12.16.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:11PM

Lipscomb Bisons (4-5) at #9/9 Texas Longhorns (8-1)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: LHN
Vegas: OFF | KenPom: Texas, 77-57 (97%)

First things first, let’s address the mascot. Lipscomb insists that its mascot is the Bisons, not the Bison. Apparently at some point in time, bisons was an acceptable plural for that animal, and although it’s fallen out of general favor, it is still listed in some dictionaries. I know we’re all going to cringe every time it’s said tonight, but I have faith that we can remain strong and survive without stabbing anything into our ears.

No time for a formal preview post today, so I’ll be tweeting details about three Lipscomb players to watch and three things to watch for from UT in tonight’s game. You can catch that later this evening via the LRT Twitter feed, and the tweets will also be archived in this post at some point tonight, most likely after the game.

12.13.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:59AM

Texas State Bobcats (5-1) at #8/9 Texas Longhorns (7-1)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: LHN
Vegas: Texas -22.5 | KenPom: Texas, 70-51 (98%)

After a long week off for finals, the Texas Longhorns are back in action tonight, when they host Texas State in the first of a five-game homestand that will close out the non-conference slate. Although the Longhorns will face a pair of solid foes in Long Beach State and Stanford, they are still favored in each of those five games, with Ken Pomeroy currently giving Texas win percentages of at least 84% in all of them.

Tonight’s game falls in that time frame that can usually lead to lackluster performances by good teams. For most major conference teams, this is the start of the easier portion of their schedule, having just wrapped up the November tournaments and early December power-conference matchups. Throw in finals and a short holiday break just around the corner, and you find that this is typically the weekend that contending teams look rather pedestrian.

Danny Kasar had a rough first year in San Marcos
(Photo: Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY Sports)

Even with the Longhorns favored by a massive spread, this would be a dangerous night for them to fall asleep on the job. Texas State is now in the second year of the Danny Kaspar era, and after a dreadful first season, he’s restocked the roster with a ton of JUCO talent.

The Bobats have made nearly 40% of their threes this season, and have posted a defensive turnover rate of 25.7%, currently the 10th-best mark in Division I. Good three-point shooting is always an ingredient in upsets, and the Longhorns have also had trouble hanging on to the basketball. Although the Bobcats have taken a very small percentage of their shots from behind the arc, the interior size of the Longhorns will likely force them to spend more time on the perimeter tonight. If the Bobcats continue to shoot that well from beyond the arc, they could make things interesting.

Thanks to the explosion of streaming options and the expansion of college basketball coverage in the nine years I’ve been writing on this website, it’s very rare that I haven’t been able to see an opponent at least once before writing a game preview. With the incredibly soft schedule that Kaspar lined up for November, this will be one of those situations. Texas State has played a pair of teams that aren’t in Division I, while their other four opponents have an average KenPom rank of 302.5. There are only 351 D-I teams.

Without having seen the Bobcats play, the game preview will be quick and dirty, and really just consist of stats. In the team’s four D-I games, they utilized a seven-man rotation, with six of those players combining to play more than 84% of the available minutes. The seventh, JUCO combo guard Ethan Montalvo, averaged just under 15 minutes in D-I contests.

Junior center Emani Gant (No. 21) and 6’7″ sophomore forward Kavin Gilder-Tilbury (No. 1) are both high-usage players for Coach Kaspar, utilizing 24% and 24.7% of the possessions when they’re on the floor. In last year’s meeting with Texas, the 6’8″ Gant found his time limited by foul trouble, but still scored seven points and logged four assists. Gilder-Tilbury also contributed seven against the Longhorns, but connected on just one of his five three-point attempts.

This is the only D.J. Brown picture I could find.
Here, he plays airplane instead of defense.
(Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

The bulk of the backcourt minutes are chewed up by seniors D.J. Brown (No. 0) and Wesley Davis (No. 10). Brown is a graduate transfer from San Jose State, and his leadership at the point has filled a massive hole for the Bobcats. In D-I games, he’s posted an assist rate of 20.5% during his time on the floor, while turning it over on just 9.9% of the team’s possessions. Davis is an excellent defender, as evidenced by his 5.2% steal rate against D-I competition, currently the 23rd-best mark in the country. The Longhorns were able to avoid falling victim to his quick hands last year, as he logged just one steal in 17 minutes.

