Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:15PM

#15/18 Texas Longhorns (18-4 overall, 7-2 Big 12) at Kansas State Wildcats (15-7, 5-4)
Bramlage Coliseum | Manhattan, KS | Tip: 12:45 P.M. CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN Full Court/ESPN3

The Texas Longhorns have hit the halfway point of the conference season, sitting in a comfortable position as they head down the homestretch towards March. In his latest projections, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has pegged the Longhorns as a 5-seed, slotted 17th overall on his S-curve. Although the Big 12 is a very deep league and every game is a challenge, it would take a monumental meltdown for Texas to miss the tournament at this point.

Of course, there’s now also the additional goal of a Big 12 title. With Kansas one game ahead of Texas and three games ahead of Oklahoma and West Virginia, it’s already turned into essentially a two-team race. KU enjoys one of the nation’s best home-court advantages, while the Longhorns still have to tackle the league’s toughest road tests, so the odds are heavily in favor of the Jayhawks. Still, everything about this Texas season has been surprising, so battling Kansas down to the wire for a league title would fit perfectly into the crazy narrative.

The first of those tough road tests comes today for Texas, as the team travels to Manhattan to take on Kansas State. The Longhorns have lost in their last three trips to Bramlage Coliseum, but they aren’t alone in their struggles in the Little Apple. Over the last two seasons, the Wildcats are 12-1 at home against conference foes.

By the numbers

Kansas State’s calling card under head coach Frank Martin was always its defense and its toughness on the offensive glass, and those two qualities have carried over into the Bruce Weber era. This year’s Kansas State squad is currently ranked 13th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing just 0.931 points per possession.

The Wildcats do a great job extending pressure, and they position themselves well off from the ball to discourage passes. They work together very well as a unit, shading over to help off of their own man when possible and limit penetration opportunities. K-State has the nation’s 11th-best three-point defense, limiting opponents to just 28.9% from behind the arc. With that excellent perimeter pressure, sometimes the interior D is slow to react when dribble penetration gets inside. Typically, though, opponents get so frustrated by having to start their offense further out that they settle for jump shots and don’t attack that weakness.

On the other end of the court, Kansas State is not a great shooting team. Their own three-point percentage is nearly as low as the one their defense allows, with the team making just 31.4% of their long-range attempts. Last year, the Wildcats would frequently free up their shooters for 15 to 18-foot jump shots coming off of curls. This year, there is more spreading of the floor, and the motion away from the hoop doesn’t normally result in canned jumpers. Instead, the Wildcats are patient enough to let their movement and motion throw the defense off-balance for just a second, then attack with their quick guards or hit their dominant big man in great post position.

When Kansas State does settle for jump shots, their excellent offensive rebounding makes up for the misses. The Wildcats have reclaimed 35.6% of their missed shots, with many of those offensive boards coming in the form of short, weakside rebounds that lead to easy putbacks. Although it’s become cliché to say that K-State’s best offense is missed shots, that’s still accurate this season.

Meet the Wildcats

The player that Texas fans already know very well is Cedar Hill product Thomas Gipson (No. 42), a tank of a man that performed well against his home-state Longhorns in their last meeting. When these two teams squared off on January 21st, Gipson dominated Texas inside, scoring 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting. He’s a very strong interior player, but still has smooth post moves, and has even started working on a mid-range jumper. Although he prefers living on the blocks, that extra little wrinkle to his game has made him even tougher to gameplan for.

On the perimeter, the addition of freshman point guard Marcus Foster (No. 2) has given the Wildcats another weapon. Hailing from Wichita Falls, Foster has a very quick first step, allowing him to blast right through the cracks in the defense when K-State’s perimeter passing shifts opponents from side-to-side. On a team that isn’t very accurate from long range, his three-point shot is one of the best, and he doesn’t need much time or space to get it off.

Joining him in the backcourt is senior Will Spradling (No. 55), a spot-up shooter who has seen his three-point accuracy decrease during his time in Manhattan. After knocking down 37% of his threes during a solid freshman campaign, the word got out about Spradling, and he has found it tougher to get space on the perimeter. This year, he’s only knocked down 34.4% of his threes, but is still dangerous when he camps out in the corner and the other K-State guards start driving to the rack.

The team’s best shooter is its do-everything senior Shane Southwell, a 6’7″ player who can handle the rock, bang inside against bigger opponents, knock down jumpers with little space, and find teammates for open looks. Southwell is very accurate with his mid-range shot, but even when he has a good look, he’s ready to defer to teammates. When opponents scramble to challenge his shot, Southwell frequently passes up the opportunity and makes laser-like feeds to the post after he’s already airborne. His 23.4% assist rate is actually tops among the team’s starters, and ranks him just inside the Top 300 nationally.

Rounding out the starting five is a second freshman, Wesley Iwundu (No. 25). With both Iwundu and Southwell checking in at 6’7″, the Wildcats have a lot of length on defense, and Iwundu is constantly frustrating opponents on the perimeter. On offense, he’s a good slasher and can get to the rim in just a few seconds, but that isn’t his primary role in the KSU game plan.

Although Iwundu doesn’t usually shoot the three, he’s made 5-of-11 on the year, and his long-range bombs were a big reason why the Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma at home last month. At this point, his biggest weakness on offense is an inability to read the situation, which leads to him overplaying his hand and turning it over or getting called for a charge. With great driving ability and a good outside shot already in his repertoire, once the freshman can add in a pull-up jumper and a floater, he’s going to be a nightmare to contain.

The best option off the bench for the Wildcats is freshman guard Jevon Thomas (No. 5), who joined the team at midseason after eligibility issues were finally cleared up. Like Foster, he is an incredibly quick guard with excellent driving ability, but he is always looking to set up his teammates to score. His ability to find seams in the defense, attack with the bounce, and draw defensive attention is key on an offense that can sometimes stagnate.

The Wildcats also get contributions from Nino Williams (No. 11), D.J. Johnson (No. 50), and Omari Lawrence (No. 12). Williams is a 6’5″ wing, but he is a fantastic rebounder, especially crashing the offensive glass. Johnson has proven to be a serviceable backup for Gipson, although he doesn’t have the same post skills and tends to get called for offensive fouls when trying to set high ball screens. Lawrence is a senior who has never played major minutes, and is only averaging about 11 per game this year.

Keys to the game

1) Make Gipson work for his points – The K-State big man is very hard to slow down, but he completely manhandled the Longhorns in the paint just a few weeks ago. The Texas bigs need to prevent him from getting such deep post position this afternoon, and they cannot fall for his very good shot fakes near the rim. Giving up another 24 points to Gipson in Manhattan would make a road win very difficult.

2) Eliminate penetration from the guards – Keeping Foster and Thomas from driving into the heart of the defense will take away a huge piece of the Kansas State offense, but that’s easier said than done. K-State’s quick ball movement exposes gaps in opposing defenses, so it will take a team effort for the Longhorns to keep dribble penetration to a minimum. If they can do it, though, the Wildcats will likely have to knock down jumpers, something that they have struggled to do this season.

3) Strong presence on the glass – Although Texas has done a very good job rebounding the ball this season, the Horns struggled on the defensive glass against Kansas State in Austin. The Wildcats won back 43.2% of their misses in the first game, erasing Texas’ good defensive possessions with second and third chances. If Texas wants to end its losing streak at Bramlage Coliseum, the team has to close out defensive stops with solid rebounding not just from the bigs, but the wings, as well.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:38PM

#22/NR Kansas State Wildcats (14-4 overall, 4-1 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (14-4, 3-2)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2

The Texas Longhorns took a major step towards the NCAA tournament with Saturday afternoon’s win over Iowa State. With the victory, the Horns finally have the kind of win on their résumé that will hold cachet with the Selection Committe roughly two months from now. Even with Iowa State now on a three-game losing streak, the Cyclones are still ranked 10th in the all-important RPI. The victory was the first for Texas against the RPI Top 50, a data point that the committee weighs heavily when comparing Team A to Team B in order to dole out bids and nail down the S-curve.

One win, however, does not make a tournament-worthy team. The Longhorns will have to snag some more quality victories to keep themselves in the discussion, but fortunately will have numerous opportunities, as they compete in the nation’s top RPI-rated conference. Texas is in the midst of a four-game stretch against ranked opponents, all of whom are currently slotted 36th or better in the RPI. With the conference so deep this season, those types of schedule stretches are the norm rather than the exception; Kansas and Oklahoma both just completed their own streaks of four games against ranked opponents, as well. While the Longhorns could earn some of those quality wins on the road, the nature of home court in college basketball means that it will be decidedly easier for them to score some scalps at home.

