12.02.14
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.

12.01.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:00AM

#7/9 Texas Longhorns 55, #24/22 Connecticut Huskies 54

Late in Sunday’s game in Storrs, it looked like the Longhorns were letting a golden opportunity slip away. Texas had built a lead as large as seven points just before the under-16 media timeout in the second half, but could only manage a trio of free throws over the next seven minutes. UConn wrestled momentum from the Longhorns and seemed poised to grind out another victory at home.

Texas did not help its own cause as the minutes ticked away. Despite holding UConn to just one field goal in the final nine minutes of the game, the Longhorns continually found ways to turn the ball over and failed to secure crucial rebounds and loose balls, leading to a handful of free throws for the Huskies. Still, despite all of that, an unexpected free-throw miss by Ryan Boatright with 15 seconds on the clock left the door open for Texas.

The Longhorns brought the ball up the court and ran a dribble weave about 25 feet from the basket as the seconds disappeared. Coach Rick Barnes started signaling for a timeout on the sideline, and it was granted with 4.4 to play, just before Javan Felix could hoist a desperation three from well beyond the NBA arc. After Texas drew up a play and came out on the floor, UConn’s Kevin Ollie surveyed the setup and called his own timeout.

Jonathan Holmes watches his game-winning three
(Photo credit: Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

That set the stage for another round of Jonathan Holmes heroics. With the lanky Daniel Hamilton guarding Holmes, Demarcus Holland set a screen to free up the senior big man, while Myles Turner slipped through the mass of bodies and raced to the bucket. Holmes found himself alone in the corner, where Connor Lammert fed him for a wide-open look. UConn big man Amida Brimah had to leave Turner alone under the basket so he could challenge Holmes’ three, giving Texas an excellent opportunity to tip in a miss.

It didn’t matter. Holmes, who leaned forward as he let the shot fly, splashed the game-winner with two seconds left on the clock. With the capacity crowd at Gampel Pavilion stunned into silence, Javan Felix stole the ball from UConn on the final play, sealing an improbable finish and victory for Texas.

The win moves the Longhorns to 6-0 on the year, completing a perfect month of November. It was the team’s first spotless November and the program’s best start since the 2009-10 campaign, a season in which the Huskies were able to knock off Texas at Gampel.

With another massive test looming for these Longhorns on Friday against the Kentucky Wildcats and their nine All-Americans, here are eight notes on the exciting Texas win:

1. Who said Rick Barnes can’t draw up a play in the huddle?

The sideline OOB play set up the second career game-winner for Jonathan Holmes, providing a strikingly similar look to the one he drained against Kansas State in last year’s meeting at the Erwin Center. The play gave the Longhorns two solid options for a last-second shot, and left the team with an insurance play in Turner underneath the bucket.

While the Texas offense has frequently gone stagnant for long stretches during games over the years, and Barnes has also earned a reputation with fans and the media as being an offensively-challenged coach, he does have a knack for giving his team a chance to win in the final seconds. Whether it be the two game-winners from Holmes, a great play for Ioannis Papapetrou in a 2003 double-OT thriller against Iowa State, or incredible clock management to force OT at Tech in 2003, Barnes has repeatedly shown that he can create a good look for his players in crunch time.

2. The stifling Texas D had the perfect gameplan

The Huskies go as Boatright goes, and the Longhorns were well aware of that. Although Hamilton is undoubtedly a great scorer, the freshman has yet to prove that he can take over a game and carry his team to victory. Knowing that, the Longhorns made life very difficult for Boatright in the first twenty minutes, daring other UConn players to beat them.

The decision to put Felix on Boatright was one that raised quite a few eyebrows in the minutes leading up to tip-off, but it paid off. Felix was able to stick with the senior guard, challenge his shots, and the Texas bigs were able to stifle Boatright’s drives when he did get past the perimeter defense. That resulted in a 4-for-10 first-half line for Boatright, with a pair of those makes having a high degree of difficulty.

Although Boatright found it easier to score in the second half, and he was able to earn himself more trips to the stripe, the Longhorns still forced the rest of the Huskies into taking long jumpers. Sam Cassell, Jr. finished 2-for-11 from the field, including just 1-of-7 from long range.

