Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:33AM

#6/7 Texas Longhorns 63, UT Arlington Mavericks 53

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Longhorns were able to grind out a victory on Tuesday night against UT Arlington. Texas was ice cold from the floor, made frustrating turnovers throughout the first half, and survived an early three-point barrage from their opponents en route to a 63-53 win.

Although the margin was much smaller than the experts had predicted, and even though the Mavs even pulled within three points midway through the second half, this game never felt in doubt. The Longhorns kept UTA at arm’s reach all night, finding ways to nurse their lead throughout the game.

Texas tied a school record for blocked shots
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

It was important for the Longhorns to be able to overcome adversity like they experienced on Tuesday night and still walk away with a win. However, that’s much easier to do against a team like UT Arlington than it would be against a rival in the loaded Big 12, or Friday night against Kentucky, the All-American factory. Bad shooting nights happen, but the Horns were lucky that this one came against a weaker opponent.

Even in a Texas win that can be best described as mediocre, we still found seven takeaways to share:

1. Texas wasn’t taking bad shots

If you’ve watched the Texas defense suffocate any opponents this season, you know that sometimes low shooting percentages are a result of your opponent making you take tough looks. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, as the Longhorns found space and time to fire up shots all game long. UTA was content to pack in their defense and put pressure on the bigs, and more than willing to let Texas try to beat them with jumpers. It was a gambit that paid off, as the Longhorns managed to shoot just 30% from the field, including a 5-of-27 line behind the arc.

The Longhorns did seem committed to working the shot clock and being patient in the second half. Often, open looks that may have been tried in the first half were passed up in favor of moving the ball a bit more and seeing what else might open up. Myles Turner also stepped up in the middle, creating trouble for UTA as he fought for space inside. Their defense was clearly overmatched, and the whistles piled up.

Of course, shooting percentage will be something to keep an eye on throughout the season. It’s one thing if you just have a bad shooting night and the open looks aren’t falling. It’s another, much more serious problem, if you just always miss your open looks. If the latter ends up being the case for Texas this year, the team will see opponents pack the lane for 40 minutes every night, and it will be very tough to score.

2. Miscues piled up early for the Horns

The Longhorns coughed it up nine times in the first half, ending more than 26% of their possessions with a turnover. That bug continued into the second half, with Texas giving it away on four more possessions before the under-16 media timeout. They tightened things up from there, not allowing another turnover for the final 16:27 of the game. On the night, the Longhorns finished with a turnover rate of 22%.

In a game where the team shot so poorly, it is impressive that they were also able to make so many mistakes and still win the game. However, this game was part of a troubling trend for Texas in regards to ball control, as it was the third straight outing in which the Longhorns posted a turnover rate north of 21%. That same lack of discipline could make things turn ugly very quickly in Lexington on Friday night. The return of Isaiah Taylor should help with this issue in time for conference play, but it could be a bumpy ride in the meantime.

3. Felix produced in limited minutes

With this being the middle game in a six-day, three-game stretch, it was important for the Longhorns to get some rest for their key players. Unfortunately, Texas’s inability to put UTA away made that very difficult, with Demarcus Holland and Jonathan Holmes playing a combined 67 minutes. Thanks to a solid outing from Kendal Yancy, though, Javan Felix was able to play just 20 minutes and rest his legs.

In that short appearance, Felix upped his production levels. Early in the game, he made two buckets in catch-and-shoot situations, rather than dominating the ball and firing off the bounce. On the night, he would only make one additional basket, underscoring the fact that Felix’s performance will undoubtedly improve when Taylor is back, and he is able to play off the ball. It should also be noted that it speaks to his reputation as a volume shooter that we’re praising his restraint after a 3-for-8 night.

In addition, Felix also logged an assist on one of the team’s few fast-break hoops, as he caught UTA napping in transition and simply pushed it all the way up the court and fed Ridley from the elbow for an easy dunk. It feels like we’ve said it after each of the last three games, but if Felix can focus on judiciously pushing the tempo and only firing in open, catch-and-shoot situations, he will do a much better job as the interim point guard.

4. Ridley is still struggling down low

In the first few minutes, the Longhorns made it a point to pound the rock down low, and Cameron Ridley made a quick, strong move with the ball that made it seem like his rough game at UConn was an aberration. As the game wore on, however, the big man once again struggled against double teams. Ridley often froze with the ball as the defensive pressure intensified, rather than quickly moving the ball and making UTA pay for their strategy.

