Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:44PM

Texas Longhorns (1-2) vs. Washington Huskies (3-1)
Imperial Arena | Paradise Island, Bahamas
Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: AXS (find your channel)
Vegas: Texas -3 | KenPom: Texas, 81-76 (66%)

In last night’s first round action at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Texas Longhorns fell behind early against a Top 25 Texas A&M squad, and could never quite dig completely out of the hole. Despite multiple runs in the second half to get within one possession of the Aggies, Texas was repeatedly stifled by dagger threes and big plays from Texas A&M. As a result, the Longhorns fell into the loser’s bracket, setting up a rematch with Washington.

This is the second time the Longhorns and Huskies will play in less than two weeks, with both games coming outside of the United States. Texas has played its three games in three different countries and traveled more than 16,000 miles so far this season, with the Huskies logging more than 14,000 miles of their own.

The theme song for the first Texas/Washington game was “Yakety Sax”
(Photo credit: Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

The first meeting

The season opener, at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, was a painful affair. Both teams played very sloppy basketball and found it difficult to adjust the new emphasis on calling textbook fouls that had been ignored in years past. The teams combined for 62 fouls and shot 88 free throws in a game that rarely had a few clean possessions strung together.

After a very slow start from both teams, Washington eventually built a small first-half lead Texas managed to eliminate by the break. The Huskies again slowly built their lead throughout the second half, holding a nine-point edge with just over 11 minutes to play. Isaiah Taylor and Demarcus Holland combined for the next 15 Texas points, as the Longhorns trimmed the deficit to just one point with five minutes left.

It was a nip-and-tuck one-possession affair for nearly the entire remainder of the game, including a pair of lead changes, but a missed transition three and a missed second attempt by Javan Felix near the one-minute mark proved to be Texas’ last gasp. The Longhorns failed to score in the final 2:09 of the game, and the Huskies iced it away at the free-throw line for a 77-71 victory.

Texas was plagued by an inability to secure defensive rebounds and loose balls that seemed to be right within their grasp, particularly when they needed stops down the stretch. The Huskies reclaimed 49% of their missed shots on the day and turned that into 21 second-chance points. Although the Longhorns have a bigger, stronger frontcourt, the quickness and athleticism of the young Washington team proved invaluable when chasing down the ball.

Shot selection was also a major issue for the Longhorns, with the team frequently settling for very long threes without any attempt at dribble penetration or ball movement. Washington plays a pressure defense — which resulted in quite a few fouls during the season opener — and it seemed that the Longhorns were frustrated enough to take open shots whenever they presented themselves, regardless of whether or not those shots actually should have been taken in that situation.

On paper, Texas was the clear favorite heading into the first game. They played a very poor game and were still in a position to win in the final minutes, but ultimately came up short. The Longhorns are still favored by both Vegas and Pomeroy in tonight’s game, albeit by a smaller margin than the first time around. If Texas can improve on some of its very frustrating shortcomings from the Pac-12 China Game, they should be able to enact revenge tonight.

Keys to the Game

1) Attack against the pressure – The Husky defense has proven that the high foul count in Shanghai was not an outlier, as indicated by their season free-throw rate of 51.5%. That statistic means that Washington gives up more than one free throw for every two field goal attempts, a rate that is currently 301st out of 351 Division I teams. In yesterday’s game against Gonzaga, the Huskies actually posted a defensive free throw-rate of 91.7%, which is nearly one free throw given for every shot.

Washington sent Kendal Yancy and Texas to the line frequently
(Photo credit: Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Texas found success against Washington when Taylor attacked, and they also found some very nice drives from Eric Davis and Demarcus Holland last night against Texas A&M when their ball movement gave the guards just enough space to blow by with a quick first step. Texas must not be frustrated by Washington’s pressure defense again tonight, and need to drive the ball immediately when they have an angle on the defender. When that angle isn’t there, quick ball movement will find them elsewhere, and will provide another opportunity for a slash to the rim.

In addition to earning extra trips to the line, relying on the backcourt may also help the Texas bigs, who have had issues establishing position without picking up offensive fouls. Rather than focus on pounding the ball down low and relying on Cameron Ridley and company to fight for position, repeatedly slashing to the rim should open things up for the bigs on dump-offs underneath, and hopefully keep them from riding pine thanks to offensive fouls.