That defense kept Texas in the game as the offense scuttled through the second half. As previously mentioned, the Horns allowed just one bucket over the final nine minutes of play, while UConn had to rely on free throws — three of those coming as Texas was forced to foul in the final thirty seconds — for their final five points.

In the end, Texas held the Huskies to 30.4% shooting on the afternoon, while allowing just 0.885 points per possession. The Horns still boast the nation’s fourth-best defense through six games, limiting opponents to an adjusted 0.868 PPP, according to Ken Pomeroy.

3. Texas must take the good with the bad from Felix

On a team with a healthy Isaiah Taylor, Felix would likely be a role player who could provide some quality defense, knock down a few shots, and dish a few dimes every night. Instead, he has been thrust back into a point guard role on a team that desperately needs a slashing guard with a good stroke.

Forced to be something he’s not, Felix has put Texas fans on a roller-coaster ride in the last three games. In the win over UConn, that meant that while Felix played solid D on Boatright early, canned an important three in a run at the end of the first half, and logged four assists, he also gave Longhorn fans numerous ulcers. Felix was only officially dinged for two turnovers on the afternoon, but that number did not include the handful of transition threes he clanked, or the shot clock violation charged to the team when he was on the court.

Felix finished 2-for-8 from behind the arc, and is now 31.5% from the field in his two games at the point, with an effective field goal percentage of 39.5%. In the three games where Felix was able to spend more time off the ball, he was 43.5% from the field and posted an eFG of 52.2%. Once Taylor returns, it stands to reason that Felix will again see his numbers improve. Until then, he needs to focus on being a facilitator and must value the ball and his team’s possessions.

UConn made things difficult inside for Texas
(Photo credit: Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

4. Texas will have to develop a midrange game

Although having Taylor back will certainly open up some things inside due solely to his ability to create off the bounce, the Longhorns will also need to utilize a midrange game to keep opponents honest. If not, they will see more of what UConn was able to do on Sunday afternoon, packing the lane to neutralize the Longhorn bigs and force the Horns to beat them from outside.

Both Holmes and Lammert have the ability to knock down triples, along with midrange jumpers from the elbow or baseline. Turner has also shown range all over the court, so he would be a viable option in those same areas. If opponents are going to double Texas bigs on the catch, the Horns will need to be able to put those three in a position to float out of the paint and make opponents pay.

In addition to the versatile Texas frontcourt, the Longhorn guards also must be willing to take and able to make the midrange jumper when it presents itself. ESPN’s Kara Lawson rightly called out Holland for shying away from a midrange J late in the game, and until he or Felix start taking and making those shots, opponents will be able to sell out in an effort to limit the major advantage Texas owns down low.

5. Holland continues to emerge in Taylor’s absence

Despite passing up the midrange opportunities, Holland once again stepped up with Taylor out of the lineup. In addition to his well-advertised defensive skills, Holland has been on the lookout for driving opportunities since the team’s point guard went down, and his aggressive plays gave Texas early, easy buckets against UConn. The junior guard repeatedly made it to the rack as he scored 10 first-half points on 5-of-6 shooting, but he was shut out the rest of the way.

On the other end of the floor, Holland was tasked with guarding the indefatigable Boatright late in the game. Although Felix performed admirably against UConn’s best player, it was Holland who prevented Boatright and the Huskies from scoring a field goal in the game’s final minutes, keeping it within reach for Texas. And, of course, it should also be noted that it was Holland who set the key screen to free up Holmes for the game winner.

While Holland’s emergence has been key for Texas over the last nine days, the Horns will be a much more complete team if he continues to attack when the opportunities present themselves, even after the return of Taylor. As previously mentioned, increased confidence in Holland’s midrange game would be another helpful development, but even just having him continue his output when Taylor returns would be a boon for the Horns.

Myles Turner made key plays in the final minutes
(Photo credit: Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

6. Turner came up big in crunch time

It was a tough afternoon for the Texas bigs, as Cameron Ridley was limited to an ineffective 17 minutes and Turner struggled offensively against UConn’s suffocating interior D. None of that mattered when the pressure was on, though, as the freshman blocked three shots, secured two key defensive rebounds, and calmly sank two clutch free throws, all in the final three minutes.

