Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:36AM

Now that LRT is in its third year of existence, it’s a known fact that there will be a rough stretch of traveling hidden somewhere in each season’s schedule. The first year, it was an eight day span that included trips to Stillwater, Philadelphia, and Lincoln. Last year, it was two lengthy trips via car to Norman and Iowa State just days apart.

This season, that time is right now. Fresh off the heels of a there-and-back shot to Lincoln, this weekend has given us the pleasure of a Saturday contest in Boulder followed by a tilt in College Station just two days later. It’s sometimes tough to look forward to a game when you’ve just spent nearly as many hours in a car (33) as you did in the mountain town you visited (39). It’s often even tougher to look forward to that following game on just over an hour of sleep, especially when you consider the recent losing streak Texas has enjoyed on its road trips to College Station (4). We’re certainly not complaining, but when your brain is running on sleep debt, these are the kinds of numbers that run through your head.

For now, it’s off to work where we’ll pound the energy drinks and look forward to the possibility of exorcising the Reed Arena demons that have haunted Texas. We’ll be back this afternoon with a brief refresher on the Aggies, but in the meantime you can revisit the game preview from the first match-up in Austin.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 9:26AM

Texas Longhorns 85, Colorado Buffaloes 76 (OT)

Damion James redeemed himself in overtime
(Photo credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

It seemed like a familiar script for Longhorn fans. Build a big lead, let a team storm back into it, and then blow the game by a slim margin. So when a nine point Texas lead had evaporated in only three minutes, it seemed like the inevitable ending was just moments away.

But Damion James was fouled with only 1.6 seconds left on the clock and the score knotted at 72. Finally, it was a chance to re-write the script. He headed to the line, facing directly into the black and gold student section, where the Buffalo fans leaned down and pounded on their seatbacks. He needed to make just one to seal the win. This was it. Texas could put the demons to rest.

Until both free throws clanged off the iron.

With the weight of those misses on his shoulder, James played like a man possessed in the ensuing five-minute overtime. He ripped down six of his 14 rebounds in the extra session and added six of his 21 points as Texas pulled away. Ironically, two of those points came at the line, with the lead safely in hand.

The problem is that most Texas fans won’t remember that. They will only remember the pair of awful metallic thuds as James missed his chance to be the hero.

Fans also won’t remember the fact that the Longhorn offense played exceptionally well for the second straight game, shooting a season-high 57.4% from the field. The previous high had come just four days prior, when Texas blazed past Oklahoma State with a 52.2% clip. As a result of the hot shooting, Texas’ efficiency numbers were also sky high once again. The Longhorns posted a 124.5 offensive efficiency rating, their third-highest performance of the season.

The one constant in both of those games? Significant minutes for point guard Dogus Balbay. The Turkish sophomore played 37 of the 45 minutes against Colorado after seeing the floor for 33 against Oklahoma State. Prior to those two games, Balbay was averaging just 15.6 minutes per contest.

His presence on the court makes the offense flow, which was painfully obvious when he was taken out with roughly ten minutes left in the first half. In the two minutes he sat on the bench, Texas seemed content to pass the ball around the arc, yet still turned it over twice. With the ball in his hands, the Longhorns throw away far fewer possessions, as he’s posted a ridiculous 7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in these last two games.

A.J. Abrams led the way with 29 points
(Photo credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Balbay’s presence also opens things up for sharpshooter A.J. Abrams. The senior guard had 29 points, and scored 20 against Oklahoma State. In the previous five games, he was averaging 15 points per contest. While the scoring boost is a nice result, the real reason that Balbay’s emergence is a massive development is the fact that it keeps A.J. from forcing bad shots. In these last two games, Abrams scored his 49 points on 61% shooting, including 56% behind the arc. In the previous four, he shot 38% from the field. Simply put, Balbay makes Abrams better.

