3.22.14
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.

3.20.14
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.

3.14.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:50PM

[3] Texas Longhorns (23-9) vs. [7] Baylor Bears (23-10)
Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO | Tip: 8:30 CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate List) or ESPNU (in markets not served by Big 12 Network)
Vegas: Baylor -1.5 | Pomeroy: Baylor, 70-69 (52%)

The Texas Longhorns bounced back quickly from their loss to Texas Tech in the regular-season finale, racing out of the gate in a blowout of West Virginia last night in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals. Texas sprinted to a 21-4 lead by the under-12 media timeout, stifling the Mountaineers at every turn. The game was never in doubt, as the Longhorns led by as many as 30 points midway through the second half. Texas ultimately advanced to the semifinals with a 66-49 victory, but the game was never actually that close.

The win sets up a third meeting with Baylor in the Big 12 tournament semis, the 13th time in the league’s 18-year existence that Texas has made it to this stage. Texas posted a season sweep of the Bears in their two previous meetings this year, but Baylor is on the upswing and finally looking like the team that people expected them to be back in October.

The Longhorns are projected anywhere from a No. 5 seed to a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament, depending on which bracket projections you prefer, but another Top 50 RPI win over Baylor would make it unlikely they would actually end up in a 7/10 game when the field is announced on Sunday. A win tonight would not only give Texas its seventh appearance in the Big 12 Championship final tomorrow, but could perhaps give the team enough of a push to even end up on the 5-seed line in next week’s tournament.

Keys to the game

1) Dictate the tempo – It’s much easier to force teams to play slower than it is to speed up the game. Although you can try to speed up a team with traps and extra ball pressure, the offense has 35 seconds to burn if it wants. If that same team has a good defense, particularly a zone, you also have to be patient to get a good look. The Bears have been that kind of stubborn team all season, with an average tempo of 62.8 possessions per game, the 24th-slowest pace out of 351 Division I teams.

Even though Texas won both games against the Bears this season, the importance of dictating the pace against Baylor is evident in the results. The Longhorns won fairly comfortably in the first meeting in Waco, a game in which the teams played 72 possessions. During a much tighter Texas victory in Austin, the two teams played just 58 possessions. The importance of getting out in transition and looking for opportunities in the secondary break is clear for Texas in tonight’s game.

Playing at a brisk pace is also important for the Longhorns when you consider fatigue and Baylor’s short bench. The Bears are playing their third game in three days, with their five starters all averaging 30 minutes in the two games. (Technically Isaiah Austin (No. 21) averaged 29.5 minutes in the two contests, but rounding is great when it supports your point.)

The Longhorns, meanwhile, took two days off from practice earlier this week and looked incredibly fresh to start last night’s game. With the result well in hand, the starting five averaged just 22.8 minutes in the win. That difference in workload could mean the difference in crunch time tonight, especially if Texas can turn this into an up-tempo affair.

2) Limit second chances – Baylor is the nation’s third-best offensive rebounding team, and they boast the country’s second-best offensive rebounder by percentage in Rico Gathers (No. 2). The Longhorns have been strong on the glass all season long, but have had some lapses in conference where they allow teams to extend key late-game possessions with offensive boards. Texas will obviously have their work cut out for them on the glass tonight, but they simply cannot afford to let Baylor score a significant number of second-chance points.

This also ties in with our previous key to the game, as allowing Baylor to have longer offensive possessions only serves to slow the pace and shorten the game. Texas has to close out its defensive stops with solid rebounding, and not allow Baylor to win too many offensive rebounds tonight.

3) Keep Heslip quietBrady Heslip (No. 5) has nailed 45.9% of his three-point attempts on the year and averages more than three makes per game. That percentage puts the Canadian sharpshooter among the nation’s ten best when it comes to three-point percentage, so he’s always a threat to quickly bury a team under a flurry of threes.

