Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:31PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keys to the game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:19PM

#8/10 Iowa State Cyclones (14-2 overall, 2-2 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (13-4, 2-2)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN3

Texas is back in action this afternoon, hosting a Top 10 opponent at the Drum. The Horns are coming off one of their most impressive performances of the season, a convincing road win in which they stifled the West Virginia offense and scored at will on the other end. UT’s defense held the Mountaineers to their lowest offensive efficiency mark of the season, allowing just 0.936 points per possession.

The Texas defense will need another strong performance this afternoon against an Iowa State squad that has the 26th-most efficient offense in the nation. The Cyclones get down the court in a hurry and find open shooters with just one or two passes, often scoring before their opponents even know what’s happened.

This game is an important opportunity for the Longhorns, who will likely be battling on the NCAA bubble all season long. In Joe Lunardi’s Thursday Bracketology update, UT was the last team left out of the field of 68. The bubble is just a bit smaller this season, as the formation of the American Athletic Conference means that there’s one less at-large bid available.

Fred Hoiberg is a little confused about today’s game
(Photo credit: Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

Texas is currently ranked 46th in the RPI, but are lacking any wins against teams ranked in the RPI Top 50. Thanks to North Carolina’s swoon in ACC play, the Tar Heels have slid to 53rd, leaving Texas with an 0-4 mark against the RPI Top 50.

Fortunately, the Big 12 is the top league as ranked by RPI, and the Horns will have an additional 10 chances to knock off a team in that important Top 50 group. Obviously, it’s easier to upset any team at home than on the road, and that’s especially true when talking about teams like Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas, who have tremendous home-court advantages. If the Horns want to finish at least .500 in league play and maintain an NCAA-worthy résumé, they will have to earn some wins at home against the Big 12’s top teams.

By the numbers

Iowa State’s aforementioned efficient offense is a quick-strike unit that can easily exploit even the smallest mistakes made by opposing defenses. The Cyclones play at the 16th-fastest tempo in Division I, and they boast the 7th-quickest offensive possessions, averaging just 14.7 seconds on the offensive end. Iowa State not only attacks in transition, but also repeatedly scores on the secondary break by finding open men when the defense does manage to stop the ball. The Cyclones are very disciplined when they run the floor, staying in their lanes and getting to spots where they can wait for open looks, or cutting to the rim on the weak side.

Defensively, Iowa State’s numbers are even better. The Cyclones have the 18th-most efficient defense in the country, allowing just 0.929 adjusted points per possession. They have a lot of length on the perimeter, which allows them to sag off and defend the interior, while still being able to close out on shooters for contested jumpers. As a result, Iowa State has a fantastic two-point defense and hardly ever sends opponents to the line. With the Cyclone D already set inside, driving guards have to pass it off, take a contested shot, or barrel forward and draw offensive fouls.

In Big 12 play, Iowa State’s defense has also started forcing mistakes. The Cyclones hardly ever forced turnovers in the non-conference slate, but are tops in the conference with a 23% defensive turnover percentage in four league games. That increase in turnovers has helped to offset a decrease in defensive rebounding, as the smaller Cyclone roster has given up more second chances now that they are battling the size of Big 12 teams.

Meet the Cyclones

An Iowa State name that most Big 12 fans will already know is that of Georges Niang (No. 31), a matchup nightmare that could best be described as a point forward. Although Niang doesn’t run the point, he has the ballhandling skills to do so, is an excellent passer, and can get to the rack by driving from the perimeter.

Niang doesn’t have the speed to blow by defenders, but he can pull opposing forwards away from the bucket, put the ball on the floor, and use smooth spin moves to beat them to the rim. When faced with smaller defenders, Coach Hoiberg loves to isolate him on the block, where Niang can easily score over both shoulders.

Defenses have a tough time slowing down DeAndre Kane
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

If Niang wasn’t already enough of a matchup problem for opponents, the Cyclones went and added graduate transfer DeAndre Kane (No. 50) to run the point. A 6’4″ guard, Kane has an aggressive streak that gets him to the rim repeatedly and makes him a handful on the glass. Kane always has a head of steam in transition, where his speed and strength make him tough to slow down. Even when he’s stopped on the break or on the drive, he makes excellent passes to set up teammates. And if opponents sag off to take away his driving ability, Kane can knock down the three, as his 35.9% success rate proves.

The former Marshall player has been putting up ridiculous numbers all season, but he has earned a lot of attention with his stats in Big 12 play. Through four games, Kane is averaging 22.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 3.5 steals. While Iowa State’s pace means that he has a few more possessions to earn those stats, the numbers are still staggering.

Freshman Matt Thomas (No. 21) had started every game this season before coming off the bench in Monday’s loss to Kansas. Thomas came to Ames with the reputation of a sharpshooter from his high school days in Wisconsin, but he has not taken too many shots in his first year at ISU. He’s only used 16% of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, but is reliable enough as a spot-up guy, having knocked down 33% of his threes.

Sophomore Naz Long (No. 15) is the man who took Thomas’ starting spot on Monday night, and he’s the team’s only lights-out option from beyond the arc. Under Hoiberg, Iowa State has historically been a team that can bury you with threes, but this year’s team is only average with a 34.3% mark from long range. Long is the main reason that percentage isn’t worse, as he’s leading the team in both three-point attempts (72) and percentage (44.4%).

On the wing, senior Melvin Ejim (No. 3) is a good shooter and quick slasher who can be tough to stay in front of. His 35% three-point mark keeps defenders honest and helps him use head fakes to get space for drives to the lane or one-dribble pull-up jumpers just inside the arc. Ejim posted some phenomenal rebounding numbers as a junior, stats that were made even more impressive when considering he’s just 6’6″. This year, those numbers have been cut nearly in half, with Melvin’s rebounding percentages not even cracking the Top 500 on either end of the court.

Although Dustin Hogue (No. 22) is also 6’6″, his mindset is more consistent with that of a power forward. Hogue is always scrapping inside for boards, and his 22.6% defensive rebounding rate ranks him in the Top 100 nationally. He is also the team’s best offensive rebounder and boasts a nice shooting percentage because of how many easy looks he earns for himself with hard work on the glass. Even when he’s not getting second-change points, he has the skills to get good opportunities inside, despite being undersized.

The Iowa State bench is very short, with no options to back up Niang, Ejim, or Hogue. Freshman guard Monte Morris (No. 11) is the final player in the core, seven-man rotation, and he averages just over 22 minutes per game. Morris has speed and good handles, but can sometimes look a little too hyped-up and jittery when he’s trying to dribble penetrate. Morris also appears to have a pretty nice three-point stroke, but doesn’t have much of a sample size on which to judge. The freshman has made nearly 39% of his threes, but is averaging less than one make per game.

Keys to the game

1) Dominate the glass – Iowa State’s defense forces opponents into taking contested jumpers, which typically means a lot of missed shots. Texas has done a good job reclaiming their misses this year and turning those into points, while the Cyclones have struggled on the defensive glass in conference play. If the Longhorns aren’t exploiting that advantage and earning second chances against an ISU team that will force a lot of misses, they will have a hard time keeping up on the scoreboard today.

Iowa State’s interior defense can frustrate opponents
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

2) Knock down threes – With the Cyclones sagging into the paint and taking away Texas’ interior game, it means that the Longhorns are going to have to knock down their open threes. Oklahoma found a lot of success with the drive-and-kick in their win over Iowa State last Saturday. The Longhorns need to do the same this afternoon, with Damarcus Croaker and Martez Walker playing the role of spot-up shooter. Texas can also probably find some success with Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert utilizing their pick-and-pop skills.

3) Don’t over-penetrateJavan Felix and Isaiah Taylor have both made their share of mistakes this season by driving against set defenses and getting themselves into trouble. While Texas will need both Felix and Taylor to be aggressive this afternoon, they have to be smart about reading what the defense is giving them. If not, it will result in senseless turnovers that will fuel Iowa State’s transition game.