Tonight, Kansas State provides yet another opportunity for Texas to pad its portfolio. The matchup is practically even, with Ken Pomeroy’s computers giving the Horns a 67-64 edge on their home floor. Texas let a golden opportunity slip away when Oklahoma escaped the Frank Erwin Center with a three-point win on the opening night of conference play. If the Horns want to keep their bubble prospects strong, they cannot afford to let another quality win slip away tonight.

The preview

I’ve toyed with the idea of a Twitter preview a few times this season when real-life time crunches pushed back my publication times much later than I preferred. Tonight, I’m going to give it a whirl and see how it goes. I could write a few thousand words on these K-State Wildcats, and I’ll do exactly that when the Longhorns face them on February 8th, instead of posting the usual, abbreviated preview that I typically use for the second half of the Big 12′s double round-robin. For tonight’s game, however, check out the Longhorn Road Trip Twitter timeline during the five o’clock hour for pre-game numbers, keys, and player notes. For posterity’s sake, I’ll embed them here on the website after the fact.

Until then, amigos…

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:07AM

[7] Texas Longhorns (16-16) vs. [2] Kansas State Wildcats (25-6)
Big 12 Championship Quarterfinals | Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO
Tip: 6:00 P.M. CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list) | Internet: ESPN3
LRT Consecutive Game #253

Last night, the Texas Longhorns took the first and easiest step in their pursuit of an improbable Big 12 title, dispatching No. 10 seed TCU, 70-57. Texas must win the conference tournament to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years, which means that the young Horns have to put together four wins in four days. With the first victory under their belt, things now get much tougher for Rick Barnes’ inconsistent bunch.

Awaiting the Horns in the quarterfinals are the experienced Kansas State Wildcats, who beat the Horns by a combined 38 points in the team’s two meetings earlier this year. It has long been said that it’s tough to beat the same team three times in a season, but those prior results offer Texas fans little reason for optimism about tonight’s match-up. Even in the relatively-close 12-point loss to Kansas State in Austin, Texas was out of the game for the entire second half, and trailed by as many as 19 points.

Ken Pomeroy gives the Horns a 27% chance to win, predicting a six-point margin of victory for the ‘Cats. The Longhorns will have to overcome those odds and what will amount to a home crowd for KSU if they want to keep their NCAA dreams alive.

Meet the Wildcats

For an in-depth look at the Kansas State roster and the team’s style of play, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

Texas could not slow down Thomas Gipson in Manhattan
(Photo credit: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

The first match-up

When Texas and Kansas State first faced off on January 30th, the game was quickly out of reach. The Longhorns had two leads in the first four minutes, but trailed 9-7 at the under-16 media timeout. Texas would never get any closer, falling victim to a brutal stretch of offensive inefficiency. For a span of more than 12 minutes in the first half, Texas managed only eight points, with all of them coming from Sheldon McClellan.

The Longhorns did manage to get some good looks early in the game, but could not make any buckets. With shots not falling, Texas only made things worse by constantly turning it over and giving up easy points to the Wildcats. On the night, Texas ended 27.5% of their possessions with a turnover and allowed KSU to score 33 points off of those miscues. In a lopsided 83-57 loss, those wasted possessions and free points were easily the difference in the game.

Most troubling for Texas fans is that this beatdown came with Rodney McGruder limited due to foul trouble and Will Spradling (No. 55) playing with a broken nose he suffered in the first half. With those two only chipping in 12 points, it was Texas-born big man Thomas Gipson (No. 42) who dominated the game, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven boards in only 21 minutes on the court.

The rematch

Even with Myck Kabongo back in the lineup, things did not get much better for Texas when they hosted Kansas State on February 23rd. The Longhorns failed to challenge the Kansas State shooters all afternoon, allowing the Wildcats to knock down 50% of their 18 three-point attempts.

Texas still managed to find itself down just three points late in the first half, but a disastrous exchange shoved the momentum to the Kansas State sideline before the teams headed to the locker room. With 22 seconds left, it appeared the Wildcats would hold for the last shot. Instead, Javan Felix fouled Angel Rodriguez (No. 13), who knocked down a pair of free throws. Kabongo then turned it over with just two seconds left in the half, and the Wildcats raced down the court for a three from Shane Southwell (No. 1) just before the horn.

Things continued to deteriorate in the second half. The Longhorns took more than four minutes to score a basket, allowing Kansas State to extend its lead out to fifteen points. Texas never recovered, trailing by as many as 19 points midway through the half. The Horns closed the gap for cosmetic purposes, but still dropped the final decision at home, 81-69.

Kabongo led the way for Texas, scoring what was then his career high of 24 points. McClellan came off the bench to score 15 points, rebounding quickly from his benching in the TCU game just five days earlier. Both players were able to score in transition and Kabongo drove to the rack in half-court sets, but otherwise the offense was bogged down.

The Longhorns also again struggled to keep Kansas State from reclaiming missed shots. The Wildcats snagged 41.4% of their offensive rebounding opportunities in Austin, improving upon the impressive 40% mark they had posted in Manhattan. Those extra chances only resulted in seven second-chance points for K-State, but they demoralized the Longhorn defense when it did manage to force a missed shot.

Keys to the game

1) Look for transition opportunities – In both games against Kansas State, the Texas offense had a very difficult time scoring in their half-court sets, but did find some success on the break in Austin. Unfortunately, the Wildcats take good care of the ball, turning it over on only 18.4% of their possessions. That means that transition opportunities for Texas will have to come off of missed K-State shots. Of course, the Horns have had difficulties winning defensive rebounds against the Wildcats, so this could be a very tall order.

2) Communicate and rotate on defense – Kansas State’s offense can look like a well-oiled machine when it is clicking, as the Longhorns discovered when the ‘Cats sliced them up with crisp ball movement in Austin. In addition, Rodriguez has the ability to slash through defenses and pull defenders away from the K-State bigs inside and the shooters waiting on the perimeter. The Longhorns must play sound team defense, communicate, and rotate quickly if they hope to disrupt a Kansas State offense that scored 1.26 points per possession against them in their two earlier meetings.

Texas needs another strong showing from Kabongo
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

3) Aggression from the guards and wings – Texas found success in the second half of last night’s game when Kabongo, McClellan, and Julien Lewis started attacking with the bounce and making harder cuts off the ball. As a result, the Horns posted a free-throw rate of 82% against TCU, meaning that they shot more than eight free throws for every ten field goal attempts. Coming on the heels of a 62.7% free-throw rate against Texas Tech, it appears that the normally-stagnant Texas offense is finally making an effort to grind out points at the line.

Combine this recent trend with Kansas State’s penchant for sending opponents to the stripe, and the Longhorns may be able to pile up some points. Even if Texas does not end up drawing many fouls by attacking with the bounce, any sort of aggression will be an improvement. Static possessions with excessive perimeter passing and challenged looks late in the shot clock have unfortunately been the norm for Texas for much of the season. If the ballhandlers can be aggressive, while Lewis and McClellan work hard to get open off the ball, Texas can stay competitive this evening. If not, the Horns will likely be victims of a third K-State beatdown this year.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:56PM

#13/13 Kansas State Wildcats (21-5 overall, 10-3 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (12-14, 4-9)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
LRT Consecutive Game #247

It has been over two months since the Texas Longhorns have managed to string together a winning streak. Not since taking care of Texas State and North Carolina on December 15th and 19th have the Horns been able to build off of the momentum of one win by notching another. The team has managed to cobble together five wins over the last nine and a half weeks, but sandwiched them between 10 losses.

Kansas State and Kansas are battling for the Big 12 title
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Tonight, the Longhorns welcome a Kansas State team that is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Wildcats are winners of six out of their last seven, and they put together an eight-game winning streak in December that included a victory over Florida and a 4-0 start in the Big 12.

For Kansas State, even a game against the league’s eighth-place team is huge. The Wildcats are chasing their first conference title since 1977, when they played in the Big 8. They enter today’s action in a first-place tie with Kansas, which holds a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over KSU. Although the Big 12 awards co-championships, Wildcat fans certainly don’t want to share their first league title in nearly 40 years with their hated rivals, especially in a year where those rivals swept the season series.

