Can you still have an enjoyable college basketball weekend when perhaps the main event of the season was abruptly taken away from you?
There were still a number of quality games over the past few days — mostly on Friday night and Sunday — yet the weekend did feel a bit shallow following the abrupt decision to call off Saturday’s game between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor with just an hour until scheduled tip time. It was the right decision as positive COVID-19 tests have caused the Gonzaga program to shut down for 14 days, but there’s no denying the letdown.
Both Mark Few and Scott Drew have expressed a desire to reschedule the game at a future date, which would be an awesome thing for the sport considering Gonzaga and Baylor look like the clear two best teams.
We will get into other takeaways from games that actually did take place later in this Rauf Report, but we’re going to start with this Gonzaga-Baylor situation and what it should tell us about the NCAA Tournament.
What Gonzaga-Baylor cancellation tells us about the NCAA Tournament
Here’s the thing that makes this whole situation problematic when it comes to projecting the season out to the NCAA Tournament: Gonzaga had essentially been in a bubble since arriving in Indianapolis nearly a week before the scheduled game against Baylor. They defeated West Virginia on Wednesday night in the same arena and never left their controlled environment!
This might end up being a special case as a Gonzaga staff member did test positive in Fort Meyers before the Bulldogs’ game against Auburn, but no one else tested positive in the week between that game and Saturday morning. I’m not going to pretend to know if the personnel that tested positive pre-Baylor were negative or false negative or asymptomatic all week, yet I do know that timeline could complicate matters when it’s time for the NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA is going to create something of a bubble in Indianapolis with all 68 teams that make the field. That’s the safest way to ensure the tournament does get played, which we all want.
However, the traditional turnaround time between Selection Sunday and the start of the First Four is just two days, with four days until the start of the first round. Normally that is no problem, but we are not in normal times.
If the Gonzaga situation played out then exactly as it did this past week, they would’ve played in their conference tournament, played in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and then had problematic positive tests before their second-round game. The tournament can’t pause for two weeks in that scenario! What if they do and it happens with another team down the line?
What the NCAA will likely have to do is have all 68 teams quarantine in the tournament bubble for a week or two from Selection Sunday until the start of the tournament. That means pushing the start back another week, but that is the much lesser evil than an elongated pause mid-tournament.
The NCAA won’t make an official announcement about this until we get closer to March — because who knows what will happen between now and then — but I would expect something along these lines.
Could Missouri be a factor in the SEC?
Missouri was picked to finish 10th in the SEC preseason poll but, through three games, the Tigers look like perhaps the most underrated team in the conference.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin’s squad has picked up convincing wins over Oregon and Wichita State already, both of which came away from Columbia. Its defense was center stage in both of those victories as the activity, length, and versatility was on display. Missouri limited Oregon to just 41.3 percent shooting and followed that up by allowing Wichita State to shoot even worse (33.3 percent).
That defense is what’s going to carry them, but their offensive improvement has enhanced this team’s ceiling. The Tigers are 37th nationally in offensive efficiency after ranking 150th a year ago thanks to an increased tempo and smarter decision making.
“We want to take quick good shots, and you don’t want bad shots,” Martin said after beating the Shockers. “If you got a good shot you got to take the shot. I think a lot of it has to do, especially in transition where our bigs run, because if you open up the wings and bigs open you have to hit them.”
Smarter shot selection and decision making shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise given Missouri returned 77.7 percent of their minutes (4th in the country) and is the 11th most experienced team per KenPom. Both of those factors work to their advantage as well.
Detractors will point to Oregon being at a disadvantage since it was their first game of the season and that Wichita State is being led by an interim head coach, but the bottom line is that Missouri has soundly beaten two quality teams and looked good doing it. With much of the SEC struggling, there’s a real possibility the Tigers could finish in the conference’s top four.
Kansas needs to find a go-to guy (or two)
Kansas went 3-0 this week and has now won four in a row since going toe-to-toe with Gonzaga to start the season. Should be all rosy in Lawrence, right?
Except this week’s play inspired anything but confidence in the Jayhawks. Kansas trailed what is now a 1-3 Kentucky team for the majority of the game and was down to North Dakota State in the final minutes before squeaking out a four-point victory (NDSU has already lost to Nebraska by 22 points).
