11.21.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:32AM

California Golden Bears (3-0) vs. #10/10 Texas Longhorns (3-0)
Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | Tip: Approx. 6:30 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Texas -5.5 | KenPom: Texas, 68-64 (67%)

The Texas Longhorns overcame a slow start at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night to knock off Iowa and advance to the title game of the 2K Classic. Cal surprised Syracuse in the other semifinal, cruising to a comfortable win over the nation’s 23rd-ranked team. That sets up tonight’s unexpected championship matchup, as new Cal coach Cuonzo Martin and his underrated Golden Bears set their sights on another ranked foe.

Jabari Bird and Cal upset Syracuse last night
(Photo credit: Kim Willens/Associated Press)

By the numbers

Through the first three games, Cal’s tempo stats have an interesting duality. The pace of their games are relatively quick, with an adjusted average of 70.4 possessions, up from the national average of 67.7 possessions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that their average offensive possession is the shortest in all of D-I hoops at just 11.2 seconds, according to Ken Pomeroy. However, on the other end of the floor, they average the 14th-slowest possessions, with opponents hanging on to the ball for 21.6 seconds.

The Golden Bears have a bevy of talented three-point shooters, but don’t rely on the long ball to score. Cal’s 45.5% mark behind the arc is 29th-best in the nation, but they take less than 30% of their shots from three-point range, and score less than 30% of their points from there.

Perhaps the main reason Cal doesn’t have to rely on the three is because they have a trio of guards that can all slice up defenses with the bounce, and their entire team moves the ball incredibly well. Their team assist percentage of 67.3% is 33rd in the NCAA, and their ball movement against the zones of Syracuse and Alcorn State looked like something out of a coaching video.

Cal has also limited their mistakes through the first three games, turning it over on just 16.4% of their possessions, well below the national average of 20.1%. On the other end of the floor, they don’t force many mistakes by the opponents, either, causing miscues on just 16.9% of possessions. Instead, the Golden Bears get in your shirt on the perimeter, and help quickly when that tight defense allows dribble penetration by quick opposing guards.

Meet the Bears

When Mike Montgomery retired following the 2013-14 season, he certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare. Despite losing about 27 points per game with the departures of Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, Cal still returned a loaded backcourt with tons of offensive talent. When Cuonzo Martin was dealing with an unappreciative fanbase in Knoxville that was trying to run him out of town, Berkeley provided a perfect landing spot, giving him a team that wouldn’t require rebuilding.

At the point, junior Tyrone Wallace (No. 3) is a true combo guard with excellent slashing abilities. He isn’t just a head-down, drive-at-the-rim kind of guy, as he can wiggle through traffic and hit floaters or pull-up jumpers from all over the court. He takes 26.2% of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, but still manages to log assists on 31.1% of the buckets. The 6’5″ guard could pose some matchup issues for the smaller Texas backcourt.

Joining Wallace in the backcourt is Jordan Mathews (No. 24), another guard who can create his own shot, but who is also a big-time threat from long range. On the year, Mathews is 5-for-13 from behind the arc, and with the speed that Cal moves the ball, they can often find him for wide open looks.

Sophomore wing Jabari Bird (No. 23) is a 6’6″ guy who can easily find cracks in the defense, and is always looking for teammates who are freed up by his penetration. Like Wallace, Bird plays a key role in a ton of Cal possessions, as he takes 28.4% of the shots when he’s on the floor, while also assisting on more than 32% of the buckets. For a Texas team with a small backcourt and no prototypical wings, Bird will be another interesting matchup.

In the frontcourt, junior Christian Behrens (No. 14) has started all three games, but is averaging just over 20 minutes per game. Behrens has dealt with serious knee injuries dating back to high school, and has yet to be more than a role player for Cal. It looks like Coach Martin is taking it slow with Behrens right now, and utilizing a rotation at the four spot.

David Kravish will have his hands full with the UT big men
(Photo credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press)

Senior David Kravish (No. 45) rounds out the starting five, and will face a tall order against the size of Texas tonight. The 6’10” Kravish is truly an all-around player, as he can block shots, rebound well, stretch the floor with his jumper, and is a great passer. That jumper and passing ability make him a threat out of the high post, and he helps Cal break down opposing zone defenses from that soft spot at the free throw line.

In the backcourt, Sam Singer (No. 2) is the team’s backup point guard, but is not nearly the dual threat that the rest of the Cal guards are. He’s a steady guard who posted a 2.56-to-1 turnover ratio as a freshman, but has unfortunately struggled with ball control through the first three games this year.

Graduate transfer Dwight Tarwater (No. 1) came to Berkeley after finishing his degree at Cornell, and can play on the wing or serve as an undersized stretch four. He’s averaging just under 20 minutes per game, is 6-for-10 from long range, and has a 75% eFG mark.