Three-point defense was not a huge issue throughout the game, but once again it reared its head at the worst possible time. Colorado shot just 5-of-14 from long range, but hit two out of three attempts in the second half as they clawed into at a ten-point Texas advantage. The Longhorns have an awful tendency to let teams eat away at huge deficits by making hay from behind the arc. Against a team with more long-range consistency than the Buffaloes, that will be deadly.

Texas also struggled on the glass, which is quite embarrassing when you look at the height disparity between the two teams. The Buffs play with four guards for most of the game, none of which are taller than 6’6″. Add in the fact that Colorado’s leading rebounder was their 6’5″ off guard, and it’s a definite cause for concern. The worst offender for Texas was Gary Johnson, who laid a big fat goose egg on the stat sheet despite being the team’s second-best man on the glass. The Longhorns are going to face much stronger rebounders in Oklahoma and Kansas, so a performance like this will absolutely scuttle any chances of upsetting those teams.

Obviously, the collapse down the stretch is also a huge reason for concern. After all, it seems like it’s only about the 874th time that Texas has done it this year. But Longhorn fans can take some solace in the fact that, for once, this team did make the necessary plays to pull out the victory.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:50AM

Texas Longhorns (16-7 overall, 5-4 Big 12) at Colorado Buffaloes (9-14, 1-8)
Coors Events Center | Boulder, CO | Tip: 1 PM CST | TV: ESPN

The Longhorns travel to Boulder, Colorado today in a game that, at first blush, looks like an easy win on paper. And for a Texas team that is trying to get back on the right track after a brutal stretch where they lost three games by a combined total of eleven points, it couldn’t come at a better time. But this Colorado squad is playing much better basketball than their record would indicate, and the mile-plus elevation of Boulder has often made the Coors Events Center a dangerous gym for visiting conference opponents.

The Buffaloes have only one win in the Big 12, a home victory over Iowa State. And although those same Cyclones absolutely decimated Colorado in Ames on Wednesday night by a 70-42 count, Jeff Bzdelik and the Buffs have been putting a scare into the league’s top teams. Colorado played both Kansas State and Nebraska to narrow two-point losses and fell five points short against both Kansas in Lawrence and Oklahoma in Norman.

As if the recent play by Colorado wasn’t reason enough to harbor some doubts about today’s game, the Coors Events Center has given Texas fits in the past. The Final Four team suffered a loss here in 2003, getting absolutely shot out of the building by a red-hot Colorado team, 93-80. Two years later, the Buffs repeated the accomplishment with an 88-79 win on its home floor. Even the convincing 102-78 win by Kevin Durant and the Longhorns in 2007 was an absolute battle for the first 24 minutes or so. While the preview below will likely lead you to believe that Texas should cruise back home with a victory, things likely won’t be easy.

Jeff Bzdelik is rebuilding in Boulder
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

By the numbers

There is nothing remarkable about the Colorado offense or defense, as their efficiency numbers in both categories rank almost exactly in the middle of the NCAA pack. What is troublesome for Coach Bzdelik, though, is the fact that their margin is actually a -0.2, meaning that they give up 0.2 points per possession more than they score. He counters that problem with a Princeton offense that burns clock, so the Buffs typically only see 63 possessions per game, cutting down on the opportunities for their opponents to exploit that statistic.

Colorado struggles to rebound, particularly on the offensive side of things. They grab only 21.4% of their opportunities on the offensive glass, which puts is 342nd in the country for that metric. Three hundred and forty-second. Out of 344 teams. Quality. This inability to rebound is mostly a result of the four-out, one-in look that Colorado runs, along with the fact that their only post player is often setting screens up high and is nowhere near the basket when shots are released. Texas is already a solid rebounding team, but if they can limit Colorado to one-and-done possessions today, a win should come easily.

Another number that jumps out of Ken Pomeroy’s statistical overload is the fact that Colorado tends to win only when it keeps its opponents off the free throw line. Their season average for free throw rate is just in the middle of the pack for the NCAA, but in their losses it nearly doubles. Texas should attack the Colorado zone and draw fouls rather than simply settling for mid-range or three-point jumpers.