Cameron Naylor (No. 24) and JaMarcus Witherspoon (No. 23) are two of the many JUCO additions to the Texas State roster. Naylor earned all-league honors in the Panhandle Conference last year, and has been the best offensive rebounder for the Bobcats so far this season, in terms of OR%. Witherspoon is a 6’4″ guard whose aggressive play has drawn more than five fouls per forty minutes.

Keys to the game

1. Hang on to the ball – The Texas State defense doesn’t do a very good job of forcing bad shots, instead relying on turnovers to shut down their opponents. The Longhorns have had a rash of troubling turnovers with Isaiah Taylor out of action, so they will need to take care of the ball tonight. If they can avoid dumb turnovers, they should be able to find some very easy looks inside.

2. Dominate the glass – The size advantage should not only allow Texas to find easy looks inside, but should also allow them to limit second-chance opportunities, while earning some putbacks of their own. The Longhorns outrebounded a very large Kentucky team last Friday night, but fell victim to rebounds when it mattered most. It should be much easier tonight for Texas to impose their will on the glass from tip to final buzzer.

3. Limit damage from the perimeter – Texas State only takes 23.8% of their shots from beyond the arc, but they have yet to face a team with as much size as the Longhorns. The Bobcats have made 39.6% of their limited three-point attempts, so Texas needs to make sure that they are getting hands up and actually challenging any long-range shots that Texas State tries tonight. Gilder-Tilbury was the team’s best three-point shooter last year, but it’s been Brown who is leading the way this year, sinking 8-of-16 since arriving in San Marcos.

12.05.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:03AM

#6/7 Texas Longhorns (7-0) at #1/1 Kentucky Wildcats (7-0)
Rupp Arena | Lexington, KY | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
Vegas: Kentucky -11.5 | KenPom: Kentucky, 65-55 (86%)

The buzz around this year’s Longhorn team has been strong since the moment last year’s team was knocked out in the NCAA tournament’s Round of 32. That only intensified in late April when Myles Turner decided to attend UT, and the national excitement continued to grow as the Horns notched neutral site wins over Iowa and Cal, and a true road win against UConn. As the hype train gained speed, one game was repeatedly mentioned by every announcer and publication.

After weeks of build-up, that big game is finally here. The matchup of the massive frontcourts of Texas and Kentucky is now just hours away, and although the absence of Isaiah Taylor will put a disappointing asterisk on the box score, that buzz and excitement is still in the air. Considering Taylor’s absence and the tough road environment, both Vegas and the legendary Ken Pomeroy don’t give the Longhorns much of a chance. Still, college hoops writers have pointed out all week that if any team is going to match up with this Kentucky juggernaut, the Longhorns are your first pick.

By the numbers

John Calipari is pumped about this year’s UK team
(Photo credit: James Crisp/Associated Press)

When you look at the statistics for the Wildcats, it’s hard to find a negative. It’s almost as if this is a video-game team where the programmers just decided to give everyone a 99 rating in every category, and you ended up with an entire roster of gigantic players with freakish athleticism. The only statistical areas measured by Pomeroy in which Kentucky is not ranked in the nation’s top 50 are free-throw percentage (65.3%; 253rd), three-point percentage (32.3%; 207th), and effective field-goal percentage (52.5%; 74th), with that last percentage actually being dragged down by the second one.

Overall, the Wildcats have the nation’s third-most efficient offense in terms of adjusted efficiency, with Pomeroy reporting 1.136 adjusted points per possession. On the other side of the court, they post the nation’s second-best adjusted defensive efficiency, averaging 0.839 adjusted PPP. Every single team that has played Kentucky this year has posted their worst offensive numbers in that game, with Montana State managing just 0.398 PPP in an 86-28 blowout.

If you take a look at the tempo stats for UK, you can see just how difficult it is for opponents to limit their effectiveness. On the year, the Wildcats have an adjusted tempo that is in the bottom third of Division I, with an average of 65.2 adjusted possessions per game. In terms of actual possession length, Kentucky’s 16.1 second average on the offensive end is 42nd shortest in D-I. Against Kentucky’s defense, the average possession length is 19.8 seconds, which is the 23rd longest. Opponents have tried to slow the game down by being patient on offense, but Kentucky is so explosive on the other end that they can still score points in a hurry.