Facing the size of Texas, Coach Martin may elect to increase the minutes for freshman Kingsley Okorah, a 7’1″ freshman who originally committed to Tennessee, but followed his coach to Berkeley. Roger Moute a Bidias (No. 22) is a 6’6″ sophomore forward who is averaging less than 16 minutes per game, but may also see a little more PT against Texas, thanks to a 7’1″ wingspan.

Keys to the game

1. Dominate the glass – The Golden Bears are rather thin in the frontcourt, and they lack the size of the Longhorns. Through three games, they have posted rebounding numbers on both ends of the court that are only average, and they should find it hard to improve those marks against Texas tonight. If the Longhorns can take advantage of their size and dominate the glass on both ends of the court, they’ll limit extra possessions for a dangerous Cal offense, while giving their own bigs some easy second-chance points.

2. Limit dribble penetration – This will be easier said than done against a talented Cal backcourt that can easily break down opposing defenses off the bounce. The Longhorns fortunately have great shot blockers inside to help clean things up when the perimeter defense breaks down, but the Golden Bears are also really talented passers. Rather than barrel headlong into a stout Texas interior defense, the Cal guards are much more likely to find open teammates when they are able to penetrate, which would mean easy buckets and wide-open threes.

3. Pound it down low – Texas has the clear size advantage in this one, and they need to exploit that early and often. In addition to getting easy points and covering for their own shooting woes, the Longhorns can hopefully tag the thin Cal frontcourt with some foul trouble early, which would only serve to increase the Texas size advantage down low.

11.20.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:12AM

#NR/25 Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) vs. #10/10 Texas Longhorns (2-0)
Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Texas -6 | Pomeroy: Texas, 75-73 (56%)

For Texas fans who had a chance to see the newest edition of their Longhorn basketball team take the court this weekend, there was ample cause for excitement. Opening the season as a Top 10 team, the experienced Longhorn squad thumped North Dakota State and Alcorn State by a combined 67-point margin, showing off a massive frontcourt and incredible depth in the process.

As dominant as Texas looked in those two victories, fans had to temper their excitement, due to the level of competition. Alcorn State will likely finish as one of the worst teams in Division I this season, while North Dakota State lost a ton of talent from last year’s team that upset Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament’s Round of 64. The real tests for the Longhorns begin this week at Madison Square Garden, where they will take on Iowa tonight and either Syracuse or Cal tomorrow.

Fran McCaffery is ready to build on last year’s NCAA bid
(Photo credit: Jim Slosiarek/Associated Press)

Tonight’s matchup with Iowa is one in which the two teams will find many similarities between their own squad and their opponent. Both the Longhorns and Hawkeyes have quite a bit of size in the frontcourt, and both benches can easily go 10 deep. While no one will confuse Iowa’s roster with that of Kentucky and its platoons, tonight’s game will be an excellent measuring stick to give us all an idea of just how good these Longhorns truly are.

By the Numbers

Through two games, Iowa has been sound on both sides of the ball, while playing at a breakneck pace against North Dakota State and Hampton. The Hawkeyes have averaged an adjusted tempo of 72.6 possessions per game according to Ken Pomeroy, while their adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.107 points per possession is in the Top 25 nationally, and their adjusted defensive efficiency lands in the Top 50.

On offense, Iowa shares the ball and has been deadly from long range. The team has logged assists on nearly 68% of its buckets, and has knocked down almost 44% of its threes. The Hawkeyes have also taken advantage of their size against the smaller Hampton and North Dakota State lineups, snagging 36.4% of their offensive rebounding chances, a number that is in the top quarter of D-I teams.

The one struggle for Iowa offensively this season has been turnovers, as they’ve coughed it up on roughly one in five possessions. While some of this was due to the second team getting extended minutes in the two blowout wins, the core rotation also had problems with Hampton’s double teams in the season opener. In addition, Iowa’s focus on pushing the pace has also resulted in some rushed passes that cost them possessions.

On the other end of the court, Iowa has done a stellar job forcing teams into bad looks when they attack inside the arc. Hawkeye opponents have shot 29.6% from two-point range in the first two games, a stat that is made even more impressive when you learn that Iowa also hasn’t been sending opponents to the line. Iowa’s defensive free-throw rate, which measures how often opponents take free throws, is just 24.6, ranking them 41st out of 351 D-I teams.

Aaron White has started strong this season
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Meet the Hawkeyes

After enjoying a pair of games against undersized opponents, the Longhorns will now have to contend with an Iowa team that has an equally formidable frontcourt. Aaron White (No. 30), a 6’9″ senior who was third-team All-Big 10 last year, is the most impressive member of that frontcourt. He has an impeccable knack for getting to the boards, and seems to have a hand on the ball every time Iowa misses a shot. White also moves incredibly well without the basketball, and has great speed and handles for a big guy.

