3.14.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:50PM

[3] Texas Longhorns (23-9) vs. [7] Baylor Bears (23-10)
Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO | Tip: 8:30 CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate List) or ESPNU (in markets not served by Big 12 Network)
Vegas: Baylor -1.5 | Pomeroy: Baylor, 70-69 (52%)

The Texas Longhorns bounced back quickly from their loss to Texas Tech in the regular-season finale, racing out of the gate in a blowout of West Virginia last night in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals. Texas sprinted to a 21-4 lead by the under-12 media timeout, stifling the Mountaineers at every turn. The game was never in doubt, as the Longhorns led by as many as 30 points midway through the second half. Texas ultimately advanced to the semifinals with a 66-49 victory, but the game was never actually that close.

The win sets up a third meeting with Baylor in the Big 12 tournament semis, the 13th time in the league’s 18-year existence that Texas has made it to this stage. Texas posted a season sweep of the Bears in their two previous meetings this year, but Baylor is on the upswing and finally looking like the team that people expected them to be back in October.

The Longhorns are projected anywhere from a No. 5 seed to a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament, depending on which bracket projections you prefer, but another Top 50 RPI win over Baylor would make it unlikely they would actually end up in a 7/10 game when the field is announced on Sunday. A win tonight would not only give Texas its seventh appearance in the Big 12 Championship final tomorrow, but could perhaps give the team enough of a push to even end up on the 5-seed line in next week’s tournament.

Keys to the game

1) Dictate the tempo – It’s much easier to force teams to play slower than it is to speed up the game. Although you can try to speed up a team with traps and extra ball pressure, the offense has 35 seconds to burn if it wants. If that same team has a good defense, particularly a zone, you also have to be patient to get a good look. The Bears have been that kind of stubborn team all season, with an average tempo of 62.8 possessions per game, the 24th-slowest pace out of 351 Division I teams.

Even though Texas won both games against the Bears this season, the importance of dictating the pace against Baylor is evident in the results. The Longhorns won fairly comfortably in the first meeting in Waco, a game in which the teams played 72 possessions. During a much tighter Texas victory in Austin, the two teams played just 58 possessions. The importance of getting out in transition and looking for opportunities in the secondary break is clear for Texas in tonight’s game.

Playing at a brisk pace is also important for the Longhorns when you consider fatigue and Baylor’s short bench. The Bears are playing their third game in three days, with their five starters all averaging 30 minutes in the two games. (Technically Isaiah Austin (No. 21) averaged 29.5 minutes in the two contests, but rounding is great when it supports your point.)

The Longhorns, meanwhile, took two days off from practice earlier this week and looked incredibly fresh to start last night’s game. With the result well in hand, the starting five averaged just 22.8 minutes in the win. That difference in workload could mean the difference in crunch time tonight, especially if Texas can turn this into an up-tempo affair.

2) Limit second chances – Baylor is the nation’s third-best offensive rebounding team, and they boast the country’s second-best offensive rebounder by percentage in Rico Gathers (No. 2). The Longhorns have been strong on the glass all season long, but have had some lapses in conference where they allow teams to extend key late-game possessions with offensive boards. Texas will obviously have their work cut out for them on the glass tonight, but they simply cannot afford to let Baylor score a significant number of second-chance points.

This also ties in with our previous key to the game, as allowing Baylor to have longer offensive possessions only serves to slow the pace and shorten the game. Texas has to close out its defensive stops with solid rebounding, and not allow Baylor to win too many offensive rebounds tonight.

3) Keep Heslip quietBrady Heslip (No. 5) has nailed 45.9% of his three-point attempts on the year and averages more than three makes per game. That percentage puts the Canadian sharpshooter among the nation’s ten best when it comes to three-point percentage, so he’s always a threat to quickly bury a team under a flurry of threes.

Texas did a good job limiting his damage in the first two games, holding him to just 2-of-8 shooting beyond the arc in those contests. The Longhorns also locked down the perimeter very well against a great three-point shooting West Virginia team last night, so their backcourt does seem to be keyed in at the right time. If Heslip gets hot tonight, it will make things very tough on Texas, but if they can put in another good defensive showing on the perimeter, the Longhorns should be in position to challenge for a Big 12 title berth.