7. Yancy is showing flashes, but still needs some seasoning

With Taylor out and Felix missing Tuesday’s win over St. Francis, Yancy has seen a sudden upswing in his minutes. The sophomore guard has applied good defensive pressure on the perimeter and shown great burst in getting to the rack, but has still played erratically enough to make his time on the court an adventure.

Against UConn, Yancy was tagged with three turnovers, none of them more costly than the offensive foul for which he was whistled with 13:27 to go. The Longhorns led by four at that point, but Yancy swung his elbows to clear space on the wing, making some contact with Boatright’s chin. By letter of the law, that resulted in a Flagrant 1, giving UConn two free throws and the ball. Although the Huskies could only capitalize on the free throws and not the extra possession, the mistake effectively killed the momentum for Texas and gave UConn enough life to slowly build a lead down the stretch.

Yancy’s other turnovers were a result of getting a little too deep with the bounce against a set defense, something he needs to improve if he wants to maintain a key role. If he can learn to rein in that explosive speed with the ball, he can limit his turnovers in the future, while still providing some nifty slashes to the rack. If Yancy can’t find a way to do that this year, his role will significantly diminish once Taylor is available.

8. The Horns were outhustled to loose balls

For the first time this season, the Longhorns were outrebounded, as the Huskies snagged 36 boards to just 35 for Texas. Many of those rebounds were painfully frustrating offensive boards that UConn won back, simply beating the Longhorns to the long caroms. The Horns repeatedly saw their defensive stops wiped out by those offensive boards, which led to 11 crucial second-chance points.

Texas had a distinct size advantage inside, but was still often beaten by Kentan Facey and his nose for rebounds. On the long boards, which Texas typically hustled to win in their first five games, UConn was simply quicker to react.

The Longhorns are going to force opponents into a lot of bad misses this season, but if they cannot close out those possessions with strong rebounding, it is going to lead to some back-breaking second chances. They will be especially harmful in low-possession games such as this one at UConn, where those extra looks almost cost Texas the game.

Up next: vs. UT-Arlington (3-3); Tuesday, 7 P.M. CT (LHN)

11.30.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:54AM

#7/9 Texas Longhorns (5-0) at #24/22 Connecticut Huskies (3-1)
Gampel Pavilion | Storrs, CT | Tip: 11 A.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: UConn -1 | KenPom: UConn, 64-63 (51%)

The Texas Longhorns are off to a 5-0 start for the first time since the 2009-10 season, when the team reeled off 17 straight wins to start the year and ascended to the nation’s No. 1 ranking. To match that feat, this year’s squad would have to navigate a non-conference minefield, beginning with this morning’s game at the defending national champions, and also including next weekend’s road trip to last year’s national runner-up. Oh, and did I mention that they’ll have to do that without their starting point guard, and with his backup nursing a sore foot?

Kevin Ollie won an NCAA title in just his second year
(Photo credit: Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press)

While the odds of another 17-0 start are slim, the Longhorns still have a good chance to leave Storrs with a win today. Texas is a slight underdog according to Vegas, but their size and experience match up well against a UConn team that is thin in the frontcourt and lost quite a bit from last year’s title team. If the Longhorns can emerge victorious on the road, they will also end an impressive streak of 44 consecutive non-conference wins for UConn at Gampel, dating back to 2001.

By the numbers

The Huskies are ranked in the top 40 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, although they’ve achieved those marks without any dominant numbers in specific categories. Their tempo trends towards the slower half of Division I, with the team playing an adjusted 66.4 possessions per game.

Mix all of those numbers together, and you can see why UConn’s three wins have come by an average of ten points, even though all three were still battles into the second half. The Huskies don’t wow you with any particular aspect of their game, but they are good enough to grind out a win in crunch time.

Where UConn does stand out somewhat in statistical categories is on the interior of the defensive end. Thanks to a stout rim protector — we’ll have more on him later — UConn has the nation’s 56th-best block rate at 13.3%, and they boast the nation’s 45th-best defensive rebounding mark, as they limit opponents to winning back just 26.2% of their misses.