2) Clean up the defensive glass – While the Longhorns clawed back against Washington in the second half of their first meeting, it seemed like every defensive stop was scuttled by a rebound that was snatched right out of a Texas player’s hands. Much of the Washington offense in their first four games has come from second-chance points, thanks to an offensive rebounding rate that is currently 5th-best in the nation.

Since many of the lost defensive rebounds seemed to be a result of being outworked or out-hustled, and not a result of repeatedly being out of position, it’s likely that Texas can make some improvements in that department tonight. The Huskies are not a great shooting team, and with so many freshman, they’ve also made some poor shot choices. If the Longhorns can win back more of the defensive boards tonight than they did in Shanghai, it will make a serious dent in Washington’s scoring chances.

3) Take advantage of Washington’s mistakes – In addition to bad shots, the Huskies have also made quite a few mistakes this year by just playing too quickly. The youngsters have thrown tons of errant passes in transition, with a fair number resulting in turnovers. They also tend to continue pushing when the break isn’t there, resulting in forced shots against a set defense. The poor shot selection is also a hidden form of turnover, as when the defense can win the rebound, those types of shots often lead to runouts the other way.

Washington had an incredibly rough start in Shanghai thanks to that sloppy play and an inability to finish some easy looks. Texas was unable to take advantage, however, and allowed Washington to claw their way to a lead midway through the first half. There will likely be quite a few freshman mistakes made by the Huskies tonight, so Texas must capitalize on them this time around. Whether that means extending a lead or charging back from a deficit, this Texas team cannot afford to stall out when Washington is giving them extra possessions.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:30AM

Texas Longhorns (1-1) vs. #25/NR Texas A&M Aggies (4-0)
Imperial Arena | Paradise Island, Bahamas
Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: AXS (find your channel)
Vegas: Texas A&M -3 | KenPom: Texas A&M, 74-72 (57%)

The break-up of the old Big 12 was a messy and very public affair, full of flirtation with other conferences, grandstanding, and even court orders. As often happens with bitter endings of long relationships, partners swore to never see each other again. Historic rivalries like Kansas-Mizzou, Nebraska-OU, and Texas-Texas A&M went by the wayside.

For the Longhorns and Aggies, that has meant that the teams haven’t met in basketball or football since the Texas hoops team won their final conference match-up in February of 2012. Despite friends — the media, legislators, even that random drunk at your favorite watering hole — imploring the two to get back together, the programs have held staunchly to their insistence that they just won’t do it.

With bowl games and the SEC-Big 12 Challenge not renewing the Lone Star rivalry over the last three years, it finally came down to an exempt November basketball tournament to break the ice. Sure, it’s on a channel nobody ever watches, and yes, it’s more than a thousand miles from either campus. In a sports remake of Forgetting Sarah Marshall that subs the Bahamas for Hawai’i, your personal allegiance probably dictates which school you think is Peter Bretter and which is Sarah, but the important thing is that Texas and A&M will finally be playing something again over Thanksgiving weekend.

If you hated that intro, I appreciate you sticking with me. There was another angle involving dysfunctional families coming together at Thanksgiving, but you’ll have to settle for Jason Segel. On to the hoops…

By the numbers

Billy Kennedy wants Utah to bring him two
(Photo credit: Patric Schneider/Associated Press)

Through their first four games, the Aggies have posted some eye-popping numbers. They haven’t played a team ranked higher than 242nd out of 351 Division I teams, according to Ken Pomeroy, so the Longhorns will provide the first real test for Texas A&M. Still, the Aggies managed to score in triple-digits in their first two ballgames, the first time the program had done that since the 90’s. Regardless of opponent, and even taking into account the offense-friendly rule changes, that’s still something worth noting.

In terms of raw offensive efficiency, the Aggies are currently ranked 11th in the nation, scoring 1.24 points per possession through their first four games. Their raw tempo clocks in just a hair under 75 possessions per game, while their effective field-goal percentage of 64.5% is third in the nation. That eFG is driven by a scorching three-point attack, with the Aggies draining more than 47% of their long-range attempts, and scoring nearly a third of their points from behind the arc.