Meet the Wildcats

There is never a shortage of talent in Lexington, and that is certainly the case this season. With Aaron Harrison (No. 2), Andrew Harrison (No. 5), and Willie Cauley-Stein (No. 15) all deciding to return for another season at UK, Coach John Calipari suddenly found himself with more great players than he’d planned on having. The team boasts nine McDonald’s All-Americans and eight returning players, three of them starters.

With the abundance of riches on his bench, Calipari decided to test out a platoon system in their August trip to the Bahamas. Named the Blue Platoon and the White Platoon, Calipari’s two stacked groups of five provide him with the chance to provide complete “reinforcements” — he prefers that term to “subs” — at every media timeout. With the second platoon easily being skilled enough to start at any school in the country, the Wildcats have waves of talent that allow them to keep their energy levels high as they wear down opponents over 40 minutes.

The Blue Platoon starts the game, and consists of the Harrison twins, Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress (No. 22), and Karl-Anthony Towns (No. 12). Andrew Harrison runs the point, and is coming off a season in which he struggled with turnovers and oftentimes made his frustration visible on the court. As a sophomore, his turnover rate is still north of 20%, but he carries himself with more confidence, and still dishes out dimes on nearly 29% of the buckets scored when he’s on the floor.

His brother, Andrew, is the Blue Platoon’s shooting guard. Andrew instantly became a Kentucky legend with his clutch three-point shooting in last year’s NCAA tournament, which saved the team in consecutive wins over Louisville, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This year, he’s only taken 13 threes, but has connected on 38.5% of them.

In addition to his three-point prowess, Andrew is easily able to get inside and score, thanks to another gear that makes him look like he’s just gliding with the ball. He has good body control, so he can absorb contact in the air and still make a shot, and he also scores a few fast break buckets each game thanks to his quick hands on the perimeter.

Marcus Lee is one of many UK shot blockers
(Photo credit: Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

Inside, Poythress is one of the team’s old, grizzled veterans, despite being only a junior. He has great hops and timing to block shots, and will often wipe away an opponent’s fast break opportunity by racing back and swatting the layup attempt from behind. The 6’8″ big man has missed a pair of games this year due to illness, and is currently shooting just 35.5% from the field, but his defensive contributions and solid rebounding still make him a factor in every game.

The other old man in the Blue Platoon is Cauley-Stein, a 7-foot junior who had to watch the team’s Final Four run after suffering an ankle injury in the Sweet 16. That injury led to this awesome outfit at the title game, and it also encouraged Cauley-Stein to return for another season, despite being projected in the first round of the NBA draft. He runs the floor well in transition, moves well laterally when defending the post, and provides an intimidating, shot-blocking presence down low.

The 6’11” freshman Towns rounds out the Blue Platoon, and he’s already made a huge impact on both the Wildcats and the national basketball scene. He currently has the nation’s second-best block rate, as he swats more than 18% of the two-point shots attempted when he’s on the court. He also rebounds well on both sides of the court, with his offensive and defensive rates both ranked in the Top 50. One of the most impressive things about his game has been his ability to look to the opposite wing when doubled in the post, as he has repeatedly set up teammates for wide-open threes with his quick, timely passes.

The White Platoon is run by 5’9″ freshman point guard Tyler Ulis (No. 3). Although he’s the smallest player by far and has only played seven collegiate games, Ulis has been absolutely phenomenal. He is a lightning-quick pest on defense, practically living in the shirt of the opponent unlucky enough to be guarded by him. He has a steal rate that is ranked in the Top 50 nationally, but he’s also been responsible for turnovers by causing five-second violations and forcing bad passes.

On offense, he’s just as fast with the ball as he is on defense, and can quickly get a shot off, both in catch-and-shoot and pull-up situations. Although he’s taken just 14 attempts on the year, Ulis is the team’s most accurate three-point shooter with a 57.1% mark.

