The Rauf Report details the biggest college basketball takeaways from the weekend, including why both Texas and Alabama are struggling.
This is the first Rauf Report this season in which there are plenty of storylines from the past weekend. Saturday was on another level.
Kansas went on the road and was knocked off by Texas Tech, whose punishing defense limited the Jayhawks and held both David McCormack and Remy Martin in check. Texas also went on the road in Big 12 play and lost to Oklahoma State.
Miami proved to be the ACC’s surprise with a stunning victory over Duke at Cameron Indoor that put the Canes alone in first in the ACC.
Alabama put up a dismal performance against Missouri, trailing for virtually the entire second half.
The common thread of these results? Each of the losing teams put up their worst performances of the season, according to Haslametrics.
That makes for a weird Saturday indeed. But in Texas’ case, that poor showing maybe should not have been as shocking as it was considering a recent trend involving Chris Beard.
Chris Beard’s continued struggles vs. quality opponents
Beard is a really good coach. He won an NCAA Tournament game with Little Rock in his lone season there and had Texas Tech just seconds away from winning a national title in his third season in Lubbock. His first four seasons in D-1 coaching could go up against anyone.
Since that national title game appearance in 2019, though, Beard’s teams have struggled when playing quality competition.
This season, Texas is 1-3 against KenPom top-55 opponents with the lone victory coming over a West Virginia team that didn’t have its best player in Taz Sherman. Beard was just 10-21 in such games in his last two seasons at Texas Tech. In fact, he was just 18-17 in conference games in those two years.
That’s enough of a sample size to consider this a legitimate trend. But given how good Beard was just a few seasons ago, what changed?
All his teams have the same identity: defensive-first, tough and gritty. There was no giant philosophical switch or strength that suddenly became a weakness.
The biggest difference can be found in his record in close games.
In games decided by five points or fewer or overtime, Beard was 10-6 at Texas Tech during 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. He’s just 5-15 in such games since that title game appearance.
Those 2017-18 and 2018-19 teams were headlined by a pair of top-16 picks in Zhaire Smith (2018) and Jarrett Culver (2019), both of whom saw immense development under Beard. He hasn’t produced a first-round pick since, so talent may have something to do with it.
But, moving forward, these records are important to note and monitor moving forward because all but two Big 12 teams (TCU, Kansas State) currently rank in the KenPom top 45. If recent history is any indication, the Longhorns might continue to struggle.
What’s wrong with Alabama?
I’ve already written about how all teams have to do to beat Alabama is limit the Tide’s 3-point attempts and heavily contest those shots in a Rauf Report last month. Alabama’s success is very closely linked to its 3-point shooting (which is by design).
That said, Alabama’s recent slide is about more than just 3-point shooting. Since knocking off Gonzaga and Houston in early December, the Crimson Tide are 3-3 with losses to Memphis, Davidson and Missouri — none of whom are guaranteed to make the NCAA Tournament (Mizzou is currently the second-lowest rated SEC team).
So, what’s causing it?
In short, defense and rebounding.
Alabama was so good on that end a season ago, finishing third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. This season, though, the Tide ranks 59th in that category.
Nate Oats’ squad is really struggling across the board defensively over its last six games. Along with incredibly poor defensive ratings (higher is worse), the Tide aren’t rebounding well and are fouling a lot more while playing at a slower pace.
Yes, Alabama’s shooting does need to improve because they’re struggling in that area as well. But the Tide have been able to win a few games in the past when they’ve struggled because they made up for it defensively.
Alabama hasn’t been doing that of late. As a result, a promising 8-1 start has turned into an 11-4 team headed in the wrong direction.
Houston isn’t going anywhere
Remember when we all thought Houston was done just a few weeks ago after losing to Alabama? Without star Marcus Sasser or elite sixth man Tramon Mark for the remainder of the season due to injury, the conversation surrounding the Cougars shifted from them being a Final Four contender again to wondering where they would finish in the American.
Well, it turns out Kelvin Sampson’s squad may still finish first, which is a hell of a testament to him as a coach.
Houston is 6-0 since losing to the Crimson Tide (Sasser’s last game) and beat Oklahoma State on a neutral court during that stretch while also starting conference play 3-0. Temple and South Florida should’ve been victories no matter what, but Saturday’s 76-66 win over Wichita State — the reigning American regular-season champs — was a firm signal to the rest of the conference that the race still runs through Houston.