To date, the only weaknesses of the Aggie offense have been ball control and free throws. Texas A&M has turned it over on 21% of their possessions, although they did manage to cough it up on just 13.4% of their possessions in their most recent game, against UNC-Asheville. From the charity stripe, the Aggies have made just 67% of their free throws, although that number is buoyed by an outlier performance against TAMU-Corpus Christi, in which the Ags made their first 22 freebies, and missed only a pair in the final minute.

Defensively, Texas A&M has been solid. It’s difficult to know how much stock to put into their defensive numbers, as they’ve played some teams that are clearly outclassed, but the eye test shows that they are well-coached. The Aggies have an adjusted defensive efficiency that is Top 25 in Division I, and they’ve forced opponents into a 23.3% turnover rate, also a number that ranks in the Top 25.

The only defensive number that has even been average through the first four games for A&M is a free-throw rate of 40.8%, meaning that the Aggies give opponents roughly two free throws for every five field goal attempts. The Longhorns are a much bigger group than any squad that Texas A&M has faced to date, so that trend is likely to continue tonight.

Meet the Aggies

Texas A&M has looked like a well-oiled machine in its first four games, thanks in large part to an August exhibition trip through Europe in which the team played four games. The Aggies have a solid mix of returning players and an excellent recruiting class, and the extra practices and competition gave the team a chance to work out the kinks.

As a result, the team already looks great on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Aggies immediately look up after closing out a defensive possession, hoping to find easy points in transition. If the defense can get back and stop Texas A&M from chalking up fast-break points, the Aggies move the ball quickly and try to catch their opponents scrambling on the secondary break. In possessions where the Aggies have to settle for half-court sets, they make smart passes to find their shooters open looks, or to set up their solid post players in good position.

That high-powered offense starts with senior transfer Anthony Collins (No. 11; 6’1″), who comes to College Station from USF. Although Collins is a quick point guard in a more traditional mold, he also can knock down the outside shot when defenders are napping on the perimeter. Collins is averaging one triple per game, and has made 66% of his limited long-range attempts this year.

With Collins at the point, that allows senior do-everything guard Alex Caruso (No. 21; 6’5″) to move to his more natural position off the ball. Caruso displayed fantastic court vision when he was the team’s point guard over the last few seasons, and he’s still making great feeds this year. Without the need to run the offense, he’s also shown an ability to get the corner and drive to the bucket, where he has a knack for finishing even the toughest of looks.

Defensively, Caruso is a pest. He consistently has his hands up to limit angles, and does a great job timing his breaks to zip into passing lanes and steal the ball. He tied for the SEC lead in steals-per-game last year, averaging an even two per contest, and his steal rate through four games is currently ranked 43rd in Division I.

Danuel House can score from anywhere on the floor
(Photo credit: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle)

On the wing, senior Danuel House (No. 23; 6’7″) is a scoring machine. This season, he’s been more perimeter-oriented, with roughly 70% of his attempts coming from behind the arc. Although House has made more than 41% of his three-point attempts this year, his game is much more than that. House has no qualms about taking a 17-footer after getting a defender airborne on the perimeter, and has the midrange game to make them pay. His quickness and explosiveness also make him a constant threat to get to the rim when defenses pressure him at the arc.

Joining House on the wing is senior Jalen Jones (No. 12; 6’7″), who will be making his season debut tonight after sitting out four games for playing in two closed scrimmages at SMU before transferring in the fall of 2013. Texas A&M wisely scheduled four non-conference games prior to the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, allowing their slashing senior a chance to come back for the entire tournament, rather than missing a game or two of it.

Jones is expected to once again join the starting lineup, but it remains to be seen whether Coach Billy Kennedy elects to go with two traditional bigs to match the size of Texas, giving them length from positions two through five, or if Jones is slotted in as an undersized four.

If the Aggies go with a pair of 6’7″ wings, they’ll really be able to stretch the floor when Tonny Trocha-Morelos (No. 10; 6’10”) is on the court. The sophomore from Colombia was already known as a solid rebounder and a defensive presence, but he’s upped his game this year with great passing and a newfound outside threat. Trocha started all four games for the Aggies and drained 6-of-9 threes, all coming in the last three contests. On top of adding a three-point shot to his repertoire, Trocha has also posted an assist rate of nearly 25% this season with a barrage of slick high-low passes.

