Welcome into a new Rauf Report, where I highlight my biggest takeaways from the past week in college basketball.
The most notable thing about this week is probably the games that weren’t played. There were countless (not really, but it was a lot) postponements and cancellations due to either COVID pauses or the winter storm that wreaked havoc on Texas and the Midwest.
As a result, there were only two games between ranked teams and both were blowouts. Florida State dominated Virginia while looking like the ACC’s best team while Iowa went on the road and thumped Wisconsin. We did get one marquee upset, though, with Wichita State knocking off Houston on Thursday.
We’ll talk about Florida State’s statement victory and what it means for them a little bit later, but we’re going to start with a team that didn’t play this week in Villanova. With fewer games to watch and more time on my hands, I was able to do more research into teams and … yeah. We need to talk about the Wildcats.
Let’s get into it.
Why I’m out on Villanova
Villanova started the season as a national title favorite and has remained a top 10 team all season long. They haven’t matched Gonzaga or Baylor’s resume, yet Jay Wright’s squad has survived various injuries and a month-long COVID pause to sit all alone in first place in the Big East by a sizable margin.
Essentially, the Wildcats are exactly where they’ve been for much of the past decade. But something about this team feels different. They don’t feel like a legitimate title contender, and their defensive struggles are the biggest reason why.
To be frank, Villanova’s defense isn’t great. They rank 88th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and have only had a defense rated this poorly once in the “new Big East” era. That was two seasons ago when the Wildcats were upset by Purdue in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect has been Villanova’s poor perimeter defense. For a team that puts so much emphasis on the three-point shot offensively, they’re terrible at defending it. The Wildcats are 314th in three-point defense, allowing teams to shoot 37.8 percent against them. Considering they shoot 38.2 percent themselves, they aren’t getting the advantage they normally get in that area
St. John’s and Creighton have been able to ride hot shooting nights to upset wins over Villanova because of the opportunities presented to them on the perimeter. This is something to monitor moving forward and could be a huge factor against a hungry — and now more healthy — UConn team on Saturday.
What is Florida State’s ceiling?
Let’s get back to Florida State. While we’ve known the ‘Noles are a pretty good team, their performance against Virginia was the first real statement they made this season. Their length, pressure, and athleticism suffocated UVA’s offense and created a lot of transition opportunities for themselves at the same time.
That performance showed what this team is capable of at its peak, and it’s not too dissimilar from, well, virtually every Florida State team of the last five years. Leonard Hamilton’s squad is the tallest team in the nation, incredibly deep (25th in bench minutes), and has a stellar pressure defense. They want to make their opponent uncomfortable for 94 feet for 48 minutes, and that gives everyone problems.
We’ve seen that blueprint lead FSU on several long NCAA Tournament runs the past few years and it should be successful again. However, there are two other areas that make this group even more dangerous.
This is the first time in the last five seasons in which Florida State’s offense is rated higher than their defense. The Seminoles have the nation’s eighth-most efficient offense and the best offense of the Leonard Hamilton era.
Their perimeter shooting is the biggest reason why. This has also been the best three-point shooting team Hamilton has had as they’re making 39.8 percent (seventh nationally) of their attempts from beyond the arc. Six different players are shooting at least 40 percent from deep and six have made at least 10 three-pointers. Having that much balance makes them extremely hard to guard, especially when opponents have to worry as much about FSU’s ability to score at the rim, too.
Florida State also has a legitimate star in Scottie Barnes. The 6-9 freshman has excelled running point, ranking 41st in assist rate as he uses his combination of vision, quickness, and athleticism to collapse opposing defenses and create open shots for his teammates. That said, his most important attribute has been his ability to step up in close games.
Florida State was inconsistent in December as they dealt with COVID issues, but they’ve now won seven of their last eight and really appear to be hitting their stride.
This group’s ceiling is the Final Four and they can give either Baylor or Gonzaga a serious run. The Seminoles are still behind those teams, but they certainly belong in that second tier of Final Four contenders alongside teams like Illinois and Ohio State.
VCU is worthy of your attention
You probably watched Florida State’s statement victory on Monday. You probably didn’t watch VCU’s win over Richmond but, if you did, a) good for you, and b) you saw a quality NCAA Tournament team in the Rams.