Joining White in the frontcourt is 7’1″ junior Adam Woodbury (No. 34). The big man had a very rough outing against Hampton, repeatedly having trouble against the Pirate double-teams, and even struggling in one-on-one face-up opportunities. He bounced back against North Dakota State, fully exploiting his size advantage while posting a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double. Although Woodbury’s offensive skills have been inconsistent on the young season, he is a stout defensive presence who stands his ground down low.

The third starting frontcourt member for Iowa is Jarrod Uthoff (No. 20), a stretch forward who much prefers camping out on the perimeter and waiting for a kickout from one of his slashing teammates. Uthoff has made 6-of-10 from behind the arc so far this season, while only taking six total shots from two-point range.

Although he didn’t start either of the first two games, forward Gabriel Olaseni (No. 0) has been the most impressive Hawkeye this season. Olaseni is always moving without the ball, and knows how to perfectly time his cuts to the rim so that a teammate can find him for an easy layup. The senior is one of those crafty forwards who is much more dangerous when slipping into space than simply posting up down low.

Olaseni is also a beast on the boards and uses his length to clean up numerous shots in help situations. Through two games, Olaseni has blocked 16% of the two-point shots made by opponents when he’s on the floor, a block rate that is 16th-best in the country. His 37.6% defensive rebounding rate has also earned him a Top 20 individual ranking in that category.

Iowa has a pair of talented guards in their starting five who can both run the point in Mike Gesell (No. 10) and Anthony Clemmons (No. 5). Gesell is a deceptively quick player, who knows how to use the hesitation dribble to make his speed bursts even more effective. He has an insane assist rate of 38.8% through two games, but hasn’t played enough minutes to qualify for the national leaderboard.

Clemmons, meanwhile, is a guard with quick hands that has also made a big impact behind the arc. Even though the junior doesn’t take many shots, he’s made 5-of-6 from three-point range this year, and also owns a steal rate that is in the Top 100 nationally.

Backing up Gesell and Clemmons is six-foot sophomore guard Trey Dickerson (No. 11), who transferred to Iowa after one year at the juco level. Although he still is a little raw for major minutes, Dickerson has incredible hops and has shown range to about 17 feet. His shooting percentage is just 36.3% through two games, but he’s been fortunate enough to log solid minutes in those lopsided affairs, giving him quite a bit of early experience.

Sophomore forward Peter Jok (No. 3) is another reserve option for Coach McCaffery, and could end up being one steal of a recruit. Jok was one of the top local talents as a freshman in Iowa, but knee surgery took him out of action and put him under the radar. The Hawkeyes had pursued him early, and they were still interested after his rehab.

In the first two games, you could certainly see flashes of Jok’s diverse offensive skillset, and his length and hustle were also on display when he raced back against Hampton to shut down a fast break opportunity with an impressive block. Although Jok isn’t a starter and seems to be fourth in the forward rotation right now, it certainly seems that he’ll be a force in the Big 10 before he graduates.

Rounding out the rotation are senior guard Josh Oglesby (No. 2) and German-born freshman forward Dom Uhl (No. 25). Coming off a season in which he made 40% from behind the arc, Oglesby has not been shy about chucking it up from behind the arc, but he has yet to find his stroke this season, having made just 23% of his shots. Uhl has yet to make a major impact as a freshman, but did knock down some threes against Hampton and looked really smooth spinning around the Pirate defender for a layup on one baseline drive. Like Jok, Uhl’s role will likely shrink in a crowded frontcourt as the season wears on, but he’s shown signs of things to come.

Keys to the Game

1. Lock down the perimeter – Iowa moves the ball extremely well, which leads to quite a few wide-open threes for players who are good shooters even when there is a hand in their face. That’s a recipe for disaster for opposing defenses, and one that Texas must avoid tonight to fend off an upset at the Garden. The Longhorn bigs did a good job chopping their feet and closing out quickly on perimeter shooters in their first two games, and they’ll need to do more of the same tonight.

2. Crash the glass – Texas and Iowa both posted solid rebounding numbers in games against teams that were much smaller than their own. With these sizable frontcourts now facing off against one another, a team that can post a significant edge on the glass may find that those extra possessions end up being the difference in tonight’s game.

3. Stay poised against pressure – Iowa isn’t a team that constantly throws pressure defense at you, but they do have a variety of looks that they use to keep opponents guessing. Those multiple looks do include some backcourt pressure and half-court traps, so the Longhorn guards have to be aware of that danger tonight. In a game that looks to be fairly tight on paper, the only thing worse than wasted possessions are wasted possessions that lead to fast-break buckets.

11.16.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:37PM

Alcorn State Braves (0-1) at #10/10 Texas Longhorns (1-0)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT
TV: ESPNU | Vegas: Texas -28.5

The Texas Longhorns return to action tonight, finishing out the Regional Round of the 2K Classic with a game against Alcorn State. As with all November tournaments, the Longhorns will “advance” to New York City on Thursday regardless of the result tonight, and will take on Iowa, followed by either Cal or Syracuse.