Later in the game, Ridley was the recipient of some excellent interior passes, and he managed to use quick footwork and dunk with authority. Fans can only hope that those moves were a result of a discussion at halftime, and that the big man keeps that lesson in mind as he faces a tall, athletic defense on Friday night.

Ridley has managed just 17 minutes in each of his last two outings, but the Longhorns will need more than that from him moving forward. The only way he’ll stay on the floor, however, is to think quickly against interior pressure.

5. Turner carried the team to victory

One of those great feeds to Ridley came from fellow big man Myles Turner, who logged two assists on the night. Turner shot only 2-of-7 from the field, but frustrated the Mavericks all night, and helped the team grind out a win. His activity in the paint caused numerous defensive fouls away from the ball, and he also was in the mix on a few offensive fouls charged to UTA. Turner snagged 10 rebounds to earn his second career double-double, and led the team with five blocks on a night that the Longhorns tied a school record for swats.

With Turner drawing so many fouls and Texas spending most of the game in the bonus, the freshman had to cash in on his freebies at the line. He knocked down 14-of-17 free throws, part of the team’s 81.5% performance at the charity stripe. That puts Turner’s season free-throw average at 83.3%, further ensuring that he will be part of the frontcourt when games get down to crunch time.

Jordan Barnett had trouble finishing at the rim
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

6. Barnett still needs some seasoning

With Barnes trying to give his backcourt some rest, Jordan Barnett saw eight minutes of action, with most of that coming in the first half. He showed off a springy set of legs, and his length is ridiculous, but he was unable to finish inside. With that wingspan and those hops, Barnett will likely be a great rebounder and defender for Texas somewhere down the line, but his point-blank misses indicate that it may take quite some time for him to earn more minutes.

7. The big men stayed grounded

A major issue plaguing the Texas bigs this season has been a propensity for biting on shot fakes that either led to dumb fouls or scrambling by the rest of the defense. Last night, the Longhorns stayed on the floor, and they ended up tying a school record for blocks. At the final buzzer, Texas had posted a block percentage of 33.3%, by far the team’s best mark this season, and one that lifted their season-long block percentage to third-best in the country.

The defense’s discipline wasn’t solely limited to ignoring fakes, as they worked well as a unit, something that was exemplified by one broken play midway through the first half. When UTA bobbled the ball in the lane, the Longhorns reacted a little slowly as they tried to get to the loose ball, leaving them out of position once the Mavericks recovered. Yancy saw a UTA player drifting into space on the baseline, and slid down to cut off his angle.

That quick response gave Texas a few seconds to match back up, and Yancy then raced out to the perimeter to challenge another UTA player who had found space in the scramble. The Mavs took advantage of that late closeout, put the ball on the floor, and then found an open player just outside the lane. Holmes sprang into action to block the shot from behind, then patrolled the paint as UTA won back the missed shot. The big man was there to reject one more UTA attempt, forcing them into a shot-clock violation.

The Longhorns reacted quickly throughout that broken play to cover for each other and wipe away their mistakes. Although teams much better than UTA might have been able to take advantage of the little things that went wrong on that possession, the ability for the Longhorns to quickly recover as a unit, even with reserves on the floor, is something that will serve the defense well throughout the season.

Next up: at #1/1 Kentucky (7-0); Friday, 6 P.M. CT (ESPN)

Posted by Ryan Clark at 6:33AM

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

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

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

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

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

By the Numbers

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

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

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

Meet the Mavericks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keys to the Game

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

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

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

Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:42PM

UT-Arlington Mavericks (2-5) at Texas Longhorns (5-1)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
LRT Consecutive Game #261

The Longhorns are back home tonight, fresh off a promising performance at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. On Monday night, Texas played down to the wire in a track meet with BYU, before ultimately losing by four. They bounced back quickly from that disappointment with a convincing 18-point win over DePaul the following night. Sophomore Cameron Ridley was tabbed for the all-tournament team after posting 31 points, 19 boards, and seven blocks in the two games.

Scott Cross and UTA are off to a rough start
(Photo credit: James Crisp/Associated Press)

Tonight’s opponents are the UT-Arlington Mavericks, a team that has typically found success under eighth-year head coach Scott Cross. This year, however, the Mavs are off to a disappointing 2-5 start, the program’s worst start in over a decade. They are currently mired in a four-game losing streak, with the last three losses coming on the road.