K-State will have to take care of business on the road if it wants to win the title or even to share a piece of it. After tonight’s road trip to Texas, the Wildcats still face games at Baylor and Oklahoma State on the last two Saturdays of the season. Kansas, meanwhile, has only two road games left — against Iowa State and Baylor — and will host three of the league’s bottom four teams. The Wildcats clearly have their work cut out for them down the stretch, so a loss tonight would be a damaging blow to their title hopes.

Meet the Wildcats

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

The first match-up

When Texas and Kansas State first faced off on January 30th, the game was quickly out of reach. The Longhorns had two leads in the first four minutes, but trailed 9-7 at the under-16 media timeout. Texas would never get any closer, falling victim to a brutal stretch of offensive inefficiency. For a span of more than 12 minutes in the first half, Texas managed only eight points, with all of them coming from Sheldon McClellan.

The Longhorns did manage to get some good looks early in the game, but could not make any buckets. With shots not falling, Texas only made things worse by constantly turning it over and giving up easy points to the Wildcats. On the night, Texas ended 27.5% of their possessions with a turnover and allowed KSU to score 33 points off of those miscues. In a lopsided 83-57 loss, those wasted possessions and free points were easily the difference in the game.

Texas had no answer for Thomas Gipson in Manhattan
(Photo credit: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

Most troubling for Texas fans is that this beatdown came with Rodney McGruder limited due to foul trouble and Will Spradling playing with a broken nose he suffered in the first half. With those two only chipping in 12 points, it was Texas-born big man Thomas Gipson who dominated the game, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven boards in only 21 minutes on the court.

Since then…

That Texas game was the first in which Gipson came off the bench after he had made starts in the 13 previous games. It was also the first of six wins in seven games for the Wildcats, with Gipson the sixth man in all of those. Although he struggled against Romero Osby and Oklahoma and again against Jeff Withey and Kansas, the big man has become a key bench contributor.

The other player to suddenly step up in the last three weeks was point guard Angel Rodriguez. Although the sophomore was already one of the Big 12′s top assist men, he has complimented those skills by pouring on the points in recent weeks. After scoring 17 in the loss to Kansas and another 22 in a home blowout of Baylor, Rodriguez was named Co-Player of the Week in the Big 12. In that Baylor game, the point guard dished out 10 dimes against only two turnovers.

Most importantly, Rodriguez is now hitting his three-pointer with a little more consistency. When these two teams first met, he was slumping from long range, having made less than 22% of his threes in the previous 10 games. In the Texas game and the six others since then, Rodriguez has made more than 36% of his threes. Re-establishing his long-range threat forces defenses to play him a little tighter, which then gives him an even better opportunity to drive and create.

With consecutive Big Monday games and incredibly one-sided outcomes, it has been quite some time since Kansas State has played in a stressful, competitive contest. Since gutting out an important 79-70 home win over Iowa State on February 9th, the Wildcats have gone 2-1 in a trio of games that had a 17-point average margin of victory. Considering that the Longhorns have failed to put up enough points to blow out anybody, it’s safe to say that the Horns are hoping to end that trend this evening.

Keys to the game

1) Hang on to the ball – The Texas turnover problems have been a season-long storyline, but never were they as damaging as they were against the Wildcats in Manhattan. Texas made bad passes, had the ball stripped well beyond the perimeter, and seemed to travel every other time down the court. All told, the Longhorn miscues accounted for 33 of Kansas State’s 83 points, and they ended more than 27% of Texas’ possessions. If Texas cannot drastically turn those numbers around when they rematch tonight, the Horns will have very slim chances to pull off the upset.

2) Keep KSU off the offensive glass – The Longhorn turnovers and points scored off of them were certainly damaging in the first loss, but bad defensive rebounding was another nail in the coffin for the Longhorns. The Wildcats were able to reclaim 40% of their missed shots, and they turned those extra chances into an additional 12 points.

Texas has done little in recent weeks to give fans much hope that they can keep the Wildcats from reclaiming their missed shots again tonight. In the last nine games, the Longhorns have allowed eight opponents to win more than 35% of their offensive rebounding chances, with four of those teams actually posting offensive rebounding marks north of 40%. Fortunately, the Longhorns will have Jonathan Holmes available this time around, but his presence has not made much of a statistical impact in that department in the three games since his return.

Myck Kabongo drove at will against K-State last year
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

3) Attack with the bounce – Last season, Myck Kabongo was able to find success against K-State by beating Rodriguez with the dribble. Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland were able to do the same at times in the first meeting, although Holland would often waste those drives with questionable passes in the paint.

If Kabongo can again find those cracks in the defense and make the Wildcats react to his penetration, Texas will be able to score much easier this time around. If not, the Horns are likely destined for another frustrating game where points are hard to come by and the Wildcats pull away quickly.

4) Turn back Rodriguez’ drives – Kansas State and its motion offense is tough to defend. Opponents have to be constantly communicating, hoping to battle through screens while still staying close with the likes of McGruder, Spradling, and Shane Southwell. But when Rodriguez is also able to put the ball on the floor and slice up a defense, K-State is downright impossible to shut down. The Longhorns found that out the hard way in the first meeting with KSU, as Rodriguez repeatedly slithered through the Texas D and dished out eight dimes to go with his 11 points.

Tonight, the Longhorn guards need to learn from those mistakes and keep Rodriguez on the perimeter. Without his dribble penetration, Kansas State is forced to knock down jump shots out of their motion sets, and the Wildcat bigs become less of a factor. If the Longhorns cannot manage to do this and they allow Rodriguez to run wild, there’s little hope for Texas to keep up with a clicking KSU offense.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:06AM

Texas Longhorns (9-10 overall, 1-5 Big 12) at #18/21 Kansas State Wildcats (15-4, 4-2)
Bramlage Coliseum | Manhattan, KS | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
LRT Consecutive Game #240

The Texas Longhorns finally earned their first conference win on Saturday night, taking care of a Texas Tech team that should finish the season at the bottom of the Big 12 standings. Texas looked rejuvenated, hustling to loose balls and pressuring the Red Raiders into mistakes. While excitement was certainly tempered by the quality of opponent, geting over that hump and finally earning a league win was a big accomplishment for this young team. After three narrow losses in Big 12 play and a heartbreaking loss to UCLA in the non-con, the win was a much-needed boost of confidence.

With four games still remaining until the return of point guard Myck Kabongo and with Jonathan Holmes out at least three weeks with a broken bone in his hand, the young Longhorns face long odds in trying to climb back towards .500 in league play. Increasing the difficulty level are a pair of tough road trips over the next week, as the Horns head to Kansas State tonight and West Virginia on Monday. Although Texas is just 1-8 away from the Erwin Center and winless in true road games, stealing a victory in either one of those games would go a long way in the team’s fight to get back to the middle of the pack.

The Wildcats haven’t missed a beat under Bruce Weber
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

Kansas State poses an especially tough test, as their experience far outweighs that of the Longhorns. The Wildcats return essentially everyone from last year’s NCAA-tournament team, having lost only Jamar Samuels and little-used Victor Ojeleye to graduation. Texas has also come up empty in its last two trips to Bramlage Coliseum, while K-State has won 11 out of their last 12 games at the Octagon of Doom.

By the numbers

With almost the entire K-State roster back, it’s no surprise that the team has maintained its stingy defense from the Frank Martin era. On the season, the Wildcats are allowing an adjusted 0.902 points per possession, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Wildcats force mistakes on 22.4% of their defensive possessions and have held opponents to a 46% effective field-goal percentage, both stats that rank in the Top 100 nationally.

However, when you dig a little deeper into the numbers, it’s clear that K-State’s defensive stats have been buoyed a bit by a very strong start against weak non-conference competition. Since the start of Big 12 play, Kansas State’s adjusted defensive efficiency has ballooned to 1.001 points per possession. League opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 49.8% and a free-throw rate of 44.8%. In simpler terms, Big 12 foes are getting to the line to shoot a little more than two free throws for every five field goal attempts.

Another K-State statistic that has seen a precipitous drop since the start of league play is their offensive rebounding percentage. For the year, the Wildcats have reclaimed 39.1% of their missed shots, but have been able to do so only 27.8% of the time against Big 12 opponents. In fact, in Saturday’s loss to Iowa State, KSU posted just a 17.2% mark on the offensive glass. The Wildcats are only an average-shooting bunch, having an effective field goal percentage of 47.7% on the year. That means that offensive rebounds are essential for K-State to keep scoring, so the drop-off in league play is concerning.

