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 12:24PM

Ed Davis notched a double-double on opening night
(Photo credit: Gerry Broome/Associated Press)

Welcome to the first in our daily series recapping the previous night’s action around the country. As the season rolls on, this morning scoreboard check will include unranked Big 12 teams, as well. And as a catch-all disclaimer, it should be noted that on some mornings, sleep just seems more valuable than the scoreboard rundown.

#4 North Carolina 88, Florida International 72 – After all of the off-season controversy surrounding the alleged mix-up in scheduling this game, it appears that perhaps Isiah Thomas didn’t have that much to worry about. Thanks to a ridiculous 26 Tar Heel turnovers, the Golden Panthers were able to keep the game respectable for much of the night, never falling behind by more than 26 points.

For Carolina, the bright spot of the night was the defense. The Heels blocked eight shots and held the Panthers to 30% shooting in the first half. Ed Davis led the block party for Carolina, swatting away four shots to go with his double-double performance of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Deon Thompson led all scorers with twenty.

#12 California 75, Murray State 70 – The final score indicates a much closer game than what actually transpired out west, but it also makes way for concerns about the Bears’ killer instinct. Mike Montgomery’s squad built a lead as big as 18 points in the second half of this one, but the hot-shooting Racers hit 53% of their shots in the second stanza and refused to give up.

The backcourt combination of Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher provided 31 points for the Bears, including Randle’s 10-of-11 shooting from the charity stripe. Cal lost the battle on the glass by a 30-29 count, and had a meager 1.25 assist-to-TO ratio.

#17 Ohio State 100, Alcorn State 60 – The least competitive game of the night also gave us the least information about a Top 25 team. With the Buckeyes cruising the whole way, Thad Matta was able to go deep on his bench, dishing out at least thirteen minutes to ten different Buckeyes.

Jon Diebler hit 6-of-9 treys in a 22-point performance, but the standout star of the night was Evan Turner. The junior from Chicago held down point guard duties and logged a triple-double with fourteen points, ten assists, and 17 rebounds.

If the dominating win wasn’t enough to get Buckeyes excited about the new season, big man Dallas Lauderdale is expected back for Thursday’s game against James Madison.

#25 Syracuse 75, Alabany 43 – It didn’t take long for Jim Boheim to get over the 800-win hump, reaching that milestone in the first game of the 2009-10 season. The Orange bounced back quickly from their embarrassing exhibition loss to Le Moyne, decimating the Danes with suffocating defense. Syracuse forced 32 turnovers, including 21 steals, and held their opponents to just 27% shooting from the floor. Former Iowa State Cyclone Wes Johnson had six of the Syracuse steals and added twelve points and eight rebounds.

Guard Andy Rautins had to leave the game with just over fourteen minutes left. After jumping to pass to big man Arinze Onuaku, he landed on an opponent’s foot and twisted his ankle. Rautins wore a walking boot the rest of the evening, and his status is still in doubt for Wednesday’s game against Robert Morris.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:45PM

The college basketball season is now just fifteen minutes away. Here are your TV listings for the night:

Florida International at #4 North Carolina – 6 P.M. CST, ESPNU
The biggest story of the night will undoubtedly be the regular-season coaching debut of Isiah Thomas, although the new may have already started wearing off following a loss to the NAIA’s Northwood in an exhibition on Wednesday night. For the defending-champion Tar Heels, the key storyline in early November will be how the team moves forward following the loss of Tyler Hansborough, Wayne Ellington, and Ty Lawson. The return of Marcus Ginyard following last year’s foot injury will definitely provide senior leadership, something the Heels will likely need for their quintet of ESPN Top 100 recruits.

Alcorn State at #17 Ohio State – 6 P.M. CST, Big Ten Network
This is a guaranteed yawner from the opening rounds of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, but fans will get their first look at how the Buckeyes have matured following an offseason where nearly the entire team returned. The only key piece missing from last year’s squad is big man B.J. Mullens, who left for the NBA after just one season. Dallas Lauderdale will be expected to fill the void this year, although he will likely be missing this early season matchup as he recovers from a broken finger he suffered in preseason practices.

Albany at #25 Syracuse – 8 P.M. CST, ESPNU
Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson lit up the scoreboard in Syracuse’s exhibition on Tuesday night, dropping in 17 second-half points en route to a 22-point performance. Unfortunately for the Orange, it came in an embarrassing loss to D-II school Le Moyne. To be fair, Syracuse was experimenting with man-to-man for much of the game, a drastic departure from Jim Boheim’s famously stingy zone D. But the result certainly raises eyebrows in a season where pundits are wondering if this young Syracuse team can handle the rigors of the Big East conference. A convincing win over the visiting Danes would help to wash away some of the bad taste that is already tainting this season.