On offense, two numbers tell the statistical tale. UConn’s best ranking is their two-point field-goal percentage of 51.7%, which is 78th out of 351 Division I teams. The other half of the story is told by their 42.4% team assist rate, which is ranked 317th out of the 351 teams. UConn has an incredible playmaker in the backcourt — another guy we’ll cover in just a moment — but no one else that can consistently beat the defense and set up teammates.

Meet the Huskies

That playmaker for the Huskies is Ryan Boatright (No. 11), a senior guard who is the unquestioned team leader, and the best returning piece from last year’s national championship team. Boatright is the one player who can consistently create his own shot with the bounce, and also the only one who can use the dribble to create looks for his teammates. Boatright’s personal assist ratio of 27.8% is more than double that of the second-best UConn assist rate.

Boatright has a bit of playground flair to his game, which you can see when he gets locked in on a defender and decides to beat him one-on-one. With a mix of crossovers, spin moves, behind-the-back and between-the-leg dribbles, Boatright can quickly break down a defender and bring the crowd to life in the blink of an eye.

On the other end, Boatright is a fantastic on-ball defender, and his quick hands often lead to steals and fast break buckets on the other end. With Isaiah Taylor out of action today, Javan Felix and the other Texas guards will have to be very careful against Boatright in the half-court sets.

Joining Boatright in the backcourt is N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis (No. 44). The sophomore is a stout 6’4″ guard who can get to the rim, but has yet to make a major impact at UConn. After missing the first game of the season due to a minor NCAA infraction, Purvis has made just 37% of his shots, and connected on only 30.8% of his attempts from long range.

Daniel Hamilton has impressed as a freshman
(Photo credit: Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press)

The team’s most exciting new addition comes in the form of lanky wingman Daniel Hamilton (No. 5). The younger brother of former Longhorn Jordan Hamilton, Daniel has turned out to be the team’s best three-point shooter, and has also frequently used that long-range threat to beat defenders with strong head fakes behind the arc.

While Hamilton has proven to be an explosive scorer that can heat up in a hurry, his decision-making has been questionable through his first four collegiate games. He often jumps before passing the ball, even though he’s a very long 6’7″, which leads to unnecessary turnovers. On the year, Hamilton has the team’s highest turnover rate, with a 31.2% mark.

Down low, the Huskies have a formidable big man in Amida Brimah (No. 35), the rim protector we mentioned earlier. Brimah’s block percentage of 13.3% is the 17th-highest in Division I, and it allows Boatright and the Huskies to extend their pressure beyond the perimeter, since he’s always lurking in the middle to clean up any penetration.

On the other end, Brimah has improved his game and worked on the short jumpers and a back-to-the-basket game. Although those skills are still works in progress, the big man still consistently scores in the pick-and-roll, with Boatright and Hamilton often the trigger men.

Joining Brimah in the frontcourt is sophomore Kentan Facey (No. 12), a Jamaican kid who didn’t really start playing basketball until he was 15, instead focusing on soccer and cricket. Even with the late start, Facey has developed excellent rebounding skills and makes good cuts without the ball. The big man can track down boards that are not in his area, and he leads the team in rebounding percentage as a result.

The Huskies are rather thin in the frontcourt, with Phillip Nolan (No. 1) the only real option behind Brimah and Facey. He actually has some nice post moves, but has struggled with foul trouble that limits his effectiveness. The 6’10” junior is playing less than nine minutes a game, while getting called for fouls at a rate of nearly 13 per 40 minutes.

In addition to Nolan, the Huskies also have a stout 6’8″ freshman named Rakim “Rock” Lubin (No. 14). Lubin was suspended while the team was in Puerto Rico and was reinstated late this week, so his minutes may be limited today.

In the backcourt, both Terrence Samuel (No. 3) and Sam Cassell, Jr. (No. 10) provide some depth. Both can create their own shot, although Samuel has struggled at times this year to finish at the rim. While Cassell was looked to as a potential three-point threat at the beginning of the year, he’s yet to deliver, making just 22% of his 18 attempts this season.