With Jalen Jones back from suspension, it may be freshman Tyler Davis (No. 34; 6’10”) that loses a spot in the starting lineup. Davis was part of Plano West’s state title team, and he clearly plays beyond his years. Davis has really nice footwork for a true freshman and has been able to finish through contact in his first four games. Davis definitely needs some work on his conditioning, and it still remains to be seen if he’ll be strong enough to finish against major-conference opponents, but his early performances have been impressive.

Another impressive freshman in A&M’s stellar 2015 class is DJ Hogg (No. 1; 6’8″), who was also a member of that Plano West title team with Davis. Hogg’s size and outside threat give the Aggies a ton of lineup versatility off the bench, and it makes him a tough cover. Hogg is second on the team in three-point attempts behind House, but his 47.6% success rate is tops on the squad. Even though he’s a great outside shooter, the freshman doesn’t just camp out on the perimeter, often making fantastic cuts to the rack. He’s also great at finding space on the break, and is a big reason why their transition game is so potent.

The Aggies also have a pair of reserves inside that will help them do battle with the size of the Longhorn frontcourt. Bahamian junior Tavario Miller (No. 42; 6’7″) will surely have a good crowd in attendance. Although the offense drops off considerably when he’s on the floor, Miller knows how to use his body in the post, and is a solid rebounder and defender. Freshman Elijah Thomas (No. 15; 6’9″) is still unpolished, but has shown the ability to score with both hands in the post, and will likely be a difference-maker in future seasons, once the frontcourt logjam has cleared out.

The final member of A&M’s core rotation is freshman combo guard Admon Gilder (No. 3; 6’3″). Although Gilder can run the point, with both Anthony Collins and Caruso in front of him on the depth chart, he’s mostly seen action off the ball. He’s made 47.1% of his threes this season — second-best on the team — and harasses opposing guards on the defensive end.

Keys to the Game

1. Limit transition damage – Tonight’s match-up is one between two teams that like to push the tempo, but Texas A&M has proven to be more consistent on the offensive end. Although the Aggies have yet to face tough competition, they have been much more disciplined than the Longhorns.

Let it be clear, simply stopping the transition attack won’t be enough against A&M. Their offense is well-coached and their players will find good looks in half-court sets or on the secondary break. However, if this games becomes a true track meet with transition points lighting up the scoreboard, it seems highly unlikely that Texas can keep up.

Shaka Smart saw growth in his team’s second game
(Photo credit: Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman)

2. Improve shot selection – Coach Shaka Smart told reporters on Monday that he has four categories for his team’s shots — great, good, decent, and bad. While shot selction has left quite a bit to be desired through the team’s first two games, Smart was pleased that the team took better shots in their second game.

As a result, three-point percentage went way up, and the team’s raw offensive efficiency increased by nearly 12%. The Longhorns took less shots off the dribble and found open teammates for good looks. Their assist ratio from the Washington game to the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi game jumped from roughly 25% to more than 56%. That wasn’t only a reflection on the level of opponent; team basketball and improved shot selection played a huge role.

Texas A&M plays sound defense that makes it difficult for opponents to penetrate, and they will spring traps when the ball is moved to bad positions on the floor. Couple their frustrating defense with the likelihood that this game is played at a very high tempo, and it would be very easy for the Longhorns to again fall into the trap of taking quick, poor shots. To keep up with an efficient Texas A&M team, the Longhorns must build upon their most recent performance, and avoid regressing to the type of isolation basketball they played in Shanghai.

3. Steal possessions – The trademark of Shaka Smart basketball is stingy defense that generates extra possessions and easy buckets for his offense. Through the first two games, the Longhorns haven’t relied on much high-pressure defense, but have still managed to post a respectable 20.2% turnover mark.

A few miles down the road, the Aggies coughed up quite a few possessions in their first three games, with many of the errors unforced. Although Texas A&M can make Texas pay if they over-extend on defense, the opportunity is certainly there for the Longhorns to eke out a few extra possessions by winning the turnover battle. If the Longhorns can apply pressure at the right times and force Texas A&M into making its usual type of mistakes, they should be able to stay in this game and be in a position to move into the winner’s bracket.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:53PM

Texas Longhorns (0-0) vs. Washington Huskies (0-0)
Mercedes-Benz Arena | Shanghai, China | Tip: 9 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
Vegas: Texas -11 | KenPom: Texas, 76-67 (80%)

Although it may have seemed a bit longer than usual for Texas fans this year, the college basketball offseason is finally over. With football results inconsistent and excitement surrounding the start of the Shaka Smart era at UT, anticipation for college hoops in Austin is higher than it has been in nearly a decade.