Texas did a good job limiting his damage in the first two games, holding him to just 2-of-8 shooting beyond the arc in those contests. The Longhorns also locked down the perimeter very well against a great three-point shooting West Virginia team last night, so their backcourt does seem to be keyed in at the right time. If Heslip gets hot tonight, it will make things very tough on Texas, but if they can put in another good defensive showing on the perimeter, the Longhorns should be in position to challenge for a Big 12 title berth.

3.13.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:55PM

[3] Texas Longhorns (22-9 overall, 11-7 Big 12) vs. [6] West Virginia Mountaineers (17-14, 9-9)
Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO | Tip: 8:30 CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)
Vegas: Texas -3 | Pomeroy: Texas, 78-76 (57%)

The old adage holds that it’s tough to beat the same team three times in one season. With the advent of the double round-robin in the Big 12, that scenario is even more common than it once under the previous, imbalanced league schedule. For a Texas Longhorn team that heads to Kansas City having lost four of its last six games, pulling off the difficult three-game sweep of West Virginia is the only way to try to build some momentum heading into the NCAA tournament.

The Longhorns have also struggled away from the Erwin Center in recent weeks, although many of their road stumbles came in very tough road environments. Fortunately, from this point on, all of Texas’ games will be on a neutral court, even though the decidely pro-Kansas fans at the Sprint Center will likely back the Mountaineers in tonight’s contest. The Longhorns only played two neutral-court games this season — both in the Sprint Center — and pulled off a split by defeating DePaul after a loss to BYU.

In addition to building some momentum and proving they can win away from home, the Longhorns are obviously playing for seeding at this point. Although ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has kept Texas as a No. 6 seed following a loss to Texas Tech and throughout Championship Week, the team would obviously like to avoid slipping to the 7-seed line and potentially facing a No. 2 seed in the Round of 32. A loss tonight could make that outcome a distinct possibility, while another win over West Virginia would give the Horns their twelfth RPI Top 100 win and a shot at a eighth RPI Top 50 win against Baylor or Oklahoma tomorrow night.

The First Meeting

The Longhorns dominated the glass and forced the Mountaineers into taking — and missing — a bunch of challenged threes when the teams met at West Virginia last month. Texas used a 27-11 run over the final 12 minutes of the first half to open up a big lead, and the team never looked back. Although the Mountaineers clawed to within 11 points by the final buzzer, the game was never in doubt in the second half, and Texas cruised to an 80-69 win.

Cameron Ridley was dominant inside for Texas, posting 12 points and 12 boards for what was then his fourth double-double of the season. The Longhorns reclaimed more than 34% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, while limiting WVU to contested one-shot possessions. Texas locked down the defensive glass, allowing the Mountaineers to win back just 22% of their own misses.

Texas did a good job limiting open looks on the perimeter, something that opponents often find difficult to do against the spread attack and driving ability of West Virginia. The Mountaineers made just 16% of their three-point attempts on the night, shooting 4-for-25 from long range. Point guard Juwan Staten (No. 3) went off for 23 points and added five assists, while freshman forward Brandon Watkins (No. 20) had a nice performance off the bench, logging five blocks and snagging six boards in just 14 minutes of action.

The Second Game

The Longhorns again owned the boards against West Virginia in Austin, limiting the Mountaineers to just 23.1% of their offensive rebounding chances, while reclaiming nearly 40% of their own missed shots. When you also consider that the Longhorns shot a blistering 58% from the field, those extended possessions carried even more weight.

Texas did a great job limiting Staten in the first half, holding him to just four points as the Longhorns took an 11-point edge to the locker room. The Longhorns moved the ball crisply, knocked down jump shots, and took advantage of their size inside.

Although the Mountaineers made a push coming out of the half and cut the lead to just six points, Texas responded with an 8-0 run and never looked back. Despite an uneven second-half performance, the Longhorns still cruised to an 88-71 win over West Virginia, who had won four out of five coming into the game. Texas held a massive 46-14 advantage on points in the paint and logged assists on 54.5% of their buckets. All five starters finished in double-digits for the Horns, with big men Jonathan Holmes and Ridley combining for 28.