Meet the Buffs

Colorado runs only seven or eight deep on any given night, and has had the same starting five for nearly the entire season. Bzdelik’s team is very young after losing Richard Roby, Marcus Hall, and Marcus King-Stockton to graduation, and he is hoping that giving the core group of players a huge chunk of minutes will pay dividends in future seasons.

Australian freshman Nate Tomlinson is slotted at the point, and he’s doing a commendable job running the Princeton offense with no experience. Early in the season, you could see him struggling with the new system, as he actually had more turnovers than assists. But as the season has marched on into conference play, his confidence is up and he’s making less unforced errors. Texas must keep an eye on him today, as Tomlinson is deadly from behind the arc. His 43% success rate from three-point range leads the team, and is going to be needed for Colorado to hang around in today’s contest.

Cory Higgins is having a stellar sophomore year
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

The leading scorer for Colorado is sophomore guard Cory Higgins, son of former NBA player Rod Higgins. He’s one of the best free throw shooters in the country at 86%, and had streaks of 45 and 23 consecutive made free throws earlier this season. Higgins can attack the basket with ease, so it’s important for Texas to turn away his drives before he draws the fouls inside and converts the nearly-automatic points at the charity stripe. In addition, Higgins is at the top of the conference in steals, so a turnover-prone Longhorn team will have to take care of the ball when he’s nearby.

The other Buffalo who is a surefire offensive threat is Dwight Thorne II, a cousin of former A&M standout Acie Law. (As an aside, when you consider that Law is actually Acie Law IV, it makes you wonder why that family can’t come up with any new names.) Thorne is another long-range gunner, having hit on 42% of his three-point tries this year. Colorado’s offense keys on backdoor cuts and open three-point looks, so Dwight is going to be needed if the Buffaloes hope for an upset today.

Freshman Austin Dufault is the lone big man in Bzdelik’s version of the Princeton offense, and he seems to be making a good adjustment to the new system. He was Mr. Basketball in the state of North Dakota last season, and it is easy to see why. Not only can Dufault score inside and clean up the glass when he is actually in position, but he also showcases a nice jumper out to seventeen feet or so. While he’s not going to be an impact player in the league anytime soon, Dufault seems like a four-year guy who is going to be an absolute headache for opponents in his last season or two.

Jermyl Jackson-Wilson is a bull of a player despite checking in at just 6’6″. He fights hard for those offensive rebounds that seem to elude the Buffs, and prefers to muscle his way in for closer looks. With only five points and four rebounds a game, he’s not a huge contributer on the stat sheet, but his energy and hustle seem to make the difference on a few key plays in each contest.

Bzdelik really only utilizes three players off the bench, although he occasionally looks deeper down the pine when things are going horribly wrong. Levi Knutson is a reserve guard who is really struggling this season, hitting only 15% of his three point attempts after being the team’s marksman last year. Big man Casey Crawford will be called upon to spell Dufault on occasion, but he is also a quality long-range shooter. Trey Eckloff is something of a project, as he was just 17 when he hit the CU campus and has had difficulty adjusting to the college game. At 6’9″, his inside presence will be needed in the future, but for now he is relegated to the bench.

Texas needs another solid game from Balbay
(Photo credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell/AAS)

Keys to the game

Kill them on the glass – When there are often four Colorado players on the court that are 6’6″ or less, and the lone big man is often at the top of the key setting screens, the rebounds should come quite easily for Texas. The Longhorns shouldn’t have to especially try to control the rebounding battle, but should dominate on the glass and limit the number of looks for the Buffaloes. In addition, Texas should hopefully see a spike in the number of second-chance points they earn this afternoon.

Limit the threes – Colorado is going to get quite a few easy layups as a result of their Princeton offense, and there is likely little that Texas can do to stop it. But the Buffaloes are not going to beat the Longhorns by piling up a ton of layups. The thing that could keep them in this game is hot outside shooting from Thorne and Tomlinson, so Texas must ensure that those two guards do not get any easy looks from behind the arc.