Devin Booker is a three-point marksman
(Photo credit: James Crisp/Associated Press)

Although Ulis has the best mark so far this season, the team’s best three-point shooter is probably fellow freshman Devin Booker (No. 1). At 6’6″, roughly two-thirds of his shots come from behind the arc, but he’s also shown the ability to slash inside and hit a nice floater when defenses play him too tightly on the perimeter. Booker had a bumpy start on three-point shooting this year, which culminated in an especially tough 1-for-6 night against Kansas in the Champions Classic. Since then, he’s been practically automatic, knocking down 13-of-19 triples in the last four games.

Sophomore Marcus Lee (No. 00) is a fantastic shot blocker with great hops. He moves really well on defense for a 6’9″ guy, which allows him to provide pressure even when his man floats out to the perimeter. He hasn’t seen quite as many minutes as the rest of the White Platoon, a situation that will likely continue until his free-throw shooting improves. Currently just 1-for-8 from the line, Lee won’t be able to play late in close games if teams can target him for fouls.

Free-throw troubles are also a concern for 7-foot sophomore Dakari Johnson (No. 44). After a promising start in two exhibition games, where he made 7-of-9 at the stripe, Johnson has made just 60.5% of his free throws during the regular season. Last year, he made just 45%. That’s a big problem for a guy who draws fouls at the eighth-highest rate in all of Division I hoops.

Although Johnson’s free-throw shooting hasn’t improved, he does look much better running the floor in transition this year, and is still a shot-blocking and rebounding machine in the middle. Teams have tried double and triple teams already this season, but he’s showed patience and poise against the pressure, and is still often able to score in those situations, thanks to a nice little hook shot.

Freshman Trey Lyles (No. 41) is the final member of the White Platoon and the ten-man rotation. Named Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana last year, Lyles has already showed off a versatile skill set in his short collegiate career. At 6’10”, he’s still able to knock down outside shots, and can move well enough on defense to guard on the perimeter. Lyles has shown great body control for some impressive shots around the paint, is easily able to create his own shot in face-up situations, and of course can post up down low.

Keys to the Game

Even with Taylor at the point, Texas would have needed to execute extremely well for 40 minutes against an incredibly talented and deep team in one of the most hostile environments in the country, just to have a shot at escaping with a win. Without their point guard, it’s not a stretch to say that the Longhorns will need to play a nearly-perfect game to claim a massive road upset tonight. The four keys below are just a few of the many areas in which Texas will need to execute.

1. Dictate the tempo – With reinforcements coming in roughly every four minutes, Kentucky always has fresh legs late in the game. That depth also allows them to play high-pressure defense for 40 minutes, which wears on their opponents throughout the game. Add in the fact that the Longhorns are thin in the backcourt, have a pair of frontcourt players in Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh who will likely struggle against UK’s bigs, and that Texas is playing its third game in six days, and you can see why Texas needs to limit the possessions tonight. If the Longhorns have poor shot selection and don’t exercise patience on the offensive end, it’s going to cost them dearly in the form of fatigue late in the game.

2. Protect the paint – Although Kentucky has some three-point shooters, the bulk of their scoring comes down low. Texas is well equipped to give the Wildcats a battle in the paint, and they will need to make it very difficult to score down low for UK. If the Longhorns can force Kentucky to take mostly jumpers, they should be able to slow down the highly-efficient Kentucky offense at least a little bit.

3. Limit second chances – Forcing Kentucky into taking jump shots won’t make much of a difference it the Longhorns don’t win their defensive rebounds. Kentucky has the nation’s best offensive rebounding percentage, as they have reclaimed nearly half of their missed shots this season. If Texas allows UK extra opportunities and easy putbacks tonight, the chances for an upset will be slim.

4. Take care of the ball – The Kentucky defense is unrelenting, as Providence quickly learned in their loss at Rupp this weekend. The Friars did an excellent job dictating the pace of the game and forcing the Wildcats to take more jump shots, which allowed them to hold a lead into the second half. Everything quickly fell apart for PC, though, as the Wildcats forced a flurry of turnovers and scored fast break points at will.

