota’s Richard Pitino are on thin ice, but there is substance behind the rumors of them being ousted.
Indiana, Minnesota expected to make coaching changes
As of now, expect both Indiana and Minnesota to part ways with Miller and Pitino, respectively, at the end of the season. Something would have to change drastically for either to return in 2021-22, according to people with knowledge of each situation.
I realize I’m lumping them together in that statement even though they’re in two different situations, but I do that because their situations are very similar. Both need to likely make the NCAA Tournament to keep their job which, at this point, doesn’t seem likely. So, let’s focus on how we got here with both coaches and where both schools will look next if a move is made.
Miller came to Indiana with sky-high expectations and, quite frankly, has never lived up to them. The Hoosiers have not finished over .500 in conference play during his four seasons at the helm and haven’t made the NCAA Tournament, although they may have snuck in last year despite being 10th in the Big Ten. He has had quality talent, yet Miller has not been able to get the most out of it on the court.
The deal appears to have been sealed this week. Not only did Indiana lose their fourth game in a row (this one at Michigan State), star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis audibly yelled an expletive at Miller in frustration and displeasure. Many Hoosier fans — including the important ones who have some say in Miller’s job status — took that as a final sign that he has really lost this team, which now sits at 12-13 overall.
In Pitino’s case, it’s even more clear that he has lost his team. The Gophers looked like a surefire top 25 team, let alone NCAA Tournament team, following an 18-point home win over Michigan on Jan. 16. But since then, Minnesota has posted a 2-9 record, including a current six-game losing streak that has included losses to Indiana, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State.
This also marks the second time in Pitino’s eight seasons in which Minnesota did not win a single road game. In fact, the Gophers have only won 14 games away from The Barn during his tenure. They’ve also only made two NCAA Tournaments and finished with a winning Big Ten record just once (2016-17).
Where do both coaches go from here? Assuming a move, Indiana would likely pursue all the big names who are or might be available, headlined by John Beilein. (Yes, I’m sure they’ll call Brad Stevens but, no, I don’t think he’s leaving the Boston Celtics for the Hoosiers.) Minnesota’s search, on the other hand, would expected to be headlined by San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher and Colorado State’s Niko Medved. Both are Minnesota alums, and both are proven coaches in the Mountain West.
Villanova’s Final Four chances are gone
Now, back to the Gillespie news.
It’s obviously awful for a season-ending injury to happen to anyone at any point in the season. But for it to be a senior who means as much to his team as Gillespie, especially after the cancellation of last season’s NCAA tournament, it really hits hard. You have to feel for the kid.
You have to feel for Villanova, too, because not having their star significantly diminishes this team’s ceiling. Gillespie is their on-court leader who does a lot of everything for the Wildcats. He leads them in assists and is second in both points and steals. He’s top six in the Big East in offensive rating, assist rate, and true shooting percentage.
Gillespie is the key cog in Villanova’s attack and is a huge reason why they won their seventh Big East regular season title in the last eight years. The Cousy Award finalist helped the Wildcats overcome many of their obvious flaws that will now be much more detrimental.
For starters, Villanova’s already short bench will be even shorter. Jay Wright’s squad ranks among the bottom 30 teams in the country in bench minutes and will likely go with a strict seven-man rotation. They also don’t have another true point guard on their roster. But I’m mostly concerned about Villanova’s defense. This group was already among the nation’s worst at defending the three and, while Gillespie wasn’t a defensive stopper, he was an above-average defender.
“We are all devastated for Collin,” head coach Jay Wright said on Thursday. “He is the heart and soul of our program. We know we can’t replace him. We all just want to step up and play so that we can honor him. “
Justin Moore is going to have to step up in a huge way in Gillespie absence. Both he and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will likely have to be superstars if the Wildcats are going to go anywhere this postseason.
Could RJ Cole be the key for UConn’s postseason success?
Villanova taking a step back means the door is wide open for another Big East team to step into the spotlight in Madison Square Garden next weekend. Creighton might be the favorite now, but I caution to not overlook UConn.