Use Balbay to dissect the D – Things seemed to open up with the insertion of Dogus Balbay into the starting lineup on Tuesday night against Oklahoma State. Connor Atchley enjoyed more open looks and took advantage of them, A.J. Abrams was freed up to the tune of 20 points, and the Longhorns enjoyed a salty assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 3-to-1. The Buffaloes love to throw a ton of different defensive looks at their opponents, so Texas will need Balbay to probe the different zones and find the open lanes and open men. If he’s not the one handling the ball, Colorado could enjoy a fair share of Longhorn turnovers.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:34AM

Top 25 Action

#11 Texas Longhorns 78, Baylor Bears 72 – The Longhorns escaped Waco with their 23rd consecutive win over Baylor, leaning on a nineteen point night from sharpshooter A.J. Abrams. The senior guard was hot early, but went through long stretches of absolute silence, including a nine-minute scoreless bout to open the second half. Damion James logged another double-double in the winning effort, posting a line of fourteen and twelve. Full post-game thoughts and numbers will be headed your way this afternoon.

#16 Purdue Boilermakers 64, Wisconsin Badgers 63 – He only had eight total points on the night, but Robbie Hummel provided three huge ones when he hit the go-ahead trifecta with a minute left to propel Purdue to their fifth-straight win. Meanwhile, the Badgers continued their free fall through the standings, suffering their fifth consecutive loss. It was also their third loss this season at the friendly confines of the Kohl Center after posting an impressive 113-7 home record during Coach Bo Ryan’s first eight years in Madison.

Mississippi Rebels 85, #24 Kentucky Wildcats 80 – It was a rough welcome to the Top 25 for Kentucky, who lost their first game since cracking the poll on Monday. David Huertas dropped 21 for the Rebs — nineteen of them in the second half — to earn their first victory in ten tries against the Wildcats. The loss was the first conference blemish for Kentucky, who still holds the half-game lead over Tennessee, a team they soundly beat on the road earlier this month.

Big 12 Games

Colorado Buffaloes 55, Iowa State Cyclones 49 – Jeff Bzdelik and the Buffaloes shook the monkey off their back last night, winning their first conference game and climbing into a four-way tie for most futile team in the Big 12. Despite allowing Iowa State a robust 48% success rate from the field, Colorado was able to claim the home victory by sinking seven more free throws than their opponents. Craig Brackins once again led the way for the ‘Clones, dropping in 24 points in the losing effort. The performance marked the seventh time in his last nine games that Brackins has cracked the 20-point plateau.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:33AM

Bruce Weber is fired up about his team’s defense
(Photo credit: Robert K. O’Daniell/Associated Press)

#2 Duke Blue Devils 73, NC State Wolfpack 56 – After twenty minutes, the second-ranked team in the nation trailed State by four, thanks to a paltry 29% shooting clip in the first half. But Coach K’s team shot a ridiculous 20-of-29 in the second half, while holding the visitors to just one field goal in the final eight minutes of play. Gerald Henderson led the way for the Dukies, posting 21 with seven rebounds.

#24 Illinois Fighting Illini 67, Ohio State Buckeyes 49 – Bruce Weber’s defense continued its stifling play, forcing the Buckeyes into 20 turnovers on the night, a season high for the visiting club. Dominique Keller provided a spark off the bench for Illinois, dropping in 12 points to go with his six boards in only twenty minutes of play. The win keeps the Illini tied for second in the Big 10, with a huge home game against Wisconsin looming on Saturday afternoon.

Texas Tech Red Raiders 63, Colorado Buffaloes 55 – With sharpshooting senior Alan Voskuil suffering from the flu and limited to only three points, Mike Singletary was asked to carry the load for Tech on Tuesday night. The big man bruised his way to 20 points and nine rebounds in only 22 minutes off the bench, propelling the Red Raiders to their first conference victory of the season.

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