The other reason that the Wildcats are able to have an efficient offense despite average shooting is the fact that they value the basketball. Kansas State has a turnover percentage of only 18.9%, and the team has improved that to 17% against Big 12 opponents. Their ability to maximize possessions by not turning it over and getting to missed shots is the reason that their adjusted offensive efficiency is a solid 1.062 points per possession.

That offense has a new look under first-year head coach Bruce Weber. He favors a motion offense with constant cutting across the free-throw line and baseline, eschewing pick and roll sets for dribble handoffs and crisp passing. As a result, the Wildcats have assists on nearly 65% of their buckets, a number that ranks 11th in the nation. That stat also underscores the fact that it can be hard for K-State to score if it doesn’t get looks in the flow of the offense. The team lacks true slashers that can get to the rim or players that can shake a defender to get an open jumper.

Rodney McGruder is the senior leader for K-State
(Photo credit: Brandon Wade/Associated Press)

That reliance on taking jump shots off of passes also means that the Wildcats don’t get to the line very often. The team’s free-throw rate of 32.3% is ranked in the bottom 100 of Division I’s 347 teams, but that could be a blessing in disguise. When the Wildcats do manage to get to the charity stripe, they make only 64.7% of their attempts.

Meet the Wildcats

The team’s leading scorer is senior Rodney McGruder (No. 22), a player that Texas fans know all too well. In last year’s meeting at Bramlage Coliseum, McGruder poured in 33 points, and he has averaged 19.3 points in four games against Texas. There were some growing pains for the senior at the begining of the season, as he adjusted to his new role in Weber’s offense. Now, he is much better at reading the defense on his cuts and finding open space to receive the pass and get up his shot. McGruder is averaging 18.7 points and has made 44.2% of his threes in Big 12 games.

Whoever is tasked with slowing down McGruder will have to bring their track shoes. The Wildcats will run their star through numerous screens, waiting for just enough of a defensive lapse to get him open for a jumper. If Julien Lewis and the other Texas defenders can stay in McGruder’s shirt and force him to put the ball on the floor, his effectiveness is limited. He has shown at times this season that when opponents deny him open looks on the pass, he can get frustrated enough to start forcing bad, challenged shots off the bounce.

As of late, the other main scoring threat for Kansas State is junior Shane Southwell (No. 1). After coming off the bench in the team’s first nine games, Southwell has been a starter in the last ten. In Big 12 play, he is averaging 11.8 points and has knocked down 48% of his threes. He is a skilled shooter who has a nice midrange jumper, but he is perhaps most dangerous when opponents switch on screens. The 6’6″ Southwell is quick to notice when he has a smaller guard on him, and will isolate those defenders near the hoop for short jumpers and layups.

At the point, sophomore Angel Rodriguez (No. 13) has grown up quite a bit since last season. In the team’s last four games, the once-erratic Rodriguez has posted 26 assists against only three turnovers. For a player that would often over-penetrate and force the ball against set defenders, that improvement is staggering. He still can get defenders on his hip and drive to the rack, but now the sophomore has a better feel for when those opportunities are actually there.

Angel Rodriguez has drastically reduced his turnovers
(Photo credit: Matthew Putney/Associated Press)

Unfortunately, while Rodriguez has been improving his ball control, his long-range shooting has declined considerably. The Puerto Rican product certainly has range beyond the arc, but he has made only 6-of-28 (21.4%) in the team’s last ten games, dragging his average down to 29.6% on the year. While the Longhorns can’t completely sag off of him, his long-range struggles do mean that they can give him a little space and try to neutralize his driving ability.

In the middle, sophomore Thomas Gipson (No. 42) is a vacuum that keeps the K-State offense humming. Although the Wildcats don’t typically post him up and dump the ball inside, he constantly reclaims missed shots and knows where to go when Rodriguez drives so that he can receive the dump-off and go up strong. Gipson’s offensive rebounding mark of 15.9% is 21st in all of D-I hoops, while his 17.3% mark on the defensive end also ranks just outside the Top 400.

One issue with Gipson’s game is his inability to convert at the line. Although K-State doesn’t get to the stripe very often as a team, he draws a little less than six fouls on opponents per forty minutes. That sends Gipson to the free-throw line around four times per game, where he is only making 57.4% of his attempts.

Rounding out the starting five is three-point marksman Will Spradling (No. 55). Like McGruder, Spradling will have numerous screens set for him in the K-State motion offense, and he has the quick release and accuracy to make opponents pay. On the year, he has made more than 35% of his threes, and has taken more than 67% of his looks from behind the arc. Although the Longhorns are already going to have their hands full trying to shut down McGruder and Southwell, they also cannot afford to lose track of Spradling.

With conference play now in full swing, Coach Weber has shrunk his core rotation to eight players. Senior forward Jordan Henriquez (No. 21) is a familiar face to fans of Big 12 basketball, as his 6’11″ frame has made him a defensive presence all four of his years in Manhattan. He has a lot of length — even for a guy that tall — and has great timing, making him a great shot-blocker in the middle.

It’s also worth noting that when Henriquez gets the ball in the post, teams might actually find success simply fouling him. The senior has made just 28.9% of his free throws this year, and is a 50% career shooter at the line.

Fellow senior Martavious Irving (No. 3) plays an important role as the team’s backup point guard, and also brings excellent perimeter defense to the table. Irving is also a threat to pop the three, and has shown no qualms about quickly taking one off the dribble when opponents are paying too much attention to McGruder and Spradling off the ball.

Sophomore forward Nino Williams (No. 11) was a highly touted recruit out of high school, but never found consistent playing time under Coach Martin. He is still just a role player at this point, but is now at least seeing the court every night and averaging 12.5 minutes per game in league play.

Although not a part of that core rotation, freshman forward D.J. Johnson (No. 50) could also see some meaningful minutes in this one. After hardly playing from mid-December to late January, he logged 20 minutes against Iowa State on Saturday and chipped in a block and two boards. At 6’8″ and 250 pounds, he already is an intimidating presence inside, and it looks like he can be a force in the Big 12 by the time his career is finished.

Keys to the game

1) Limit KSU’s offensive rebounds – Closing out defensive possessions with rebounds has been a problem for Texas all season, and that could unfortunately play a huge role in tonight’s game. The Wildcats are generally an average team when it comes to shooting the ball, but they crash the glass and earn second-chance points. The Longhorns allowed a smaller Texas Tech team to reclaim more than 48% of their missed shots on Saturday, and late-game offensive rebounds helped Baylor and West Virginia pull out overtime wins over Texas. Repeating those same mistakes tonight will eliminate any hopes of a Longhorn upset.

2) Communicate on defense – With the constant screening and cutting in Kansas State’s offense, the strong Longhorn defense is going to be tested tonight. Texas needs to recognize who the shooters are and avoid going under screens against them, while also being aware that players like McGruder and Southwell will exploit favorable matchups that can arise from switching screens. If Texas can play sound team defense, the score will be in the range that can give them a shot at pulling off the road win. If not, this Wildcat offense can make their half-court offense look like a clinic.

3) Take care of the basketball – The opening ten minutes of the Oklahoma game and the final minutes of the Kansas loss reminded Texas fans just how bad the turnover bug was for the Longhorns at the beginning of the year. While the youngsters have made vast improvements in that department, the hiccups tend to come back in waves, and often at the worst possible time. Kansas State forces quite a few mistakes with their defense, so the Longhorns must avoid coughing it up tonight. Not only will turnovers waste possessions, but they will often lead to runouts that will get a loud and intimidating Bramlage crowd whipped into even more of a frenzy.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:06AM

Texas Longhorns 75, Kansas State Wildcats 64

As the Texas Longhorns headed to the locker room at halftime of Saturday afternoon’s game against Kansas State, it appeared that the hopes of a 14th-consecutive NCAA appearance could be circling the drain. The Wildcats had put on a late surge to build a 13-point lead heading into the break, thanks in large part to the fact that the Horns managed just two field goals in the final 16:28 of the half.