Kentucky’s stable of huge big men allow their guards to provide extra pressure on the perimeter, since the big men can easily clean up any dribble penetration with a blocked shot. Add in the fact that the Harrisons, Ulis, and Booker also all have quick hands, and it’s very difficult for opposing guards to hang on to the ball. Compounding the problem for offenses is the fact that Kentucky’s big men are all athletic enough to switch ball screens on the perimeter. Combine all of those factors, and it is very difficult for teams to find much success against the Wildcats.

The Longhorns have recently had issues with sloppy play and turnovers against defenses not nearly as frustrating as that of Kentucky. If Javan Felix and his teammates cannot take care of the ball tonight, an intriguing matchup of Top 10 teams could quickly turn into a rout.

12.02.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 6:33AM

UT Arlington Mavericks (3-3) at #6/7 Texas Longhorns (6-0)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
Vegas: Texas -22.5 | KenPom: Texas, 84-61 (98%)

The Texas Longhorns survived a tough road test in Connecticut on Sunday on the strength of a last-second three from Jonathan Holmes, and the team faces an even bigger challenge against Kentucky in Lexington on Friday night. In between those two marquee matchups, the Horns get a bit of a breather tonight, as they host in-state foe UT Arlington at the Drum.

Although UT Arlington has been one of the more successful mid-majors in the state during the tenure of coach Scott Cross, this year’s team is having a rough start. They were blown out, 92-44, when they played Kentucky at Rupp Arena, and lost at Montana State — a team that was also demolished by UK, 86-28 — by a 104-81 count. That lopsided victory is the only win for Montana State so far this season.

UTA’s defense has frustrated Coach Scott Cross
(Photo credit: James Crisp/Associated Press)

Tonight’s match-up is the second of a three-game stretch in six days for the Longhorns, which includes two lengthy road trips. As it would take a minor miracle for the Mavericks to upset the Longhorns tonight, the main focus for Texas should be to get through this game without any injuries, while also giving the bench some extra minutes. Although the Mavericks led the Horns by eight at halftime in last year’s game, before ultimately falling short in their upset bid, this year’s Texas team should be able to avoid any scares.

By the Numbers

The Mavericks have played some of the fastest basketball in the country, clocking in at an an adjusted 73 possessions per game, while also playing matador defense. That combination has led to the type of blowout losses seen against Kentucky and Montana State. In those two losses, the Mavs allowed 1.37 points per possession, and the defense has averaged 1.052 adjusted PPP through its first six games, according to Ken Pomeroy. That adjusted defensive efficiency is one of the 40 worst marks in all of Division I hoops.

There are a number of factors combining to produce such poor defensive results, the first of which is just giving up easy looks. The Mavs have allowed opponents to knock down more than 38% of their threes and post an effective field goal mark north of 50%. When they do manage to force a miss, UTA is allowing opponents to win back more than 35% of their offensive rebounding opportunities. They also frequently send the other team to the line, giving out almost one free throw for every two field goal attempts.

On the other end of the court, the numbers for UTA are not nearly as bad. The team’s adjusted offensive efficiency of 0.992 points per possession matches the national average, and their three-point percentage of 38.1% is currently 67th out of 351 D-I teams. Where the Mavericks have run into trouble is anywhere inside the arc, as they have the 10th-highest block percentage at 17%, and a shooting percentage of 41.7% inside the arc, which is ranked 298th. While that shooting percentage was certainly influenced by their 31% showing in the blowout at Kentucky, the Wildcats were not the only team to repeatedly block UTA’s shots.

Meet the Mavericks

With Coach Cross employing such an up-tempo approach, the Mavs have a fairly deep bench, and he distributes the minutes to cut down on fatigue. The team’s lineup is so fluid that their sixth man, Lonnie McClanahan (No. 22), may be their most explosive player. A 6’1″ senior, McClanahan is unrelenting with his dribble penetration, and he is a pest on the defensive end. He has a knack for jumping the passing lane at just the right time, frequently leading to fast break points on the other end.

With the ball, McClanahan knows how to seek out body contact and finish through it. He has drawn an average of 9.7 fouls per 40 minutes, the second-highest individual rate in all of D-I hoops. His 33.7% possession usage is also one of the nation’s top 20, as he takes nearly 30% of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, and has dished out dimes on more than 21% of the team’s buckets.