Texas returns the bulk of its roster from the 2014-15 season, having lost only Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner to graduation and the NBA draft, respectively. But even with so much returning talent, the arrival of a new coach and a new style of play have surrounded this year’s team with question marks.

How will a formidable Texas frontcourt fit into Smart’s famous “Havoc” system? Will the incoming freshmen finally end the offensive woes of the last few years? Just how will the Longhorns split up the minutes with such a deep bench?

While Texas fans will be able to start answering those questions in just a few hours, Washington fans have just as many — if not more — about their own team. After a disappointing 33-30 record over the last two seasons, coach Lorenzo Romar bid adieu to all but three of last year’s scholarship players in a transfer epidemic. Rather than panic and sign anyone just to fill out a roster, the Huskies instead brought in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes to restock the cupboard.

It was clearly time for a reboot in Seattle, and the roster full of fresh faces certainly provides the Huskies an opportunity to chart a new course. In Washington’s exhibition against Seattle Pacific, Romar started four freshmen, and his newcomers played 77% of the team’s minutes. Although it’s probably a safe bet that the young Huskies will employ a smaller, more athletic lineup this season, it’s still a mystery what that rotation will look like in the season opener.

Keys to the Game

1. Exploit the advantage inside – In the exhibition game, Texas was without Shaq Cleare and Connor Lammert, who are both available for the season opener. Lacking depth in the frontcourt, the Longhorns played for much of the contest with just one big. Cameron Ridley looked incredibly confident, moving quickly with the ball in the post, and he dominated the glass against a smaller Tarleton State squad.

With the Huskies expected to trot out a smaller lineup, the Longhorns again have an opportunity to control the post. The size and depth of the Texas frontcourt should give them a significant scoring and rebounding edge, regardless of whether they elect for the traditional approach of two big men, or the option of smaller, more athletic four. If the Longhorns can capitalize on that with points in the paint and strong rebounding percentages, Washington will have a tough time keeping up.

2. Keep the starting backcourt on the floor – The Longhorns will be the much more experienced team on Saturday morning in Shanghai, with junior Isaiah Taylor and senior Demarcus Holland leading the way in the backcourt. Although newcomer Kerwin Roach is more than capable of handling the basketball in the absence of the two upperclassmen, their leadership will be important in a game environment that is going to be completely abnormal. Taylor picked up some frustrating fouls in the exhibition game by trying to be aggressive in the wrong spots, so today he must avoid putting himself on the bench with needless fouls.

3. Grab control early – The game starts at 11 A.M. on Saturday here in Shanghai, a tip time that is notoriously bad for college kids. It can be hard for players to get fired up for a morning game, and playing in front of an unaffiliated crowd that may be sparse will make that even tougher. The fans that do show up will likely root for baskets more than teams, so if Texas can avoid the morning slump and put some immediate points on the board, they may be able to create their own energy in a very unconventional setting.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:21AM

#14/14 Iowa State (19-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (17-9, 6-7)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 1 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Texas -2.5 | KenPom: Texas, 75-72 (63% WP)


Keys to the game

1. Tighten up the defense – In the first meeting, the Longhorns found themselves in a huge hole after Iowa State shredded their zone. The Cyclones posted a raw offensive efficiency mark of 1.265 points per possession against Texas, their best Big 12 performance of the year, and their fifth-best of the entire season.

The Longhorns traded that zone for quite a bit of man-to-man in an impressive defensive performance against OU earlier this week, which is a reassuring sign coming into this one. To match up with the athleticism and quick ball movement of Iowa State, they will need to be able to perform just as well in a man D this afternoon. Even though the Cyclones will be very tough to keep up with in a man, they are far too disciplined to shut down with a zone.