The first possession of the second half started off promising, as Clint Chapman blocked a shot and the Wildcats missed a short putback. But then another offensive rebound led to an easy hoop for K-State, and suddenly Texas was in a 15-point second-half hole on a day where they had yet to even manage that many points from the field. Even faced with those daunting odds, the Longhorns stormed back and kept their NCAA hopes alive, powered by a surprise performance from the unlikeliest of sources.

Kansas State repeatedly sent Texas to the line
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

With 16:30 left in the game, Alexis Wangmene threw down a dunk off a missed layup by J’Covan Brown, breaking a 12-minute field goal drought for the Longhorns and bringing the Erwin Center crowd to life. It cut the Kansas State lead to 10 points and kick-started an 11-0 run that put the Longhorns back in the game. Following Wangmene’s dunk, Texas outscored KSU by a 43-20 count the rest of the way, cruising in the final minutes to an incredibly important win.

What looked good

While Wangmene provided the turning point for the Horns, he also chipped in his first career double-double, posting 15 points and 13 boards on the afternoon. His performance went beyond the stats, as his little hustle plays kept Texas in the game during a dismal first half and helped to lock up the game in the second. He added two blocks and a steal, but his active hands on defense disrupted many more plays than that.

The one possession that best exemplified Wangmene’s effort came in the first half when he was sprawled on the floor, stretched across the lane following a missed shot by Texas. Three Wildcats had chances to corral the rebound, but he kept tipping at the ball, knocking it out of their hands. Ultimately, a Kansas State player bobbled the ball out of bounds, giving it back to Texas on the baseline. He had no chance at actually securing the basketball himself, but Wangmene’s hustle forced a mistake by the opponents. That type of heads-up play defined Alexis’ performance on Saturday.

Myck Kabongo had set the tone early for Texas, picking up where he left off in the team’s first meeting at Bramlage Coliseum. The freshman consistently attacked the paint, as K-State’s Angel Rodriguez once again couldn’t keep up with his quick first step. Myck scored seven of Texas’ first 11 points, and added an assist on a nice interior bounce pass for a Wangmene dunk. His impact was short lived, however, as he picked up his second foul midway through the first and spent the rest of the half on the bench.

It took only three minutes of the second half for Kabongo to pick up his third foul, once again leaving the Horns without their point guard. Unlike the first half, the Texas offense remained aggressive with Kabongo off the floor, led by a revitalized Brown. The junior guard scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half, including a pair of buckets on nifty spin moves that froze Kansas State and electrified the crowd.

Brown’s commitment to driving the lane and attacking Kansas State spread to the team, and the Longhorns took advantage of an officiating crew that was calling everything tight. The two teams were called for nine fouls combined in the first four minutes of the game, and as a result both squads were shuffling players thanks to foul trouble. With the Wildcat frontcourt reduced to a platoon situation, the quick, athletic Longhorn guards and wings continually put the ball on the floor and made the defense react, earning easier looks inside and 28 trips to the line in the second half.

The Longhorns also continued their resurgence at the charity stripe, knocking down nearly 73% of their attempts for the game. In the first half, Texas was a questionable 13-of-20 from the line, but improved down the stretch when it mattered most. After making just 63.2% of their attempts in the games against Iowa State, Baylor, and Missouri, the Longhorns have made 75.5% of their free throws during their three-game winning streak.

The Longhorn defense smothered KSU in the second half
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

While the aggressive play helped Texas storm back in the second half, the team’s dominating defensive performance made sure that Kansas State had no chance to stop the comeback. The Longhorns extended their pressure beyond the perimeter, with even Wangmene getting up in the shirt of K-State bigs when they would catch the ball on the arc. The Longhorns forced nine turnovers and held the Wildcats to just 32.3% shooting in the second half, while also shutting out top scorer Rodney McGruder for the final twenty minutes.

Texas also dominated the glass, making sure that their solid defensive possessions weren’t ruined by second chances for Kansas State. Led by Wangmene’s breakout performance, the Longhorns limited the Wildcats to just four offensive boards in the final 19:31 of the game. In tempo-free terms, that gave K-State an offensive rebounding mark of only 21% in crunch time, a far cry from their season average of 41.9%.

What needed work

When a team puts on such an inspiring comeback to save not just a game, but also a season, it can be hard to step back and take a look at what went wrong. Still, there were a few issues for Texas, particularly in the team’s flat first half.

The two first-half fouls by Kabongo were incredibly frustrating for Longhorn fans and coaches alike. The first came on a charge when he pushed the tempo into a trap, while the second was a hold on an inbounds play. While both likely wouldn’t have been called in a game where the refs weren’t working so hard to keep things under control, Kabongo needs to adjust to the situation. The Longhorns need him on the floor, so he can’t be picking up fouls on offense or when the ball isn’t even in play.

Without the freshman point guard on the floor, the Texas offense fizzled in the first half. As has been the case on many occasions this season, the Longhorns stood around, making lackluster cuts and setting weak screens. This team has shown that they can score without having both Brown and Kabongo on the floor, but fail to do it with any consistency. It seems at times like the youngsters just forget what they have to do off the ball to make the offense work.

Fortunately, the halftime adjustments in this game were perfect. The Texas coaching staff apparently said all the right things in the locker room, and the players took it to heart. The Longhorns have made it a habit to dig themselves deep holes in conference play before typically storming back late in the game. For much of the season, that has resulted in close losses. Although this time the team was able to salvage the win, it would be great for the hearts and stomachs of Longhorn Nation if the team could play solid first-half basketball in the future.

The big picture

The win levels Texas’ conference record at 6-6, establishing a tie for fifth with Kansas State. If Texas wants to claim fifth-place at season’s end, they will likely have to do it outright. With the two teams splitting their regular season games, the tiebreaker will come down to who has beaten a team higher in the standings. At the moment, K-State holds the edge by virtue of their home win against Missouri. Even if Texas beats Baylor, there’s little chance that the Bears will jump the Tigers in the standings.

If Texas can take care of business on the road in Oklahoma this week, their chances of finishing all alone in fifth are very good. The Wildcats now embark on a tough three-game stretch against Kansas, Missouri, and Baylor, with the latter two games coming on the road. If K-State can’t come up with some upsets, Texas has an excellent opportunity to make a big move in the standings.

Outside of the conference race, this game was also huge for Texas’ bubble prospects. The Longhorns have a favorable back-half of the league schedule that allows them to build momentum, but they also have a rather weak tournament profile. Texas owns just two wins against the RPI Top 50, with those coming at home against Temple and Iowa State. While the Wildcats will likely finish outside of that group, Top 100 wins are also used by the NCAA Selection Committee, and the Longhorns had yet to record a victory against teams ranked 51st to 100th. Winning games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech wouldn’t impress anyone, so the Horns had to have this W.

With other bubble teams faltering over the last week, Texas now just needs to win the games it is supposed to. A loss in one of this week’s road games wouldn’t be deadly, but would certainly be damaging. What would be crippling is a sweep in the state of Oklahoma, which would put Texas back on the wrong side of the bubble with work left to do in the final three weeks. While the Horns earned a win they had to have on Saturday, they can’t afford to let their guard down as they hit the road.

Up next: at Oklahoma (13-11 overall, 3-9 Big 12)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:32AM

Kansas State Wildcats (17-6 overall, 6-5 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (15-9, 5-6)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 1 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #211

The Texas Longhorns have very little margin for error as they come down the stretch of the 2011-12 season. Almost all major bracket projections have them hovering right on the dreaded bubble, so with just seven regular season games left, there’s little time to make rectify a mistake. This afternoon, the Longhorns have a rare chance to make up for an earlier missed opportunity, as they host the Kansas State Wildcats, a team that narrowly beat them earlier this season.

Currently just 2-8 against the RPI Top 100, Texas desperately needs to add some quality wins to the tournament résumé, something they can do with a victory over K-State this afternoon. The Wildcats were ranked 50th in Monday’s edition of the NCAA’s official RPI rankings, so while a win by Texas would likely knock KSU out of the vaunted Top 50, it would still provide an immediate boost to Texas’ tourney profile. Unfortunately, the Horns haven’t had much luck taking care of the Wildcats at home, as K-State owns a three-game winning streak over the Horns in Austin.

Meet the Wildcats

For a full look at the K-State roster, check out LRT’s game preview from the first time these two teams met.