Against UK, Johnny Hill and the Mavs had trouble inside
(Photo credit: James Crisp/Associated Press)

That assist rate is actually a smidge higher than the team’s starting point guard, Johnny Hill (No. 10), who has logged assists on more than 20% of the buckets scored when he’s in the game. A transfer from Illinois State, Hill has experience in the tough Missouri Valley Conference, and his quick hands have been one of the only bright spots for the UTA defense.

Joining Hill in the backcourt is another transfer, Jamel Outler (No. 3), who started his career at Texas Tech. He never saw the court for the Red Raiders before heading to Arlington, where he has been the team’s three-point marksman the last three seasons. Last year, Outler made more than 40% of his threes, and is off to a 41.7% start this season, including a 7-for-8 outburst against Houston Baptist. It has been boom-or-bust behind the arc for Outler, as he’s also posted lines of 0-for-6 and 1-for-5 from outside. How he performs against Texas will likely be the biggest factor in the final margin of victory.

Sophomore Drew Charles (No. 4) rounds out the starting backcourt in Cross’s three-guard look. At 6’2″, Charles was one of the most aggressive players against Kentucky, repeatedly attempting to beat them off the bounce. It looks like Charles will probably be a good slasher in Sun Belt play, but he found it to be tough sledding against the Kentucky frontcourt, and will likely see the same problems tonight.

Down low, 6’7″ freshman Kevin Hervey (No. 25) is the best rebounder for the Mavs, snagging more than 10% of the team’s offensive rebounding opportunities and 25% of the defensive ones. The latter mark is actually 64th-best in Division I, quite a feat for a player who missed most of his senior year of high school with an ACL injury, and is a little undersized for his position. Built as more of a wing, Hervey can also hit the three, which he did to open the scoring at Kentucky, and he’s made 36.8% of his attempts so far this year.

Spanish-born sophomore Jorge Bilbao (No. 45) is the final member of the team’s usual starting five, and he’s hoping to see some improvements this year after getting international experience over the summer. Although he’s a starter, Bilbao is playing about 16 minutes per game, and has not made much of a statistical impact beyond some average defensive rebounding numbers.

In the backcourt, Coach Cross has also utilized freshmen Erick Neal (No. 1) and Kaelon Wilson (No. 5). Neal is lightning quick with the ball, but still needs to slow his game down a bit to limit mistakes, something that has limited his minutes so far. Wilson was a highly-touted in-state prospect, and has been incredibly accurate on his threes this season. He’s made 5-of-8 from behind the arc, including one that scraped the ceiling at Rupp Arena as he arced it over an outstretched Andrew Harrison.

On the wing, freshman Julian Harris (No. 20) is averaging just over 11 minutes per game. He hasn’t made a major statistical impact yet, but Cross anticipates that his big frame and versatile skills will make him a tough match-up in the Sun Belt.

The Mavs have not utilized their biggest players much this season, with 6’10” Brandon Williams (No. 11) and 6’9″ Anthony Walker (No. 44) combining to play just over 21 mintues per game. Williams performed admirably in his time against Kentucky, showing good fundamentals despite being wildly over-matched. Walker is a senior who played his first two years at the juco level, but did not made a major impact for UTA last season, mostly due to a nagging wrist injury. Both will likely be given much bigger roles tonight against Texas and its massive frontcourt.

In addition, Coach Cross will benefit from the return of Greg Gainey (No. 21), a senior forward who was suspended for the team’s first six games. Although he’s just 6’5″, Gainey can still score inside and also stretch the defense with long jumpers, something that will come in handy against the Longhorns. While his conditioning for game speeds probably isn’t yet up to par, the Mavs will likely call on Gainey for some key reserve minutes.

Keys to the Game

1. Dictate the tempo – The Mavericks want to get out and run, but the Longhorns have to think big picture in tonight’s game. After a grind-it-out affair on Sunday in Storrs, and with the incredible depth of Kentucky and its two platoons awaiting on Friday night, the Longhorns cannot afford to get into a track meet tonight. Texas can certainly look for transition opportunities when they are available, but should have no qualms about slowing things down in the half-court, and maybe even throwing in some zone looks on defense to make UTA burn more clock.