The UTA bench is full of new faces this season, as three of the team’s top players are transfers. Top scorer Reger Dowell (No. 1) comes from Oklahoma State and brings a deadly outside shot and incredible speed to get to the rack. He has poured in at least 20 points in each game, including a 6-for-12 outing at Kentucky last Tuesday.

JUCO transfer Lonnie McClanahan (No. 22) is another quick guard who has started all seven games and is averaging 10 points. When driving, he tends to use his outside arm to try to hook shots over taller defenders, and that led to a few blocked shots early against Kentucky’s help D. The Longhorns are ranked fifth in the nation in block percentage, so McClanahan will likely have to adjust his approach tonight.

Forward Vincent Dillard (No. 13) is also a JUCO transfer, coming to Arlington by way of Colby CC in Kansas. Despite being a 6’5″ swingman, he has no problem bringing the ball up the floor, and his quick catch-and-release is deadly coming off of screens.

The one returning player making a huge impact for UTA is 6’6″ senior forward Brandon Edwards (No. 35), who has posted double-doubles in the team’s last four games. He’s averaging just over 19 points and 11 rebounds per game, and his offensive rebounding percentage of 14.9% actually ranks him among the top 100 players nationally.

The fifth starting spot is a rotating cast of characters for UTA, with three different guys getting the nod so far this year. Stuart Lagerson (No. 5) is a 7-footer who has started four times, while 6’8″ Jorge Bilbao (No. 45) started against Kentucky and Robert Morris last week. Anthony Walker (No. 44) was the latest to get a chance in the starting five, playing 17 minutes against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

Texas fans will also recognize Shaquille White-Miller (No. 12), a 5’9″ senior that has played against the Horns in each of the last two seasons. In those two appearances, White-Miller played a combined 36 minutes and scored six total points.

The Maverick defense is still working things out this season, as they are allowing 1.093 adjusted points per possession, a number that puts them in the bottom 20% of Division I hoops. UTA tried a 3-2 zone against Kentucky, but they understandably still had issues against the incredibly talented Wildcat roster. UK scored 1.4 points per possession in that one, running away with it in the second half.

For the Longhorns, simply controlling the glass and controlling the ball should be enough to win this evening. They have been stifling opponents in the rebounding department all season long, which is unfortunate news for a UTA offense that has generally done well at reclaiming its misses. The Mavs are just an average-shooting bunch, so without second or third chances, their porous defense will make it very difficult to keep up with the Horns tonight.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:47AM

Texas Longhorns 70, UT-Arlington Mavericks 54

The Texas Longhorns used a barrage of three-pointers and another stout defensive performance to dispatch UT-Arlington at the Erwin Center on Saturday afternoon, pushing their winning streak to three games as they head into a daunting week of neutral-site games. Although the final margin of victory was only 16 points, the game was much more one-sided, with Texas holding a lead as large as 28 points just eight minutes after halftime.

What looked good

Texas put forth its second-best offensive performance of the season, and its third-best effort on the defensive end. The Longhorns managed exactly one point per possession and an eFG of 57.8% against a UTA defense that was top-five nationally in eFG coming into the game. Julien Lewis led the way for Texas with 6-of-10 shooting from behind the arc, part of the team’s impressive 13-for-26 day from long range.

For the Longhorns, the success from three-point range is a welcome change. Last season’s team was the worst three-point shooting Texas squad in 13 years, with the five returning members of that team combining to hit just 30.7% of their threes in 2011-12. The beginning of this year wasn’t much better, as the Longhorns managed just an ugly 21.5% mark behind the arc in their first four games. Their fortunes have turned during the three-game winning streak, however, as the Horns have hit 26 threes for a success rate of more than 44%. If Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, and Ioannis Papapetrou can continue to knock down the triples, the Texas offense will actually be multi-dimensional and much tougher to defend.

A big reason why the Longhorns are finding more success behind the arc is because they are working hard to get open looks. Texas is setting numerous screens for their shooters as they run baseline cuts, and using downscreens to open up McClellan and Lewis on flares to the perimeter. While Sheldon is a player who can create good looks for himself with the dribble, Lewis has much better form and is much more accurate when he is shooting off the catch.