The first game

In the first meeting between these two teams, Kansas State abused Texas inside early, piling up the fouls on Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes. Big man Clint Chapman managed to avoid the whistles and stay on the court, thanks in large part to the team’s switch to a zone defense. Unfortunately, protecting the Texas frontcourt came at a cost, and Kansas State drilled 7-of-12 from long range in the first half. The Wildcats built a lead as large as 15 late in the first, but the Longhorns managed to erase the entire deficit in less than six minutes. At the break, K-State held just a one-point lead.

The second half was a closely contested affair until the final minutes, when the Wildcats once again stretched their advantage out to seven points with only 74 seconds left. The Longhorns took advantage of terrible free-throw shooting by K-State and executed nearly flawlessly on the offensive end. As a result, Texas had the ball and trailed by just two with 20 seconds left on the clock. When Myck Kabongo and J’Covan Brown tried a dribble handoff near midcourt, Martavious Irving stripped the ball, leading to a game-clinching dunk by Rodney McGruder.

Since then…

Freshman Angel Rodriguez has taken Manhattan by storm, starting all six games since facing the Longhorns. His secure hold on the point guard duties means that Will Spradling can now slide over to a shooting guard role, which fits his skill set much better. Rodriguez is now also the team’s most consistent threat to drive, and the offense often looks stagnant when he’s on the bench. Fortunately for the Horns, the freshman guard has a tendency to pick up dumb fouls, so that time on the bench comes more frequently than Coach Frank Martin would like. Texas fans may also remember that Rodriguez had issues keeping Kabongo in check during the first meeting, so the Texas point guard could get things going with penetration this afternoon.

Despite the emergence of Rodriguez, K-State has had a rather bumpy road since knocking off the Horns on January 18th, going 4-2 since that meeting. K-State took full advantage of a pair of games against league doormat Texas Tech, knocking off the Red Raiders by an average of 20.5 points in their two games. Between those two dominant performances were a pair of tough losses, however. The Wildcats were edged out at home by Oklahoma in an ugly game two weeks ago, giving the Sooners a season sweep of the Cats. Just three days later, KSU blew a second-half lead of 14 points, falling victim to a Royce White game-winner with 1.8 seconds to go.

Now, this afternoon’s game is as much a must-win for K-State as it is for Texas. After traveling to Austin, the Wildcats host league co-leader Kansas and then face stiff road tests against Baylor and Missouri. While Ken Pomeroy gives the Cats just a 22% cumulative chance to go winless, they are still the underdogs in each game. Kansas State has a strong tournament profile, but a four-game losing streak in February would certainly hurt seeding and could even put them back in the bubble discussion if other teams surge down the stretch. There is no doubt that they will come out motivated for a win this afternoon.

Keys to the game

1) Stay aggressive – The Longhorns did a great job spreading the floor, moving the ball well, and attacking the paint on Monday night against Texas A&M. It was a welcome change for an offense that had oftentimes degenerated into a team of four players waiting for J’Covan Brown to make something happen. As a result, the Longhorns posted 1.169 points per possession against the Aggies, their best offensive efficiency mark since beating up on an overmatched Nicholls State squad in December.

In their first meeting with the Wildcats, the Horns were also able to get a piece of the paint thanks to aggressive play by Kabongo and Sheldon McClellan. McClellan scored 19 points against Kansas State, his best output in a conference game. He’s also been hot as of late, scoring 32 points in wins over Tech and A&M, so there is hope he can replicate that performance this afternoon.

K-State used a great team effort to shut down Brown in the first game, throwing different defenders at the guard to keep their own players out of foul trouble. They frustrated J’Covan all night and gave him little space, limiting him to just an 8-of-28 line. If the Wildcats are just as effective against Brown tonight, other Longhorns like Kabongo and McClellan will have to be aggressive to keep the offense from stalling out.

2) Force mistakes – The first time these two teams met, the Longhorns forced the Wildcats into miscues on just 16.7% of their possessions. As a result, K-State had their most efficient offensive performance in conference play. Since then, the Cats have been rather careless with the ball, posting turnover marks of at least 22% in five out of six games. With Rodriguez now at the point, K-State has shown more life on the offensive end, but they have also made some crippling mistakes. If the Horns can actually force some turnovers this time around, they might be able to enact some revenge.

3) Limit second chance points – There’s no way to stop Kansas State from grabbing offensive rebounds, but the Longhorns can at least hope to limit the damage caused by those boards. The Wildcats grabbed more than 51% of their offensive rebounding chances against the Longhorns in Manhattan and turned those second chances into 16 points. Texas needs to not only do a much better job on the defensive glass in this one, but also keep the Wildcats from scoring on easy putbacks when they do reclaim the misses.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:58PM

#NR/25 Kansas State Wildcats 84, Texas Longhorns 80

They say that you always remember the ones that got away. For the Texas Longhorns, last night’s loss will certainly be one that sticks with them for some time, especially if they are left out of the NCAA field on Selection Sunday. Trailing for much of the game, Texas clawed back into it in the final minutes, aided in no small part by horrendous free-throw shooting by Kansas State. After a furious comeback, Texas found itself down just two points on the final possession before Martavious Irving stripped the ball and the chance for victory away from Myck Kabongo and J’Covan Brown.

Against a bigger, more physical Kansas State team, the Longhorns found themselves in foul trouble quickly. Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond picked up two personals in just a few minutes, and the Longhorns went to a zone to protect their interior players. For the second-straight year, Rodney McGruder made them pay with a pair of clutch threes to spark a first-half run. K-State made 7-of-12 from behind the arc before heading to the locker room, but the Longhorns still managed to keep it within one point at the break.

Martavious Irving’s last-second steal iced the win
(Photo credit: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

A nip and tuck second half got away from the Longhorns in the final minutes, as Kansas State rebuilt their lead to seven with just 1:14 left on the clock. The Wildcats missed six of eight free throws over the final 74 seconds, while the Longhorns executed well under pressure to find themselves down just two points with the ball and 20 seconds on the clock. After bringing it across the timeline, Kabongo and Brown tried to execute a dribble handoff beyond the arc, allowing Irving and the Wildcats to ice the game with a steal and McGruder fast-break dunk.

What looked good

For the first time in weeks, freshman Julien Lewis started hot out of the gate. He knocked down his only two shots in the game’s first seven minutes, but spent a majority of his time on the bench thanks to foul trouble. Lewis eventually did foul out of the game, seeing the court for only seven minutes.

While Lewis’ bounceback performance was hampered by the whistle, Sheldon McClellan broke through in a big way. He scored 19 points on the night courtesy of a 7-of-13 shooting line. The only major knock on McClellan’s performance was that he played a bit out of control at times, a rarity for a guy who has been among the best nationally when it comes to protecting the ball. Sheldon had just two turnovers, but there were a few other situations where he and the Longhorns were lucky to retain possession when he was going too fast or drove into a dangerous spot on the floor.

The offensive resurgence for Lewis and McClellan was a welcome change after the pair struggled in the team’s previous four games. Against Iowa State, Oklahoma State, A&M, and Missouri, the two freshmen were just 21-of-78 (26.9%) from the floor. In the losing effort against Kansas State, they combined to shoot 9-of-15 (60%) from the field. While J’Covan Brown has been scoring in bunches, the Longhorns clearly need more scoring options. If Lewis and McClellan can continue to provide that in the coming weeks, the prognosis for Texas will be much sunnier than it was a few days ago.

If Lewis and McClellan can’t keep up their hot shooting, Myck Kabongo could certainly be the team’s second scoring option. Just as he did against Missouri, Kabongo posted a double-double, scoring 14 points to go with 10 assists. Once again, he was aggressive right off the bat, as K-State’s Angel Rodriguez had a very difficult time keeping Myck in front of him. When the help defense tried to cut off Kabongo’s angle to the rim, he consistently found open teammates to set up easy looks or draw fouls.

Kabongo and Chapman were on the same page against KSU
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

One of the most-frequent recipients of those assists was Clint Chapman, who finished with 11 points, seven of them coming at the line. When he wasn’t getting the dumpoffs in the lane, Chapman was also doing a good job sealing post defenders to keep the driving lanes open for the Texas guards.

It was also key that Clint kept himself out of foul trouble in this one until late in the game. He spent quite a bit of time on the bench against Missouri, and the team’s post defense suffered without him on the floor in that game. Against Thomas Robinson and Kansas on Saturday, the Longhorns will need Clint to once again avoid the fouls and play big minutes.