4) Maintain poise – In Iowa State’s 14-0 start, eight of those wins came after the Cyclones dug out of a hole of at least seven points. Thanks to their ability to score in a hurry, it doesn’t take long for the Cyclones to steal momentum and erase deficits. The Longhorns are going to have to weather a few runs from Iowa State today if they want to pull off the upset, so they have to maintain composure when the Cyclones inevitably get on a roll.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:27PM

Iowa State Cyclones (16-7 overall, 6-4 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (10-13, 2-8)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN3.com
LRT Consecutive Game #244

February 13th has been a day circled on the calendars of Longhorn fans for the last two months. Following the initial announcement of a season-long suspension for sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo, an NCAA reinstatement committee reduced his penalty to 23 games in their ruling on December 21st. That meant that while the Longhorns would have to continue without Kabongo until that magical day of February 13th, if they could remain competitive without him, perhaps that final eight-game run could actually be meaningful.

Since that ruling, the Longhorns have gone 3-9, erasing any hopes for an NCAA at-large bid. Instead, Texas is now just hoping to avoid the first day of the Big 12 tournament, an outcome that also seems incredibly unlikely. With eight games left, the Longhorns are four games behind Iowa State and Baylor, who are tied for fifth place. Unless Kabongo can completely remake this team’s identity in the final four weeks, the Longhorns’ only hope for a 15th-consecutive NCAA bid will be to win four games in four days at the Big 12 tournament.

Kabongo will certainly make a difference for a young team that has shown an ability to compete with the league’s best teams. The question is whether or not his leadership can get the Longhorns to actually close out their big wins, something they have done only once this season. Texas lost large leads in the final three minutes against both UCLA and West Virginia, and coughed up a double-digit second-half lead against Kansas. The Longhorns also failed to convert in the final minute at Baylor, ultimately losing in overtime.

Unfortunately, the team’s problems are much too large for one sophomore to fix on his own. Although freshman point guard Javan Felix has an ugly turnover rate of 26.9%, he is not the only Longhorn unable to control the ball. Seven of the other nine rotation players also have turnover marks north of 20%, with Julien Lewis only missing out on that distinction by one-tenth of a percentage point. Kabongo cannot touch the basketball 100% of the time, and he cannot suddenly make Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert, and Prince Ibeh have soft hands.

Kabongo also will not magically give the Longhorns enough scoring threats to make the team tough to defend. Lewis is mired in a terrible slump, shooting 28.5% from the field in his last three games. Sheldon McClellan and Rick Barnes are in a battle of wills, making McClellan’s playing time almost as unpredictable as his shooting stroke.

Fortunately, Jonathan Holmes is expected to make his return tonight for Texas. The Longhorns have struggled mightily at defending in the post since he broke his hand in the first half of a loss to Oklahoma. His absence has also caused problems for Texas on the glass, and taken away any real interior threat on the offensive end.

On his own, Kabongo could not solve all of the team’s problems. But if Holmes returns to form at the same time that the team gets its leader back on the court, the Longhorns could suddenly become much more competitive. That could cause problems for Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Baylor, who all make trips to the Erwin Center during the final four weeks of the season. With those four teams currently bunched within 1.5 games of each other in the league standings, it’s clear that the Horns can make quite an impact on the Big 12 race down the stretch.

Meet the Cyclones

For an in-depth look at the Iowa State roster, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

The first match-up

For a complete breakdown of what went wrong and what Texas did right, check out LRT’s post-game wrap from the January 12th contest.

Since then…

The Cyclones have seen mixed results through the first half of the Big 12 season, with nearly all of their wins coming within the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum. Five of Iowa State’s six league wins have come at home, extending their Hilton win streak to 20 games. On the road, however, the Cyclones are just 1-4, with the lone win coming against cellar-dwelling TCU.

When these two teams first met back in January, Iowa State was ranked in the Top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. Coach Fred Hoiberg had expressed surprise at his team’s success on the glass, having assumed it would be a weakness for his ballclub.

Since the calendar has turned to league play, though, those concerns have proven to be well-founded. Iowa State’s offensive rebounding mark is just 30.5% in league games, ranking dead last in the Big 12. The drop-off has not been as severe on the other end of the court, where ISU is sixth in the league with a 66.3% mark on the defensive glass.

The Cyclone offense has made up for the missing rebounds by controlling the basketball. For the year, Iowa State has a very respectable 19.4% turnover mark, but the team has managed to cut that down to just 18.3% against Big 12 opponents. As a result, Iowa State has been able to keep its efficient offense humming, leading the league with 1.092 points per possession in conference play.

Even with their clinical offense, Iowa State has still managed to make things interesting for their fans. The team’s home win over West Virginia came after blowing a double-digit lead in the second half, and the victory only came after a last-second Georges Niang layup and a controversial defensive stop on the final play.

Against Oklahoma State, the Cyclones remained hexed by Gallagher-Iba Arena when they gave up the winning bucket to Marcus Smart with only 3.1 seconds to go. Iowa State then wasted what seemed to be their final chance when Chris Babb led Tyrus McGee out of bounds with a bizarre pass on his inbounds from the sideline. But, Babb redeemed himself by establishing position on Oklahoma State’s ensuing inbounds and was shoved in the back by Le’Bryan Nash with 1.7 to go. On the final play, McGee did get off a good look at a game-winning three, but Iowa State ultimately fell short of its first win in Stillwater since 1988.

Despite that frustrating loss and a flat performance in a road defeat to Texas Tech, the Cyclones are still just 1.5 games off the lead in the Big 12. They are also firmly entrenched in NCAA discussions, with every one of the 74 brackets tracked by the Bracket Matrix including the Cyclones at an average seed of 10.

If Iowa State is going to remain in the NCAA field, Will Clyburn will have to bounce back quickly from a rough performance against Kansas State. The senior was just 2-for-9 in Saturday’s loss and posted an ugly offensive rating of 66, well off of his 107.3 rating for the season. Clyburn has a usage rate of nearly 25% in the Iowa State offense, making a brutal performance like Saturday’s even more damaging to the Cyclones. Fortunately for ISU, Clyburn had a career day against the Longhorns in January, scoring 16 points and posting an offensive rating of 137.

While the Cyclones hope that Texas can provide an opportunity for Clyburn to get back on track, the team also is looking to earn some extra road wins as they build their tournament résumé and battle for the Big 12 title. Ken Pomeroy projects the Cyclones as winners in only two of their final four road games — tonight at Texas, and in the season finale at West Virginia. Still, ISU’s win probability is only 61% against the Longhorns and 60% against the Mountaineers, making both outcomes not much better than a toss-up. Losing one or both of those games would be incredibly damaging to Iowa State’s big-picture goals.

Keys to the game

1) Clean up the glass – The Longhorns are the worst defensive rebounding team in the Big 12, allowing opponents to reclaim more than 37% of their missed shots. Fortunately, the Cyclones have had issues of their own when it comes to extending possessions, even though it wasn’t readily apparent in the first game between these two teams. Against the Longhorns, both Clyburn and Percy Gibson snagged four offensive rebounds, and the Cyclones reclaimed more than 36% of their misses. With Iowa State posting an effective field goal mark of nearly 54% in league games and turning it over only 18.3% of the time, the Longhorns have to take advantage of their stops and limit ISU to one-shot possessions.

2) Limit transition buckets – The Iowa State defense doesn’t force many turnovers, and the Longhorns only coughed it up on 17.5% of their possessions in Ames earlier this year. Still, the Texas turnovers were generally unforced and led to 23 Cyclone points. With Kabongo at the helm, the Longhorns have a much better shot at avoiding those kinds of mistakes tonight. If they can manage to do so, the Horns should be able to stay in the game until the final minutes and have a chance at pulling off the upset.

3) Lock down the perimeter – In the last four meetings between these two teams, the results have fallen right in line with Iowa State’s success behind the arc. The Cyclones knocked down 21 of their 47 three-point attempts (44.7%) in their two wins over Texas, while shooting just 25.6% (10-for-29) in the two losses to the Horns.

After Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State, Texas coach Rick Barnes said that Kabongo and Demarcus Holland would be starting tonight against the Cyclones. That gives the Longhorns two excellent perimeter defenders against an Iowa State team that is outstanding beyond the arc. There’s no word on whether or not Lewis will also be in the starting five, but the sophomore guard will certainly play a key role in locking down the arc, whether it’s as a starter or a reserve.

If the Longhorns can rotate quickly and stick with the Iowa State shooters, it will force Niang and Melvin Ejim to generate points inside. If not, Texas fans will have to deal with another barrage of threes and likely another Iowa State win.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:16PM

Iowa State Cyclones 82, Texas Longhorns 62

The Texas Longhorns entered Saturday’s game with the Iowa State Cyclones boasting the nation’s fifth-most efficient defense. On the perimeter, the Texas D was the stingiest in the country, holding opponents to 23.2% shooting behind the arc.

With the stifling Longhorn defense facing an efficient, sharpshooting Iowa State team, something had to give. Unfortunately for the burnt-orange faithful, it was the Cyclones who imposed their will on Saturday afternoon, as Iowa State cruised to an 82-62 win in front of 14,376 at Hilton Coliseum.

Rick Barnes is still looking for answers this season
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

The Cyclones posted an incredible 1.302 points per possession in the win, powered by an impressive 42.3% mark from behind the arc. Iowa State kept Texas safely out of reach for most of the game, holding a lead that often hovered around the double-digit mark. The Longhorns repeatedly chipped away at the lead in the second half, but could never get closer than five points. Iowa State ended the game on a 17-4 run over the last seven-plus minutes, sending the Longhorns to their first 0-3 start in conference play since the Tom Penders era.

What looked good

Jonathan Holmes had another solid performance for Texas, emerging as a team leader as fellow sophomore Sheldon McClellan continues to cool his heels in Rick Barnes‘ doghouse. With McClellan on the floor for a grand total of 59 seconds against Iowa State, Holmes led the team with 15 points.

Texas fed Holmes immediately, as he scored the team’s first hoop on a drive from the baseline. He also added a nice finish a few minutes later on a quick spin move from the block. In the second half, Jonathan drove strong to his left and used a jump stop to get to the rim, finishing as the crowd howled for a travel.

Holmes added a triple on a good shot in rhythm, further underscoring the fact that he could develop into a legitimate stretch four. When the sophomore shows any hesitation before his three-point attempts, he tends to miss in an ugly fashion. As he develops more confidence and takes the open long-range looks without thinking about them, that part of his game should improve and force defenders to follow him to the perimeter.

Freshman Demarcus Holland saw his minutes increase with McClellan riding the bench, and he turned in a generally positive performance. Although Iowa State’s Tyrus McGee poured in 15 from the bench, Holland was the Longhorn defender who had the most success limiting McGee’s damage in halfcourt sets. The freshman guard also showed off his quick hands, poking a few balls free from the Cyclone guards. While none of those plays resulted in steals, that defensive pressure will certainly frustrate Big 12 opponents.

On the offensive end, Demarcus easily had his best game of the season. Although he only scored six points in 25 minutes, Holland showed off a nice driving ability on one slashing layup from the left wing, and he used his dribble penetration to set up teammates on four assists. Texas repeatedly worked to free Holland up with screens off the ball, running him through two and three different picks on some sets.

The Longhorns desperately need another shooter to compliment Julien Lewis, and if McClellan is not going to be able to shoulder that load, the possible emergence of Holland is a much-needed development. He was responsible for a pair of turnovers when he dribbled out of control into a double team and threw an interior pass through Holmes’ legs, but the overall performance was encouraging for a guy who was averaging just 12.6 minutes coming into the game.

Julien Lewis made untimely second half turnovers
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Julien Lewis also chipped in 15 points for Texas, but had a highly inefficient performance. His scoring came on 40% shooting from the field, including just 20% from behind the arc. Lewis elevated well on his jumpers, but was lacking accuracy until he heated up late in the game.

What needed work

Unfortunately, Lewis also coughed it up four times, including a pair of frustrating, unforced errors. On one possession, he was whistled for a five second call as he simply watched the screening and cutters inside the arc. Late in the game, he rolled the ball off of his foot as Chris Babb defended him on the baseline.

Those turnovers were representative of the kind of frustrating afternoon Texas had at Hilton. Every time the Longhorns tried to make a run to make a serious dent in the Iowa State lead, turnovers or questionable shot selection stifled the momentum. With Texas down just six in the second half, Lewis was called for a carry as Texas rushed up the court. Late in the game, he threw a pass behind Ioannis Papapetrou in transition when the Horns were down by seven.

In the first half, the Texas turnovers were just as painful. Holmes dropped a pass off his foot, Papapetrou couldn’t handle a heater from Lewis as he crashed in from the corner, and the team was called for a 10-second violation against backcourt pressure from Iowa State. Although the Longhorns posted a turnover percentage of 17.5%, much better than their season average, the miscues were either unforced or came at the worst possible times.

In addition, the Texas turnovers exposed some very bad transition defense. The Cyclones repeatedly beat the Longhorns down the court, and spread the floor very well. Texas players failed to find shooters as they ran back on defense, and Iowa State knocked down multiple transition threes as a result. On the afternoon, the Cyclones scored a whopping 23 points off of Texas miscues.

The Texas defense gave up far too many easy hoops
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

The transition scoring wasn’t limited to possessions after a turnover. The Longhorns also failed to get back after missed shots, allowing open threes or easy buckets at the rim. In one instance midway through the first half, Javan Felix drew the wrath of Coach Barnes when he failed to stop the ball after missing a fadeaway jumper. Will Clyburn easily put the small guard on his hip and hit a trailing Percy Gibson in the lane for two.

Texas also had a very difficult time closing out on the Iowa State shooters, although much credit has to be given to the Cyclones for crisp ball movement and hustle plays. A few of the wide-open threes came after Iowa State won a loose ball or long rebound and the Texas defense was caught scrambling. On many of the others, the Cyclones exploited one mistake by a defender and moved the ball quickly to get the Horns rotating and chasing the play.

On the offensive end, the Texas struggles continued in this game. Papapetrou had a few nice plays and knocked down a pair of triples, but at times forced things out of the flow of the offense. In the first half, a few of his three-point attempts came early in the shot clock as he tried to quickly respond to an ISU trey. On the afternoon, Papapetrou sank just 36% of his looks. Texas clearly needs more scorers, and Papi has the ability to boost the offense, but he has to be smarter with his shot selection.

Jaylen Bond also had a mixed performance on Saturday afternoon. He did some excellent work on the glass early, but struggled to put the ball in the basket. Bond showed the ability to drive from the perimeter, but the end result was often an ugly, contested shot in the lane. If Jaylen can actually use that newfound driving ability and convert some short jumpers, the Longhorns suddenly have another offensive option. On the other hand, if those drives end in the kind of looks he threw up on Saturday, that will simply waste possessions.

Texas also had trouble scoring inside on second and third chances, despite the size advantage. The Longhorns reclaimed 36.8% of their missed shots, a very strong showing against an Iowa State team that was ranked in the Top 20 for defensive rebounding. However, Texas missed numerous tip-ins and putbacks, failing to turn those extended possessions into points. With an offense that struggles to score in halfcourt sets, Texas has to start converting those offensive boards into easy buckets.

Up next: vs. Kansas (14-1 overall, 2-0 Big 12); Saturday, 1 P.M. CT

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:45AM

Texas Longhorns (8-7 overall, 0-2 Big 12) at Iowa State Cyclones (10-4, 0-1)
Hilton Coliseum | Ames, IA | Tip: 1 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
LRT Consecutive Game #236

The Texas Longhorns are 0-2 in Big 12 Conference play for the first time under Rick Barnes, sitting just a game above .500 as they travel to Hilton Coliseum to face a tough Iowa State Cyclones squad this afternoon. The Longhorns are at risk of going 0-3 in conference play for the first time since 1997-98, the last season for Tom Penders on the 40 Acres. After dropping games to Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma to open their conference slate that season, the Horns finished 10th in the league with an ugly 6-10 mark.