Keys to the Game

Ryan Boatright is an explosive scoring threat
(Photo credit: Fred Beckham/Associated Press)

1. Don’t give Boatright easy buckets – Boatright can get his own looks off the bounce, and will drill a pull-up jumper right in a defender’s eye. With his ability to score in an instant and take over a basketball game, the Longhorns cannot afford to give him any easy buckets. The Texas guards must take care of the ball at the top of the key to limit turnovers and fast break buckets, and the Longhorns must stop Boatright and the ball in transition.

2. Attack Brimah early and often – Without much behind Brimah on the depth chart, the Longhorns need to focus on putting the big man in foul trouble early. If Texas can put him on the bench, it completely changes the UConn defensive scheme, as their pressure defense would be more susceptible to finishes at the rim, and it would take away one of their big offensive weapons on the pick and roll.

3. Look for transition opportunities – When the UConn defense gets set, their pressure can be hard to handle. But, as opponents have proven this year, the Huskies can be beaten in the transition game, as they often fall asleep and forget to stop the ball. The Longhorns need to look upcourt after both makes and misses from UConn, and attempt to log as many fast break points as they can.

4. Force UConn to win with jumpers – Although Boatright has a great midrange game and Hamilton has proven to be a long-range marksman, the UConn offense struggles when it’s kept away from the rim. The Huskies missed nine straight shots and 14-of-18 against the Bryant zone in their season opener, and Bryant is a team that typically plays man-to-man defense! With the length that the Longhorns have inside, they need to pack in the defense and force a poor-shooting UConn team to beat them with the J.

11.26.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 9:28AM

#7/9 Texas Longhorns 78, St. Francis Red Flash 46

Myles Turner made a quick splash when he debuted for the Texas Longhorns on November 14th. Within 30 seconds of entering the game, he made his first collegiate bucket, and scored in a variety of ways en route to a 15-point night. He added another 10 just a few days later against Alcorn State, but managed to score only five points in each game against Cal and Iowa in New York City.

St. Francis could not stop freshman phenom Myles Turner
(Photo: Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman)

Although he was still active defensively and on the glass in those two games, it looked like Turner was out of his usual zone on the offensive end. That changed in a big way in last night’s 78-46 win over St. Francis, as Turner dropped 25 points and tied a 52-year-old school record for field-goal percentage (91.7%) in a single game.

The win, which was never in doubt, moved the Longhorns to 5-0 on the season ahead of their Top 25 showdown with UConn in Storrs on Sunday. Although it’s always hard to glean too much insight from early-season games as mismatched as this one was, we still have seven post-game thoughts to share:

1. The Texas trainers are staying busy

With Isaiah Taylor already in a sling on the bench, the Longhorns had a few more injuries wreak havoc on the rotation last night. Javan Felix did not play — although Texas said he was available, if necessary — as he nursed a sore foot that he played through in New York City.

Prince Ibeh also joined the triage unit after just two minutes on the floor, when he appeared to injure himself while blocking a shot. He grabbed at his hip and shuffled slowly down the court the other way before Texas reclaimed the ball and play was ultimately stopped. Ibeh headed to the locker room during the first half and did return to the bench, but did not see any additional action.

Taylor’s injury will keep him out of action indefinitely, although some reports have predicted he’ll miss four to six weeks. Felix is expected to be back in action on Sunday against UConn, while there are no reports yet on Ibeh’s condition. This is certainly a Texas team with enough depth to absorb that many injuries, and the schedule worked out nicely for Felix to be able to rest up before a much more important game this weekend.

2. The Longhorns fell into the letdown trap early

After a few nice possessions with Demarcus Holland running the point, the Longhorns quickly lost focus in the first half. It was easy to see why, but no less frustrating. Sandwiched between games against Iowa and Cal in New York and big road games against UConn and Kentucky, a mid-week game just before the holidays against a tiny St. Francis team was the type that the Longhorns knew they could easily win.

Unfortunately, they played with that mindset for a lengthy first-half stretch. The Longhorns did not protect the basketball, and an active, hungry St. Francis defense repeatedly made them pay. In the first half, Texas coughed it up on nearly 22% of their possessions, with many of the turnovers coming when the Longhorns didn’t make strong passes or held the ball down low where the quick hands of the Red Flash could swipe at it.