Even if the Longhorns needed a win tonight to reach Madison Square Garden, there would not be much cause for concern. The Braves have languished at the bottom of the SWAC for all three years of Luther Riley’s tenure, and based on their performance in Berkeley on Friday night, Alcorn State may be in for another long year.

Alcorn State repeatedly let Cal get to the rack
(Photo credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press)

By the numbers

With just one game on the books, the stats don’t look pretty for the Braves. Alcorn State fell behind by double-digits to Cal almost immediately, and ultimately lost by a 91-57 tally. Their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency numbers currently rank 323rd and 304th out of 351 Division I teams, according to number cruncher Ken Pomeroy.

On a more granular level, there still wasn’t much the Braves did right against the Bears. Their effective field goal percentage was just 34.2%, while they allowed Cal a 59.2% mark and were crushed on the defensive glass. About the only statistical positives for Alcorn State in the opener were the fact that they didn’t turn it over very often, and they didn’t send Cal to the line with much frequency. Of course, the matador defense played by Alcorn State had something to do with the latter, but we’re trying to stay positive here.

Meet the Braves

The lineup situation for Alcorn State is incredibly confusing at the moment, so I’m not even sure who will be on the bench for them tonight. Big man Octavious Brown didn’t make the trip to Berkeley, and his status for the game in Austin is unknown. Players also switched jersey numbers, resulting in an administrative technical at one point in the game, because an Alcorn State player was wearing a different number than what had been provided to the official scorer before the game.

The team’s best player is Leantwan Luckett (No. 1), who is listed as No. 15, but decided to wear No. 1 against the Bears. Who knows what he’ll be wearing tonight, but you’ll be able to quickly pick him out, since he’ll be the one chucking up shots early and often. Luckett took nearly a third of his team’s shots on Friday night, even though he was only on the floor for 30 minutes, and despite connecting on just 27.8% of his attempts.

Luckett is quick and can get to the rim, but as his field-goal percentage might have told you, he has quite a bit of trouble finishing. Since he had issues against a Cal team that really only has a pair of true post options, he will certainly have even more problems against the size of Texas.

That inability to finish once getting to the rack also plagued Marquis Vance (No. 30). The 6’7″ sophomore forward has the ability to face up and drive to the bucket, but doesn’t have much in the way of quickness or tight handles. Vance was also a sizable portion of the Alcorn State offense on Friday, taking 21% of their shots, while posting 17 points. He also easily led the team with nine rebounds on a night where few other Braves were able to earn second chances.

Tyrel Hunt (No. 0) is the team’s other dynamic scoring threat, but like Luckett, he also had some issues finishing against size. He did utilize a nice floater to score some buckets in the lane, so his midrange game might be the team’s best option against a big Texas team tonight.

Kenyan Pittman missed both of his attempts against Cal
(Photo credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press)

The starting five on Friday was rounded out with Tamarcio Wilson (No. 3) and Kenyan Pittman (No. 23), who combined for just four points in 57 minutes on the court. Key reserves for Alcorn State were Reginald Johnson, Jr. (No. 24), a freshman who was tabbed as Mr. Basketball in Louisiana last year, and George Thomas (No. 2), a 6’6″ junior who did not score in his limited action against Cal, but did snag four rebounds.

Keys to the game

Let us pretend for a moment that the only key to this game for Texas is not “just show up with five players in uniform.” Instead, let’s take a look at a few areas that Texas can exploit in the matchup with Alcorn State.

1) Run the floor in transition — Although Alcorn State didn’t turn the ball over very often, they did a terrible job early in the loss to Cal at stopping the ball in transition, leading to uncontested layups. The Braves also had very questionable shot selection, which set up the Bears nicely for numerous fast break points. The Longhorns have already shown their ability to add easy points on the break, and with big men that know how to run the floor in transition, they should easily take advantage of this weakness tonight.

2) Provide quick help on D — The Braves only logged assists on four of their 18 baskets, instead preferring to have one of their three stars isolate and try to get to the rim. Even when Cal offered help inside, the Braves were more content to force up a shot than look for an open teammate. If Texas is able to quickly help inside when they allow dribble penetration, they likely won’t fall victim to a timely assist, and should be able to force a ton of bad looks.

3) Attack with the bounce — When Cal didn’t manage to score on a fast break, they still found it easy to slice through the Alcorn State D with dribble penetration, and rotations by the Braves were horribly slow. Isaiah Taylor will likely have a field day against this defense, and should be able to pad his line with quite a few buckets and assists. We’ve heard a lot about Jordan Barnett‘s ability to finish with a nasty dunk, so perhaps he’ll even add a highlight or two on cuts from the wing.

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.

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