The Cougars maintained a win probability of at least 93.3 percent for the entirety of the game, using elite defense and stellar frontcourt play to cruise against a Shockers team that never really threatened.
Sampson has shifted his team’s offensive attack from a perimeter-focused one to one that beats opponents down low, something that was done out of necessity once Sasser and Mark went down. Fifth-year seniors Fabian White Jr. and Josh Carlton, a transfer from UConn, have stepped their play up accordingly. The duo combined for 37 points and 15 rebounds against Wichita State, which is the latest in a line of quality performances.
Carlton was inserted into the starting lineup after the Alabama game. Since then, both he and White have seen major jumps in usage and efficiency. Without them, Houston would not be keeping its season afloat.
Of course, the fact that no one else in the American can get out of their own way is helpful, too. I wrote in a Rauf Report last month that UCF might be the team to capitalize on Houston’s misfortune; the Knights have lost to SMU and Temple since.
SMU might have the conference’s best player in Kendric Davis, yet the Mustangs lost by 17 points to Cincinnati on Thursday. That was huge for the Bearcats, but they are 1-2 in league play after losing to Tulane in the opener and to Memphis on Sunday. And Memphis, well, we know we can’t trust them.
Kelvin Sampson won’t be on the national stage. But if he keeps this up and the Cougars do actually win the league, he deserves Coach of the Year honors.
Malaki Branham makes Ohio State dangerous
Ohio State began the season with a major question mark in the backcourt, which I detailed in the first Rauf Report of the season.
EJ Liddell has played like an All-American. Zed Key is probably Ohio State’s second-best player.
But both of those players are bigs, and quality guards are needed to win in college basketball. Ohio State is also inexperienced on the perimeter.
Jamari Wheeler has been a solid defender and 3-point shooter and Meechie Johnson has hit some big shots, yet neither has emerged as a consistent, reliable offensive threat.
Malaki Branham might be emerging as that guy right now.
The freshman only scored in double figures once in Ohio State’s first 10 games. After going scoreless against Wisconsin, Branham has been on fire in 2022. He dropped 35 points in an overtime win at Nebraska, 13 at Indiana, and 24 points in an easy victory over Northwestern on Sunday.
Branham’s minutes have increased dramatically — he has played at least 30 minutes in the last three games after topping out at 28 in the first 10 — and the all-around production has, too. His rebounding, passing and efficiency numbers are all exponentially greater than they were during the season’s first 10 games.
If he can continue to be a consistent complementary piece to Liddell inside, Ohio State may finally have the backcourt pop necessary to take them from a good team to a dangerous one.
Don’t bail on Colorado State
Colorado State had its undefeated dream smashed on Saturday in a 79-49 loss to San Diego State. It was easily the Rams’ worst performance of the season as they were held to season lows in points, field goal percentage, and 3-point percentage.
San Diego State’s defense completely stifled one of the nation’s best offensive attacks and cruised to their first marquee victory of the season.
Colorado State entered the weekend as one of the country’s three unbeaten teams and was the only mid-major team to do so (Baylor and USC are now the two remaining undefeated teams). A loss coming in such blowout fashion caused some to question if the Rams were overrated.
If you are one of those people, I’m telling you: Don’t bail on Colorado State.
For starters, the Rams have already proven themselves with neutral court wins over Creighton and Mississippi State along with blowout victories over Oral Roberts and Saint Mary’s.
Secondly, this was Colorado State’s second game back after a 24-day break from games due to a COVID pause. The Rams couldn’t even practice on 14 of those days due to positive tests. Teams returning from pauses of that length typically experience a major decrease in efficiency in their first few games back, according to EvanMiya.com.
This appears to be holding true for the Rams, who struggled to get past Air Force on Tuesday in their first game back and looked sluggish against the Aztecs, particularly in the second half — something you’d expect given the team went two weeks without conditioning.
“Right at the end of the first half, I thought they started to impose their physicality a little bit and then obviously that just turned into a groundswell in the second half,” CSU head coach Niko Medved told reporters following the loss. “I hate how we played, especially in the second half. But it’s a loss and we’ll move on and get better. I have no doubt this team will respond from it.”
I don’t have many doubts, either. A team shooting over 42 percent from three is not going to shoot 15 percent from deep or 28 percent from the field very often.
And yes, San Diego State deserves credit — it has a top-five defense for good reason. But, when we look back at the end of the season, I’ll bet this is a small speed bump for a very good Colorado State team.
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