Although Cameron Ridley scored 13 first-half points thanks to his epic mismatch against the St. Francis “bigs,” he was tagged with two early turnovers and finished with four on the night. Ridley had no problem when he caught the ball down low, but looked completely out of sorts handling it anywhere else.

3. Holmes found additional ways to contribute

It was a rough night for Jonathan Holmes from the floor, which started when he had a nice take from the perimeter that ultimately resulted in a shot that rimmed out. The senior finished just 1-of-5 from the field, with the lone make coming on a three. He also was not immune to the turnover problems that plagued Ridley and the team, as he was charged with three of his own in the first half.

However, Holmes logged five assists on the night, with most of them coming early. Thanks to his outside shot, he was able to spread a St. Francis defense that would much rather pack the lane. Holmes repeatedly put the ball right on the money when feeding from the perimeter, setting Ridley up in perfect position down low for an easy bucket. With a Texas team that has quite a few offensive threats, it’s reassuring to see Holmes helping out those other scorers on a night when his shot wasn’t falling.

4. Turner took over the game

As mentioned earlier, Turner tied a team record that dated back to the 1950’s, making 11-of-12 from the field. He scored in a variety of ways, from utilizing the face up game just outside the lane to showing soft touch on a baby hook. Turner also made all three long-range attempts he took, and later used that three-point threat on an impressive play in which the freshman faked the defender from the arc, took one dribble, and drilled a 19-footer before his man could recover.

Turner finished the night with his first collegiate double-double, adding 10 boards to go with his 25-point performance. Even better, he managed to post that line in just 25 minutes of action, giving him an offensive rating of 211 for the night. Sources tell us that’s pretty good.

5. Holland and Yancy held it down

With Felix out of action, Holland was asked to add point-guard duties to his usual defensive-stopper role. The junior guard handled it well, logging four assists while keeping the offense focused on exploiting the team’s size advantage during his 32 minutes of action. As usual, Holland stayed in the shirt of his man on the defensive end, and also added a pair of nice layups on quick, aggressive moves to the basket.

Thanks to the Felix injury, Kendal Yancy made his first start of the season after notching 10 last year. In the second half, he made the most of the opportunity, making confident moves with the ball en route to a 12-point night. Yancy knocked down 2-of-3 from behind the arc, and utilized that three-point threat in making St. Francis pay for late, quick closeouts. He also performed well on the defensive end, making the combination of Holland and Yancy look like a nice future option against quick backcourts.

6. The Horns still hustled in a blowout

The Longhorns fought St. Francis for every loose ball
(Photo: Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman)

Although Texas had some ball control issues that indicated a lack of focus, there were still quite a few nice hustle plays for the Longhorns last night. As usual, Connor Lammert repeatedly made the extra effort to track down errant bounces, and his work cleaning up misses inside helped him to an 11-point performance. Holland also found extra bursts of speed to beat St. Francis to a few long rebounds that had bounced into space.

The most impressive hustle play of the night, however, belonged to Ridley. Late in the first half, he found himself isolated against St. Francis star Earl Brown in the midrange. The big man took a good stance and used his length to back Brown up, then sprung off the floor to block Brown’s stepback attempt. Ridley then showed off the nimble footwork of a ballerina, snatching the ball out of the air, while planting one foot just inside the basline, and then swiveling to save the ball back to Turner.

Even though Texas had some lapses in concentration during the first half, the strong effort throughout the game to win extra possessions was a welcome sight. Those possessions obviously didn’t matter in a blowout win against St. Francis, but they could be the difference in a tight game against tougher compeition later in the year.

7. Texas posted some impressive numbers

While the stats in a game like this are not indicative of much in the grand scheme of things, they are still a lot of fun to look at. The Longhorns once again dominated on the defensive end, holding the Red Flash to 31% shooting and just 0.726 points per possession. It was the third time this season that the Horns have held an opponent to less than 0.8 PPP, and it pulled the team’s adjusted defensive efficiency mark down to 0.877 PPP, currently the fourth-best in the nation.

