Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:45PM

#10/10 Texas Longhorns 71, Cal Golden Bears 55

The Texas Longhorns received a dose of bad news on Friday afternoon, just hours before taking the court against Cal in the 2K Classic title game. Point guard Isaiah Taylor, a preseason member of the Wooden Award watch list, took a hard fall late in the win over Iowa a night prior, and X-rays indicated he had broken a bone in his wrist. The injury is expected to keep him out of action for 4-6 weeks.

If there were ever a year for a Texas team to absorb an injury to one of its stars, this year would be it. In addition to having a massive frontcourt, the Longhorns have their deepest bench in ages. With Taylor out, Javan Felix was available to slide back into the starting point guard slot, a role he was also suddenly thrust into as a freshman, when Myck Kabongo missed 23 games for lying to NCAA investigators about impermissible benefits.

UT won its first November tournament since 2009
(Photo credit: Shelby Tauber/Associated Press)

While there is a distinct difference in style between Taylor and Felix, the absence of the team’s starting point guard wasn’t enough to cause problems against Cal. The Longhorns jumped out to a 14-4 lead by the first media timeout, and their stingy defense preserved a comfortable lead all night. Although the Golden Bears were able to carve the lead to six points on a few occasions, Texas enjoyed a double-digit lead for more than 25 minutes of game time.

The win gave Texas its first championship at the 2K Classic tournament, where they had previously lost in the 2010 title game to Pitt. It also gave the team its second neutral-court win over a major-conference opponent, something that will come in handy as the NCAA Selection Committee debates seeds in March.

With the Longhorns now sitting at 4-0 and looking ahead to a tough road contest against UConn next weekend, here are five takeaways from last night’s win:

1. This could be the best Texas D of the Barnes era

We’re only four games into the season, and there are still more than 30 to play, but the early numbers for this year’s defense are staggering. The Longhorns have allowed an adjusted 0.878 points per possession, the nation’s fifth-best mark, while they have allowed a raw 0.796 points per possession.

Texas is shutting down opponents without forcing turnovers — their turnover percentage is actually the 35th-lowest in the country — and is instead relying on suffocating interior defense and the clean-up abilities of their stable of shot blockers. The Longhorns have a block percentage of 17.1%, 34th-best in Division I, and they added 10 swats to their season tally last night.

The best team of the Rick Barnes era in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency was the 2011 team, which allowed an adjusted 0.907 points per possession. While Barnes’ teams always pride themselves on defense, the next-best performance by a Texas squad was 0.933 adjusted PPP in 2009, which gives you an idea of just how special that 2011 defense was. That team started Big 12 play 11-0, with all but one of those wins coming by double digits, and reached the No. 3 ranking in both major polls before finally losing a conference game.

There’s still a long way to go, but this defense has the right pieces to put together another historic run. Demarcus Holland provides smothering defense on the perimeter, and is usually able to frustrate the opponent’s best guard or wing. Inside, the shot-blocking talents of the deep Texas frontcourt are there to help clean up any penetration that gets by the Longhorn guards. Add in a strong set of rebounders that have limited opponents to just 28.3% of their offensive rebounding chances so far, and Texas opponents will find it tough to score all season long.

Jonathan Holmes was named tournament MVP
(Photo credit: Shelby Tauber/Associated Press)

2. Jonathan Holmes is no longer under the radar

A night after powering the Longhorn comeback against Iowa, it was again Holmes who carried the team to victory. The team’s lone senior posted his first double-double of the season, a 21-point, 13-rebound performance. With the Cal zone causing some problems for the Texas offense, it was also Holmes who stepped into that key role in the high post, where he delivered one of the game’s biggest highlights, a great feed to Prince Ibeh on the baseline, which led to a thunderous dunk.

Holmes was unsurprisingly named the tournament MVP, after scoring 40 points and snagging 18 boards in 63 minutes on the court. He also hustled for a pair of nice blocks in the win over Cal, and logged three assists. Although Big 12 opponents are already familiar with Holmes, he is not as well known nationally, having been left off the Wooden Award watch list in favor of Taylor and Myles Turner. After his performance the last two nights, it’s clear that the national media is taking notice.

3. Javan Felix had a mixed return at the point

Although Taylor brings a scoring threat that Felix simply cannot match, the New Orleans native has enough previous experience running the point at Texas that fans didn’t need to be overly concerned. Felix validated that confidence in the game’s opening minutes, guiding the offense as they worked to feed the post and elbow, and even adding in a jumper and a three-pointer of his own.

As the game wore on, Felix seemed to shift out of his role as facilitator and floor general, and revert to more of the shooting guard role that he primarily served in last season. Coach Barnes was repeatedly quoted as telling Felix to take the open shots last year, and in last night’s win, he took a few wide open shots early in the shot clock.

With the definitive size advantage that Texas enjoyed against Cal, it would have been better for Felix to exercise some patience and look for post options before firing up early shots from outside. In addition to leading to higher-percentage looks, taking some time on the offensive end would have also taken Cal out of the up-tempo game that it prefers to play.

Taylor is expected to miss four to six weeks due to his injury, bringing him back just in time for conference play. In the meantime, Felix will be running the point in road games against UConn and Kentucky, and a home date with Stanford. While Texas can get by on pure talent against the rest of its non-conference slate, the Longhorns will need him to embrace the facilitator role against those three tough opponents.

Demarcus Holland starred on both ends of the floor
(Photo credit: Frank Franklin/Associated Press)

4. Demarcus Holland stepped up

With Taylor out of the game, the Longhorns were missing quite a bit of scoring that usually comes from their point guard. Primarily a defensive specialist, Holland took advantage of the opportunity to shine, putting the ball on the floor and earning multiple trips to the line. Demarcus made all seven of his free throws and had quite a few nice cuts to the bucket, finishing with 11 points and an impressive block of a Cal three-pointer. Although Felix will still be needed to shoulder the point guard duties with Taylor sidelined, Holland’s increased offensive output could not have come at a better time.

5. The rotation is already tightening up

With Taylor out due to injury, it would stand to reason that the guys languishing near the bottom of the backcourt rotation would naturally see more minutes. That wasn’t the case for Damarcus Croaker, who didn’t see action for a second straight game. Wingman Jordan Barnett, whose size matched up a little better with the Cal guards and wings, also didn’t see the court.

While Barnett’s lack of PT may have been the result of some shaky minutes against Iowa, Croaker didn’t do anything egregious enough to remember in the team’s first two blowouts. Even though we’re just four games into the season, we may already be seeing that Coach Barnes doesn’t see much room for Croaker in a very crowded Texas backcourt.

Ibeh also saw a decreased role in the two games at Madison Square Garden, playing just 20 total minutes in the two contests. The big man missed some point-blank shots against Iowa, and also limited his effectiveness with poor post defense that led to unnecessary fouls.

While Turner has yet to repeat his breakout performance from his collegiate debut, he is bound to find a rhythm at this level and earn even more minutes than the 18.8 he’s currently averaging. Unless Ibeh can consistently provide an intimidating presence as a rim protector, it looks like he may find himself in a very limited role moving forward.

Up Next: vs. St. Francis (2-2); Tuesday, 7 P.M. (Longhorn Network)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:32AM

California Golden Bears (3-0) vs. #10/10 Texas Longhorns (3-0)
Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | Tip: Approx. 6:30 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Texas -5.5 | KenPom: Texas, 68-64 (67%)

The Texas Longhorns overcame a slow start at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night to knock off Iowa and advance to the title game of the 2K Classic. Cal surprised Syracuse in the other semifinal, cruising to a comfortable win over the nation’s 23rd-ranked team. That sets up tonight’s unexpected championship matchup, as new Cal coach Cuonzo Martin and his underrated Golden Bears set their sights on another ranked foe.

Jabari Bird and Cal upset Syracuse last night
(Photo credit: Kim Willens/Associated Press)

By the numbers

Through the first three games, Cal’s tempo stats have an interesting duality. The pace of their games are relatively quick, with an adjusted average of 70.4 possessions, up from the national average of 67.7 possessions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that their average offensive possession is the shortest in all of D-I hoops at just 11.2 seconds, according to Ken Pomeroy. However, on the other end of the floor, they average the 14th-slowest possessions, with opponents hanging on to the ball for 21.6 seconds.