Texas also benefited from great free throw shooting to keep themselves in the game. The Longhorns made their first 14 free throws, and finished 19-for-21 on the night. In a game where Kansas State nearly blew the game with a terrible performance at the line, the Longhorns took full advantage of the freebies. Now that Kabongo is attacking with more confidence, the points he and Brown generate at the line will be key to keeping the offense humming.

As the numbers predicted, Texas did also a great job on the offensive glass against Kansas State. The Horns grabbed 46.1% of their misses, and turned those second chances into 11 points. Texas has now posted offensive rebounding percentages of greater than 46% in the last two games, but the Longhorns will find it tough to continue to rebound that well against KU on Saturday.

What needed work

While the offensive rebounding numbers were solid, the defensive numbers were awful. Once again, the stats for the two teams predicted that this would happen, but the Wildcat offensive boards were still daggers in such a close game. What was especially crippling were the three times that Kansas State got the ball back on missed free throws. Twice those second chances came from offensive boards, while the third came in crunch time when the Longhorns simply bobbled the ball out of bounds.

Texas also struggled with turnovers throughout the game, particularly when they dug a huge hole in the first half. The Longhorns lost the ball 16 times on the night, with 10 of those miscues coming in the first half. Those mistakes ended 22.3% of the possessions that Texas had, which is a devastating number in a game decided by just four points.

Some of those turnovers came when the Horns tried to push the tempo and beat the Wildcats in transition, but ended up lofting the ball well over the head of their teammates downcourt. It’s definitely worth going after those easy transition points, but the Texas guards might want to work on their touch in the next few practices so they can be a little more accurate on those full-court passes.

The worst turnover was of course the final one, which erased Texas’ final possession and gave the Wildcats a game-clinching dunk. A big part of the problem was that the Horns were out of timeouts and couldn’t draw up a play, but the guards have to realize that a dribble handoff in that situation brings an extra defender to the ball and eliminates the good spacing that you want on a final iso set. If anything can be taken from that disastrous possession, you have to think Kabongo and Brown won’t make that mistake at the end of any future games.

Unfortunately, it was a rather inefficient night for Brown even beyond that last-second mistake. Kansas State did an excellent job defending him with different guards in an effort to spread out the inevitable fouls they would pick up guarding him. The variety of defenders also served a second purpose, as it seemed to make it tougher for Brown to consistently penetrate. McGruder did solid work defending the Texas guard, but Will Spradling came up particularly huge in the second half, sticking on Brown like a dryer sheet. Without much room to work with, J’Covan shot just 8-of-28, including 4-of-14 from behind the arc.

The big picture

This was a loss that Texas fans could be replaying in their head on Selection Sunday. With the Longhorns hovering right on the bubble in practically every major bracket projection, every single win is big, but road wins against contenders are like résumé gold.

Texas showed great poise in fighting back from a 15-point deficit and again when down seven in the waning minutes, but the Longhorns failed to execute when it mattered most. Unfortunately, when the selection committee sequesters itself in Indianapolis in a few weeks, all they will see on their Nitty Gritty reports is an L next to this game.

Even the most optimistic Longhorn fan probably looked at this difficult six-game stretch on the schedule and hoped for two wins. While moral victories don’t count for much in the grand scheme of things, hopefully the performances in Columbia and Manhattan will give the young Longhorns confidence that they can get revenge at home and split the season series with Missouri and Kansas State.

Up next: vs. #7/7 Kansas (15-3 overall, 5-0 Big 12); Saturday, 3 P.M. CT

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:20PM

Texas Longhorns (12-5 overall, 2-2 Big 12) at #NR/25 Kansas State Wildcats (12-4, 1-3)
Bramlage Coliseum | Manhattan, KS | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
LRT Consecutive Game #204

The Texas Longhorns continue their brief road trip with yet another test, taking on a talented Kansas State team at the always-dangerous Bramlage Coliseum. This is just one more tough match-up for the Longhorns in the midst of a brutal six-game stretch that includes four games against teams currently ranked in the Top 10.

The Wildcats are much better than their conference record would indicate, as they’ve been forced to take on the league’s three best teams — Baylor, Kansas, and Missouri — in their first four games. Kansas State managed to defend their home court against the Tigers, but stumbled on the road against Oklahoma on Saturday.

Coach Frank Martin was so mad with his team prior to the loss against the Sooners that he made five players run stairs for more than two hours rather than practice. One can only imagine what the team has been put through in the three days since that loss, so you can be sure they will be angry and hungry for a win when they hit the court tonight against Texas.

By the numbers

Frank Martin is pumped for the return of Justified
(Photo credit: Alonzo Adams/Associated Press)

The Wildcats are not a good shooting team, but still manage to be have one of the most efficient offenses in the country thanks to strong work on the glass and an ability to get to the line. High offensive rebounding percentages and free-throw rates are a trademark of Martin’s teams, and this year’s edition is no exception. The Wildcats are currently 5th-best in the land when it comes to reclaiming their misses, grabbing more than 42% of their opportunities. They also shoot nearly one free throw for every two field goal attempts, a free-throw rate that is 17th-best in Division I.

That success carries over to the defensive side of the ball, where Kansas State has one of the 20 best defensive efficiency marks in Division I, holding opponents to just 0.894 points per possession. Fortunately for the Longhorns, that defensive intensity has let up against the better opponents of the Big 12, as K-State’s conference opponents have scored nearly 1.05 points per possession. It was the suddenly spotty Wildcat defense that had Coach Martin angry enough to dole out that marathon stair session as punishment, so you’d have to think the team made some adjustments leading up to this game.

On paper, the strengths and weaknesses of these two teams match up in an interesting way. The Longhorns reclaim their missed shots with regularity, while K-State doesn’t close out defensive possessions. On the other end of the court, UT struggles to get defensive boards, while K-State is dominant on the offensive glass. With both teams so strong on the offensive boards, this could come down to who makes the most of their second chances.

Both teams also send their opponents to the line quite a bit, with their defensive free-throw rates ranking in the bottom 100 of Division I hoops. Just like the rebounding numbers, that weakness matches up poorly with the opposition’s strength, as both teams also get to the line quite often. While that’s a good sign for a Texas team that typically needs to manufacture points, it also means that on defense the Horns will likely be called for quite a few fouls, something that is problematic with such a short bench.

Meet the Wildcats

Kansas State has a rotation of eight players this season, and although Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly have exhausted their eligibility, there are still quite a few familiar faces. The Wildcats return three starters from last year’s team, where they were essentially role players supporting the team’s bearded star. This season, the focus is on a pair of those returning starters who have helped K-State exceed all preseason expectations.

Rodney McGruder has taken charge in Manhattan this season
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

The first of those two veterans is Rodney McGruder (No. 22), who Texas fans will remember all-too-well from his three-point barrage in Austin last season. McGruder was not only an excellent long-range shooter for K-State last year, but also actually led the team in rebounds. This season, he’s claimed the team lead in points, as he’s taken over the role of penetrating scorer from Pullen.

As a result of his new role, McGruder is taking far less threes this season and has seen his numbers drop off. This year, he’s only attempting about a third of his shots from behind the arc, and only connecting on 34.4% of them. Instead, the junior is putting the ball on the floor and attacking the paint, where he loves to elevate and put up soft floaters. He has excellent body control to avoid the charge, so there’s little that defenders can do when McGruder pulls up besides stand tall and hope that his touch is off.

Jamar Samuels (No. 32) is another of the returning starters for K-State, and like McGruder, his role with the team has changed. With Kelly on the roster last year, Samuels was able to use his face-up game with more regularity. As a guy who can blow by other big men yet also body up with them in the post, he offers excellent flexibility on the offensive end.

Without Kelly on the team, Samuels has had to take on more of the physical role, and as a result he’s now manufacturing a ton of his points. He’s tops on the team with nearly seven boards per game, and his hard work on the offensive glass leads to a ton of free throws. Jamar’s free-throw rate is just under 90%, meaning he nearly takes one free throw for every field goal attempt.

The third returning starter is guard Will Spradling (No. 55), and as you can probably guess, his role has changed as well. Used more as an off-guard last season, this year he’s taking over the point guard duties. The son of a coach, he’s proven to be an adept facilitator, leading the team in assists while still finding time to show off his deadly three-point shot. Spradling also moves really well without the ball, so Texas cannot afford to lose him after he passes it off.