Richmond was the A-10’s darling back in November and I’ve written about how good I think Saint Louis looks. But here’s VCU, sitting at 16-4 overall and leading the conference while looking like a potentially dangerous team in March.
Mike Rhoades’ squad looks like your prototypical VCU team. They’re deep with a bunch of feisty, tough, athletic guards that play excellent pressure defense. The Rams are second in steal percentage, eighth in turnover forced percentage, ninth in block percentage, and 10th in overall defensive efficiency. That’s elite.
This group does struggle a bit offensively, especially with turnovers (274th), but it’s not a liability. They shoot the three well enough (166th in three-point percentage) and have a number of players who excel at attacking the rim, yet the biggest difference maker might be Bones Hyland. The sophomore is a legitimate two-way star, ranking seventh in the A-10 in both eFG% and steal rate, and is the focal point of VCU’s offensive attack (19.4 ppg).
The Rams have the resume to go along with their metrics, too. They only have one loss outside of Quad 1 (Rhode Island) and have six Quad 2 wins. The only real hole is their lack of Quad 1 victories, as they have none.
VCU should have opportunities for a couple down the stretch with Saint Louis coming to town and road games against Davidson and Richmond, and those could even further solidify the Rams in the field of 68, where they have the potential to win a game. This is a team certainly worth paying attention to in the coming weeks.
Ayo Dosunmu’s clutch shooting
Now, let’s dive into the superstar-focused portion of this week’s column!
If you remember Monday’s Rauf Report, I discussed how Ayo Dosunmu had made the National Player of the Year race an actual race and is challenging Luka Garza. Many even think the junior guard has overtaken Garza. Dosunmu’s putting up historic numbers himself — he’s on pace to become the first player in 11 seasons to average at least 21 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game (21.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.1 apg) — but it’s his propensity to emerge in the most important moments of close games that has fueled this surge.
When Illinois finds themselves in tight games down the stretch, Dosunmu is always there to bail them out. It doesn’t just feel like he’s more clutch, either. Stats back it up.
That’s absurd … and important! In college football, we talk about “Heisman moments” playing a role in who ultimately wins the Heisman. We don’t have a phrase for that in college basketball, but the same thing holds true. And, because Dosunmu keeps coming through in the clutch, he’s getting those moments.
Can you make the argument that Illinois, for as good as they can be, shouldn’t need Dosunmu to keep bailing them out? Absolutely. But Dosunmu hasn’t let them down yet, fulling earning his reputation as the most clutch player in the nation.
Evan Mobley deserves more consideration as the potential No. 1 pick
Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham has been the consensus projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft for a couple of years now despite a couple of other players putting forth impressive performances. USC big man Evan Mobley has been right at the forefront of that second group and, right now, I think I would take him over Cunningham.
Mobley and Cunningham traded the distinction of “top-ranked prospect in the 2020 recruiting class” back and forth (depending on the recruiting service) throughout their high school days before Cunningham took hold of the position. Mobley’s physical profile was the biggest reason for his ranking, and it’s now the major reason why NBA scouts love him.
Aside from the obvious need to add strength as a 7-foot, 215-pounder, the star freshman can do everything you could want someone to do at his size. He’s a great leaper who has shown fantastic timing on the defensive end, both of which have made him one of the nation’s best rim protectors (28th nationally in block rate). At the same time, his length and quickness make him a high-end perimeter defender as well.
In the clip below, Mobley switches to a much smaller, quicker defender. But look how effortlessly he stays in front, cutting off driving lanes before forcing a contested shot that he ultimately blocks.
Seven footers rarely do this! Willie Cauley-Stein was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft solely because of his ability to defend inside and out at that height.
But Mobley does much more than that and has showcased his expansive offensive game through USC’s first 21 games. He has soft touch around the rim with an array of moves he uses to get his shot off, but he’s much more than a post threat. Mobley is a 33-percent three-point shooter and, as shown in the clip below, is capable of handling the ball and creating for others.
Players this size with this much athleticism, this much skill, and this much room still left to develop simply don’t come around very often. I think Cunningham will be a special NBA player, too, so there’s not really a wrong answer between the two in my mind. But, right now, I think Mobley has shown he can bring more to the table.