The Golden Bears have a bevy of talented three-point shooters, but don’t rely on the long ball to score. Cal’s 45.5% mark behind the arc is 29th-best in the nation, but they take less than 30% of their shots from three-point range, and score less than 30% of their points from there.

Perhaps the main reason Cal doesn’t have to rely on the three is because they have a trio of guards that can all slice up defenses with the bounce, and their entire team moves the ball incredibly well. Their team assist percentage of 67.3% is 33rd in the NCAA, and their ball movement against the zones of Syracuse and Alcorn State looked like something out of a coaching video.

Cal has also limited their mistakes through the first three games, turning it over on just 16.4% of their possessions, well below the national average of 20.1%. On the other end of the floor, they don’t force many mistakes by the opponents, either, causing miscues on just 16.9% of possessions. Instead, the Golden Bears get in your shirt on the perimeter, and help quickly when that tight defense allows dribble penetration by quick opposing guards.

Meet the Bears

When Mike Montgomery retired following the 2013-14 season, he certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare. Despite losing about 27 points per game with the departures of Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, Cal still returned a loaded backcourt with tons of offensive talent. When Cuonzo Martin was dealing with an unappreciative fanbase in Knoxville that was trying to run him out of town, Berkeley provided a perfect landing spot, giving him a team that wouldn’t require rebuilding.

At the point, junior Tyrone Wallace (No. 3) is a true combo guard with excellent slashing abilities. He isn’t just a head-down, drive-at-the-rim kind of guy, as he can wiggle through traffic and hit floaters or pull-up jumpers from all over the court. He takes 26.2% of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, but still manages to log assists on 31.1% of the buckets. The 6’5″ guard could pose some matchup issues for the smaller Texas backcourt.

Joining Wallace in the backcourt is Jordan Mathews (No. 24), another guard who can create his own shot, but who is also a big-time threat from long range. On the year, Mathews is 5-for-13 from behind the arc, and with the speed that Cal moves the ball, they can often find him for wide open looks.

Sophomore wing Jabari Bird (No. 23) is a 6’6″ guy who can easily find cracks in the defense, and is always looking for teammates who are freed up by his penetration. Like Wallace, Bird plays a key role in a ton of Cal possessions, as he takes 28.4% of the shots when he’s on the floor, while also assisting on more than 32% of the buckets. For a Texas team with a small backcourt and no prototypical wings, Bird will be another interesting matchup.

In the frontcourt, junior Christian Behrens (No. 14) has started all three games, but is averaging just over 20 minutes per game. Behrens has dealt with serious knee injuries dating back to high school, and has yet to be more than a role player for Cal. It looks like Coach Martin is taking it slow with Behrens right now, and utilizing a rotation at the four spot.

David Kravish will have his hands full with the UT big men
(Photo credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press)

Senior David Kravish (No. 45) rounds out the starting five, and will face a tall order against the size of Texas tonight. The 6’10” Kravish is truly an all-around player, as he can block shots, rebound well, stretch the floor with his jumper, and is a great passer. That jumper and passing ability make him a threat out of the high post, and he helps Cal break down opposing zone defenses from that soft spot at the free throw line.

In the backcourt, Sam Singer (No. 2) is the team’s backup point guard, but is not nearly the dual threat that the rest of the Cal guards are. He’s a steady guard who posted a 2.56-to-1 turnover ratio as a freshman, but has unfortunately struggled with ball control through the first three games this year.

Graduate transfer Dwight Tarwater (No. 1) came to Berkeley after finishing his degree at Cornell, and can play on the wing or serve as an undersized stretch four. He’s averaging just under 20 minutes per game, is 6-for-10 from long range, and has a 75% eFG mark.

Facing the size of Texas, Coach Martin may elect to increase the minutes for freshman Kingsley Okorah, a 7’1″ freshman who originally committed to Tennessee, but followed his coach to Berkeley. Roger Moute a Bidias (No. 22) is a 6’6″ sophomore forward who is averaging less than 16 minutes per game, but may also see a little more PT against Texas, thanks to a 7’1″ wingspan.

Keys to the game

1. Dominate the glass – The Golden Bears are rather thin in the frontcourt, and they lack the size of the Longhorns. Through three games, they have posted rebounding numbers on both ends of the court that are only average, and they should find it hard to improve those marks against Texas tonight. If the Longhorns can take advantage of their size and dominate the glass on both ends of the court, they’ll limit extra possessions for a dangerous Cal offense, while giving their own bigs some easy second-chance points.

2. Limit dribble penetration – This will be easier said than done against a talented Cal backcourt that can easily break down opposing defenses off the bounce. The Longhorns fortunately have great shot blockers inside to help clean things up when the perimeter defense breaks down, but the Golden Bears are also really talented passers. Rather than barrel headlong into a stout Texas interior defense, the Cal guards are much more likely to find open teammates when they are able to penetrate, which would mean easy buckets and wide-open threes.

3. Pound it down low – Texas has the clear size advantage in this one, and they need to exploit that early and often. In addition to getting easy points and covering for their own shooting woes, the Longhorns can hopefully tag the thin Cal frontcourt with some foul trouble early, which would only serve to increase the Texas size advantage down low.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 6:40AM

#10/10 Texas Longhorns 71, Iowa Hawkeyes 57

After cruising through their first two games of the season, the Texas Longhorns took a major step up in competition against the Iowa Hawkeyes last night. The results were immediately disheartening, as the Longhorns quickly fell behind 13-2. The team missed point-blank looks, played carelessly with the ball, and gave up open three-pointers as they dug an early hole.

Texas coughed it up often in the first half
(Photo credit: Kim Willens/Associated Press)

In the first half, Texas turned it over on more than 25% of its possessions, shot just 32.3% from the field, and allowed Iowa an offensive rebounding percentage of 40.7%. Still, the Longhorns stayed within arm’s reach, and a strip by Javan Felix just before the half led to a fast break layup, cutting the Iowa lead to six at the break.

The Longhorns stormed out of the locker room after the half, looking like a completely different team. Jonathan Holmes played with a fire that was completely lacking during a first half where he looked lost and frustrated. Isaiah Taylor flipped a switch and attacked aggressively with the bounce, while the team also fed the post with purpose and moved the ball quickly in early second-half possessions.

Just 2:20 into the second half, Texas had charged into the lead for the first time, and quickly created a six-point margin. Aaron White tried to keep Iowa in the contest with a hard-nosed effort, bringing his team level again with 13:58 to play. The Longhorns immediately snuffed out the Hawkeye hopes with a 13-0 run and never looked back, building a lead as large as 19, en route to the 71-57 final.

With the Cal Bears looming in tonight’s 2K Classic title game, here are five quick takeaways from Texas’ comeback victory:

1. The Texas D is going to keep them in games

The first twenty minutes of last night’s game were maddening for Texas fans. After the team had looked downright dominant against two admittedly over-matched teams in North Dakota State and Alcorn State, the Longhorns suddenly played like they had in many frustrating losses over the last few seasons. Dumb turnovers, misses in and around the paint, and slow reactions to good, wide-open three-point shooters put Texas in an immediate hole. On some offensive sets, clearly frustrated players waited for others to make something happen.

However, despite allowing the pair of early threes by Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, the Longhorns had a stifling defensive performance. Iowa could get no traction inside the arc, missing their first 14 two-point field goals, and finishing just 25% from the field in the first half. Texas also caused miscues on 20% of Iowa’s first half possessions, allowing the Longhorns team to trail by just six after a very tough first half.

The suffocating defense gave Iowa no chance once the Longhorn offense turned it on after the break. Iowa finished the game just 29.6% from the field and scored just 0.839 points per possession. Although the Texas bigs were overly jumpy in the first half as they tried to block everything, and they were often faked into some dumb fouls, it seemed that the only place Iowa could score was at the line.

Through three games, the Longhorns now have the nation’s sixth-best defense in terms of adjusted efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. Texas has allowed an adjusted 0.887 points per possession. While that number will certainly climb as the team faces a very tough schedule, it’s clear that the defense is going to keep them in games when the offense goes stagnant.