2. Dominate the glass – Texas enjoys a distinct size advantage in this match-up, and the Mavericks have struggled to rebound all season long. When facing another giant team in Kentucky, UTA was outrebounded by a 49-29 count and actually allowed the Wildcats to win back nearly 52% of their misses. If the Longhorns can post rebounding numbers even half as good as those, they should be able to cruise to victory.

3. Stay home defensively – UTA has a few players who can drive the ball, but Kentucky proved that simply staying home and using their size would cause major problems inside for the Mavs. If the Texas bigs can avoid their bad habit of biting on pump fakes, and instead keep their feet on the floor, they will frustrate the Mavericks all night. UTA certainly has some shooters on the perimeter that can make Texas pay on some possessions, but it would take an incredible performance behind the arc for UTA to pull off an upset with a drive-and-kick game plan.

11.30.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:54AM

#7/9 Texas Longhorns (5-0) at #24/22 Connecticut Huskies (3-1)
Gampel Pavilion | Storrs, CT | Tip: 11 A.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: UConn -1 | KenPom: UConn, 64-63 (51%)

The Texas Longhorns are off to a 5-0 start for the first time since the 2009-10 season, when the team reeled off 17 straight wins to start the year and ascended to the nation’s No. 1 ranking. To match that feat, this year’s squad would have to navigate a non-conference minefield, beginning with this morning’s game at the defending national champions, and also including next weekend’s road trip to last year’s national runner-up. Oh, and did I mention that they’ll have to do that without their starting point guard, and with his backup nursing a sore foot?

Kevin Ollie won an NCAA title in just his second year
(Photo credit: Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press)

While the odds of another 17-0 start are slim, the Longhorns still have a good chance to leave Storrs with a win today. Texas is a slight underdog according to Vegas, but their size and experience match up well against a UConn team that is thin in the frontcourt and lost quite a bit from last year’s title team. If the Longhorns can emerge victorious on the road, they will also end an impressive streak of 44 consecutive non-conference wins for UConn at Gampel, dating back to 2001.

By the numbers

The Huskies are ranked in the top 40 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, although they’ve achieved those marks without any dominant numbers in specific categories. Their tempo trends towards the slower half of Division I, with the team playing an adjusted 66.4 possessions per game.

Mix all of those numbers together, and you can see why UConn’s three wins have come by an average of ten points, even though all three were still battles into the second half. The Huskies don’t wow you with any particular aspect of their game, but they are good enough to grind out a win in crunch time.

Where UConn does stand out somewhat in statistical categories is on the interior of the defensive end. Thanks to a stout rim protector — we’ll have more on him later — UConn has the nation’s 56th-best block rate at 13.3%, and they boast the nation’s 45th-best defensive rebounding mark, as they limit opponents to winning back just 26.2% of their misses.

On offense, two numbers tell the statistical tale. UConn’s best ranking is their two-point field-goal percentage of 51.7%, which is 78th out of 351 Division I teams. The other half of the story is told by their 42.4% team assist rate, which is ranked 317th out of the 351 teams. UConn has an incredible playmaker in the backcourt — another guy we’ll cover in just a moment — but no one else that can consistently beat the defense and set up teammates.

Meet the Huskies

That playmaker for the Huskies is Ryan Boatright (No. 11), a senior guard who is the unquestioned team leader, and the best returning piece from last year’s national championship team. Boatright is the one player who can consistently create his own shot with the bounce, and also the only one who can use the dribble to create looks for his teammates. Boatright’s personal assist ratio of 27.8% is more than double that of the second-best UConn assist rate.

Boatright has a bit of playground flair to his game, which you can see when he gets locked in on a defender and decides to beat him one-on-one. With a mix of crossovers, spin moves, behind-the-back and between-the-leg dribbles, Boatright can quickly break down a defender and bring the crowd to life in the blink of an eye.

On the other end, Boatright is a fantastic on-ball defender, and his quick hands often lead to steals and fast break buckets on the other end. With Isaiah Taylor out of action today, Javan Felix and the other Texas guards will have to be very careful against Boatright in the half-court sets.