The Huskies are in third in the Big East standings but have won five of their last six largely thanks to the return of star James Bouknight. Outside of the eight games he missed with an elbow injury, the Huskies are 10-2 with the only losses coming to Creighton (in overtime) and Villanova. He takes them to a different level, one that will be dangerous in the postseason.
Some think that he can be that next star to lead the Huskies on a long run like Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier, but they both had running mates. Jeremy Lamb was a lethal No. 2 option next to Walker while Napier was paired with Ryan Boatright in the backcourt.
For this UConn team, RJ Cole has stepped up and been their consistent secondary scoring option next to Bouknight, who has also played a role in the Huskies’ run.
The 6-1, 185-pounder has scored at least 10 points in 12 straight games, demonstrating consistent offensive production, yet he has elevated his game even more during this 5-1 stretch.
The improvement in his play has been almost as important as Bouknight’s return. He has flourished next to the potential lottery pick and has helped this offense, which was really struggling, put forth some of their best performances of the season.
Bouknight is going to continue to get most of the headlines surrounding UConn, and rightfully so. But how far the Huskies go in both the Big East and NCAA Tournament will depend on how well Cole plays, too.
Moses Wright is ACC’s under-the-radar superstar
If you follow the ACC or are a fan of a team in the conference, you know of Moses Wright (at least, you should). That said, if you’re not a fan of a team in the ACC, you may not know much about the Georgia Tech big man. The Yellow Jackets have not been a top 25 team, weren’t in the projected NCAA Tournament field until this week, and haven’t played a true spotlight game all season.
And that’s a shame, because the work Moses Wright has done this year deserves the spotlight. So, we’re going to give him one.
The 6-9, 233-pounder has been an absolute beast down low for Georgia Tech. Wright is third in the conference in points and rebounds and fourth in steals while leading the Yellow Jackets in rebounding. He also ranks in the top seven in the ACC in usage, minutes, offensive rebound rate, and block rate, showing how much the Yellow Jackets depend on him and how much of an impact he makes on both ends.
Those numbers aren’t just great — they’re numbers that only he and Tim Duncan have been able to put up in the past 29 years.
I mentioned Georgia Tech just now getting into the projected NCAA Tournament field, and it’s because of their current five-game win streak that includes victories over Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Duke. Can you guess who has been the driving force behind that streak? Yup, Moses Wright!
The senior is averaging an absurd 25 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game over the last five games, including three straight games with at least 26 points and 10 rebounds. He is one of the sport’s most unstoppable forces right now.
Georgia Tech is far from safely in the tournament field — our bracketologist Lukas Harkins currently has them among the last four teams in — so Wright needs to continue this surge. I highly encourage you to watch him, too, because he’s a lot of fun. He might cause some damage in the Big Dance if the Yellow Jackets get there, too.
Baylor’s wild card
If you missed it this week, Baylor is back to being awesome. Victories over West Virginia and Oklahoma State have largely erased the feelings left from their loss to Kansas on Saturday (though it highlighted a potential Achilles’ heel for the Bears) and has them solidly back as the No. 2 team in the nation.
But we also saw tremendous play from Matthew Mayer off the bench against both the Mountaineers and Cowboys as he gave Baylor yet another elite-level scorer.
First, we have to talk about the hair. He trimmed his mop haircut into a mullet and it’s almost as glorious as Mike Gundy’s.
That may not look like a guy with serious offensive skill, but it’s actually the case. Mayer is 6-9, 225 pounds and can do anything you want on the perimeter. He’s a knockdown shooter (44.9 percent from three) who can create his own shot and is quick enough to get to the basket with the length to finish over or around defenders.
I say he’s a wild card because he is a gunner in the truest basketball sense of the term. While he can make plays for others, Mayer often has a singular focus — to score — whenever he touches the ball. That can lead to him being out of control and turning the ball over more than Scott Drew would like. He’s also not a great defender. Those negatives are why he’s in a bench role.
That said, when Mayer is ON, he’s nearly unstoppable and so much fun to watch.
Baylor has a top three offense even though Mayer hasn’t been a consistently reliable contributor. He has the talent and skill to be that role player. If he can keep this run going, the Bears suddenly have another NBA prospect they can put on the court which further increases their ceiling.