Jonathan Holmes was unstoppable in the second half
(Photo credit: Kim Willens/Associated Press)

2. Jonathan Holmes is a bad, bad man

When Texas stumbled through the first half, even Holmes was not immune to the struggles. The senior was just 1-for-4 from the field with a pair of turnovers in 13 first-half minutes, and the frustration was clear on his face as he headed to the bench for an early breather.

At half, either Coach Barnes said the magic words to his lone senior, or Holmes found some vials of Five Hour Energy with Spinach. Jonathan scored the team’s first eight points after the break in just 85 seconds, and finished with 19 points and five boards. He drained 3-of-4 from behind the arc on the night, pushing his season total to 7-for-10, and giving him an offensive rating of 154.2 on the year.

While the Longhorns have a slew of weapons to choose from, and freshman Myles Turner has earned a ton of preseason and early-season ink, the team clearly finds it tough to get going without Holmes. When the senior is scoring and stretching the floor with his outside shot, things open up for the rest of the Longhorns.

3. Taylor overcame a rough start

The sophomore point guard had a frustrating first twenty minutes against Iowa, going just 1-of-7 from the field. Although he missed jumpers, Isaiah also was missing point-blank layups after making good moves to get the rack. He added a pair of free throws during the first frame, but scored just four first-half points.

With Holmes and the Horns revitalized at the break, Taylor continued to attack with the bounce. Unfazed by his early misses, he posted a perfect 4-for-4 line in the second half and added another three free throws. He finished with 15 points, matching his season average, but did fail to log a single assist on the night.

A hard foul from Iowa’s Gabriel Olaseni sent Taylor crashing to the floor in the game’s final minutes, and the point guard had his wrist heavily iced after the game, according to multiple media reports. Although Javan Felix has more than enough experience to run the point if needed, Texas would certainly miss Taylor’s slashing ability if he’s unable to go against Cal.

4. Lammert is quietly posting solid numbers

On a night where it seemed like quite a few defensive boards were just out of reach for the Longhorns, Connor Lammert managed to again be the most consistent rebounder on the floor for Texas. The junior big man led the way with eight rebounds in just 20 minutes, with six of them coming on the defensive end.

On the season, Lammert has a 22.6% defensive rebounding percentage, ranking him just outside the Top 200 nationally. Lammert also added two more assists, giving him a season assist rate of 31%, which does crack that Top 200. Oh, and have we mentioned that he has yet to turn it over?

5. The shot blockers have to stay grounded

Turner and Prince Ibeh each picked up a pair of first-half fouls against Iowa, and added three more fouls in the second half. On the year, Ibeh is averaging 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes, while Turner is not far behind with 6.2 whistles.

Both are clearly great shot-blocking talents, with Ibeh blocking nearly 9% of the two-point shots taken when he’s on the court, and Turner cleaning up an incredible 14%. However, both were overly jumpy last night, biting on the lightest shot fake, which led to foul trouble for them and free points for the Hawkeyes.

Turner and Ibeh both have a ton of length that makes it tough for opponents to score inside. They need to trust that length and stand tall when isolated as the primary defender. If they can do that, they’ll be able to spend more time on the court, will force opponents into some very tough shots, and can save the highlight-reel swats for the times they’re coming over to clean things up as secondary defenders.

Up next: vs. Cal at Madison Square Garden; Friday, 6:30 P.M. CT (ESPN2)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:12AM

#NR/25 Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) vs. #10/10 Texas Longhorns (2-0)
Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Texas -6 | Pomeroy: Texas, 75-73 (56%)

For Texas fans who had a chance to see the newest edition of their Longhorn basketball team take the court this weekend, there was ample cause for excitement. Opening the season as a Top 10 team, the experienced Longhorn squad thumped North Dakota State and Alcorn State by a combined 67-point margin, showing off a massive frontcourt and incredible depth in the process.

As dominant as Texas looked in those two victories, fans had to temper their excitement, due to the level of competition. Alcorn State will likely finish as one of the worst teams in Division I this season, while North Dakota State lost a ton of talent from last year’s team that upset Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament’s Round of 64. The real tests for the Longhorns begin this week at Madison Square Garden, where they will take on Iowa tonight and either Syracuse or Cal tomorrow.

Fran McCaffery is ready to build on last year’s NCAA bid
(Photo credit: Jim Slosiarek/Associated Press)

Tonight’s matchup with Iowa is one in which the two teams will find many similarities between their own squad and their opponent. Both the Longhorns and Hawkeyes have quite a bit of size in the frontcourt, and both benches can easily go 10 deep. While no one will confuse Iowa’s roster with that of Kentucky and its platoons, tonight’s game will be an excellent measuring stick to give us all an idea of just how good these Longhorns truly are.

By the Numbers

Through two games, Iowa has been sound on both sides of the ball, while playing at a breakneck pace against North Dakota State and Hampton. The Hawkeyes have averaged an adjusted tempo of 72.6 possessions per game according to Ken Pomeroy, while their adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.107 points per possession is in the Top 25 nationally, and their adjusted defensive efficiency lands in the Top 50.

On offense, Iowa shares the ball and has been deadly from long range. The team has logged assists on nearly 68% of its buckets, and has knocked down almost 44% of its threes. The Hawkeyes have also taken advantage of their size against the smaller Hampton and North Dakota State lineups, snagging 36.4% of their offensive rebounding chances, a number that is in the top quarter of D-I teams.

The one struggle for Iowa offensively this season has been turnovers, as they’ve coughed it up on roughly one in five possessions. While some of this was due to the second team getting extended minutes in the two blowout wins, the core rotation also had problems with Hampton’s double teams in the season opener. In addition, Iowa’s focus on pushing the pace has also resulted in some rushed passes that cost them possessions.

On the other end of the court, Iowa has done a stellar job forcing teams into bad looks when they attack inside the arc. Hawkeye opponents have shot 29.6% from two-point range in the first two games, a stat that is made even more impressive when you learn that Iowa also hasn’t been sending opponents to the line. Iowa’s defensive free-throw rate, which measures how often opponents take free throws, is just 24.6, ranking them 41st out of 351 D-I teams.

Aaron White has started strong this season
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Meet the Hawkeyes

After enjoying a pair of games against undersized opponents, the Longhorns will now have to contend with an Iowa team that has an equally formidable frontcourt. Aaron White (No. 30), a 6’9″ senior who was third-team All-Big 10 last year, is the most impressive member of that frontcourt. He has an impeccable knack for getting to the boards, and seems to have a hand on the ball every time Iowa misses a shot. White also moves incredibly well without the basketball, and has great speed and handles for a big guy.

Joining White in the frontcourt is 7’1″ junior Adam Woodbury (No. 34). The big man had a very rough outing against Hampton, repeatedly having trouble against the Pirate double-teams, and even struggling in one-on-one face-up opportunities. He bounced back against North Dakota State, fully exploiting his size advantage while posting a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double. Although Woodbury’s offensive skills have been inconsistent on the young season, he is a stout defensive presence who stands his ground down low.

The third starting frontcourt member for Iowa is Jarrod Uthoff (No. 20), a stretch forward who much prefers camping out on the perimeter and waiting for a kickout from one of his slashing teammates. Uthoff has made 6-of-10 from behind the arc so far this season, while only taking six total shots from two-point range.

Although he didn’t start either of the first two games, forward Gabriel Olaseni (No. 0) has been the most impressive Hawkeye this season. Olaseni is always moving without the ball, and knows how to perfectly time his cuts to the rim so that a teammate can find him for an easy layup. The senior is one of those crafty forwards who is much more dangerous when slipping into space than simply posting up down low.

Olaseni is also a beast on the boards and uses his length to clean up numerous shots in help situations. Through two games, Olaseni has blocked 16% of the two-point shots made by opponents when he’s on the floor, a block rate that is 16th-best in the country. His 37.6% defensive rebounding rate has also earned him a Top 20 individual ranking in that category.