Keys to the Game

1) Pound the paint – West Virginia will likely dare the Longhorns to beat them with the jump shot again, and it’s not a poor strategy. Texas clearly has the advantage in the frontcourt when these two teams meet, and the Horns are ranked among Division I’s 100 worst teams in every shooting category — free throws, two-pointers, and three-pointers. If Texas plays into West Virginia’s hands, allows the ball to stick against that 1-3-1 zone, and settles for jump shots, the Longhorns will have a tough time advancing to the Big 12 Championship semifinals.

2) Turn back Staten’s drives – So much of West Virginia’s offense is created by the penetrating ability of Staten, whether it leads to baskets for him, or open looks for teammates. Texas did a fantastic job limiting his damage in the first half in Austin by stopping his attack in penetration, and turning him into a jump shooter in the half-court. If the Longhorns can’t repeat that performance tonight and allow Staten to slice up their defense, things could get very dicey in Kansas City.

3) Don’t lose the shooters – West Virginia knocks down 38.6% of their three-point shots, and when they get hot, they can blow the doors right off an arena. In a thorough whipping of Iowa State in Morgantown, the Mountaineers drilled 13 triples and made more than 59% of their long-range attempts. In two games against the Longhorns, however, West Virginia has made just 12-of-48 from behind the arc.

While some may say that means the Mountaineers are due, a big factor in those numbers is Texas forcing West Virginia into taking tough looks. If the Longhorns can do the same tonight — and keep close tabs on Eron Harris (No. 10), Terry Henderson (No. 15), and stretch forwards Nathan Adrian (No. 11) and Rémi Dibo (No. 0) when they drift without the ball — they should be able to advance to the next round of the Big 12 tournament.

3.08.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:49AM

Texas Longhorns (22-8 overall, 11-6 Big 12) at Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-17, 5-12)
United Spirit Arena | Lubbock, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNEWS
Vegas: Texas -1.5 | Pomeroy: Texas, 69-68 (51%)

There’s only one day left in the Big 12 regular season, and there’s still quite a bit left to sort out. While Kansas clinched an outright title last Saturday despite losing at Oklahoma State, there are massive logjams in the middle of the standings that will likely come down to numerous tiebreakers after today’s action.

What we do know is that Kansas will be the No. 1 seed in Kansas City next weekend, while Texas Tech will be No. 9 and TCU is assured No. 10. Teams second through fifth are separated by just one game, while there’s currently a three-way tie for sixth. With the league’s top six teams getting a bye to the quarterfinals, that means there’s even drama in the middle of the table on the final day of the season.

For Texas, seeds two through five are still possibilities as the day tips off. Since Iowa State and Kansas State play earlier in the day, by the time the Horns square off with the Red Raiders in Lubbock, the picture will be a little more clear. At the moment, though, here are the possibilities for Texas’ seeding in Kansas City:


UT’s SEED HAPPENS IF…
2 Texas wins, OU loses
3 Texas wins, OU wins
Texas loses, OU loses, ISU loses, KSU loses
Texas loses, OU wins, ISU wins, KSU loses
Texas loses, OU wins, ISU loses, KSU loses
4 Texas loses, OU wins, ISU wins, KSU wins
Texas loses, OU wins, ISU loses, KSU wins
Texas loses, OU loses, ISU wins, KSU loses
Texas loses, OU loses, ISU loses, KSU wins
5 Texas loses, OU loses, ISU wins, KSU wins

The key tiebreakers in play are the fact that Oklahoma swept Texas and that Kansas State and Texas both beat Kansas. In multi-team ties, record against the entire group is used as a tiebreaker, so the Horns end up at the bottom of any multi-team tie involving OU, since all other matchups between these four teams ended up in splits.

When group record is tied, then the records are compared against the first-place team, second-place team, etc. That means that Kansas State and Texas both hold the edge over Iowa State thanks to their KU wins, but Kansas State holds the edge over Texas by virtue of a win against Oklahoma.