The Longhorns also managed to do that without fouling, as they played nearly 18 minutes before being whistled for their first foul. On the night, Texas only gave St. Francis five trips to the line, resulting in an incredible free-throw rate of just 8.6%. In simpler terms, that means that the Longhorns gave the Red Flash less than one free throw for every 11 shots attempted.

Texas also owned the glass on both ends of the court, which was to be expected against a team that topped out at 6’7″. The Longhorns reclaimed 44% of their own missed shots, and turned that into 15 second-chance points. On the other end, Texas limited St. Francis to winning just 17.9% of their offensive-rebounding opportunities.

Up next: at Connecticut (3-1); Sunday, 11 A.M. CT (ESPN2)

11.25.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 6:57AM

St. Francis Red Flash (2-2) at #7/9 Texas Longhorns (4-0)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
Vegas: OFF | KenPom: Texas, 69-50 (98%)

Fresh off a championship in the 2K Classic, the Texas Longhorns return to action tonight at the Frank Erwin Center, having climbed three spots in this week’s AP poll. With tough road games coming in the next two weekends against UConn and Kentucky, the two teams who played in last year’s national championship game, Texas will be taking it easy against some lighter competition tonight when they square off with St. Francis.

The Longhorns will be without point guard Isaiah Taylor for a second consecutive game, with the most recent reports now labeling his timetable for return as “indefinite.” On Friday, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman quoted sources that projected Taylor’s absence to be four to six weeks. Either way, it’s clear that Taylor will be unavailable for the team’s biggest non-conference games in Storrs and Lexington, and the sophomore could see his rehab stretch into the beginning of conference play.

Javan Felix will be the man tasked with filling Taylor’s sneakers, and although he has more than enough experience as the starting point guard from the 2012-13 campaign, it will be a change of roles for Felix. The New Orleans native played more of a combo guard role on last year’s team, and was asked to take open shots any time he saw them. Felix complied, taking more than 29% of his team’s shots when he was on the floor, by far the highest percentage on the team, and one that ranked him 138th nationally.

With this year’s team having such a dominant presence inside, Felix will have to serve as much more of a facilitator in Taylor’s absence. He will also need to ensure that his shot selection is judicious enough to make opponents think twice about packing the lane. Last year, Felix shot just 35.8% from the floor, so indiscriminate shooting at that same rate will only serve to encourage opponents to sag off and neutralize the Texas advantage down low.

By the numbers

St. Francis University — not to be confused with St. Francis College, which aso plays in the Northeast Conference — comes into tonight’s game with a 2-2 mark, having notched one of those wins against Division III Keystone College.

The Red Flash have one of the most experienced teams in the country, having returned all five starters from last year’s team. Ken Pomeroy shows the Red Flash as having a team average of 2.07 years of experience, the 58th-highest average in the country. This is a group that has played together for a long time and is very familiar with each other, but they’re also very familiar with losing. Last year’s team logged a 10-21 mark, and the program has won just 30 total games in the last four seasons.

St. Francis has struggled with turnovers
(Photo Credit: Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

This year, the numbers are not pretty for the Red Flash. Offensively, their adjusted efficiency ranks as 44th-worst in Division I. That low number is driven by an inability to control the basketball and to win second chances with their very small roster. St. Francis has turned it over on 28% of their possessions, and have only reclaimed 19.8% of their missed shots. Those percentages are ranked 10th-worst and 11th-worst in Division I this season.

With the offense struggling so mightly, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the Red Flash like to slow things down. The team is averaging an adjusted 63.8 possessions per game, one of the 50 slowest paces in D-I.

Despite being severely undersized, St. Francis has managed to perform admirably on the defensive end. The Red Flash are allowing an adjusted 0.990 points per possession, just slightly worse than the national average. They are actually forcing a turnover on roughly one out of every four possessions, keeping opponents off the glass with the 28th-best defensive rebounding rate in the country, and are not sending opponents to the line. The team’s defensive free-throw rate of 23.1% is currently ranked 21st nationally.