Iowa has a pair of talented guards in their starting five who can both run the point in Mike Gesell (No. 10) and Anthony Clemmons (No. 5). Gesell is a deceptively quick player, who knows how to use the hesitation dribble to make his speed bursts even more effective. He has an insane assist rate of 38.8% through two games, but hasn’t played enough minutes to qualify for the national leaderboard.

Clemmons, meanwhile, is a guard with quick hands that has also made a big impact behind the arc. Even though the junior doesn’t take many shots, he’s made 5-of-6 from three-point range this year, and also owns a steal rate that is in the Top 100 nationally.

Backing up Gesell and Clemmons is six-foot sophomore guard Trey Dickerson (No. 11), who transferred to Iowa after one year at the juco level. Although he still is a little raw for major minutes, Dickerson has incredible hops and has shown range to about 17 feet. His shooting percentage is just 36.3% through two games, but he’s been fortunate enough to log solid minutes in those lopsided affairs, giving him quite a bit of early experience.

Sophomore forward Peter Jok (No. 3) is another reserve option for Coach McCaffery, and could end up being one steal of a recruit. Jok was one of the top local talents as a freshman in Iowa, but knee surgery took him out of action and put him under the radar. The Hawkeyes had pursued him early, and they were still interested after his rehab.

In the first two games, you could certainly see flashes of Jok’s diverse offensive skillset, and his length and hustle were also on display when he raced back against Hampton to shut down a fast break opportunity with an impressive block. Although Jok isn’t a starter and seems to be fourth in the forward rotation right now, it certainly seems that he’ll be a force in the Big 10 before he graduates.

Rounding out the rotation are senior guard Josh Oglesby (No. 2) and German-born freshman forward Dom Uhl (No. 25). Coming off a season in which he made 40% from behind the arc, Oglesby has not been shy about chucking it up from behind the arc, but he has yet to find his stroke this season, having made just 23% of his shots. Uhl has yet to make a major impact as a freshman, but did knock down some threes against Hampton and looked really smooth spinning around the Pirate defender for a layup on one baseline drive. Like Jok, Uhl’s role will likely shrink in a crowded frontcourt as the season wears on, but he’s shown signs of things to come.

Keys to the Game

1. Lock down the perimeter – Iowa moves the ball extremely well, which leads to quite a few wide-open threes for players who are good shooters even when there is a hand in their face. That’s a recipe for disaster for opposing defenses, and one that Texas must avoid tonight to fend off an upset at the Garden. The Longhorn bigs did a good job chopping their feet and closing out quickly on perimeter shooters in their first two games, and they’ll need to do more of the same tonight.

2. Crash the glass – Texas and Iowa both posted solid rebounding numbers in games against teams that were much smaller than their own. With these sizable frontcourts now facing off against one another, a team that can post a significant edge on the glass may find that those extra possessions end up being the difference in tonight’s game.

3. Stay poised against pressure – Iowa isn’t a team that constantly throws pressure defense at you, but they do have a variety of looks that they use to keep opponents guessing. Those multiple looks do include some backcourt pressure and half-court traps, so the Longhorn guards have to be aware of that danger tonight. In a game that looks to be fairly tight on paper, the only thing worse than wasted possessions are wasted possessions that lead to fast-break buckets.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:39AM

#10/10 Texas Longhorns 85, Alcorn State Braves 53

For the second straight game, the Texas Longhorns dominated an over-matched opponent, throttling Alcorn State in the Regional Round of the 2K Sports Classic, 85-53. The Longhorns jumped out to a 15-0 lead to open the game, and didn’t allow the Braves to score their first field goal for more than 10 minutes. Texas comfortably cruised the entire way, enjoying their largest lead of 37 points with less than two minutes left in the game.

Since this should be one of the two worst teams Texas faces all season — the other being Rice — it’s important to not draw too many conclusions from such a one-sided affair. Undoubtedly, Texas fans will know much more about their team after games against Iowa and either Cal or Syracuse later this week. With those words advising cautious optimism still fresh in your mind, let’s take a look at eight notes and observations from last night’s win:

1. Texas controlled the half-court

It’s fair to say that the Longhorn half-court offense has been tough to watch at times over the last few seasons. As the team would endure lengthy scoring droughts, most possessions were long, drawn out affairs with little motion, and they typically resulted in a poor, challenged shot. Last night, those memories seemed miles away, as the Longhorns made good cuts without the ball and moved the ball quickly.

On the night, Texas finished with 24 assists on 32 baskets. The Horns constantly shifted the defense with good passing, and they played unselfish basketball, repeatedly passing up good looks to get teammates even better ones. This was exemplified in one play midway through the second half, when Prince Ibeh found himself double-teamed on the baseline. Jordan Barnett crashed to the rim from the opposite corner, and when Ibeh found him for an outlet, Barnett barely touched the ball before dumping it to Myles Turner in the lane for a dunk.

2. Improved three-point shooting continued

While good cuts and unselfish play are going to be key to finding holes against defenses that will likely sag off against Texas, good outside shooting will be just as important. With the Longhorns making only 32.7% of their threes last year and 30.1% the year before that, long-range shooting was a huge concern coming into the year. Without an outside threat, defenses can pack it in against a massive Texas frontcourt, forcing the guards to shoot over the top.

In the first game, Texas was actually below last season’s average, making just 32% of their attempts, although three of the team’s misses came while the four walk-ons were on the court. Most importantly, however, Isaiah Taylor and Demarcus Holland made 3-of-4 against North Dakota State. The two guards continued that success against Alcorn State, as did the rest of the Longhorns. Taylor and Holland again made 3-of-4, while Texas sank 12-of-25, with two of those misses coming from the walk-ons.

Fouling was the only way to slow down Jonathan Holmes
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

To further underscore the level of improvement we’re seeing, consider these two stats: Last year, Taylor and Holland combined to make just 28.4% of their threes, with the point guard making just five all season. Through two games, Taylor already has four makes, and the pair has nailed 75% of their attempts. While the long-range looks might not be as open in conference play as they were last night, it’s a very promising sign in an area that appeared to be a major concern heading into the year.

3. Jonathan Holmes still incredibly efficient

Against the Braves, Holmes needed just 21 minutes to post a nine-point, nine-rebound performance. He was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field, including two three-point makes, pushing his season totals to 8-of-9 from the field and 4-for-5 from behind the arc. In just 36 total minutes, he has logged 24 points and 15 boards, and his offensive rating is a sky-high 174.5, putting him in the Top 50 nationally.

4. Connor Lammert stretches the floor

Between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Lammert worked on his three-point stroke, which paid off in a 34% success rate last year. With the big man often used in the high post to set ball screens, he was a constant threat on the pick-and-pop. Through two games, his three-point shooting has continued to impress, as he’s knocked down 3-of-6 from behind the arc.

Last night, Lammert showed off another skill that we’ve only seen flashes of in previous years. The big man logged seven assists on the night, picking up six of them in just the first twelve minutes of action. With Lammert already spreading the floor thanks to his three-point threat, his quality passing will certainly help to pick apart defenses once they are stretched out.

5. Isaiah Taylor set the tone early

Alcorn State’s transition defense was clearly ripe a problem in their season-opening loss to Cal, and Taylor took full advantage of that from the opening tip on Sunday night. He charged at the Braves repeatedly in the opening minutes, leaving them on their heels and scrambling. Taylor scored four of the team’s first eight points with his aggressive play, and his ability to easily attack the gaps of the Alcorn State defense also helped him dish out five assists.

Isaiah Taylor scored 12 against Alcorn State
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

If the aforementioned improvement in Taylor’s three-point shooting continues as the competition improves, it will only serve to open up more driving lanes for the sophomore guard, and force defenses to choose between trying to stop him and trying to stop the Texas bigs.

6. Foul trouble didn’t slow down Turner

Although early fouls limited the freshman phenom to just five minutes in the first half, he made a big impact after the break. Turner scored 10 points on the night, eight of them coming in the second half, and added seven points and six blocks. It’s clear that Turner’s presence in the paint is going to give opposing offenses nightmares, so Myles just needs to ensure that he can provide stifling defense without picking up fouls that limit his minutes.

