Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. | TV: Longhorn Network
Vegas: Texas -18 | Pomeroy: Texas, 77-60 (94%)
It won’t be Senior Night, but the Texas Longhorns will play their final home game of the year when they host TCU tonight. In a season where the Horns were expected to finish at the bottom of the standings and maybe flirt with the NCAA bubble, they are instead safely in the field with a week left in the regular season and are only playing for seeding at this point.
In addition to that NCAA tournament seeding, the Horns are also still locked in a fierce battle for seeding at the Big 12 Championship tournament in Kansas City. Heading into tonight’s action, Texas is tied with Oklahoma for second, although the Sooners own the tiebreaker by virtue of a season sweep of the Longhorns. A half-game behind the Red River rivals are Iowa State and Kansas State, two teams who have home games scheduled on Saturday in arenas where they hardly ever lose.
TCU, meanwhile, is fast approaching history with their winless conference mark. At 0-16, the Horned Frogs are two losses away from a perfectly futile Big 12 campaign, and just three wins away from tying Texas A&M’s record 20-game Big 12 losing streak. With stretch forward Amric Fields (No. 4) out for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury, the Horned Frogs now have just one player taller than 6’6″ on their roster.
The first time around, the Longhorns had a very tough time with TCU in Fort Worth, just days after taking care of Kansas in Austin. Early turnovers and horrid shooting made Texas fight for the win until the final seconds, as the Longhorns had to rely on a ridiculous 59.5% offensive rebounding mark to squeak out a narrow, 59-54 victory.
There are far too many tiebreaker permutations to compute before tonight’s action, but with wins in their final two games, the Longhorns would be guaranteed no worse than the No. 3 seed in Kansas City. There is still a doomsday scenario on the table where five teams could tie for second at 10-8, but my computer started smoking and shooting out sparks when I tried figuring out how those tiebreakers would shake out. So, for the sake of my laptop, let’s just hope Texas wins tonight’s contest.
Keys to the game
1) Hang on to the ball – Turnovers are what kept things close in Fort Worth, and they are what kept TCU within striking distance until late in the second half of games at Oklahoma and against Iowa State. With TCU taking the air out of the ball and limiting the number of possessions, even a moderate turnover rate can make things dicey against the Horned Frogs.
2) Dominate the paint – The Horned Frogs have a promising young center in Karviar Shepherd (No. 1), but he is their only post option and he is not yet a dominant one. Shepherd and TCU often give up far too easily when trying to establish an inside game, meaning that their only big man will often drift out and play a midrange game. Although he has a nice midrange jumper in his arsenal, the Horned Frogs cannot afford to have Shepherd anywhere but the painted area.
If the Longhorns play their typical style of tough, physical D, they can likely own the lane and force Shepherd off the blocks. In addition to making it tougher on TCU to score, that will also serve to increase Texas’ advantage on the boards. While it’s hard to imagine that Texas could top the 59.5% offensive rebounding mark and 79.5% defensive rebounding rate from the first meeting between these two teams, another strong performance on the glass would cripple TCU’s upset hopes.
3) Take away penetration – With Fields out of the game, the TCU offense is now almost entirely reliant upon the ability of point guard Kyan Anderson (No. 5) to generate points. He is great at varying his speeds and taking good angles to get to the rim, and he knows how to get his shots up through taller defenders, despite being listed at a very generous 5’11”.
Although he is also a good three-point shooter, Texas should be most concerned with taking away Anderson’s driving ability. None of the other Horned Frogs are very good at creating their own looks, so if Anderson can’t open things up with his dribble penetration, he’ll have to single-handedly beat Texas from beyond the arc.