Meet the Red Flash

Although Texas has a handful of games against low majors that will likely be severe mismatches, this will probably be the one with the biggest disparity in size. The Red Flash have just one player listed at 6’7″ who plays significant minutes, and a trio of 6’6″ guys have seen time so far this year. Beyond that, there’s a sudden drop-off in size, with two members of the core rotation checking in under six-foot.

One of those diminutive starters is 5’11” sophomore point guard Malik Harmon (No. 1), who was the Rookie of the Year in the NEC last year. Although he has assisted on more than 15% of his team’s baskets when he’s been on the floor in their three D-I games, he has also posted an ugly 27.2% turnover rate.

Joining Harmon in the backcourt is junior guard Greg Brown (No. 12), who coach Rob Krimmel says is one of the NEC’s best defenders. Despite starting all four games, Brown is averaging just under 26 minutes per game, but has been the team’s best facilitator when he’s on the court, dishing dimes on more than a quarter of the team’s buckets.

Earl Brown is the playmaker for St. Francis
(Photo Credit: Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

To keep announcers and fans confused, the best player for the Red Flash is also named Brown — Earl Brown (No. 15). The 6’6″ wing has a quick first step and is a very good passer, but has a hard time carrying a very bad offense, with opponents able to focus most of their energy on him. Despite the added attention, Earl does a good job creating his own looks and getting to the line, but he does not convert those opportunities, having made just 50% of his free-throw attempts so far this season.

Senior Ollie Jackson (No. 22) is a 6’3″ guard who has also started every game, yet plays less than half of the team’s minutes. Although he played at the four against NEC opponents last season, Jackson stayed in his more natural role on the perimeter in the team’s season-opening loss at Cincinnati. He is just 1-for-10 from the field so far this season, and has a turnover rate just shy of 30%.

Rounding out the starting five is Ronnie Drinnon (No. 40), the team’s big man at 6’7″. Against a much bigger Cincinnati team, Drinnon actually did a respectable job in the post, showing nice touch on his hook shot, while also adding a turnaround jumper in the midrange. His rebounding numbers are ranked in the Top 500 on both ends of the court, so the Red Flash will need him to avoid foul trouble and stay on the court against Texas tonight.

The Red Flash have a very small rotation, with just two reserves seeing significant minutes. Junior Ben Millaud-Meunier (No. 11) is known as the team’s sharpshooter, although his 37.5% mark from long range is currently second on the team, behind Harmon’s 43.8%. Cincinnati chased Millaud-Meunier off the arc a few times, and he struggled to make them pay with his midrange game.

Senior Dominique Major rounds out the rotation, providing quality on-ball defense. He was aggressive with the bounce against Cincinnati, but preferred to look for teammates once he found a crack. Most of Major’s shots come from outside, but he’s yet to find much success this season, having connected on just 28.6% of his looks.

Keys to the Game

This is one of those match-ups where our “Keys to the Game” section is something of a misnomer. Although St. Francis will likely slow the pace enough to keep tonight’s score from getting too ugly, there’s no reason why Texas should have any problems at all in this game. The Longhorns could likely win this one with a walk-on or two playing significant minutes, so these “keys” are simply ways that Texas can make the final margin even bigger.

1. Exploit the size advantage – With St. Francis having just one player at 6’7″, the Longhorns could easily go inside on each and every play. Cincinnati was able to abuse the Red Flash in the high-low game, simply dropping entry passes right over the top of the undersized defenders. Texas should focus on good ball movement against a disciplined-but-undersized defense, with an eye towards finding great angles for post entry passes.

2. Turn up the pressure – The Longhorns have posted outstanding defensive numbers this season without forcing very many turnovers. St. Francis, meanwhile, has struggled with controlling the basketball, and looked terrified against backcourt pressure in the loss to Cincinnati. If Texas wants to have some game-speed practice with their traps and pressure looks, this would be a night in which that would result in quite a few extra possessions.

3. Dominate the glass – St. Francis typically doesn’t earn second chances, and that’s even the case against like-sized opponents. However, they have been able to keep opponents from winning back their own missed shots, a statistic that defies conventional logic. The Longhorns should not have a hard time owning the defensive glass tonight, but can also take away one of the few strengths for St. Francis if they are able to win back a good share of their own misses.

« Previous PageNext Page »