7. Lapses in focus were quickly rectified

One of the overlooked benefits of having such a deep bench is the ability to easily swap out players who aren’t playing smart basketball. It’s always tough to maintain focus and execute with a huge lead, something that showed up on the defensive end in Texas’ opening night win against North Dakota State, and cropped up again last night.

Rick Barnes didn’t like what he was seeing from his team at the start of the second half, and he utilized a line change almost immediately. Within the first thirty-five seconds of the second half, Barnes had subbed out four of his starters. The second unit turned up the defensive intensity, and with that renewed focus, the Longhorns were able to extend their lead throughout the second half. Barnes has always been a coach who will sub out a player to give him some extra coaching, but now he has the depth to help ensure his team stays focused.

8. Free-throw shooting regressed to the mean

The Longhorns surprised fans on Friday night by sinking over 85% of their free throws. Even Demarcus Holland and Ibeh combined to make 5-of-7 against NDSU, an absolute shock after they combined to shoot 53.6% from the line in their first two seasons.

Last night, the free-throw percentage plummeted back to normal, with those two players struggling at the line once again. The pair made 4-of-10 at the line, with Ibeh completely airballing on one of his attempts, and barely scraping iron on another.

Ibeh has earned solid minutes in these first two games, thanks to his defensive presence and his improved hands in the post. However, if he is still completely unreliable at the line, his effectiveness and minutes will be severely limited in close games.

Holland has the ability to quickly slash to the rim, something that will be even more dangerous if he continues to hit threes. Like Ibeh, if Holland can’t covert on his free-throw opportunities, there’s no reason for opponents to not foul him hard once he gets near the paint.

Up next: vs. Iowa at Madison Square Garden; Thursday, 6 P.M. CT (ESPN2)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:37PM

Alcorn State Braves (0-1) at #10/10 Texas Longhorns (1-0)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT
TV: ESPNU | Vegas: Texas -28.5

The Texas Longhorns return to action tonight, finishing out the Regional Round of the 2K Classic with a game against Alcorn State. As with all November tournaments, the Longhorns will “advance” to New York City on Thursday regardless of the result tonight, and will take on Iowa, followed by either Cal or Syracuse.

Even if the Longhorns needed a win tonight to reach Madison Square Garden, there would not be much cause for concern. The Braves have languished at the bottom of the SWAC for all three years of Luther Riley’s tenure, and based on their performance in Berkeley on Friday night, Alcorn State may be in for another long year.

Alcorn State repeatedly let Cal get to the rack
(Photo credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press)

By the numbers

With just one game on the books, the stats don’t look pretty for the Braves. Alcorn State fell behind by double-digits to Cal almost immediately, and ultimately lost by a 91-57 tally. Their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency numbers currently rank 323rd and 304th out of 351 Division I teams, according to number cruncher Ken Pomeroy.

On a more granular level, there still wasn’t much the Braves did right against the Bears. Their effective field goal percentage was just 34.2%, while they allowed Cal a 59.2% mark and were crushed on the defensive glass. About the only statistical positives for Alcorn State in the opener were the fact that they didn’t turn it over very often, and they didn’t send Cal to the line with much frequency. Of course, the matador defense played by Alcorn State had something to do with the latter, but we’re trying to stay positive here.

Meet the Braves

The lineup situation for Alcorn State is incredibly confusing at the moment, so I’m not even sure who will be on the bench for them tonight. Big man Octavious Brown didn’t make the trip to Berkeley, and his status for the game in Austin is unknown. Players also switched jersey numbers, resulting in an administrative technical at one point in the game, because an Alcorn State player was wearing a different number than what had been provided to the official scorer before the game.

The team’s best player is Leantwan Luckett (No. 1), who is listed as No. 15, but decided to wear No. 1 against the Bears. Who knows what he’ll be wearing tonight, but you’ll be able to quickly pick him out, since he’ll be the one chucking up shots early and often. Luckett took nearly a third of his team’s shots on Friday night, even though he was only on the floor for 30 minutes, and despite connecting on just 27.8% of his attempts.

Luckett is quick and can get to the rim, but as his field-goal percentage might have told you, he has quite a bit of trouble finishing. Since he had issues against a Cal team that really only has a pair of true post options, he will certainly have even more problems against the size of Texas.

That inability to finish once getting to the rack also plagued Marquis Vance (No. 30). The 6’7″ sophomore forward has the ability to face up and drive to the bucket, but doesn’t have much in the way of quickness or tight handles. Vance was also a sizable portion of the Alcorn State offense on Friday, taking 21% of their shots, while posting 17 points. He also easily led the team with nine rebounds on a night where few other Braves were able to earn second chances.

Tyrel Hunt (No. 0) is the team’s other dynamic scoring threat, but like Luckett, he also had some issues finishing against size. He did utilize a nice floater to score some buckets in the lane, so his midrange game might be the team’s best option against a big Texas team tonight.

Kenyan Pittman missed both of his attempts against Cal
(Photo credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press)

The starting five on Friday was rounded out with Tamarcio Wilson (No. 3) and Kenyan Pittman (No. 23), who combined for just four points in 57 minutes on the court. Key reserves for Alcorn State were Reginald Johnson, Jr. (No. 24), a freshman who was tabbed as Mr. Basketball in Louisiana last year, and George Thomas (No. 2), a 6’6″ junior who did not score in his limited action against Cal, but did snag four rebounds.

Keys to the game

Let us pretend for a moment that the only key to this game for Texas is not “just show up with five players in uniform.” Instead, let’s take a look at a few areas that Texas can exploit in the matchup with Alcorn State.

1) Run the floor in transition — Although Alcorn State didn’t turn the ball over very often, they did a terrible job early in the loss to Cal at stopping the ball in transition, leading to uncontested layups. The Braves also had very questionable shot selection, which set up the Bears nicely for numerous fast break points. The Longhorns have already shown their ability to add easy points on the break, and with big men that know how to run the floor in transition, they should easily take advantage of this weakness tonight.

2) Provide quick help on D — The Braves only logged assists on four of their 18 baskets, instead preferring to have one of their three stars isolate and try to get to the rim. Even when Cal offered help inside, the Braves were more content to force up a shot than look for an open teammate. If Texas is able to quickly help inside when they allow dribble penetration, they likely won’t fall victim to a timely assist, and should be able to force a ton of bad looks.

3) Attack with the bounce — When Cal didn’t manage to score on a fast break, they still found it easy to slice through the Alcorn State D with dribble penetration, and rotations by the Braves were horribly slow. Isaiah Taylor will likely have a field day against this defense, and should be able to pad his line with quite a few buckets and assists. We’ve heard a lot about Jordan Barnett‘s ability to finish with a nasty dunk, so perhaps he’ll even add a highlight or two on cuts from the wing.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:58PM

#10/10 Texas Longhorns 85, North Dakota State Bison 50

The most anticipated Texas basketball season in recent memory tipped off in impressive fashion Friday night, with the Longhorns cruising to an 85-50 victory. Despite the Frank Erwin Center currently sitting as an isolated island in a sea of construction, over 9,000 fans showed up, with the lower-level student section completely filled. While the media has been bullish on this Texas team ever since Myles Turner donned a Longhorn bucket hat at the end of April, it’s clear that for the first time in years, Austin is already on the Texas hoops bandwagon in November.

With one game now in the books, here are eight notes and observations from the 2014-15 tip off:

1. Taylor unfazed by early miscues

The Longhorns were led by Isaiah Taylor, who was pulled in favor of Javan Felix less than four minutes into the game, following a turnover. Taylor coughed it up again a few minutes later and finished the first half just 1-of-6 from the field.

Despite the slow start, Taylor exploded after the break, finishing with 18 points in 28 minutes. The point guard logged just two assists, but he did have multiple drives that opened up the lane for the Texas bigs and resulted in trips to the line. He also tightened up his ball control, not allowing a single turnover the rest of way.

North Dakota State gave Taylor a ton of cushion when guarding him, yet he still managed to slash to the rim and draw additional defenders. He also knocked down outside jumpers — including a pair of threes — to keep the Bison honest, something certainly worth noting after he made just 26.3% of his threes last year.