The toughest matchup defensively for Texas will be found on the wing. With Dustin Hogue (No. 22) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (No. 13) both checking in at 6’6″, a three-guard Texas lineup would give up significant size. However, even with the Longhorns giving up a few inches on the wing, that’s probably the best option. Connor Lammert or Jonathan Holmes would eliminate the height issue at the three, but neither has the agility or foot speed to properly defend Iowa State’s wings in a man.

2. Stop the ball in transition – It would be too simple to say that Texas just needs to control the pace against the up-tempo Cyclones, as the Horns actually look better when they get out and run. However, if the Longhorns agree to a track meet with Iowa State, they have to prevent transition buckets. The Cyclones run the floor very well, and will quickly pile up the easy points if Texas isn’t alert in transition.

Isaiah Taylor drew a lot of attention in Ames
(Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

3. Attack with the bounce – The Longhorns nearly finished off a crazy comeback in the second half of their loss to Iowa State by spreading the floor and turning Taylor loose. Texas rained down three-pointers, led by a hot Javan Felix, forcing the Cyclones to stick closer to the perimeter and open up the driving lanes for Taylor. When they did try to help down into the paint, Taylor found the Longhorn shooters for open looks outside.

With the recent emergence of Kendal Yancy as an additional three-point threat, the Longhorns have even more options to spread out the Cyclones and let Isaiah do his thing. Spreading Iowa State and tilting the floor for Taylor will also allow the Texas bigs even more space to find offensive rebounds against the undersized Cyclones.

The Longhorns desperately need to log some big wins to boost their NCAA tournament résumé, and Iowa State offers a prime opportunity. If Texas wants to ensure their place in the field, and possibly even play their way out of the dreaded 7-to-10 range of seeds, they will need to score some big scalps down the stretch in a loaded Big 12.

Fortunately for Texas, the Cyclones have historically had trouble winning away from the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum. Since the advent of the Big 12’s double round-robin, the Cyclones are 31-3 at home, and just 12-21 on the road, including a 2-4 mark this season. To improve their odds of post-season success, Texas will have to continue the Cyclone road misery.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 9:05AM

#19/20 Texas Longhorns (14-5 overall, 3-3 Big 12) at #15/16 Iowa State Cyclones (14-4, 4-2)
Hilton Coliseum | Ames, IA | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
Vegas: Iowa State -5.5 | KenPom: Iowa State, 72-70 (61%)


With a long list of contenders lining up in the preseason to knock Kansas off its perch atop the conference, college basketball analysts hesitantly predicted that perhaps this was finally the season in which the Jayhawks might not take home a piece of the league title. History would make it hard to bet against the champs, but with such a deep stable of challengers, for once “the field” seemed to at least be an even favorite. However, in the span of just a few hours on Saturday, the landscape of this year’s Big 12 race quickly shifted, putting Kansas back in its familiar spot in the driver’s seat.

Texas Tech shocked Iowa State in Lubbock on Saturday
(Photo credit: Tori Eichberger/Associated Press)

First, the Texas Longhorns let a second-half lead slip away as Kansas put on a clinic at the Frank Erwin Center, with the Jayhawks excecuting to near-perfection on the offensive end. A few hours later and a few hours up the road, Iowa State fell victim to the Lubbock pothole that trips up at least one team annually. Just like that, the Cyclones conceded the edge they had claimed with a home win over KU only a week prior, and the Jayhawks were once again all alone atop the Big 12.

Saturday’s losses make tonight’s Big Monday contest even more important for both Iowa State and Texas. If the Cyclones want to keep pace with the Jayhawks and position themselves to take advantage of any KU stumbles, they cannot afford any losses at home. We are only a third of the way through the Big 12’s meat-grinder schedule, and it’s true that a lot can happen in the next six weeks. Still, history and a strong home-court advantage at Phog Allen Fieldhouse both indicate that Kansas will give Iowa State little margin for error.

For Texas, the depth of the Big 12 might make it a battle just to reach .500 in league play. The Longhorns have already dropped two home games, and their recent results do not give fans reason for optimism on the road. Texas is just 10-19 on the road since the league switched to a double round-robin format, with six of those 10 wins coming against Texas Tech and TCU. With the Longhorns already logging road wins against the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs this season, it means they must win the rest of their home games to reach .500, or at least steal enough road wins against the league’s laundry list of Top 25 teams to make up for any more home losses.

