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.
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.
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.