2. Everything they said was true

With everyone returning for Coach Rick Barnes — with the exception of dismissed guard Martez Walker — and big man Turner added to the lineup, it was clear that the Horns would have a very deep bench and a massive frontcourt. That was on display early in this one, with North Dakota State settling for long jumpers and finding it difficult to reach the paint in the first half, regardless of who the Longhorns had on the floor.

Texas used multiple defensive looks, including some 2-3 zone combinations that were borderline unfair. With Connor Lammert, Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh, Jonathan Holmes, and Turner all available to choose from on the Texas bench, easy looks inside were few and far between for NDSU, while most corner threes had to be hoisted over one of those giants as they quickly closed out on the Bison shooters.

3. Free-throw shooting was steady

The Longhorns made just over 67% of their attempts at the charity stripe last season, a troubling number that was part of a larger trend for the Horns. That mark was actually the second-highest free-throw percentage for Texas in the last five seasons, with only the 2012 team serving as an outlier with its 73.3% success rate.

Myles Turner impressed in his debut
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Last night, Texas sank 18 of 21 attempts (85.7%), although one miss by Prince Ibeh did come on the front end of a one-and-one. Even though it’s a very small sample size for a season with 30-plus games, it was reassuring to see multiple Longhorns confidently knock down their freebies.

4. Myles Turner made a quick splash

The heralded freshman instantly made an impact when he entered the contest just 3:55 into the game. Only 24 seconds later, he drilled a turnaround jumper, and scored in a variety of ways en route to a 15-point performance. One one first-half possession, he knocked down a face-up 17-footer when passing lanes were closed and the defense didn’t stay in his shirt. Later, Turner patiently backed his man down the baseline before popping a step-back jumper in front of the frozen defender. Myles played with a poise that often escapes freshmen, who sometimes try to play at 100 MPH in their early games.

On the defensive end, Turner’s length caused problems both inside the paint and out. He had no problem stepping out from the lane and forcing Bison players to retreat to the perimeter, using his length and good angles to severely limit their options. Down low, he altered numerous shots and officially recorded two blocks. Turner’s interior presence was a huge reason why NDSU managed to make just three shots inside the arc during the first half.

5. Holmes re-defined efficient

The lone senior on the roster has always been a phenomenal catch-and-shoot guy behind the arc, and he showed that early against the Bison. Holmes knocked down a pair of triples, plus sank all three of his attempts inside the arc, and was perfect on three free throws. He finished with 15 points in just 15 minutes, posting an insane 206.2 offensive rating on the night.

6. Lammert was unforgiving on the defensive glass

While the Texas defense was forcing miss after miss early in the game, Lammert was making sure that the Bison had no second chances. Lammert snagged five defensive boards in nine first-half minutes of action, and finished with seven on the night. With NDSU chucking up long-range shots, many of the caroms were long, but Lammert was on his toes and reacted quickly to every funny bounce.

Cameron Ridley slimmed down in the offseason
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

7. Ridley unveiled a new look

Big man Ridley didn’t just shed some hair in time for the season opener, as he clearly had shed some pounds, too. He looked lean and mean, and was able to react quickly on the back line of the Texas zone when NDSU worked it into the corner for a three. Ridley has always been good at running the floor in transition, but he also seemed to be even a bit faster on the break last night, which resulted in a highlight-reel dunk following a behind-the-back assist from Taylor.

While Ridley probably won’t be required to play a massive amount of minutes thanks to the Texas depth, it’s good to know that if foul trouble requires him to absorb more playing time, the big man looks like he has the conditioning to handle it.

8. The D used some vacation hours in the second half

With a lead in the 20 and 30-point range in the second half, it probably isn’t too surprising that the Texas defensive pressure was a little lacking. After the break, the Horns allowed more dribble penetration, and their rotations were often slow, resulting in close looks or trips to the line. The Bison found it much easier to get to the paint in the second half, and they were simply quicker with their ball movement, allowing them to exploit the Texas D for wide open threes.

On a team with a ton of players looking for time on the court and a coach who highly values defense, that may result in some changes to how the minutes are distributed on Sunday against Alcorn State. The Longhorns still only allowed .930 adjusted points per possession, according to Ken Pomeroy, but obviously had some breakdowns they can work on.

Next up: vs. Alcorn State; 7 P.M. CT, Sunday (ESPNU)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 6:26AM

Maybe the first day of the college basketball season isn’t exactly like a birthday for fans, but since the first two days of the NCAA tournament are like Christmas, you’ll just have to go with me on this one.

There won’t be a game preview for tonight’s season opener, as work has unfortunately pulled me away from Austin the last few days for meetings. My flight back actually doesn’t land until 35 minutes before tip tonight, so with no airline delays and help from the traffic gods, I may be in the building by the U12 or U8 of the first half. Speaking of which, a special thanks to the UT soccer team for earning an NCAA bid and necessitating the 30-minute delay to tonight’s tip-off.

Enjoy the game tonight, and we’ll see you here tomorrow for the post-mortem. Or, if you’re one of the LRT Twitter followers, we’ll see you for the usual in-game updates whenever I actually reach the Drum. Here’s to an exciting season!

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:18PM

NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship — Midwest Region — Third Round
[7] Texas Longhorns (24-10) vs. [2] Michigan Wolverines (26-8)
Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI | Tip: 4:15 CT | TV: CBS
Vegas: Michigan -4.5 | Pomeroy: Michigan, 73-69 (66%)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Big-name school loses its best players and has to rely on a group of sophomores and surprising freshman. Conference coach of the year honors are bestowed upon the man at the head of the bench. Hopes are high for the team to repeat their surprising run to the Final Four from the year before.

Up until that last point, Michigan and Texas have some similarities in their storylines this season. Fresh off an appearance in the national title game, the Wolverines were expecting to lean on big man Mitch McGary (No. 4) following the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. to the NBA. Back problems cropped up for McGary during the summer, however, and the player who burst on to the national scene in last year’s NCAA tournament was limited to just eight games this year before having to shut it down.

That injury put the Wolverines at a disadvantage in the paint in a rough-and-tumble Big 10 Conference and raised some serious questions for a team that was just 8-4 in non-conference, had suffered a questionable loss to Charlotte, and whiffed on three opportunities for marquee wins. No matter, as John Beilein simply guided his team through the landmines of an unpredictable Big 10 season to a conference title that they won by a three-game margin.

John Beilein has Michigan poised for another March run
(Photo credit: Al Goldis/Associated Press)

Although Michigan seemed to be in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, a loss in the Big 10 tournament championship to rival Michigan State may have been what kept the blue and maize on the 2-seed line. Thanks to the NCAA’s pod system, the Wolverines still get to play their first two games fairly close to home, in Milwaukee. However, if Friday night’s crowd was any indication, the sea of Badger red at the Bradley Center could make this feel a little more like a road game for Michigan.

By the Numbers

The Wolverines have the third-best offense in the country in terms of adjusted efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s magic machines, scoring 1.214 adjusted points per possession. Michigan is incredibly patient with the basketball, works for open looks, and generally doesn’t miss once they find them. They average just 62.7 possessions per game, making them the 23rd-slowest team out of 351 D-I squads.

What is most impressive is that Michigan finds this level of offensive success without many second chances. The Wolverines reclaim just 28.8% of their missed shots, an offensive rebounding rate that puts them in D-I’s Bottom 100 in that category. To be able to score that efficiently without offensive boards takes a combination of great ball control and excellent shooting. Michigan coughs it up on only 14.9% of their possessions, which ranks 18th nationally.

As for the shooting, the Wolverines are absolutely deadly. Beyond the arc, Michigan makes 39.4% of its shots, which ranks 13th in the country. They take 40% of their shots from long range, which isn’t that surprising for a team that shoots the long ball so well. But even when Michigan isn’t torching the nets from three-point range, they work for great looks inside and convert them. On the season, they have made 53% of their two-point field goals, a stat is once again near the top of the national charts, ranking 20th.