Korie Lucious and ISU were stunned on Wednesday
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Texas and Iowa State are both entering this game after suffering heartbreaking overtime losses on Wednesday night. The Longhorns lost a 10-point lead to West Virginia in the game’s final two minutes, while Iowa State was seconds away from their first win at Allen Fieldhouse since 2005. A banked-in three-pointer by KU’s Ben McLemore tied the game in the final seconds and swung the momentum to the Jayhawk bench, allowing them to cruise to a win in overtime.

For Texas, the loss put their already-slim hopes of a 15th-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance on life support. Although the Big 12 has six teams ranked in the Top 55 of the RPI, a rough start to the season means that the Horns have to really impress down the stretch. Snagging a few quality wins in conference play won’t be enough this season. The Longhorns have to beat some solid opposition on the road as well as at the Erwin Center. Hilton Coliseum is arguably the second or third toughest road venue in the Big 12, so pulling off an upset will be a tall order this afternoon.

By the numbers

As was the case last season, Iowa State lives and dies by the three-point shot. More than 40% of the team’s attempts come from behind the arc, with 34.3% of the team’s scoring being done from downtown. Both of those marks are in the Top 40 of Division I hoops, while the team’s 35.9% success rate from long range is 76th in the country.

With so much of the offense coming from behind the perimeter, the Cyclones rarely get to the line. The team’s free throw rate is only 29.7%, ranking Iowa State 294th out of 347 D-I teams in that metric. In simpler terms, it means that for every ten field goals that ISU takes, they earn roughly three free throw attempts. Surprisingly, when the ‘Clones do make it to the line, they shoot a very average 69.2%. With a former sharpshooter like Hoiberg at the head of the bench, one would expect much better numbers.

Another set of surprising numbers for Iowa State come on the glass. The Cyclones are ranked in the Top 20 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, reclaiming nearly 39% of their misses, while limiting opponents to less than 26% on the other end. Texas has been crippled by terrible defensive rebounding late in the losses to Baylor and West Virginia. Allowing Iowa State that same kind of dominance on the offensive glass will be deadly this afternoon.

With great outside shooting and offensive boards extending possessions, the Cyclones have one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. Iowa State puts in an adjusted 1.111 points per possession according to Ken Pomeroy, the 23rd-best mark in the nation. Texas’ defensive efficiency is ranked 5th in the country, with the Longhorns allowing 0.844 points each time down the court. Something has to give this afternoon, and the outcome of the battle on that end of the court could easily decide the outcome.

Meet the Cyclones

Coach Hoiberg brought together a motley crew of transfers last season as he took the Cyclones to the third round of the NCAA tournament, and he again is relying on second-chance guys this season. Former Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious (No. 13) runs the show for Iowa State, where he’s averaging more than 10 points and five assists per game. Lucious is a quick guard with an outside shot and driving ability, but still struggles in the decision-making department.

Shot selection and turnovers were major issues when Lucious backed up Kalin Lucas at Michigan State, and those are still problems now that he’s in Ames. There are many possessions where the point guard takes challenged, first-side three-pointers, and you can almost always tell when he’s going to jack one up. He also has moments where he wants to be “the guy” and tries to over-penetrate against a set defense. When Lucious plays as a facilitator and as a catch-and-shoot guy from beyond the arc, he’s an incredible asset. When he’s trying to play hero ball, the Iowa State offense suffers.

The other new transfer for the Cyclones is former Utah swingman Will Clyburn (No. 21). At 6’7″, he has great slashing ability from the wings and loves to attack the rim and get to the stripe. Although Iowa State doesn’t earn many free throws as a team, Clyburn is certainly the exception. His personal free throw rate is 48%, meaning he earns almost one shot at the line for every two field goals.

Clyburn is tops on the team with 14.2 points per game and is the team’s second-best rebounder with 7.4 boards. He snags 18% of his defensive rebounding opportunities per game, ranking him 350th in the nation according to Pomeroy.

If Sheldon McClellan is tasked with stopping Clyburn, he will likely have difficulty cutting off dribble penetration. To make matters worse, Hoiberg also likes mixing in some post-up opportunities for Clyburn on the block, so the Horns could find their star battling foul trouble.

Another transfer on the Iowa State roster is lockdown defender Chris Babb (No. 2). Unlike Lucious and Clyburn, Babb already has a year under his belt with the Cyclones. Longhorn fans should remember him well, as Babb knocked down 5-of-9 from behind the arc in Iowa State’s win at Hilton Coliseum last season.

While Texas will have to deal with him on the perimeter in this one, the Horns will also have to try to beat him on the defensive end. It’s likely he will be tasked with shutting down McClellan or Julien Lewis, so Texas will have to repeatedly run Babb through screens to free up their shooters. McClellan has shown that he can be easily frustrated when he’s not getting open, so that is a matchup worth watching when Texas has the ball.

In the middle, the Canadian Melvin Ejim (No. 3) is rather undersized at 6’6″. Despite that, Ejim is a vaccuum on the defensive glass, reclaiming 27.3% of his opportunities. That ranks him 13th nationally, while his impressive 13.1% mark on the offensive glass is good enough for 87th in the country.

On offense, Ejim fits perfectly in Hoiberg’s perimeter oriented system. He has great handles and can face up opposing forwards on the arc to take them off the bounce. Although he doesn’t take a ton of threes, he has made 38.5% of his attempts on the season, so opposing defenders have to respect that threat. That opens up driving lanes for Clyburn and also makes Ejim an option on the pick-and-pop.

Georges Niang has emerged as a star in Ames
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Another good-shooting big man for Iowa State is freshman Georges Niang (No. 31), who earned his second career start against Kansas on Wednesday night. Like Ejim, Niang doesn’t take many threes, but has made nearly 35% of them, including some big triples early against KU. He also can spread out the defense as a face-up four man, and is an excellent passer. Niang’s ability to knock down the midrange jumper makes him another pick-and-pop threat, and also makes him a dangerous player in the high-low game.

The team’s sixth man is Tyrus McGee (No. 25), who could easily be a starter for Iowa State or most other teams. Despite playing just over 24 minutes per game, McGee is second on the team with 13.2 points per game. He’s a deadly long-range shooter, canning more than 48% of his attempts on the year.

The senior is also much stronger this year, and he is using that strength plus a great slashing ability to make defenses pay for guarding him too closely. McGee can put it on the floor and get to the rack in a hurry, and he has the bulk to get his shot up through contact. Texas still needs to be primarily concerned with his outside shooting, but the Horns also have to be ready to rotate and help when he blows past tight perimeter D.

With Niang likely to earn a third career start today, sophomore center Percy Gibson (No. 24) will have to come off the bench. Ranked as the top recruit out of Detroit two years ago, Gibson is averaging about 16 minutes per game and had started the four games prior to Wednesday night.

Gibson is a long and lean 6’9″, so he has more mobility than many other centers and can quickly slide to offer help defense when opponents penetrate. Although he has yet to make a massive impact in his season and a half at Ames, it’s clear that he can be a key player by the end of his collegiate career.

Prior to Gibson’s emergence as a starter, forward Anthony Booker (No. 22) was the fifth man in the starting rotation. The 6’9″ senior is yet another transfer on the Cyclone roster, having begun his career at Southern Illinois. The former Saluki is not a major threat on the offensive end, but is a solid rebounder and interior defender thanks to his vast wingspan.

Keys to the game

Texas must turn Tyrus McGee into a driver
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

1) Defend the perimeter – In two wins against Iowa State last season, the Longhorns limited the Cyclones to 10-for-29 (25.6%) from behind the arc. In the team’s loss at Hilton Coliseum, Texas allowed numerous open looks and the Cyclones knocked down 10-of-21 (47.6%), including a 9-for-12 mark in the first half.

It’s clear that the easiest way to shut down the Iowa State offense is to limit their damage from long range. Texas has to keep close watch on McGee and Babb, and the team must force Lucious to take his three-pointers off the bounce.