Joining Boatright in the backcourt is N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis (No. 44). The sophomore is a stout 6’4″ guard who can get to the rim, but has yet to make a major impact at UConn. After missing the first game of the season due to a minor NCAA infraction, Purvis has made just 37% of his shots, and connected on only 30.8% of his attempts from long range.

Daniel Hamilton has impressed as a freshman
(Photo credit: Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press)

The team’s most exciting new addition comes in the form of lanky wingman Daniel Hamilton (No. 5). The younger brother of former Longhorn Jordan Hamilton, Daniel has turned out to be the team’s best three-point shooter, and has also frequently used that long-range threat to beat defenders with strong head fakes behind the arc.

While Hamilton has proven to be an explosive scorer that can heat up in a hurry, his decision-making has been questionable through his first four collegiate games. He often jumps before passing the ball, even though he’s a very long 6’7″, which leads to unnecessary turnovers. On the year, Hamilton has the team’s highest turnover rate, with a 31.2% mark.

Down low, the Huskies have a formidable big man in Amida Brimah (No. 35), the rim protector we mentioned earlier. Brimah’s block percentage of 13.3% is the 17th-highest in Division I, and it allows Boatright and the Huskies to extend their pressure beyond the perimeter, since he’s always lurking in the middle to clean up any penetration.

On the other end, Brimah has improved his game and worked on the short jumpers and a back-to-the-basket game. Although those skills are still works in progress, the big man still consistently scores in the pick-and-roll, with Boatright and Hamilton often the trigger men.

Joining Brimah in the frontcourt is sophomore Kentan Facey (No. 12), a Jamaican kid who didn’t really start playing basketball until he was 15, instead focusing on soccer and cricket. Even with the late start, Facey has developed excellent rebounding skills and makes good cuts without the ball. The big man can track down boards that are not in his area, and he leads the team in rebounding percentage as a result.

The Huskies are rather thin in the frontcourt, with Phillip Nolan (No. 1) the only real option behind Brimah and Facey. He actually has some nice post moves, but has struggled with foul trouble that limits his effectiveness. The 6’10” junior is playing less than nine minutes a game, while getting called for fouls at a rate of nearly 13 per 40 minutes.

In addition to Nolan, the Huskies also have a stout 6’8″ freshman named Rakim “Rock” Lubin (No. 14). Lubin was suspended while the team was in Puerto Rico and was reinstated late this week, so his minutes may be limited today.

In the backcourt, both Terrence Samuel (No. 3) and Sam Cassell, Jr. (No. 10) provide some depth. Both can create their own shot, although Samuel has struggled at times this year to finish at the rim. While Cassell was looked to as a potential three-point threat at the beginning of the year, he’s yet to deliver, making just 22% of his 18 attempts this season.

Keys to the Game

Ryan Boatright is an explosive scoring threat
(Photo credit: Fred Beckham/Associated Press)

1. Don’t give Boatright easy buckets – Boatright can get his own looks off the bounce, and will drill a pull-up jumper right in a defender’s eye. With his ability to score in an instant and take over a basketball game, the Longhorns cannot afford to give him any easy buckets. The Texas guards must take care of the ball at the top of the key to limit turnovers and fast break buckets, and the Longhorns must stop Boatright and the ball in transition.

2. Attack Brimah early and often – Without much behind Brimah on the depth chart, the Longhorns need to focus on putting the big man in foul trouble early. If Texas can put him on the bench, it completely changes the UConn defensive scheme, as their pressure defense would be more susceptible to finishes at the rim, and it would take away one of their big offensive weapons on the pick and roll.

3. Look for transition opportunities – When the UConn defense gets set, their pressure can be hard to handle. But, as opponents have proven this year, the Huskies can be beaten in the transition game, as they often fall asleep and forget to stop the ball. The Longhorns need to look upcourt after both makes and misses from UConn, and attempt to log as many fast break points as they can.

4. Force UConn to win with jumpers – Although Boatright has a great midrange game and Hamilton has proven to be a long-range marksman, the UConn offense struggles when it’s kept away from the rim. The Huskies missed nine straight shots and 14-of-18 against the Bryant zone in their season opener, and Bryant is a team that typically plays man-to-man defense! With the length that the Longhorns have inside, they need to pack in the defense and force a poor-shooting UConn team to beat them with the J.

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