While the Texas defense will have its hands full trying to slow down the Michigan attack, the Horns should be able to find a little more success on the other side of the ball. The Wolverines are allowing an adjusted 1.009 points per possession, a number that is up significantly from the stats that Beilein’s teams usually put up. The Wolverines have had lapses where they allow dribble penetration, they are typically exploited inside by bigger teams, and they have also had some issues getting set to stop the secondary break.

For the second-straight game, the Longhorns are facing a team that does not force too many turnovers, something that comes as a relief for a young backcourt that sometimes struggles with ball control. The Wolverines only force opponents into possession-ending mistakes 17.2% of the time, so Texas will likely not see much in the way of pressure this afternoon. As a result, the Longhorns should only have to avoid frustrating unforced errors that would make it tough to keep up with Michigan’s highly-efficient offense.

Meet the Wolverines

Derrick Walton, Jr. is a dynamic point guard
(Photo credit: AJ Mast/Associated Press)

It isn’t easy for a freshman point guard to follow in the footsteps of a consensus All-American, National Player of the Year, and Cousy Award winner. Is 6’1″ Derrick Walton, Jr. (No. 10) Trey Burke? Of course not. But the freshman guard has performed admirably while having to fill the shoes of a legend, posting an assist rate north of 20% while also drilling more than 40% of his threes.

Walton has an incredibly quick first step to beat tight defenses, and he couples that burst with a hesitation dribble that keeps defenders guessing. He also showed an incredible amount of hustle and scrappiness in a road win against Ohio State — the program’s first in its last ten tries — where he posted 10 rebounds despite being the smallest player on the court.

Although it’s Walton that runs the show, it’s 6’6″ Canadian product Nik Stauskas (No. 11) that gets the ink. He has made 45.1% of his three-pointers on the year, a number that’s even more impressive when you see just how closely Big 10 opponents guarded him throughout the season. Stauskas also improved his slashing ability this season, and he repeatedly puts the ball on the deck to punish opponents who overplay him on the perimeter.

Stauskas needs very little time or space to get his shot off, so defenses really have to completely deny him the ball to have any chance of stopping him. Even with a defender in his face, Stauskas often uses a quick crossover to earn just a sliver of space, which is all he needs to rise up and can a triple.

While guarding Stauskas will be enough of a chore for the Longhorns today, they also have to deal with another 6’6″ shooter in freshman Caris LeVert (No. 23). Like Stauskas, LeVert can elevate quickly and get his three-pointers up over the defense, but he also has driving ability to exploit tight defenses. His height and athleticism make him a very tough cover on the wing, and he can get to the rim in an instant with his long strides.

With Stauskas and LeVert bringing so much length to the perimeter, the Texas guards are going to find it difficult to simply face up and drive the gaps this afternoon. If the Longhorns are patient, they will find cracks in Michigan’s defense, but they have been frustrated this season by teams with similar length and have not exercised the patience necessary to find good looks. If Texas falls into that same trap this afternoon, it will be very difficult to pull off an upset.

Glenn Robinson III (No. 1) is yet another athletic 6’6″ player for the Wolverines, and he will be involved in a pair of interesting mismatches this afternoon. On defense, he will clearly be undersized against the likes of Jonathan Holmes or Connor Lammert. Although Michigan could play a zone to offset the size difference, they have typically stuck with the man defense this year, even against bigger teams like Michigan State. On the other end of the court, Robinson’s athleticism and ability to slash will be tough for those same two Longhorns to stay in front of, and a zone would likely be a death sentence against the outside shooting of Michigan.

Inside, 6’8″ senior Jordan Morgan (No. 52) will have his hands full against Cameron Ridley this afternoon. Morgan has performed admirably this season, having to step into a much different role than he had envisioned prior to McGary’s injury. On a team that does not clean the offensive glass, Morgan’s 12.6% offensive rebounding rate is incredibly impressive. The 19.5% mark he posts on the defensive end is also a big part of the team’s success on that side of the boards, where they are surprisingly ranked 54th in the country.

Backing up Morgan down low is Jon Horford (No. 15), a 6’10” big who will be very important against the Texas frontcourt this afternoon. In last Sunday’s Big 10 title game, Michigan State’s Adreian Payne quickly tagged Horford with two fouls and Morgan with one in a single possession, putting Horford on the bench just 96 seconds into the game. That forced little-used Max Bielfeldt (No. 44) into action early, a fate that Michigan sorely wants to avoid this afternoon.

In the backcourt, Michigan relies on Zak Irvin (No. 21) and Spike Albrecht (No. 2) off the bench. Irvin is another 6’6″ guy with a deadly outside stroke, but unlike the other Michigan marksmen, he doesn’t like to put the ball on the floor and try to attack with the bounce. Irvin has taken 74.6% of his shots from beyond the arc, and averages roughly four three-point attempts per game, despite seeing the court for just 15.8 minutes per game.

While Albrecht is best known for his three-point barrage against Louisville in last year’s title game (and day-after tweet to Kate Upton), he is truly a facilitator. He has seen some important minutes in crunch time this year, giving the Wolverines a steady ballhandler who creates looks for his teammates. Yes, Albrecht still shoots 39% from long range and can’t be given space, but it’s his 25% assist rate that has made him even more dangerous this season.

Keys to the Game

1) Dominate the paint – It’s going to be a battle of styles this afternoon, and whichever team does a better job imposing its will on the other will likely be advancing to Indianapolis. Michigan will obviously try to take away the paint for Texas, whether that is by using a sagging man defense or just going zone and daring a poor-shooting Longhorn team to beat them with jumpers. The Longhorns have to play their style of basketball and be persistent in getting points in the paint. If they fail to do that and just hope to win with another crazy shooting performance like they had on Friday night, the upset odds look very long.

Nik Stauskas is a three-point marksman
(Photo credit: Al Goldis/Associated Press)

2) Limit perimeter damage – With so many great shooters on the perimeter for Michigan, the Longhorns are going to have a very tough time shutting down the three-point threat. Add in the significant size advantage that Michigan enjoys at the two and the three, and the defensive assignment is even tougher for the Horns. Demarcus Holland will have to use his length to try to stifle Stauskas, and needs to play him high to not only deny the ball, but also funnel him baseline to the waiting shot blockers if he tries to go backdoor.

To guard LeVert, the Longhorns might need to call on Martez Walker for big minutes once again. The freshman has seen an increased role in the last three weeks, and his ability to limit dribble penetration and use his length to challenge outside shots are a big reason for that extra playing time. Although Javan Felix is a sophomore leader on this team, his size is a defensive liability against Michigan, so fans have to hope Walker can step up and help to limit the damage.

3) Dictate the tempo – Michigan’s lethargic pace is a direct result of their patience on offense, plus the fact that opponents usually have to exercise the same patience and move the ball quickly to find the cracks in Michigan’s defense. If the Longhorns can get out and run, they will find that the Wolverine defense is not only questionable in transition, but they also often fail to recover quickly enough to stop the secondary break.

An up-tempo game has also proven to throw Michigan’s offense out of sync, as seen in their early-season loss to Iowa State. The Cyclones and Wolverines played 74 possessions in that game, and Michigan shot just 8-of-29 from long range. While the Wolverines missed some shots they usually doesn’t, they also took quite a few early threes, rather than getting the great looks that their methodical offense typically earns. If Texas can force Michigan into speeding things up a little this afternoon, the Horns have a much better chance to finally return to the Sweet Sixteen.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:31PM

[7] Texas Longhorns (23-10) vs. [10] Arizona State Sun Devils (21-11)
Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI | Tip: Approx. 8:40 P.M. CT | TV: CBS
Vegas: Texas -1.5 | Pomeroy: Texas, 72-71 (53%)

After fourteen consecutive years in the NCAA tournament, the Texas Longhorns stumbled through a disastrous 2012-13 campaign last season, ultimately flaming out in the first round of the CBI, Division I basketball’s third-tier postseason tournament. Predictions for this year’s team weren’t much better, with the Longhorns projected by the Big 12’s coaches to finish eighth out of ten teams. The media consensus was that head coach Rick Barnes was simply playing out the string, destined to have another mediocre or terrible season and earn his walking papers.