Joining Spradling in the backcourt is Martavious Irving (No. 3), a good defender who pressures the ball and can create points with his D. Offensively, he’s not much of a threat, but is usually good for a nice feed or two through traffic. At the moment, it appears he’s in Martin’s doghouse, as he was limited to just 15 minutes against Oklahoma. The coach wouldn’t say which five players he put through the stair workout, but did say that the box score could shed some light on the mystery.

Another starter who was probably a part of the punished quintet is 7-footer Jordan Henriquez (No. 21). He played just eight minutes against the Sooners, but will see much more playing time tonight if Coach Martin has finished making a point. Henriquez is an excellent post defender with great shot-blocking skills, and has even started developing a face-up game on the offensive end. He’s shown the ability to knock down short and mid-range jumpers, but still lacks the consistency and confidence to make it a big part of his game.

Freshman Thomas Gipson is already making an impact
(Photo credit: Alonzo Adams/Associated Press)

The other big man for the Wildcats is freshman Thomas Gipson (No. 42), from Cedar Hill, Texas. At 6’7″, 275 pounds, Gipson looks nothing like an 18-year old, and that strong body has allowed him to immediately make an impact at the college level. The freshman doesn’t have much offensive game outside of the paint, but he has a nice jump hook and is a beast on the boards.

Sixth man Shane Southwell (No. 1) is used mostly for his rebounding and defensive work, but he’s also an excellent passer. The 6’6″ guard from Harlem has the vision of a point guard, and often sets up the big men with great feeds from the perimeter. He can also put the ball on the floor and drive from the wings, but prefers to get looks for his teammates.

The other Wildcat seeing significant minutes off the bench is tiny guard Angel Rodriguez (No. 13), yet another talented Miami product brought to the Little Apple thanks to Martin’s past as a high school coach in the Magic City. Rodriguez is another active perimeter defender and penetrates the lane well despite not having blazing speed. He sat the entire Oklahoma game as a result of poor play against Baylor and a lack of effort in practice, so his role tonight could be limited.

With Coach Martin using the bench as a teaching tool, some of the lesser-used Wildcats have seen a recent spike in minutes. Guard Jeremy Jones (No. 24) had a strong first half against OU with 12 points, but hurt his ankle and hardly played in the second. Freshman wing Nino Williams (No. 11) could also see more playing time tonight, and could create match-up problems with his ability to attack off the dribble.

Keys to the game

1) Limit second chance points – Kansas State often needs second and third chances to make their offensive trips count, so the Longhorns will have to work hard to keep the Wildcats off the glass. K-State clearly has the advantage inside, so there’s no doubt that they will still get their share of offensive rebounds. Texas will just have to try to limit those boards, and also prevent K-State from getting easy putbacks when they do reclaim their misses.

2) Avoid foul trouble – The physical Kansas State frontline is a match-up nightmare for Texas, and their ability to draw fouls and get to the line could really expose the thin Texas frontcourt. The Longhorns were decimated inside by Ricardo Ratliffe on Saturday when Clint Chapman was on the bench with foul trouble, so he’ll have to avoid the whistles tonight. Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes will have to do the same, as Texas needs all the rebounding help it can get.

3) Be aggressive with the ball – While Kansas State gets to the line quite often, they also frequently send their opponents there. The Longhorn guards and wings need to be aggressive with the basketball and attack the defense. The Wildcats have been uncharacteristically weak with their perimeter defense of late, so the opportunity is there. Texas finally has a good free-throw shooting team this season, so the Horns can overcome some of their offensive woes by earning their points the hard way.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 9:41AM

Kansas State Wildcats 75, #8/7 Texas Longhorns 70

If Rick Barnes and the Longhorns could have their way, the month of February would disappear from the calendar. In 2008, the Longhorns went on a perfect 8-0 march through the month of February, and then cruised all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Since then, Texas has posted a 13-11 mark during the last three Februaries and has failed to make it out of the second round of the Big Dance. Last night, the Longhorns continued their February blues, as they closed out their home schedule with a disappointing loss to Kansas State, the team’s third defeat in its last four games.

Jacob Pullen scored 16 second-half points
(Photo credit: Michael Thomas/Associated Press)

Kansas State stifled Texas with stout interior defense, while the Longhorns went completely cold from long range. On the offensive end, the Wildcats rode a strong second-half performance from Jacob Pullen and the hot shooting of Rodney McGruder to win their seventh game in the last eight.

What looked good

The Longhorns attacked the strong K-State frontcourt early and often. Tristan Thompson played nothing like a freshman, scoring 18 first-half points to carry Texas through the first half. The big man even made four out of his five free throw attempts, a shocking number considering his season average was just south of 48% coming into the game.

The Longhorns also benefited from strong rebounding in the first twenty minutes, reclaiming 48% of their misses. With the team shooting so poorly, the offensive rebounds helped to mask the inefficiency and allowed Texas to earn second-chance points that kept them ahead for nearly the entire first half.

The early defense from Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph on All-American Jacob Pullen also helped Texas maintain their narrow lead. While big man Curtis Kelly was hitting fadeaway jumpers like they were layups, Pullen was practically a non-factor. Balbay and Joseph fought through screens and stayed right in his shirt, limiting him to a 2-of-7 start from the field.

What needed work

Unfortunately, the game was once again a tale of two halves. While the first half was far from great for the Longhorns, the second one was a complete disaster. Texas opened the second stanza with a scoring drought of nearly five minutes, letting the Wildcats claim the lead and build it as large as six points before Jordan Hamilton finally made a bucket with his foot on the three-point line.

That basket was only Hamilton’s second of the entire game, and it came after he had already missed ten shots and turned it over three times. His offensive attack consisted of trying to shake his man off the dribble, but the Wildcats were prepared every time. When Hamilton attacked from the wings, he was met with extra defensive resistance, but never knew what he was doing with the ball. It would be nice to give him credit for not forcing up a shot every time, but in the rare cases he did try to make a pass, he waited until he was already in midair or tried to throw it through the legs of about 18 different people.

Jordan Hamilton couldn’t get it going against KSU
(Photo credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

In the last five games, Hamilton is just 26-of-85 from the floor (30.6%). In the three losses to Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas State, the sophomore is just 9-of-28 from behind the arc (32.1%), a far cry from the 41.5% mark he posted in Texas’ first ten conference wins.

The key difference is that Hamilton’s three-point attempts now mostly come off of the dribble, oftentimes with a defender nearby. When the Texas offense was clicking through the month of January, Hamilton was coming off of curls for lightning-quick catch-and-shoot plays, which he was knocking down with regularity. Now, Hamilton is having to create his looks with his hands instead of his feet, and it’s killing the Longhorn offense.

The rest of the Longhorns were just as cold from the field. While Thompson was carrying the team, the rest of the Texas lineup combined to shoot just 25.9% from the field. The Longhorns made just three of their first 14 three-pointers, before J’Covan Brown drilled a pair in the final minute to make things interesting. The 27.8% mark behind the arc was the worst for Texas since going 2-of-8 in a blowout win over A&M at Reed Arena.

Defensively, the second half was an embarrassment. For a team that was posting historic defensive efficiency numbers just three weeks ago, the abundance of complete breakdowns in the half-court set was completely unacceptable. The Wildcats were able to get to the rack with no problem in the second half, scoring 14 points in the paint during the final 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, Rodney McGruder, a 42% career three-point shooter, constantly found himself wide open in the corner on kickouts. While the Longhorns were selling out to stop the drive, they seemingly forgot how to close out on shooters, and McGruder drilled four key three-pointers to make them pay. Just as with Colorado’s Levi Knutson on Saturday, Texas completely ignored the scouting report and consistently lost the best pure shooter on the floor.

A final point to illustrate the defensive collapse of the Longhorns is the sudden ballooning of their opponents’ effective field goal percentage. Fellow tempo-free stat nerds will already be familiar with the concept, but allow me a brief explanation. Essentially, eFG is an alteration of the classic field goal percentage that gives extra weight to the three point shot. Since a three is worth 1.5 times the points of a regular shot, it is worth that much in the calculation of the shooting percentage.

During Texas’ 11-game winning streak to open conference play, the Longhorns held opponents to an eFG of just 39.2%. In their three losses to Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas State, the Longhorns have allowed an eFG of 55.5%. Texas is not just losing games. The team is having an outright defensive collapse.

Next up: at Baylor (18-10 overall, 7-7 Big 12); Saturday, 8 P.M.

Next Page »