Of course, the easiest way to clear this up is for Texas to win at Tech today. That won’t be an easy task, as nearly every Big 12 team has discovered in their visit to Lubbock this season. The Red Raiders picked off Baylor and Oklahoma State at home, and would have knocked off Kansas if not for the heroics of Andrew Wiggins. Tech also played Kansas State down to the wire in Lubbock and even surprised Oklahoma in Norman.

The Longhorns barely escaped with wins in their last two visits to Lubbock, and this year’s Texas Tech team is considerably better. Securing a season-ending win on the road this afternoon will certainly be a challenge.

Keys to the game

1) Take care of the basketball – The Longhorns have apparently packed grease in their travel bags the last few weeks, as their turnover rates in losses at Kansas State and Oklahoma were both over 23%, while the Horns coughed it up on 18.9% of possessions in a road thrashing at Kansas. Even in the loss at Iowa State, where Texas had a turnover rate of just 14%, it was early turnovers that put the Horns behind the eight-ball.

Texas Tech plays a very low-tempo game, making every possession even more valuable. In Tech’s last four home games, the team has forced turnovers on no less than 20.4% of their opponents’ possessions. Add in the fact that the Longhorns had a turnover rate north of 20% when the teams first met in Austin, and there’s cause for concern this afternoon. If Texas wastes possessions on the road in Lubbock, the team will likely be heading to Kansas City with one more loss.

2) Force jump shots – Tech’s offense is very patient, often running the shot clock down very low before an excellent cut and timely passing leads to an open look in the paint. The other primary source of Red Raider points are simply iso plays for point guard Robert Turner (No. 14). The Red Raiders are not a great shooting team, so if the Longhorns can pack the defense in, take away Turner’s driving ability, and be aware of movement off the ball, Tech will be forced to beat the Horns with jumpers. Although that’s not a guarantee for a W, it’s certainly a formula that increases UT’s odds today.

3) Don’t lose Hannahs – While most of the Red Raiders aren’t great shooters, that description doesn’t extend to sophomore Dusty Hannahs (No. 2). The sharpshooter has drilled 38% of his three-point attempts on the year, and has taken 30 more long-range attempts than any other Tech player. If the Longhorns lose track of Hannahs on the perimeter, he can quickly make them pay, as West Virginia learned when he drilled 7-of-7 against them earlier this year. If Texas can limit his damage while also turning the rest of the Red Raiders into jump shooters, they should be able to end the season on a winning note.

3.05.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:12PM

TCU Horned Frogs (9-19 overall, 0-16 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (21-8, 10-6)
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.

3.01.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:25PM

#24/23 Texas Longhorns (21-7 overall, 10-5 Big 12) at Oklahoma Sooners (20-8, 9-6)
Lloyd Noble Center | Norman, OK | Tip: 3 P.M. CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN Full Court/ESPN3
Vegas: Oklahoma -4.5 | Pomeroy: Oklahoma, 83-78 (66%)

The Longhorns are looking to avenge their only home loss in conference play as they head to Norman this afternoon to take on the Sooners. In addition to trying to split the season series, the Horns are also still barely alive in their pursuit of a shared conference title, and are in the midst of a tough battle for the league’s No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The Sooners are currently tied for fourth in the league with Kansas State, just a game behind Iowa State and Texas with three games to play. Since Oklahoma won the first meeting with Texas, a loss today would doom the Longhorns in a head-to-head tiebreaker, and also bury them in any multi-team tiebreakers involving OU. Although the final week of the schedule is more favorable to Texas than the other three teams, the tiebreaker math means that a loss this afternoon would make it very tough for the Horns to earn that No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament

Keys to the game

1) Crash the boards – In the first meeting between these two teams, the Sooners dominated the rebounding battle, holding the Horns to just a 26.7% mark on the offensive glass. On the other end, OU reclaimed 45.9% of its own misses, including some back-breaking boards in the game’s final minutes that led to key second-chance points.