Instead, a team made up of unheralded freshmen, sophomores who were formerly role players, and one quiet, junior leader have brought the Longhorns back to their familiar March home. Thanks to an early seven-game winning streak in the nation’s toughest conference, Texas didn’t even have to sweat the NCAA tournament bubble to earn their bid to this year’s tournament.

Of course, overachieving also brings higher expectations. Now that the Longhorns are back in the tournament, the program’s recent NCAA history is once again part of the discussion. Since a 2008 run to the Elite Eight, the Longhorns have posted only a 2-4 mark in four trips to the Big Dance, and have failed to advance to the tournament’s second weekend. Although the Longhorn fanbase has been pleasantly surprised by this year’s team, another one-and-done visit to the NCAAs would be considered a failure.

Herb Sendek is concerned by his team’s recent slide
(Photo credit: Rick Scuteri/Associated Press)

By the numbers

To avoid that fate, Texas will have to get through a stingy Arizona State team that plays stout defense and shoots the ball well from outside. Like the Longhorns, the Sun Devils have stumbled through the final few weeks of the season, and they are entering the NCAAs on a slide. ASU has lost their last three games and five of their last seven, a skid that came as a surprise on the heels of their exciting, double-overtime win against rival Arizona on Valentine’s Day.

On the defensive end, the Sun Devils allow just 0.963 adjusted points per possession, the 33rd-best mark in Division I hoops. Arizona State does a good job limiting dribble penetration by playing tight on the perimeter, helping off the ball to clog driving lanes, and hedging hard on ball screens and recovering quickly. Inside, the presence of 7-foot, 2-inch shot-blocker extraordinaire Jordan Bachynski (No. 13) helps to clean up any drives that do happen to reach the paint. As a result, opponents take just 27.5% of their shots from long range and face a dilmena once they are inside the arc — take the higher-risk, low-reward midrange jumper, or force up a challenged look inside against a set defense with a gargantuan rim protector?

On the other end of the court, the Sun Devils take more than enough threes to make up for the ones their opponents don’t take. ASU fires up 37.5% of their looks from behind the arc, and with a success rate of 38.6%, who can blame them? That makes them the 31st-most accurate three-point shooting team in NCAA Division I, and it keeps them in games despite not having an interior presence on the offensive end.

Two ASU statistics that bode well for the Longhorns are their defensive turnover rate and their offensive rebounding numbers. During Texas’ late-season struggles, a spike in turnover rate helped to fuel blowouts at Kansas and Kansas State, and it put them in an early hole in a road loss to Iowa State. With the Sun Devils only forcing turnovers on 17.1% of opponents’ possessions, the Longhorns can hopefully avoid turnover woes tonight.

Arizona State also only reclaims 24.2% of their missed shots, ranking them ahead of only 12 out of the 351 teams in Division I. In their loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament, the Sun Devils won back just 6.5% of their missed shots! Against a Texas team that already posts excellent rebounding numbers on both ends of the court, those offensive rebounding struggles mean that the Sun Devils will have to make their threes if they want to advance to Saturday’s Round of 32.

Jahii Carson always finds his way to the rim
(Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

Meet the Sun Devils

Arizona State’s most well-known player is also its smallest, 5’10” point guard Jahii Carson (No. 1). A shifty sophomore who can slither through defenses with ease, Carson has already announced that he will be going pro following the season, setting the table for him to pump up his draft stock with a quality tournament run.

Although Carson is fearless in attacking the rim and seems to do it on every possession, he is still incredibly accurate when he pops a three-pointer, making more than 39% of his looks. His aggressive penetration is also key in setting up teammates, with 29.1% of his teammate’s baskets when he’s on the court come as a result of his passes.

Joining Carson in the backcourt is sharpshooter Jermaine Marshall (No. 34), a Penn State transfer who has made 40% of his threes on the year and averages more than 2.5 makes per game. Although Marshall is known for a quick release and deadly long-range accuracy, he can also take advantage of defenses that get up in his shirt by slashing to the rim.

To say that Carson and Marshall fuel the Arizona State offense would be a considerable understatment. The pair has combined to play 80.6% of the team’s available minutes, with Carson taking 30.3% of the shots when he’s on the floor, and Marshall taking 26% of the shots when he’s on the court. Although there are other Sun Devils who can score against Texas tonight, a game plan that closely shadows Marshall and keeps Carson in front of the D would make things very, very difficult on ASU.

On the wing, 6’5″ juco transfer Shaquielle McKissic (No. 40) is another driving threat, although he lacks the burst of Carson or the three-point threat of Marshall to keep defenses off-balance. Instead, McKissic has a craftier game, using good angles and spin moves to work his way towards the paint, while his great defensive instincts lead to quite a few easy, fast-break looks, as well.

The fourth spot in the starting five has belonged to Eric Jacobsen (No. 3) for the final few weeks of the season, but his scant contributions in recent games have opened the door for Jonathan Gilling (No. 31) to reclaim his starting role. Jacobsen provides the team some size at 6’10”, but he is incredibly foul-prone and frequently turns the ball over. Against the Longhorns, Jacobsen might have to play extended minutes to match up against Jonathan Holmes, but after averaging just five minutes in the team’s last three games, it’s hard to see him making much of a contribution.

The 6’7″ Gilling worked out with the starting group in yesterday’s open practice, and he gives the Sun Devils an offensive option that Jacobsen just cannot provide. Gilling is almost exlusively a long-range threat, having drilled 42.5% of his threes on the year. Three-point attempts make up 79% of his shots, and he needs very little time or space to one up, so Texas must stick to him like glue. If the Longhorns can keep him from getting daylight, Gilling’s inability to put the ball on the floor and make midrange jumpers would make him a non-factor.

Jordan Bachysnki frustrates opponents with his interior defense
(Photo credit: Matt York/Associated Press)

In the middle, Bachynski is a defensive presence that has frustrated opponents all season long. The Canadian product set the Pac-12’s all-time blocks record with seven games still left in his senior year, and he has posted the nation’s ninth-best block rate this year, swatting 12.7% of opponents’ two-point shots when he’s on the court. On the other end of the floor, Bachynski has a good hook shot over both shoulders when he’s isolated on the block, and he’s a monster target cutting to the rim on pick-and-rolls after the team’s frequent high ball screens.

Off the bench, Bo Barnes (No. 4) is a three-point gunner who forced his way into the rotation when Marshall was struggling through a groin injury earlier this year. A local kid who started his college career at Hawaii, Barnes has made more than 40% of his threes this season and averaged more than 28 minutes in the team’s last three games.

With a core rotation of seven players, depth is a major concern for Arizona State tonight. The Sun Devils also squeeze about 14 minutes per game out of 6’5″ Russian freshman Egor Koulechev (No. 15), but he has played just a total of seven minutes in the team’s last five contests. If foul trouble becomes a factor in this game, Coach Herb Sendek won’t find many options as he looks down the bench.

Keys to the game

1) Attack inside – The Arizona State defense does a great job contracting and cutting off passing and driving lanes, so this is much easier said than done. However, if the Longhorns can pound the ball down low, they can not only attempt to exploit their size advantage, but also put Arizona State’s game-changer in foul trouble. If Bachynski is sidelined due to foul concerns, that Texas size advantage becomes even greater and interior points should be even more plentiful.

2) Push the pace – One glaring weakness in the Arizona State defense this season has been an inability to stop transition and the secondary break. UCLA and Utah are just two Pac-12 teams who exposed that deficiency this season, and Texas must aim to do the same thing tonight. The Longhorns need to look up after missed Sun Devil shots and quickly get as many people down the floor as they can. The Sun Devils don’t often turn the ball over, so Longhorn transition opportunities will have to come off of defensive rebounds.

3) Stick with the shooters – Texas’ interior defense and Arizona State’s preference for the long ball mean that the Longhorns don’t need to worry about giving up too many points in the paint. However, the Sun Devils can easily light it up from long range, and NCAA tournament history has shown that a key ingredient in a Round of 64 upset is hot three-point shooting. The Longhorns cannot afford to lose track of Marshall, Gilling, or Barnes, and they also have to keep up with Carson when he doesn’t have the ball. If Texas can keep Arizona State close to or below their season average behind the arc, the Horns should be able to advance to the next round.

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