If the road struggles for Texas weren’t enough to make tonight’s task a daunting one for the Horns, Hilton Coliseum has also proven to be one of the nation’s toughest venues for visiting opponents. Since the arrival of Fred Hoiberg in Ames, home crowds have consistently been at capacity, with noise levels through the roof. That has made home wins for Iowa State nearly automatic, as the Cyclones have posted a 27-3 mark at Hilton Coliseum since the advent of the Big 12’s double round-robin.

By the Numbers

Clocking in at 70.7 adjusted possessions per game, the Cyclones boast the nation’s 13th-quickest tempo. Iowa State doesn’t use high-pressure defense to force turnovers and turn the game into a track meet, but they instead constantly look up after defensive rebounds and baskets by the opponents. Cyclone shooters drift to the arc as the the ball is quickly moved up the floor, frequently allowing them to strike before defense has even thought about setting up. The Cyclones take 29.6% of their shots in transition, the ninth-highest percentage in Division I, according to Hoop-Math.

That ability to quickly score also helps the Cyclones on the defensive glass. Despite being much smaller than most of their opponents, the Cyclones are currently ranked 40th in the nation when it comes to winning defensive rebounds. Opponents are usually so concerned with preventing transition baskets by Iowa State that they will not commit rebounders on the offensive end, turning many possessions into one-and-done affairs.

When teams do manage to stop Iowa State from scoring in transition, they can still find it tough to prevent points in the half-court. The Cyclones do not turn the ball over, with their 16.1% turnover rate one of the 25 best in the land. Iowa State moves the ball quickly and will keep a defense scrambling until they find an easy look at the rim or a shooter with space. Thanks to their crisp passing and disciplined offense, the Cyclones log assists on more than 63% of their buckets, currently the 15th-best rate in the country.

Meet the Cyclones

Point guard Monté Morris can do it all for Iowa State
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Although all of the Cyclones are good passers with nice assist totals, it’s point guard Monté Morris (No. 11) that leads the way in that department. Morris is perhaps the nation’s most underrated floor general, having posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of more than 5-to-1 this season. He is incredibly calm under pressure, as evidenced in Iowa State’s road win against West Virginia. Despite constant trapping and a variety of defensive looks, Morris posted six assists against one turnover, looking the part of an unflappable hostage negotiator every time the Mountaineers rushed at him in the backcourt.

A big part of the reason why Morris is able to facilitate so well is his ability to create off the bounce. He can quickly get into the paint and create shots for himself, but is always looking for his open teammates camped out in the corner or leaking out to the wings. Morris is also a defensive pest, posting a steal rate just shy of 3% while only being whistled for 1.6 fouls per 40 minutes.

The Cyclone that most benefits from Morris’ ability to draw defensive attention with the bounce is sharpshooter Naz Long (No. 15). The 6’4″ junior is the team’s best three-point threat, having drained more than 40% of his attempts this season. Long lives on the perimeter, with nearly 77% of his attempts coming from beyond the arc, but is not afraid of putting the ball on the deck and driving to the tin when a defender closes out too aggressively.

If there’s one thing that Coach Hoiberg is known for, it might be his dance moves. But if there’s a second thing Hoiberg is known for, it would be his ability to mesh a group of transfers to create a solid team. This season, he has a trio of contributing transfers, led by former USC and UNLV scorer Bryce Dejean-Jones (No. 13).

Although the 6’6″ senior takes about three shots behind the arc each game, he’s at his best attacking the basket. Dejean-Jones is very athletic and can score in bunches, as evidenced by the 17-plus points he averaged in his first eight games as a Cyclone. Big 12 teams have done a much better job at limiting his output, but he’s still always a threat to go off for double-digit scoring.

Perhaps the most unheralded player on the Cyclone roster is 6’6″ forward Dustin Hogue (No. 22). Even though Hogue only typically takes one or two three-pointers per game, he has made almost 50% of his attempts, so defenses have to be honest when he’s behind the arc. That outside threat pulls opposing defenders out to the perimeter, and it also allows him to beat bigs off the bounce and get to the rack for a layup.