While the Longhorn bigs will have to do a much better job to win the battle of the boards this afternoon, the Texas guards also must step up. Although Ryan Spangler (No. 00) and Tyler Neal (No. 15) did a good job on the boards, it was the quick, athletic guards and wings who consistently outraced Texas to the ball. If the Longhorns can’t keep OU from winning rebounds and extending possessions, it will be very tough to avenge their earlier loss this afternoon.

2) Pound it inside – The Longhorns found quite a bit of success early in the second half when they ran the offense through Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley down low. Foul trouble plagued Holmes throughout the game, and the Texas offense clearly struggled when he was cooling his heels on the bench. While he obvioulsy has to avoid that same scenario this afternoon, Texas has to exploit its size advantage all game, even when the frontcourt reserves are on the court.

3) Clog the gaps – Much of Oklahoma’s offense comes from the slashing ability of its young, talented backcourt. However, the Sooners have proven that they will often settle for long jumpers when penetration isn’t there, even forcing challenged looks with a defender in their face. If the Longhorns can keep the OU guards in front of them and shade off the ball to discourage drives, they may be able to slow the Sooner offense down and give themselves a chance for the road win.

4) Challenge shooters – Oklahoma is full of great shooters who can knock it down all over the court. Texas quickly learned that fact in the first meeting, as poor defense led to numerous wide-open looks in the first half on which the Sooners capitalized. While it can be tough to take away driving lanes while also preventing open looks, Texas can do so with quick rotation and good communication on D. If the Horns are able to stop the drive, but leave shooters open on the arc as a result, Oklahoma could snow Texas under with a flurry of threes. Neutralizing the high-powered Oklahoma offense is a tall order, so the Longhorns certainly have their work cut out for them on the road this afternoon.

2.26.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:54PM

Baylor Bears (18-9 overall, 6-8 Big 12) at #24/23 Texas Longhorns (20-7, 9-5)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
Vegas: Texas -4 | Pomeroy: Texas, 73-68

With just a week and a half left in the Big 12 season, the conference race is heating up. No, not the race for the conference title. Kansas wrapped that up on Monday night, clinching at least a share of the Big 12 crown for a 10th-consecutive season. Not even the 1-seed line in the conference tournament is up for grabs, as Kansas also holds the tiebreaker in any of the unlikely scenarios that would see them sharing the title of co-champions with Texas or Iowa State. Instead, the real drama as the Big 12 race heads down the stretch is seeing just how the bunched chase pack will finally shake out.

Heading into tonight’s action, Texas and Iowa State hold a slim half-game edge over Oklahoma and Kansas State, who have already played once this week. The schedules of all four teams are generally even over these final 11 days, with Iowa State and Kansas State squaring off on Saturday, the same day Texas and OU will have their rematch. The race is so even at this point, Ken Pomeroy’s computers are currently predicting a four-way tie for second, with all teams finishing 11-7.

But while those four teams jostle for position, there is additional drama further down in the standings. Baylor, Oklahoma State, and yes, even West Virginia are living life on the bubble as we head into March. Before Monday’s action, the Big 12 had seven teams in Joe Lunardi’s bracket projection. Baylor had jumped to the 10-seed line by virtue of a timely four-game winning streak, while Oklahoma State was clinging to one of the last four spots in the field. The Mountaineers were still sitting nine spots out of the field, according to Lunardi, but with games left against Iowa State, OU, and Kansas, opportunities still exist for WVU to play its way in.

With Baylor playing for its tournament life and finally starting to look like the team most expected to see back in October, tonight’s game is a very dangerous one for Texas. The Longhorns own a two-game losing streak after facing the Big 12′s toughest road pairing last week, and another stiff road test awaits on Saturday in Oklahoma. A loss tonight would put Texas in serious jeopardy of a four-game losing streak at the most important time of the year, and it would make their quest for the second seed in the Big 12 tournament a dicey proposition.