2) Secure the defensive boards – An inability to close out defensive possessions with a rebound was the main reason that Texas could not put away Baylor or West Virginia over the last week. Facing an Iowa State team that is excellent on the offensive glass only makes this problem even more critical. The Longhorns need to get bodies on the perimeter players when shots go up, and they must also realize that all of those long-range attempts are going to lead to some long rebounds. If the Horns are actually able to limit Iowa State’s three-point effectiveness, they cannot afford to then waste that defensive effort by giving up second and third chances.

3) Establish an inside presence early – Texas found success in their games against Iowa State last season by pounding the ball inside from the opening whistle. The Longhorns have a decided size advantage in the paint, and they need to exploit that today. Cameron Ridley needs to establish good post position and not rush his shots, while Jaylen Bond will need to scrap on the offensive boards and provide some easy points.

Iowa State is a completely different team when Niang is on the floor, so this key to the game has a second layer. Saddling Niang with foul trouble makes the Cyclones much more one-dimensional on offense, and makes it easier for Texas to focus on perimeter defense. Iowa State folded in overtime against Kansas, and while momentum had a lot to do with that, Niang’s fifth foul also played a huge role. If Texas can take him out of the game, their odds for a big road upset can only go up.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:59AM

[6] Texas Longhorns (19-12 overall, 9-9 Big 12) vs. [3] Iowa State Cyclones (22-9, 12-6)
Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO | Tip: Approx. 8:30 P.M. CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN Full Court #3 | Internet: ESPN3.com
LRT Consecutive Game #218

The Longhorns are up against the proverbial wall as they open Big 12 tournament play tonight. Texas is squarely on the bubble in nearly every bracket projection you can find, so a loss to Iowa State in tonight’s game will almost certainly end any hopes of an NCAA bid. A victory would give Texas four wins against the RPI Top 50, a key metric used by the Selection Committee, and would likely earn them a shot at another quality win against Missouri in the semifinals tomorrow.

The Cyclones and Longhorns split their pair of meetings this season, with each team defending home court. Now that the two teams are squaring off on a neutral floor, it’s apparent just how evenly matched they are. Ken Pomeroy gives Texas a 51% chance to come up with the big win tonight, predicting just a one-point margin of victory.

Meet the Cyclones

For a full look at the Iowa State roster and the team’s style of play, check out LRT’s preview from the first game between these two teams.

The Wangmene effect

The biggest difference in tonight’s third round of ISU/Texas is the sudden absence of big man Alexis Wangmene. While he only averaged 15 minutes in the two games against Iowa State this year, Wangmene’s wrist injury means that the Longhorns now have an even thinner frontcourt rotation, and even less size.

For the Longhorns, that means Rick Barnes will have to get creative with the lineup. The easiest solution would seem to be going with a smaller starting five and leaving Clint Chapman as the sole post presence. This would also get Sheldon McClellan into the starting lineup without having to take out Julien Lewis. McClellan brings extra offense to the table and can really get the offense moving when he’s aggressive. Lewis, meanwhile, provides quality defense on the perimeter and is usually good for a few “take and makes” each game.

The alternative would be to slide Jonathan Holmes right into Wangmene’s spot and keep size on the frontline. The danger in this approach is that Chapman has a tendency to get in foul trouble, and the only other frontcourt player left is undersized Jaylen Bond. Iowa State also makes this approach difficult, because the typical strategy to protect your bigs from foul trouble is a zone defense. The Cyclones are absolutely deadly from long range, so Texas would be taking a monumental risk by using a zone.

Fortunately, a four-out, one-in look matches up very well with Iowa State. It brings more athleticism and quickness to the court, which is key in trying to keep the quick Cyclone players from penetrating with the bounce. In addition, Chapman has actually been very successful against Iowa State this season, as the Longhorns made a concerted effort to get him touches right away in both games. As long as the big man can avoid foul trouble, the Longhorns might be able to survive against Iowa State without Wangmene.

Keys to the game

1) Keep Chapman on the floor- With that being said, it’s fairly obvious that the biggest concern for Texas is keeping Chapman on the court. Royce White was saddled with early foul trouble when the teams played in Ames, but posted a monster 15/15 double-double when he played 35 minutes in Austin. Chapman will be key to stopping the Iowa State superstar, and will also be needed to score easy points inside against an undersized Cyclone squad.

2) Limit the damage from deep- If you want to quickly find the biggest difference between the two Iowa State/Texas games, look no further than the three-point percentages. Iowa State was 10-of-21 in their win over Texas — including a ridiculous 9-of-12 in the first half — and just 5-of-21 in their loss. The Cyclone roster is filled with players who are deadly from long range, so the Longhorns must be vigilant on the perimeter and make sure those long looks are challenged.

3) Stop White in transition- On multiple occasions in both games, Royce White simply brought the ball all the way up the court and was halfway down the lane before a Texas defender challenged him. The Longhorns must stop the ball and cannot allow the big man to score his points so easily. In addition to giving Iowa State easy looks, that poor defense also led to unnecessary fouls when the defense reacted so late. With an even thinner frontcourt this time around, Texas simply cannot afford to let White drive the lane with impunity.

4) Be aggressive with the ball- As Texas fans know all too well, the Longhorn offense has a terrible tendency to go stagnant. When opponents double through ball screens, the Longhorn guards typically retreat instead of attacking. When defenders fight through staggered baseline screens set for the Texas shooters, the guards usually just dribble the air out of the ball at the top of the key.

The Longhorns have athletic guys who can put the ball on the floor and create looks, so they need to use those skills tonight. McClellan, Lewis, J’Covan Brown, and Myck Kabongo must attack with the dribble and get things moving. Iowa State’s defense has proven to be susceptible to dribble penetration, so Texas has to exploit that.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:44PM

Iowa State Cyclones (14-5 overall, 4-2 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (12-7, 2-4)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
LRT Consecutive Game #206

With a third of the conference schedule now in the rear-view mirror, the Texas Longhorns are clinging perilously to the NCAA bubble. The young team had two big résumé-building wins within their grasp during the last week, but let both slip through their fingers. Down two against Kansas State last Wednesday, the Longhorns had the ball with 20 seconds left, but turned it over to preserve a Wildcat victory. On Saturday, Texas was up four on a top-five Kansas team with 3:24 left, but failed to score a field goal the rest of the way and let another big win fall through the cracks.

Iowa State’s surprise start is worth celebrating
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Those losses mean that the Longhorns are now 0-5 in games decided by six points or less. Even more importantly, those two games were missed opportunities to log victories over teams ranked in the Top 25 of the RPI, a key statistic used by the NCAA Selection Committee when choosing teams to put in the tournament.

While the Iowa State Cyclones are currently just 52nd in the RPI, tonight’s game still amounts to a must-win. Against Top 100 RPI competition, the Longhorns are 1-6, with only eight more games against Top 100 teams left on the schedule. Five of those are at the Erwin Center, so Texas must defend home court against quality competition, a trend they can start tonight.

The first meeting

The Longhorns looked to be in a good position when Iowa State do-everything star Royce White was saddled with two early fouls. Unfortunately, the Cyclones made up for their MVP’s absence by torching the Longhorns from long range. At half, Iowa State held a 10-point lead, thanks to an incredible 9-of-12 mark from behind the arc.

Texas roared back in the opening minutes of the second half, powered by a suddenly-rejuvenated J’Covan Brown. The Longhorns completely erased the deficit in less than three minutes, but the comeback bid stalled out following an ankle injury to Brown. The junior stayed in the game for a few more minutes, but was completely ineffective. When he headed to the bench for good, Texas trailed just 49-47. For the next six minutes, the Horns could only manage seven free throws, and Iowa State rebuilt a lead they would never relinquish.

The big story of the game for the Longhorns was the emergence of Clint Chapman. The fifth-year senior set career highs with 19 points and 14 rebounds, shooting 78% from the field. Texas made a concerted effort to get the big man involved early, and the Longhorn guards consistently found him open when they penetrated the lane. The game was clearly a turning point for Chapman, who has exploded in conference play, averaging 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in 27.7 minutes. In non-conference games, Chapman had scored just five points and grabbed 4.6 rebounds per game.