The three-point party also opened up the driving lanes for Texas, particularly on the baseline. With the Mavericks closing out hard on the perimeter, the Longhorns were able to put the ball on the floor and drive into the heart of the defense. Karol Gruszecki was the unfortunate victim of two nice baseline drives by McClellan in the first half, as he bit hard on the shot fake while rushing out to the perimeter.

Greek import Ioannis Papapetrou joined McClellan and Lewis in the double-digit scoring club, despite spending the first nine minutes of the game on the bench. Like Lewis and McClellan, Papi had an excellent game from long range, knocking down three of his four long-range attempts. He also put the ball on the floor for a nice drive from the corner, and earned 10 trips to the line as a result of his slashing efforts. Unfortunately, Papapetrou made just four of his free throws, dropping his free-throw mark to 54.2% on the year. For a guy with a nice jumper, the struggles from the line are baffling. If Papi is going to continue to drive to the bucket, he’s going to have to capitalize on the numerous free throw opportunities he will be earning.

Texas also had a solid performance from freshman Cameron Ridley, who once again impacted the game on both ends. He put up six points on 3-for-5 shooting, making strong, confident moves with the ball in the post. He also notched another four blocked shots and altered a handful of others, pushing his block percentage to 16.3% on the year. While it’s still very early, that number puts Cam in the top ten nationally in that category.

Ridley wasn’t the only one providing solid post defense, as Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert both did nice work with help D to cut off baseline drives by UTA. Holmes was unable to make too big of an impact, however, as he battled foul trouble all game long and earned the DQ after only 24 minutes on the court.

Javan Felix once again had a rough start, but was able to bounce back for a very impressive outing. Before the first media timeout, Felix had already thrown two bad passes that resulted in turnovers, and he was sent to the bench at the 15:20 mark. Demarcus Holland took over point guard duties for nearly five minutes before Felix returned, but the New Orleans native did not log a single turnover after that point. He also tallied nine assists for the game, consistently hitting the open shooters on time and in rhythm as they came free beyond the arc.

What needed work

Although Texas was able to build a lead of nearly 30 points in this game, their effort waned late in the game. UTA abused the Longhorns on the glass in the second half and took advantage of turnovers to quickly slice into the lead. For the game, the Mavs grabbed 44.4% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, their second-best performance of the season, and the best one posted by a Longhorn opponent this year.

This problem was an unhappy confluence of two recurring issues for Texas this season. This young squad has done a surprisingly poor job of securing defensive rebounds against smaller opponents, and the team has often lost focus for long stretches. Against Sam Houston State and UT-Arlington, losing focus late in a blowout only affected the margin of victory. But, these lapses in effort are often leading to stagnant offensive sets, which in turn leads to long scoring droughts.

Against Chaminade, the Longhorns didn’t even look like they cared about the game, and their offensive performance reflected that attitude. While fans are hopeful that Texas won’t ever again completely check out for an entire game, even a few possessions of lackluster play could mean disaster for this team. The margin for error looks to be very slim with the current roster, especially considering the buzz-saw of a non-conference schedule that awaits in the next three weeks. The Longhorns can’t afford to take plays off, so they have to take advantage of the opportunity to establish that mindset in these lower-risk games.

Up next: vs. Georgetown (5-1) at Madison Square Garden; Tuesday , 6 P.M. CT

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:54PM

UT-Arlington Mavericks (3-1) at Texas Longhorns (4-2)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
LRT Consecutive Game #227

The Texas Longhorns used stifling defense to earn a comfortable win over Sam Houston State on Tuesday night. This afternoon, they face a UT-Arlington team with a stingy defense of its own. While the Maverick defense is ranked fifth in Division I in effective field goal percentage, the Longhorn defense is tops in the nation in that category. Throw in the problems that both offenses have had hanging on to the ball this season, and fans could be in store for an ugly, low scoring affair this afternoon at the Erwin Center.

Meet the Mavericks

Junior point guard Shaquille White-Miller (No. 12) is listed at a generous 5’9″, but he holds his own despite the size disadvantage. In his first full season as a starter, White-Miller is still suffering from some growing pains, turning it over as many times as he’s dished out dimes. His shooting from the floor has been a rough 25%, making it even easier for opposing defenses to sag off and take away driving and passing lanes.