Keys to the game

1) Own the paint – The Baylor bigs have not battled for position that often this season, instead being content with leaking out to the perimeter or high post when they can’t body up down low. During the team’s recent winning streak, the Bears have made a concerted effort to get the ball inside, with Rico Gathers (No. 2) providing a nice dose of physicality for Baylor in the paint. If Texas can Isaiah Austin (No. 21) and Cory Jefferson (No. 34) work for their space down low, the Horns could force the Bears back into their bad habit of settling for outside looks. In addition to forcing lower-percentage shots, it also takes some of Baylor’s size out of the paint and helps to neutralize their strength on the offensive glass.

2) Stick to Heslip like glue – Baylor’s best three-point threat happens to be one of the best three-point shooters in the entire country, but Texas managed to hold him to an 0-for-4 mark behind the arc in the first meeting. While it will likely be tough for the Longhorns to again skunk the Canadian from long range, they definitely need to be aware of his location in transition and when the ball gets into the paint. Although Baylor frequently works to free up their marksman with multiple screens, a good game plan can account for that. It’s on the dribble penetration and kickout or fast break spot-up looks where Heslip can break the backs of even the best defenses, so the Longhorns cannot afford to lose track of him tonight.

3) Keep the ball moving – The Texas offense has stalled out at times this year when dribble penetration and post entries aren’t immediately available, and Baylor’s zone defense could give the Longhorns those same kinds of issues tonight. However, the Bear D has been slow to rotate many times this season, leading to a defensive efficiency in conference games that is ranked 7th out of 10 teams. Texas needs to move the ball quickly, be ready to attack right on the catch, and they need to look opposite under the rim for easy layups. The Longhorn offense desperately needs a bounce-back game after a pitiful performance in Lawrence, and if they can execute, they will certainly have that opportunity against a spotty Baylor D.

2.22.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:53PM

#19/17 Texas Longhorns (20-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) at #8/8 Kansas Jayhawks (20-6, 11-2)
Allen Fieldhouse | Lawrence, KS | Tip: 6:30 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
Vegas: Kansas -10 | Pomeroy: Kansas, 81-71

The Texas Longhorns sit all alone in second place in the Big 12 as they head to Lawrence for tonight’s matchup with Kansas. But at two games behind the conference-leading Jayhawks, tonight’s game is essentially make-or-break for Texas as it tries to earn a piece of its first Big 12 title since 2008. A loss at Allen Fieldhouse would put the Longhorns three back with four games to go, practically ensuring that Kansas would win at least a share of the Big 12 title for a 10th-consecutive season.

While the Longhorns took care of KU in Austin at the beginning of the month, winning at Phog Allen is an entirely different beast. In the last six-plus years, the Jayhawks are an incredible 54-2 at home in Big 12 play, with one of those losses coming at the hands of Texas in 2011. The margin for error is very, very slim for the Longhorns tonight if they hope to pull off the rare road win in Lawrence and stay alive in the title hunt.

Meet the Jayhawks

For a detailed look at the KU roster, check out LRT’s preview of the February 1st game between these two teams.

The First Meeting

Cam Ridley and the Texas defense stifled Kansas early
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Texas dominated things early against the Jayhawks in Austin, stifling Kansas’ interior attack in a first half where KU shot just 25.8% from the field. The Texas bigs stayed home and protected the paint, cleaning up dribble penetration and providing timely help when KU found space down low. Isaiah Taylor had the floater working in a masterful performance, repeatedly finding cracks in the Kansas defense and attacking quickly.

The Longhorns took a 15-point lead to the locker room and held a double-digit advantage the rest of the way. With Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid struggling for Kansas, Wayne Selden, Jr. flipped the switch at half and played much more aggressively in the second. He scored 21 points on the afternoon, knocking down 50% of his shots from the field.