Since then…

Iowa State quickly proved that the win over Texas was no fluke, obliterating Texas A&M in College Station on the strength of a triple-double from White, who was still battling flu-like symptoms. The Cyclone schedule quickly toughened up and tested the surprise team, although the transfer-laden roster performed admirably in close games against Missouri and at Kansas. With their record leveled at 2-2, the Cyclones took care of business last week against lower-tier teams in Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, although it took a last-second, banked-in three by Scott Christopherson to knock off the Cowboys in regulation.

Royce White has been one of the Big 12’s best
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

In conference play, White is averaging a double-double, scoring 12 points per game to go with 10.2 boards. His free-throw shooting, which has been a constant battle, continues to be subpar. The big man has made just 42.9% of his free throws in Big 12 play, so you can be sure that the Longhorns will be making him earn his points when he gets them out of position on defense.

Freshman Tyrus McGee has also increased his contributions in league play, earning Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors for stellar performances against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. McGee was a blistering 11-of-20 from long range and scored 37 points in the two games, and he also set a career-high with nine boards against the Cowboys.

McGee is not the only Cyclone killing it from long range, and as a result, Iowa State has actually increased the number of threes they attempt. In Big 12 play, the Cyclones have taken 44% of their shots from behind the arc, but when they make 38.8% of their attempts, you can’t blame them. In addition to McGee’s 48% mark in Big 12 games, Iowa State is also getting a solid 41.7% success rate from Christopherson.

Meet the Cyclones
For an in-depth look at the Iowa State roster, check out the game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

Keys to the game

1) Limit the damage from deep – When a team takes nearly half its shots from three-point range, there’s no way you can hope to completely shut down the perimeter. Instead, Texas must attempt to limit the damage that the Cyclones do from outside. Iowa State came out on fire against the Horns in Ames, so you would have to think that Texas will be playing much tighter on the perimeter in this one. If the Longhorns can hold Iowa State at or below their Big 12 rate of 38.8% behind the arc, they have to like their chances.

2) Be aggressive – Texas was able to penetrate at will during the first meeting when J’Covan Brown was in the game. He and Myck Kabongo will have to do the same tonight to ensure that the offense finds success. When teams cut off Texas’ dribble penetration and hedge hard on ball screens, the Longhorns often stand around for the majority of the shot clock before putting up a challenged shot. Texas obviously cannot afford to do that tonight, so the Horns will have to attack early.

3) Get to the line – Building off of the last point, the Longhorns need to earn a chunk of points at the charity stripe tonight. Texas has scored nearly 27% of its points from the line in conference play, thanks in large part to an impressive 76.4% mark at the stripe. With an offense that can often stall and lose all semblance of movement, manufacturing those points with free throws is key.

In the first meeting between these two teams, Sheldon McClellan did an excellent job earning the whistles, scoring 10 of his 14 points at the line, and the Horns scored nearly 34% of their points on free throws. Doing the same tonight will not only help Texas add to the point total, but it could also handcuff Royce White with foul trouble.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:03PM

Iowa State Cyclones 77, Texas Longhorns 71

The old adage holds that the best thing about freshmen is that they eventually become sophomores. Fans of the Longhorns can surely identify with that statement after Texas dropped their conference opener to Iowa State last night in Ames. Texas was without the services of J’Covan Brown down the stretch, leaving the six-man freshman class and Clint Chapman in charge of a comeback bid that fell just short.

Things looked promising for Texas when Iowa State big man Royce White went to the bench with two fouls just minutes into the game. But instead of cratering, the Cyclones built a ten-point halftime lead on the strength of 75% shooting from behind the arc. The Longhorns came out aggressive in the second half, erasing that lead in just minutes, fueled by Brown’s 19 points. Unfortunately, the junior guard injured his ankle as he finished a nice spin move in the lane, and the Cyclones were able to quickly rebuild a lead that they would cling to until the final buzzer.

What looked good

Clint Chapman had the best game of his career
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Even with Brown exploding for 19 points in just 25 minutes, the real story of the night was the surprising emergence of fifth-year senior Clint Chapman. The Canby, Oregon native had earned his first start of the season in the team’s previous game against Rice, but immediately found himself in foul trouble and was completely ineffective. Last night’s game provided Chapman a second-straight start, and the Longhorns made an immediate effort to get him the ball.

The big man responded with the best game of his career, putting in 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, while also locking down the glass on both ends of the floor. His 14 rebounds were a career high, and he led all players in both offensive and defensive boards. Most importantly, Chapman was making the point-blank shots that he — and many of the Longhorns — have struggled with all season. The Longhorns don’t necessarily need Chapman playing this ridiculously well in every game, but his consistent conversion of the easy looks is imperative to the team’s success in Big 12 play.

While Chapman raised the eyebrows in Hilton Coliseum, Brown tied him as leading scorer for the game. This was J’Covan’s most complete, efficient game in quite some time, and it’s not a stretch to say that the team could have pulled out a win if he played the last 12 minutes of the game. He was dicing up the Iowa State defense in the second half, penetrating at will for points inside. When he came out of the game for the last time, Texas trailed just 49-47 and was moving the ball well, notching assists on all three buckets that he didn’t score himself.

On the night, Brown shot 70% from the floor, knocked down all four free throws, and coughed it up just once. After posting 16 turnovers against just nine assists in his last three games, Brown’s lack of miscues against the Cyclones is a huge development.

Longhorn fans can also be reassured by the performance by freshman Sheldon McClellan. His shot was off all night, as evidenced by his 2-of-11 line. He missed all four of his shots from behind the arc, including some where he was completely wide open. Instead of going into a shell and being totally ineffective, he continued to put the ball on the floor and attacked the paint, drawing a ton of fouls on the baseline defenders. McClellan made it to the line 13 times in this game, grinding out a 14-point performance.

Once again, McClellan also avoided any turnovers despite all of his moves to the basket. With another clean sheet, his incredible turnover rate creeps even lower, to just 5.2% on the year. A number that low is typically reserved for your three-point specialists, who rarely attack or try to feed the ball inside.

Texas also did a good job on the defensive glass, ensuring that Iowa State couldn’t extend possessions. The Longhorns held the Cyclones to an offensive rebounding mark of just 22.6%, their worst percentage of the season.

What needed work

Of course, that impressive defensive rebounding performance didn’t mean quite as much when the Horns let the Cyclones knock down 51% of their shots. On top of the poor defense, the few offensive rebounds that Iowa State did manage to grab happened to come at the worst possible moments. Of the seven missed shots that Iowa State reclaimed, two of them were free throws missed as Texas tried to come back down the stretch. With the Longhorn offense already struggling to climb back into it, letting Iowa State have extra chances just made the task even tougher.

While Iowa State made more than 51% of their shots, the real killer was the team’s success from long range. In the first half, the Cyclones made 9-of-12 from outside, and most of the shots were completely unchallenged by the Horns. A simple look at the stat sheet shows how much Iowa State relies on the outside shot, and just how successful they are when they take them. For the Longhorns to continually allow those open looks just speaks to the youth of the team and their inability to remember the scouting report once the bright lights come on.

Texas also struggled to stop Iowa State in transition, giving up numerous dunks and layups on the secondary break. The only thing that gets a crowd more juiced up than a clutch three is a nasty dunk, and the Longhorns let the Hilton Coliseum crowd explode on more than one occasion. The Horns also had two or three possessions in a row where they let White take it coast-to-coast, with no one stopping the ball before White had reached the paint. That kind of lackadaisical defense is going to be absolutely deadly against the kind of athletes Texas will face in the Big 12.

In the half-court, Alexis Wangmene and Jaylen Bond had a particularly tough time defending White. To be fair, we’ve known all season that Wangmene would struggle against bigs who have a good face-up game, so this was a terrible match-up from the start. Bond’s issues, on the other hand, came as a surprise. He further compounded his defensive struggles by wasting his fouls on the offensive end, limiting him to just 11 minutes on the court.