Fellow junior Brandon Edwards (No. 35) is a 6’6″ forward who really scraps inside for every loose ball and rebound. He performed admirably in the home opener against a bigger Oklahoma team, and is currently second on the team with nearly eight boards per game.

The big man in the middle is 6’10” senior Jordan Reves (No. 55), who is tops on the team with 12.3 rebounds per contest. UTA loves to feed the big man in the post, where he’s knocking down more than 53% of his shots. Against the likes of OU’s Romero Osby, Reves was frustrated early and struggled on both ends of the floor. If he can get comfortable against Texas, he can make a big impact. But, if Prince Ibeh and Cameron Ridley can set the tone early, it could take him out of the game.

Although the Mavs don’t take very many shots from behind the arc, the team’s top long-range threat is Polish product Karol Gruszecki (No. 33). Gruszecki came to UTA via North Platte CC, and is currently knocking down his threes at a 40% clip.

The final member of the starting five is Kevin Butler (No. 24), who started the first two games of the season on the bench. Butler is a very strong 6’5″ forward who has driving ability and can finish through contact. Last year, he led the Mavericks with 12 points in their game against the Longhorns, and he’s currently the team’s leading scorer with 10.8 points per game this year.

Butler is a very tough matchup for opponents, because the smaller UTA lineup usually dictates that he is defended by a 4. His speed and driving ability usually tilt that pairing in his favor, while his strength makes it risky for opponents to throw a smaller defender at him.

The player Butler replaced in the starting lineup is guard Jamel Outler (No. 3), a 6’2″ sophomore who transferred from Texas Tech. Despite being moved to a sixth-man role, he’s still fourth on the team with 8.8 points per game. Like Gruszecki, he’s a dangerous long-range shooter, but doesn’t take a ton of shots from behind the arc. Outler averages less than five three-point attempts per game, and has hit nearly 37% of those shots.

Junior forward Greg Gainey (No. 21) has already shown a nice, well-rounded game in his minutes off the bench. At 6’5″, he has the strength to score inside against bigger opponents, but has a nice midrange J that can stretch things out a bit. Another JUCO product, Gainey arrived in Arlington via South Plains College and has made a quick impact, averaging 7.8 points per game as a reserve.

Freshman guard Drew Charles (No. 4) is the backup point guard, but he has had some issues with ball control this season. In the Oklahoma game, the Sooner pressure forced him to travel on two consecutive possessions while trying to turn up court after receiving the outlet pass. He finished that game with six turnovers, but has managed to only cough it up two more times in the team’s other three games.

The final player in the UTA rotation is senior guard Cameron Catlett (No. 25), who played fourteen minutes against North Texas on Wednesday night after missing the first three games of the season. Last year, Catlett started the game against Texas and scored six points in 21 minutes of action.

Keys to the game

1) Force Maverick mistakes – While it’s hard to believe, UT-Arlington actually turns the ball over almost as often as Texas does. The Mavericks end 26.9% of their possessions with a miscue, and looked absolutely lost at times against Oklahoma’s backcourt pressure. Texas hasn’t forced many turnovers this season, but a little bit of additional defensive pressure could give the Horns some extra possessions this afternoon.

2) Don’t give it right back – Extra possessions are meaningless if the Longhorns turn around and give the ball back on the other end. UTA made a very nice comeback against Oklahoma by throwing full-court looks at the Sooners, so the Longhorns will have to be ready for that. Texas struggled when Sam Houston State brought backcourt pressure late in Tuesday’s game, so it is definitely an area for concern.

All of this focuses simply on bringing the ball up the court, which is unfortunately only half the battle for Texas. Lazy passes and bad angles have led to numerous turnovers when just trying to start the offense at the top of the key, so Javan Felix and his fellow Horns need to focus and take care of the ball in their half-court sets, as well.

3) Get to the line – Texas took advantage of Sam Houston State’s aggressive defense and made it to the line 38 times in Tuesday’s win. The Horns posted an incredible free-throw rate of 88.4% in that game, meaning that they took almost nine free throws for every ten field goal attempts. Fortunately for Texas, the Mavericks also tend to send their opponents to the charity stripe, as they are ranked 306th in Division I with a defensive free-throw rate of 47.6%. If Texas is aggressive against this UTA defense, they should earn numerous opportunities for free points at the line.

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