Both teams did a fantastic job on the offensive glass, effectively negating the extra chances earned by their opponents. The Longhorns won 48.7% of their misses back, while Kansas reclaimed 40.5% of theirs on the other end. Although Kansas won the second-chance point battle by a 16-11 count, timely Longhorn putbacks were key to building a big lead late in the first half.

In the end, Texas knocked off the Jayhawks, 81-69, earning a fourth-consecutive win over ranked opponents. The Longhorns pulled to within one game of KU in the league standings and solidified their NCAA tournament résumé with a convincing win over the No. 1 team in the RPI.

Since Then…

Although the Jayhawks have struggled on the road this month, they continue to take care of business at home. Kansas dispatched a tough West Virginia team with excellent execution in the final five minutes and absolutely obliterated TCU in a second half where the Horned Frogs seemed content to just watch the Jayhawks waltz to the hoop.

Kansas suffered its only other conference loss in Manhattan on February 10th, but the team showed grittiness in a late-game comeback that forced overtime. The Wildcats led by nine with just 1:53 to go, but a key steal by Brannen Greene, free-throw problems for KSU’s Wesley Iwundu, and a huge, last-second putback by Wiggins on his own miss all led to an extra period of basketball. In the overtime, Kansas State managed to escape with a key home win, but Kansas proved their mental toughness in the frantic comeback.

Wayne Selden and KU are on the verge of a Big 12 title
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Just four nights ago, it was again Wiggins who provided the heroics for Kansas on the road, but this time the Jayhawks didn’t ultimately lose. Down by one with 16 seconds left, KU fed Embiid on the block for a final chance. He was stripped by Tech’s Dejan Kravic, but Wiggins scooped up the loose ball in the lane and put it in for the winning bucket. With Texas losing at Iowa State on the same night, KU’s thrilling victory put them on the verge of winning yet another conference title.

Keys to the Game

1) Strong interior defense – Although Kansas has shooters, the Jayhawks have always been and will always be an inside-out team with Bill Self at the helm. The Longhorns didn’t choose to double-team Embiid or Perry Ellis when the teams met in Austin, yet still played very sound interior defense that frustrated KU all afternoon.

Texas will once again have to stay home in the lane, but must also avoid foul trouble in the frontcourt. Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh made key contributions in the earlier win over Kansas, but it’s obviously preferential to have Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley out there for as many minutes as possible.

2) Don’t settle for jumpers – Texas played right into Iowa State’s hands on Tuesday night, particularly Javan Felix, who took every open look that the Cyclones gave him. He shot 15 three-pointers and was just 27.3% from the field, although in a game where Texas was even missing point-blank shots, it’s tough to say that made a huge difference.

However, against a Kansas team with an imposing frontcourt, the temptation to settle for jumpers will again be there. Taylor did a good job attacking with the bounce against Kansas in the first game, and the Horns repeatedly found post players in the paint when the Jayhawks pushed out and denied dribble penetration. The Longhorns need to make the same commitment tonight to driving and to feeding the post if they want to have any chance to win. Having a player take 15 threes will be a recipe for disaster for UT tonight, unless Baylor’s Brady Heslip somehow transfers this afternoon and is immediately eligible.

3) Clean up the glass – The Longhorns didn’t do a great job on the defensive glass in the first meeting, but they balanced things out by winning nearly half of their own misses back. Texas must again be competitive on the boards tonight against a KU team that is ranked third in the Big 12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates. If the Longhorns are dominated on the glass on either end of the floor, the disparity will likely be far too much to overcome in a road environment where there is little margin for error.

4) Show poise under pressure – The Big 12′s three toughest road venues are Allen Fieldhouse, Bramlage Coliseum, and Hilton Coliseum. You can argue which one is second and which one is third, but Phog Allen is undoubtedly the toughest place to play. The Longhorns have gone 0-2 so far this season in those hostile environments, including a blowout loss at K-State.