J’Covan Brown was sidelined by an ankle injury
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

While we mentioned the success Brown and McClellan both had controlling the ball, the same could not be said for the rest of the Horns. Texas coughed it up on 22.6% of its possessions, the fifth time this season that the team has exceeded the 22% mark. Three of those poor showings have come in the team’s last four games, which is a scary trend to start as conference play gets cranked up. The Longhorns have to make their possessions count during these next two months, so they will have to quickly cut down on the errors.

Four of those turnovers came from Myck Kabongo, who once again struggled when Brown was out of the game. When J’Covan fouled out on a technical in New Jersey, Kabongo looked lost and overwhelmed by the moment and extra pressure. Against the Cyclones, he at least tried to break the defense down off the dribble a few times, but that really just meant that he ran full-tilt into ill-conceived drives. On multiple occasions, he simply made a beeline towards the baseline and threw up a wild prayer of a shot against two or three defenders. One of those shots even went off the side of the backboard.

When Myck is on his game, his dribble penetration is just as effective as Brown’s. While he’s not the finisher inside that J’Covan is, Myck has even better floor vision to find passing lanes that his counterpart might not. Unfortunately, finding a way to consistently perform that well has been a challenge for the freshman. Expectations were set very high for Kabongo based on his impressive play at the high school level, but it’s clear that it’s going to take some time for him to adjust to the pressures at this one. Texas’ growth this season will likely follow Kabongo’s own trajectory.

The Longhorns lacking any real penetration threat allowed Iowa State to focus on shutting down Chapman. As a result, in the waning minutes of the game the Texas offense often turned into a stagnant two-man game. The Cyclones could force Chapman well off the block, while Kabongo waited on the perimeter for an entry feed that could only be made much too far from the hoop.

Texas didn’t solely focus on forcing the ball in to Chapman, as there were a few sets where Julien Lewis was able to find some space on cuts without the ball, and Kabongo also worked to get it to McClellan when Chapman was guarded. None of that turned into points, however, and the Horns were only able to manage an and-one putback from Chapman during an especially futile span of more than six minutes down the stretch.

The offense was at least moving somewhat without Brown in this game, which is a vast improvement from how it looked when they were without his services in New Jersey. Unfortunately, “moving somewhat” didn’t equal any points, and it isn’t going to cut it in the Big 12. At this point, it seems that for Texas to succeed without Brown on the floor, there will have to be much more motion off the ball to give Kabongo and the Horns more options.

Up next: vs. Oklahoma State (8-6 overall, 1-0 Big 12); Saturday, 6 P.M. CT

Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:17PM

Texas Longhorns (10-3) at Iowa State Cyclones (10-3)
Hilton Coliseum | Ames, IA | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
LRT Consecutive Game #200

For Michele Bachmann, last night’s Iowa caucus was the end of the road for her 2012 presidential campaign. On the other end of the spectrum, frontrunners Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul didn’t lock up November’s general election, but kept themselves alive by proving contenders to 120,000 farmers in America’s heartland.

That seemingly random intro leads us to this awkward segue, where we make the leap that for the Texas Longhorns, tonight’s conference opener at Iowa State provides a test similar to the Iowa caucus. A game that is seemingly inconsequential on paper — much like the opinions of 120,000 people in a country of 300-million — could prove huge in Texas’ pursuit of an NCAA bid. While a ticket to March Madness pales in comparison to a national party’s ticket to the general election, it’s clear that how Texas performs tonight will set the stage for conference play.

The Longhorns finished non-conference with a solid 10-3 mark, but lack any signature wins to beef up their NCAA résumé. The victory over Temple came when the Owls were lacking two star players, while a road win at UCLA is tarnished by the pathetic season the Bruins are stumbling through. In a very deep and balanced Big 12, the Longhorns will be tested every single night, and have to take the wins wherever they can get them. While the Cyclones are a scary (but inconsistent) team and Hilton Coliseum is not an easy venue to steal a win in, tonight’s game approaches must-win territory when you consider that the Longhorns have to play two games each against Baylor, Kansas, and Missouri.

Defenses are having a hard time stopping Royce White
(Photo credit: Nirmalendu Majumdar/Associated Press)

By the numbers

Iowa State is near the top of the charts when it comes to three-pointers, and that’s clearly by design. Coach Fred Hoiberg typically has four players spread out on the perimeter, and often even moves big man Royce White (No. 30) to the top of the key for ball screens and iso plays. As a result, the Cyclones take nearly 43% of their shots from behind the arc, the 17th-highest percentage in the nation.

Fortunately, Iowa State is very streaky from behind the arc. On the year, they are making 37.8% from long range, which puts them in the Top 60 nationally. But when you break those numbers down, it’s clear that the Cyclones are a perfect example of the “live by the three, die by the three” cliché. In the team’s three losses — to Drake, Northern Iowa, and Michigan — they made just 16-of-64 (25%) from beyond the arc. In their ten wins, they sank 41.3% of their attempts, averaging just under 10 makes per victory.

The Cyclones also earn a fair share of points at the line, with more than 17 per game coming from free throws. Combining all of those freebies with the three-pointers means that just 42.3% of Iowa State’s points come from inside the arc. While that may seem like a large percentage, there are only 11 teams in the country who score less points from two-point range.

As would be expected, the bulk of the team’s free throws come from White getting fouled down low. Beyond that, there are some surprising numbers coming from guard Bubu Palo (No. 1), a former walk-on from Ames who has finally earned a scholarship for the spring semester. Palo draws an average of seven fouls per 40 minutes, and has an improbably high free-throw rate of 192.9%, meaning he shoots almost twice as many free throws as field goals.

Meet the Cyclones

As you could likely guess by this point, as Royce White goes, so go the Cyclones. At 6’8″, 270 pounds, he’s a remarkably big guy who was voted Big 12 Newcomer of the Year despite not playing a competitive game of basketball in over 900 days. White won a state title as a high schooler in Minnesota and elected to play close to home for Tubby Smith and the Golden Gophers. Unfortunately, he never played a single game there, sidelined by a slew of off the court issues — shoplifting at the Mall of America, assault of a mall security guard, and the theft of a laptop from a Minnesota dorm room.

With a fresh start at Iowa State, White has been able to show off his impressive skillset. Despite the big body, he is a deft passer and pretty good ball handler, giving Coach Hoiberg more flexibility on the offensive end. With that unusual blend of talents, White is tops on the team in points (13.1 per game), rebounds (8.9), and assists (3.9). He hardly played in the team’s last game thanks to flu-like symptoms, but should be back to full strength after three days of rest.

With defenses paying so much attention to White, that opens things up on the perimeter for the Cyclone guards. Chris Babb, a 6’5″ transfer from Penn State, is knocking down 36.4% of his long range attempts. He’s primarily a perimeter player, with nearly 80% of his shots coming from beyond the arc. Babb’s length in the backcourt is also a great boost on defense, and provides the Cyclones with an edge on the glass. He also runs the floor really well, which is huge for a team that can sometimes get bogged down in its half-court sets.

While Babb is seemingly glued to the perimeter on the offensive end, the team’s true marksman is senior Scott Christopherson (No. 11), who has made more than 40% of his attempts so far this year. Shockingly, that number actually represents a decline for the senior, who boasts a career three-point mark of 43%. It’s also worth noting that even Christopherson fits with Iowa State’s Transfer U theme, as he played his freshman season at Marquette in his home state of Wisconsin.

The third guard in Iowa State’s starting five is former Michigan State Spartan Chris Allen (No. 4), who is the closest thing the team has to a starting point guard. Although White can bring the ball up the floor and is the top assist man, Allen is generally the one setting the table on offense. Like Babb and Christopherson, the senior is a threat from outside, where he’s made 35.6% of his attempts. Unlike the other two guards, though, Allen can create shots for himself off the dribble, and does a good job attacking the paint on the bounce to get the defense moving.

Rounding out the starting lineup is Canadian product Melvin Ejim (No. 3), who doesn’t typically put up big numbers, but provides a solid rebounding and defensive presence. In the team’s most recent game, the sophomore was thrust into a bigger role thanks to White’s illness. He responded very well, posting an impressive 15-point, 15-rebound line that included a pair of triples.

