Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX
Tip: 1 P.M. | TV: Longhorn Network
LRT Consecutive Game #233
The Texas Longhorns wrap up 2012 with one last non-conference game, hosting in-state rival Rice this afternoon at the Erwin Center. While the Owls have been on an upward trajectory the last few seasons, this year’s squad is the definition of a rebuilding project, making this game more of a tune-up for the Longhorns. The timing is great, as Texas is coming off a pair of tough match-ups against North Carolina and Michigan State, with a road trip to Baylor looming next weekend.
By the numbers
No matter how you slice it, the numbers aren’t pretty for Coach Ben Braun and the Owls. Their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency numbers rank in the bottom 100 nationally, with their offensive rebounding mark dead last out of 347 Division I teams. The Owls are still trying to put the pieces together after a tumultuous offseason, and it shows on the court.
As a result, Coach Braun has turned his team from one of last year’s quickest (68.6 possessions per game) to one of the slowest (64.3). They play patient basketball on the offensive end, spreading the court and waiting for the best possible shot. That patience does result in the one statistical bright spot for Rice, as their turnover rate of 17% is 22nd-best in the country. The Owls might not be able to score or rebound, but they certainly will not waste possessions with careless mistakes.
Meet the Owls
After the program’s most successful season in years, Coach Braun and the Rice faithful were ready for an experienced bunch to take the team to new heights this season. Instead, the decision not to renew the contract of assistant coach Marco Morcos unleashed a deluge of transfers and departures, gutting the once-promising roster.
Five Rice players transferred during the offseason, while a sixth returned home to Lebanon to play professionally. Of the six players, five were recruited by Morcos. Big man Arsalan Kazemi was a double-double machine at Rice and is now averaging 9.2 points and 10.4 boards for Oregon. Egyptian center Omar Oraby took his 7’4″ frame to USC, while German forward Jarelle Reischel went to Rhode Island. Point guard Dylan Ennis also transferred east, heading to Villanova, while forward Ahmad Ibrahim elected to go the professional route.
That leaves the Owls with three returning rotation guys, a host of newcomers, and a decided lack of size. The tallest players in the rotation are 6’7″ Seth Gearhart (No. 41) and British freshman Ross Wilson (No. 11). Gearhart is more of a stretch forward, however, while Wilson is struggling through the beginning of his first collegiate year. With no true big men, Rice often spreads all five players on the perimeter and constantly runs cuts through the lane, hoping for a quick-hitter that leads to a layup.
The star of the team is senior Tamir Jackson (No. 3), a 6’3″ guard who plays stifling perimeter defense and rebounds extremely well for a guy his size. On the offensive end, he’s the team’s best option to create a look, as he can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim when defenders play him a little too close. He’s also got the ability to hit a pull-up jumper at a moment’s notice, and is accurate enough from long range to be a consistent threat.
The other returning scorer is 6’4″ sophomore Julian DeBose (No. 15), who is also an excellent rebounder from the perimeter. He’s struggling with his midrange game this season, but has still managed to average 9.9 points per game by driving to the rack for layups and by converting his rare offensive boards into second-chance points.
With Ennis now on the Main Line, diminutive freshman Max Guercy (No. 1) is running the point. Listed at a generous 5’9″, Guercy is often able to get to the rim, but has had difficulties finishing in traffic. He’s good at using the hesitation dribble and varying his speeds to fool the defense, but Guercy’s inability to convert the easy looks is a huge blow for a team that is so inept on the offensive end.
Off the bench, junior forward Austin Ramljak (No. 42) has proven to be a big-time three-point threat. Although he’s been streaky from behind the arc, when the California juco product gets hot, he can light it up in a hurry. At the DirecTV Classic in Anaheim, Ramljak knocked down 9-of-18 from behind the arc in back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and Drake. On the season, he’s made a more reasonable 35% of his long-range looks, but Texas certainly can’t let him get comfortable this afternoon.
Freshman Keith Washington (No. 5) rounds out the core rotation, hailing from Philadelphia. He has an aggressive streak with good driving ability, and he has the strength to absorb contact and still get his shot up. Washington has shown some flashes this season that give fans hope that he can be a star, but for now he’s still a role player who is averaging 5.5 points in his 20 minutes per game.
Keys to the game
1) Take care of the ball – It looked like the Longhorns were heading the right direction in the turnover department, coughing it up on less than 17.5% of their possessions against UCLA, Texas State, and North Carolina. Saturday’s loss to a feisty Michigan State team exposed those weaknesses again, however, as the Longhorns ended more than 26% of their possessions with a turnover. While the Owls aren’t a team that forces many miscues, this is a major issue that the Longhorns need to get under control before tackling their Big 12 slate.
2) Deny Jackson’s driving lanes – Tamir Jackson is the only player on the Rice roster who can consistently create his own shot, and their offense can go cold for extended periods of time when he’s not scoring. If Julien Lewis and the Longhorns can turn away his drives and force him to beat them with long jump shots, Rice will have a hard time putting up enough points to hang with Texas.
3) Shadow Ramljak on the perimeter – Austin Ramljak has proven he can put up a bunch of points from outside, and he doesn’t need a ton of space to get off his shot. The Texas defenders need to stay in his shirt when he’s floating around the arc, and they have to contest his long-range attempts. The three-pointer is the great equalizer for less talented teams, so if Texas can limit the damage from behind the arc, Rice will have little hope for an incredible upset.