Murray State at #12 California – 10 P.M. CST, ESPNU
In what is likely going to be a down year for the Pac-10 Conference, hopes are high for the talented and experienced Golden Bears. Cal returns four starters from last year’s team, including a pair of senior guards in Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle. It’s a well-proven axiom that solid backcourt play leads to quality results in March, so many expect the Bears to be dancing into the second weekend. If you can’t stay up to watch this one, be sure to set the DVR and get your first look at the Best Team Nobody Knows.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:00AM

The domino rally is underway in the coaching ranks, with Indiana’s huge vacancy being filled yesterday afternoon. But the hiring of Tom Crean in Bloomington means there’s another position open at Marquette, while the resignation of prolific perspirer Sean Sutton means it’s time for another job posting in Stillwater.

Head spinning with all of the coaching changes? Never fear, as LRT is here to keep track of everything for you.

Oklahoma State
Within hours of Sutton’s resignation, both Bill Self of Kansas and Billy Gillispie of Kentucky stated that they had no interest in coaching the Cowboys. Both men’s names had been floated for a few months in online rumors involving the very deep pockets of OSU booster T. Boone Pickens. At this point, brother Scott Sutton would be a reasonable choice to continue the family line, but many feel that Pickens is looking for a big splash with the next hire. Could Kevin O’Neill be in the mix considering that he will not be returning to the Arizona staff?

One place that Kevin O’Neill has interviewed is Rice University in Houston. While the Owls are certainly not a high profile gig, C-USA is a huge league with a very short list of quality teams. With the right hire, the Owls could quickly make some noise. Athletic Director Chris Del Conte worked in the Arizona athletic department and is apparently keen on the head AD position with the Wildcats in the near future, according to the Houston Chronicle‘s Moisekapenda Bower. This could mean that hiring O’Neill would earn Del Conte some points with the former employers, which might put Olson’s ex-assistant ahead of Belmont’s Rick Byrd and assistants Rodney Terry (Texas) and Mark Montgomery (Michigan State).

Louisiana State
While LSU has had more than an extra month to prepare for their coaching search, the Tigers played things close to the vest through the end of the season. But even with the lack of info coming from official sources, the media seems to be keyed in on three top candidates. Butch Pierre finished the season as interim coach and has expressed interest in the job, although former LSU player Johnny Jones has found a ton of success at North Texas and would love to work in Baton Rouge. Early press reports focused on VCU head man Anthony Grant, but he lacks the ties to the program that Pierre and Jones sport.

Oregon State
There’s nowhere to go but up for Jay John’s successor, thanks to an abysmal 6-26 season including the first 0-17 conference record in Pac-10 history. Interim coach Kevin Mouton was responsible for the last 11 of those losses and is reportedly not a candidate for the job. The Beaver brass seems to be focusing on WCC coaches at the moment, interviewing San Diego’s Bill Grier and expressing interest in St. Mary’s head man Randy Bennett.

The other vacancy in the Pac-10 is at Cal’s Berkeley campus, where sights seem to be set quite high…perhaps a little too high. The Bears reportedly want Pitt’s Jamie Dixon and Washington State’s Tony Bennett, although Dixon has spurned those advances. The San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury-News are offering differing takes on Bennett’s interest in the job, but both agree that Nuggets assistant Mike Dunlap is also a top candidate.

With Crean moving on to Indiana today, the newest big-name vacancy on the block is in Milwaukee. As the move will not even be announced until 10 A.M. today in Bloomington, a list of top candidates is still being formulated somewhere in the caverns of the Marquette athletic department. But in a statement released on Monday, the Golden Eagles top staffers believe “a Marquette coaching vacancy will attract many well-qualified candidates.” We’re inclined to agree, and will be eagerly watching the newswire over the next few days to see which names pop up.

Other notable coaching vacancies include those at Kent State, Providence, San Francisco, and Western Kentucky. Kent State lost coach Jim Christian to TCU, while the Hilltoppers were left without a coach on Monday when Darrin Horn departed to fill the South Carolina vacancy following his team’s Sweet 16 run. At San Fran, Eddie Sutton has maintained all season that he was only coaching the Dons on an interim basis, so it will be interesting to see what angle they take in the coming weeks.

We’ll be watching the coaching carousel closely this off-season, so be sure to check back often for the latest updates.