Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO | Tip: Approx. 8:30 P.M. CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN Full Court #3 | Internet: ESPN3.com
LRT Consecutive Game #218
The Longhorns are up against the proverbial wall as they open Big 12 tournament play tonight. Texas is squarely on the bubble in nearly every bracket projection you can find, so a loss to Iowa State in tonight’s game will almost certainly end any hopes of an NCAA bid. A victory would give Texas four wins against the RPI Top 50, a key metric used by the Selection Committee, and would likely earn them a shot at another quality win against Missouri in the semifinals tomorrow.
The Cyclones and Longhorns split their pair of meetings this season, with each team defending home court. Now that the two teams are squaring off on a neutral floor, it’s apparent just how evenly matched they are. Ken Pomeroy gives Texas a 51% chance to come up with the big win tonight, predicting just a one-point margin of victory.
Meet the Cyclones
For a full look at the Iowa State roster and the team’s style of play, check out LRT’s preview from the first game between these two teams.
The Wangmene effect
The biggest difference in tonight’s third round of ISU/Texas is the sudden absence of big man Alexis Wangmene. While he only averaged 15 minutes in the two games against Iowa State this year, Wangmene’s wrist injury means that the Longhorns now have an even thinner frontcourt rotation, and even less size.
For the Longhorns, that means Rick Barnes will have to get creative with the lineup. The easiest solution would seem to be going with a smaller starting five and leaving Clint Chapman as the sole post presence. This would also get Sheldon McClellan into the starting lineup without having to take out Julien Lewis. McClellan brings extra offense to the table and can really get the offense moving when he’s aggressive. Lewis, meanwhile, provides quality defense on the perimeter and is usually good for a few “take and makes” each game.
The alternative would be to slide Jonathan Holmes right into Wangmene’s spot and keep size on the frontline. The danger in this approach is that Chapman has a tendency to get in foul trouble, and the only other frontcourt player left is undersized Jaylen Bond. Iowa State also makes this approach difficult, because the typical strategy to protect your bigs from foul trouble is a zone defense. The Cyclones are absolutely deadly from long range, so Texas would be taking a monumental risk by using a zone.
Fortunately, a four-out, one-in look matches up very well with Iowa State. It brings more athleticism and quickness to the court, which is key in trying to keep the quick Cyclone players from penetrating with the bounce. In addition, Chapman has actually been very successful against Iowa State this season, as the Longhorns made a concerted effort to get him touches right away in both games. As long as the big man can avoid foul trouble, the Longhorns might be able to survive against Iowa State without Wangmene.
Keys to the game
1) Keep Chapman on the floor- With that being said, it’s fairly obvious that the biggest concern for Texas is keeping Chapman on the court. Royce White was saddled with early foul trouble when the teams played in Ames, but posted a monster 15/15 double-double when he played 35 minutes in Austin. Chapman will be key to stopping the Iowa State superstar, and will also be needed to score easy points inside against an undersized Cyclone squad.
2) Limit the damage from deep- If you want to quickly find the biggest difference between the two Iowa State/Texas games, look no further than the three-point percentages. Iowa State was 10-of-21 in their win over Texas — including a ridiculous 9-of-12 in the first half — and just 5-of-21 in their loss. The Cyclone roster is filled with players who are deadly from long range, so the Longhorns must be vigilant on the perimeter and make sure those long looks are challenged.
3) Stop White in transition- On multiple occasions in both games, Royce White simply brought the ball all the way up the court and was halfway down the lane before a Texas defender challenged him. The Longhorns must stop the ball and cannot allow the big man to score his points so easily. In addition to giving Iowa State easy looks, that poor defense also led to unnecessary fouls when the defense reacted so late. With an even thinner frontcourt this time around, Texas simply cannot afford to let White drive the lane with impunity.
4) Be aggressive with the ball- As Texas fans know all too well, the Longhorn offense has a terrible tendency to go stagnant. When opponents double through ball screens, the Longhorn guards typically retreat instead of attacking. When defenders fight through staggered baseline screens set for the Texas shooters, the guards usually just dribble the air out of the ball at the top of the key.
The Longhorns have athletic guys who can put the ball on the floor and create looks, so they need to use those skills tonight. McClellan, Lewis, J’Covan Brown, and Myck Kabongo must attack with the dribble and get things moving. Iowa State’s defense has proven to be susceptible to dribble penetration, so Texas has to exploit that.