Despite his size, Hogue is a phenomenal rebounder, particularly on the offensive end. His timing is impeccable once a shot goes up, even when he’s on the perimeter. Watch Hogue after he passes to an open shooter, and you’ll notice that he immediately breaks towards the rim, quickly finding cracks between the defenders to get position and win back any misses.

At just 6’8″, junior Georges Niang (No. 31) is the closest thing to a post in Iowa State’s offense. He is an outstanding passer that can break down zones from the high post, and he is also incredibly slippery when beating opposing bigs in face-up situations. Although Niang has struggled inside against the likes of Oklahoma State’s Michael Cobbins and the big frontline of Baylor, his versatility and court vision make him invaluable.

One newcomer who may some increased minutes tonight is 6’9″ junior Jameel McKay (No. 1). The forward became eligible at the semester break, having transferred from Marquette without ever playing a game for the Golden Eagles. McKay is a long and lanky forward who does a fantastic job protecting the rim, and his rebounding rates on both the offensive and defensive ends are tops in the Iowa State rotation. The junior has averaged 22.1 minutes in his nine appearances, but will likely be called on for additional duty against the size of Texas.

Abdel Nader (No. 2) is yet another transfer for the Cyclones, arriving by way of Northern Illinois. Nader plays much bigger than his 6’6″ frame, but still has serviceable handles that he can use to attack from the wings. He has taken more than 44% of his shots from behind the arc, but has made jut 22.9% of them. Nader is a strong 6’6″ and a solid rebounder, so he would likely be better served by focusing on his interior game and exploiting mismatches when isolated against other wings near the paint.

The final member of Iowa State’s rotation is sophomore three-point gunner Matt Thomas (No. 21), who is averaging about 17 minutes per game. He’s taken more than two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc, but has struggled through a sophomore slump this year, connecting on less than 30% of them. Fortunately, Thomas showed an ability to put the ball on the floor, create shots, and get to the rim in a breakout performance against Oklahoma State, so he can still contribute for the Cyclones even when his long-range shot isn’t there.

Keys to the Game

1. Limit transition points – The Longhorns have the second-best transition defense in terms of effective field-goal percentage, per Hoop-Math. Texas is also one of the nation’s better teams in terms of limiting transition opportunities altogether, as opponents take just 17.2% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of a possession.

Those two stats will be key in slowing down Iowa State tonight, but a commitment to stopping the break could also cost the Longhorns their usual edge on the offensive glass. Coach Rick Barnes is typically not one to change his system based on opponent, so it may be up to the Texas guards to get back in a transition prevent, while the big Texas frontcourt continues to attack the offensive glass.

2. Pressure outside shooters – Iowa State might not be making threes at the rate that they have enjoyed in recent years, but the Cyclones still have enough dangerous shooters to make the perimeter a key battleground tonight. Iowa State had a tough time scoring inside against the size of Baylor, and will likely face the same difficulty tonight. If the Longhorns can rely on their bigs to patrol the paint and alter shots down low, they can then afford to push their guards and wings closer to the perimeter and challenge Iowa State’s long-range shooters. A failure to get hands up in front of the Cyclone shooters, might just get Texas run out of the building.

3. Attack inside – This may be easier said than done, as Iowa State found quite a bit of success against both Oklahoma State and West Virginia with a sagging man-to-man that made it very difficult to get the ball down low. Texas has seen its share of that kind of defense this season, and the Horns have typically not fared well against it. However, if the Longhorns can manage to find some room in the post and pound the ball down low, they will not only exploit their size advantage, but also potentially put a very thin Iowa State frontcourt in foul trouble.

Cyclone Alley makes Hilton Coliseum an intimidating venue
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

4. Survive runs – With Iowa State’s up-tempo approach and its rabid home crowd, the Cyclones can quickly go on a scoring run that dazes their visiting opponents. It would be nearly impossible for the Longhorns to play a full 40 minutes tonight without seeing at least one of those scoring outbursts from ISU, so the Longhorns must weather those runs and respond in kind.

If they can survive the scoring spurts and try to win the small battles between media timeouts, the Longhorns should be able to keep it close with an Iowa State team that has won its four conference games by an average of just 3.75 points. When on the road in conference play, being within striking distance in the final minutes is often all you can ask for.

[Ed: This post was revised after publishing to reflect the new rankings in the January 26th polls.]

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