The Cyclone bench isn’t used for a ton of minutes, but Coach Hoiberg does have instant offense available in the form of Tyrus McGee (No. 25). An All-American at the junior college level, McGee is an exciting player who can create shots without turning it over. Although he averages less than 20 minutes per game, McGee is fourth on the team in scoring with 9.8 points per game and has a turnover rate of just 10%.

Reserve guard Bubu Palo draws a lot of fouls
(Photo: Justin Hayworth/The Des Moines Register)

The other primary reserve for Iowa State is Palo, who won the state title in Iowa as a point guard. On a team that lacks a quality floor general, that experience translates into playing time, and he sees the floor for 16 minutes per game. As previously mentioned, Palo does a great job attacking with the dribble and drawing fouls. Unfortunately, he’s not as good when it comes to converting those attempts, sinking just 64.8% of his tries at the charity stripe.

Iowa State also has a pair of frontcourt reserves each averaging about 12 minutes per game in Anthony Booker (No. 22) and freshman Percy Gibson (No. 24). Booker is yet another transfer for Coach Hoiberg, coming to Ames from Southern Illinois. He has a serviceable offensive skillset, but typically just produces on the glass and on the defensive end.

Gibson was the top-rated high school prospect out of Detroit and had originally committed to Dayton. But when Flyer coach Brian Gregory departed for Georgia Tech, assistant Cornell Mann made his way to Ames. Having been recruited by Mann, Gibson made the same switch and ended up at Iowa State. He’s yet to truly explode, but you can already see his skills. Gibson is a long, lean 6’9″, which makes him more mobile than a lot of other bigs, and that leads to some easy buckets and boards.

Keys to the game

1) Lock down the perimeter – Although White is the headlining star on this team, the numbers make it clear that Iowa State wins and loses games behind the arc. The Cyclones will certainly make some threes in this game, but if Texas can limit the damage, they will stand a good chance to win this one on the road.

2) Attack on offense – The Cyclone defense has looked porous at times, falling victim to both dribble penetration and off-ball movement. Teams are constantly abusing them with backdoor cuts, while driving guards often find their trip to the rim is rather easy. If J’Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo play aggressively, the Texas offense should be able to pile up some points.

3) Clean the defensive glass – It’s been a recurring theme in this section of the game previews, but it bears repeating. Texas must limit second-chance points by closing out defensive possessions with rebounds. On paper, Iowa State’s perimeter-oriented attack would seem to make this an easier task, but the ‘Clones are actually one of the 100 best offensive rebounding teams in the nation. The Longhorns have to neutralize White and Ejim on the glass to make sure the sharpshooting Cyclones don’t get extra looks.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:16PM

#5/5 Texas Longhorns 76, Iowa State Cyclones 53

Hamilton and Thompson had a field day against ISU
(Photo credit: Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman)

With just four games left in the regular season, Texas was in dire need a bounce-back win after suffering their first conference loss of the season on Saturday. Fortunately for Rick Barnes and the Longhorns, the schedule-makers helped out in that department. Texas had the good fortune of hosting the Iowa State Cyclones, Big 12 cellar dwellers, and took care of business in fashion. The Longhorns turned in another brilliant defensive performance and stifled the short-handed Cyclones, coasting to a 76-53 win.

While fans shouldn’t get too excited about thumping the worst team in the conference, the win allowed the team a chance to iron out some wrinkles that had popped up in Lincoln. Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson took advantage of favorable matchups to have great games, while Dogus Balbay played out of his mind for 23 minutes. The Longhorns certainly have much bigger challenges waiting in the next three games, but it’s reassuring to see that the team was able to rebound quickly from one of their most disappointing performances of the season.

What looked good

Hamilton was the Texas player who most needed a shot in the arm, and he found it in a big way on Tuesday night. After shooting just 24% from the field in the team’s previous two games, Hamilton lit up the scoreboard against the Cyclones. He made 50% of his attempts, including 3-of-4 from behind the arc. His two threes in the second half helped fuel a Texas run that extended the team’s lead from just nine at half to more than 20 in a matter of minutes. In the first half, Hamilton even added the rare four-point play after being fouled by Melvin Ejim on a made three.

Thompson also had a breakout night against a smaller Iowa State frontcourt that was without its big defensive presence, 6’11” Jamie Vanderbeken. Tristan posted a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds, while piling up the fouls on the Cyclone bigs. Calvin Godfrey fouled out of the game, while Ejim and Jordan Railey finished with four personals each. Most teams will provide a much stiffer test for Thompson in the post, but it’s a good sign that the team identified the mismatches and mercilessly exploited them.

Gary Johnson also had a double-double against Iowa State, scoring 14 points to go with his 12 rebounds. Perhaps most importantly, Johnson finally took the opportunity to step out and knock down a three-pointer in this game.

Iowa State couldn’t contain Tristan Thompson
(Photo credit: Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman)

As we mentioned last month, Gary is one of the nation’s best shooters when it comes to shooting in the “danger zone,” located from 17-feet out to the three-point arc. It’s the furthest shot on the court that isn’t worth an extra point, so the risk is much greater than the reward. When we ran the numbers back on January 15th, Johnson was scoring 1.2 points per shot in that “danger zone.” It seems a natural progression for the senior to take a few steps back and earn an extra point for the team.

Another senior that chipped in with a quality outing was Dogus Balbay, who kept the Longhorn machine churning in the second half with hustle play all over the court. With the Cyclones sagging off of him in ways not seen since the 2009-10 season, Balbay attacked the paint off the dribble and contributed six points and two assists. More importantly, his active hands on defense deflected numerous passes out of bounds to disrupt the Cyclones, while he added a steal and a pair of impressive blocks late in the game.

As far as the numbers go, the Longhorn performance was absolutely dominant. Texas scored just 11 points in the final 11 minutes of the game, yet still finished with an impressive 23-point victory. The defense, meanwhile, squashed any hopes of an upset by holding the Cyclones scoreless for a combined 7:39 to open and close out the first half.

In terms of efficiency, the Longhorns put up the second-best outing against Iowa State all season. They held the Cyclones to just 0.767 points per possession, thanks largely in part to excellent perimeter defense. Although Iowa State had some open long-range looks early, they missed many of them, and Texas quickly adjusted to lock down the arc. The Cyclones, who were one of the nation’s top fifty teams from long range, managed to make just 25% of their three-point attempts against Texas.

Dogus Balbay was all over the court on Tuesday night
(Photo credit: Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman)

Add in the fact that the Longhorns had a brief stretch in the first half where they were unable to stop Iowa State’s dribble-drive, and those stifling defensive numbers are even more impressive. After grabbing a 4-0 lead out of the gate, Texas allowed the Cyclones to score 13 points in just seven possessions, thanks to four layups and a dunk. Once the Longhorns made the effort to shut down the dribble penetration, Iowa State was limited to mostly contested jumpers. Excluding that four-minute stretch of porous defense, Texas held the Cyclones to an unbelievable 0.656 points per possession.

What needed work

In all honesty, there was very little to nitpick in Tuesday night’s game. The Longhorns had that four-minute stretch of weak defense which we just addressed, but otherwise they appeared impenetrable.

From the free-throw line, the team actually started 10-for-13 before finishing just 3-for-8 down the stretch. That gave the Longhorns a 61.9% success rate at the line, which has unfortunately become par for the course at this point. As usual, Thompson was the main offender, making just one of his six attempts.

Jai Lucas had a disappointing 1-of-7 night from the field, finally breaking through late in the game with a pull-up jumper a few feet inside the arc. Fortunately, the Iowa State game gave Jai a harmless opportunity to work on his shot at game speed. Unfortunately, the extra time didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

It’s essentially a given that Lucas will have to chew up some minutes down the stretch to give the starters some rest. Hopefully, he will be more of a floor manager and less of a shooter in games that are a little more tightly contested. Limiting his playing time to stints in which other scorers are on the floor should help to limit the damage during those stretches.

Up next: at Colorado (16-11 overall, 5-7 Big 12); Saturday, 3 P.M. CT

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