After beating the Bison, Bill Self said his team will probably be better for having played a game like that while also acknowledging that “not a lot of guys made a lot of offensive plays.”
That, in a nutshell, is the biggest think holding Kansas back.
The Jayhawks have plenty of talent on the roster but are replacing last season’s two go-to guys in Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. They were the best one-two punch in the country and, while KU has players who can replace them, the Jayhawks haven’t been able to muster any offensive consistency.
Big man David McCormack was expected to be a breakout star, yet he’s averaging just 9.4 points in 16.2 minutes per game. Marcus Garrett has taken over as the lead guard but continues to show his offensive limitations. Ochai Agbaji has shown he can be a reliable secondary weapon but has been inefficient as the leading option. Five-star guard Bryce Thompson hasn’t been able to contribute at a high level and Christian Braun, outside of that 30-point outburst against Saint Joseph’s, hasn’t been able to reach double digits.
Instead, it has been Jalen Wilson, a four-star freshman ranked outside the top 50, who has been the one to step up when Kansas needs it. He made all the plays KU needed late against Kentucky and then was the leading scorer against North Dakota State. JUCO transfer Tyon Grant-Foster also came off the bench to make the game-winning layup and game-clinching block against NDSU.
Maybe Kansas needs to rely on those two more, or maybe one of the expected top options will break out of their early season funk and emerge. Either way, if the Jayhawks are going to reach their potential, they desperately need to find a leader on the offensive end.
Why Wisconsin is overrated
Wisconsin doesn’t have those problems — the Badgers are a veteran team with established roles — but its own weaknesses were on display in a 67-65 loss to in-state rival Marquette on Friday night.
And, look, losing to a potential NCAA Tournament team like Marquette at the buzzer in a rivalry game is not a bad loss, so I’m not alarmed by the performance. However, it did reaffirm my thinking in that the Badgers are slightly overrated.
As I wrote before the season, Wisconsin was awesome at the end of last season as they shot 41 percent from three over the final eight games. In the 23 previous games, the Badgers shot just 33 percent, which when they were only 13-10 overall and 6-6 in the Big Ten. To oversimplify it, Wisconsin’s offense works then they make their threes. When they don’t, they’re very beatable.
Why is that? The Badgers have a roster full of quality players, but those players don’t excel at creating for themselves. No one can consistently get — and convert — a basket on their own off the dribble. They work really well in their system but, when that system breaks down or is ineffective, there isn’t a lot they can do.
This is what we saw against Marquette, the first team with the size and athleticism to handle Wisconsin this season. The Badgers made 41.9 percent of their threes in their first three games against Eastern Illinois, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Green Bay. Against Marquette, it only made 29.2 percent of its threes and couldn’t make up for that in other areas. Brad Davison (0-4 from the field) and Aleem Ford (3-10) really struggled in particular, which isn’t a good sign considering they were the starting wings.
Wisconsin is a top 15/20 team and is capable of winning a few games in the NCAA Tournament, but its lack of creativity, explosiveness, and playmaking on the offensive end limits how good it can be unless it gets red-hot from three.
An ode to Luka Garza’s dominance
We close this Rauf Report on a positive note by taking a look at just how dominant preseason National Player of the Year Luka Garza has been through the season’s first two weeks.
The senior is averaging 34 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks in just 26 minutes per game while shooting 76 percent from the field! Given, Iowa hasn’t been facing the toughest competition — NC Central, Southern, and Western Illinois all rank outside the KenPom top 266 — but Garza is essentially outplaying them on his own.
He scored 36 points while shooting a perfect 12-12 from the field in the first half against Southern, outscoring the Tigers by himself (Iowa led 58-35 at halftime).
And against Western Illinois, he had 30 points and nine rebounds at half. The Leathernecks only had 26 points at the break.
Garza won’t continue outscoring every opposing team in the first half as Iowa faces its first real tests this week as the Hawkeyes host UNC and its massive frontline on Tuesday. But what he’s already done shouldn’t go unnoticed or unrecognized, because it has been special.
Brian Rauf is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and FanSided, among other publications. Rauf is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.