If Texas is going to hang in this game long enough to have a chance for the upset, the team will have to withstand a few Kansas rallies. When the Jayhawks get cranking, Allen Fieldhouse is a cacophony of noise and emotion. If the Longhorns can fight through that and throw a counter, they might be able to give Kansas a good battle tonight. If they don’t, Kansas can turn it into a rout in a matter of seconds.

2.18.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:31PM

#19/17 Texas Longhorns (20-5 overall, 9-3 Big 12) at #17/19 Iowa State Cyclones (19-5, 7-5)
Hilton Coliseum | Ames, IA | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Iowa State -6 | KenPom: Iowa State, 81-76 (68%)

With less than three weeks left in the regular season, the Texas Longhorns are feeling quite comfortable with their NCAA chances, and still sit just a game out in the Big 12 title race. For a team that was predicted to finish 8th by the coaches during the pre-season, that is quite an accomplishment.

To reach this point with a stellar record, Texas had to survive a brutal stretch of four consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Longhorns not only mowed down all four, but did it in the midst of a seven-game win streak. Texas had the benefit of playing three of those teams — Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas — at home, which means that the back half of its league schedule is loaded with tough road tests.

In their first of those tests, the Longhorns laid an egg at Kansas State. The team turned it over early and often, digging a huge hole that was made even deeper when Jonathan Holmes suffered a knee injury midway through the first half. Texas managed to rebound nicely from that meltdown with two home wins last week, but now the team must tackle the league’s toughest road games, back-to-back.

The ceiling can’t hold Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Tonight, the Longhorns square off with Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum, a place where the Cyclones have won 21 out of their last 24 conference games. With a trip to Allen Fieldhouse to face first-place Kansas on Saturday, it would be easy for Texas to look ahead, but against a talented, high-octane offense in a gym where visitors rarely win, the Longhorns certainly can’t afford to. However, if Texas can manage to escape with the road upset tonight, its title hopes will still be alive for a monumental Saturday showdown.

Keys to the game

1) Pound the paint – In the first meeting between these two teams, the Longhorn frontcourt duo of Holmes and Cameron Ridley exploited Texas’ size advantage in the paint. The pair combined for 39 points and 18 boards, with Ridley posting a double-double. If Texas is going to pull off the upset tonight, it will have to once again pound the ball down low and expose the mismatch.

2) Stop transition – Iowa State has been known as an up-tempo, three-point shooting team for most of Coach Fred Hoiberg’s tenure in Ames. The Cyclones are still a quick team this season, but the accuracy from beyond the arc has taken a dip this season. Iowa State is currently ranked 170th out of 351 Division I teams in three-point accuracy, down significantly after a season in which it finished 34th in the nation.

That isn’t to say that Iowa State is taking less threes this season. In fact, the team takes nearly 40% of its looks from long range, making it one of the top 50 teams nationally in terms of three-point shot distribution. However, the Cyclones are great at knocking down open triples in transition, something that Texas must limit tonight. The Longhorns have to avoid turning it over and firing up the ISU break, and they have to beat their men down the court after missed shots.

Of course, simply finding the shooters as Iowa State gets in transition won’t be enough to win at Hilton. The Longhorns really can’t afford to give up many two-point transition hoops, either. The Texas defense must stop the ball and force the Cyclones to run a half-court offense, something ISU sometimes lacks the patience to do. If the Horns can get their half-court defense set on most possessions, they will have a shot to get the road win tonight.

3) Crash the glass – Iowa State is an undersized team, so it doesn’t do a very good job reclaiming its own missed shots. That fact isn’t too surprising, but the Cyclones’ success on the defensive glass does seem to clash with conventional wisdom. However, the ‘Clones can thank their strong transition game for the defensive rebounding success, as most opponents have to sacrifice a few offensive rebounders in an effort to stop the ISU break.

With Texas likely committing its own guards to stopping transition, it will be on the the Longhorn bigs to earn second chances. Since Iowa State’s strong defensive numbers are built on preventing opponents from scoring second-chance points, even just a few extra offensive rebounds could make a big difference for the Horns tonight.

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