3.13.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:55PM

[3] Texas Longhorns (22-9 overall, 11-7 Big 12) vs. [6] West Virginia Mountaineers (17-14, 9-9)
Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO | Tip: 8:30 CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)
Vegas: Texas -3 | Pomeroy: Texas, 78-76 (57%)

The old adage holds that it’s tough to beat the same team three times in one season. With the advent of the double round-robin in the Big 12, that scenario is even more common than it once under the previous, imbalanced league schedule. For a Texas Longhorn team that heads to Kansas City having lost four of its last six games, pulling off the difficult three-game sweep of West Virginia is the only way to try to build some momentum heading into the NCAA tournament.

The Longhorns have also struggled away from the Erwin Center in recent weeks, although many of their road stumbles came in very tough road environments. Fortunately, from this point on, all of Texas’ games will be on a neutral court, even though the decidely pro-Kansas fans at the Sprint Center will likely back the Mountaineers in tonight’s contest. The Longhorns only played two neutral-court games this season — both in the Sprint Center — and pulled off a split by defeating DePaul after a loss to BYU.

In addition to building some momentum and proving they can win away from home, the Longhorns are obviously playing for seeding at this point. Although ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has kept Texas as a No. 6 seed following a loss to Texas Tech and throughout Championship Week, the team would obviously like to avoid slipping to the 7-seed line and potentially facing a No. 2 seed in the Round of 32. A loss tonight could make that outcome a distinct possibility, while another win over West Virginia would give the Horns their twelfth RPI Top 100 win and a shot at a eighth RPI Top 50 win against Baylor or Oklahoma tomorrow night.

The First Meeting

The Longhorns dominated the glass and forced the Mountaineers into taking — and missing — a bunch of challenged threes when the teams met at West Virginia last month. Texas used a 27-11 run over the final 12 minutes of the first half to open up a big lead, and the team never looked back. Although the Mountaineers clawed to within 11 points by the final buzzer, the game was never in doubt in the second half, and Texas cruised to an 80-69 win.

Cameron Ridley was dominant inside for Texas, posting 12 points and 12 boards for what was then his fourth double-double of the season. The Longhorns reclaimed more than 34% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, while limiting WVU to contested one-shot possessions. Texas locked down the defensive glass, allowing the Mountaineers to win back just 22% of their own misses.

Texas did a good job limiting open looks on the perimeter, something that opponents often find difficult to do against the spread attack and driving ability of West Virginia. The Mountaineers made just 16% of their three-point attempts on the night, shooting 4-for-25 from long range. Point guard Juwan Staten (No. 3) went off for 23 points and added five assists, while freshman forward Brandon Watkins (No. 20) had a nice performance off the bench, logging five blocks and snagging six boards in just 14 minutes of action.

The Second Game

The Longhorns again owned the boards against West Virginia in Austin, limiting the Mountaineers to just 23.1% of their offensive rebounding chances, while reclaiming nearly 40% of their own missed shots. When you also consider that the Longhorns shot a blistering 58% from the field, those extended possessions carried even more weight.

Texas did a great job limiting Staten in the first half, holding him to just four points as the Longhorns took an 11-point edge to the locker room. The Longhorns moved the ball crisply, knocked down jump shots, and took advantage of their size inside.

Although the Mountaineers made a push coming out of the half and cut the lead to just six points, Texas responded with an 8-0 run and never looked back. Despite an uneven second-half performance, the Longhorns still cruised to an 88-71 win over West Virginia, who had won four out of five coming into the game. Texas held a massive 46-14 advantage on points in the paint and logged assists on 54.5% of their buckets. All five starters finished in double-digits for the Horns, with big men Jonathan Holmes and Ridley combining for 28.

Keys to the Game

1) Pound the paint – West Virginia will likely dare the Longhorns to beat them with the jump shot again, and it’s not a poor strategy. Texas clearly has the advantage in the frontcourt when these two teams meet, and the Horns are ranked among Division I’s 100 worst teams in every shooting category — free throws, two-pointers, and three-pointers. If Texas plays into West Virginia’s hands, allows the ball to stick against that 1-3-1 zone, and settles for jump shots, the Longhorns will have a tough time advancing to the Big 12 Championship semifinals.

2) Turn back Staten’s drives – So much of West Virginia’s offense is created by the penetrating ability of Staten, whether it leads to baskets for him, or open looks for teammates. Texas did a fantastic job limiting his damage in the first half in Austin by stopping his attack in penetration, and turning him into a jump shooter in the half-court. If the Longhorns can’t repeat that performance tonight and allow Staten to slice up their defense, things could get very dicey in Kansas City.

3) Don’t lose the shooters – West Virginia knocks down 38.6% of their three-point shots, and when they get hot, they can blow the doors right off an arena. In a thorough whipping of Iowa State in Morgantown, the Mountaineers drilled 13 triples and made more than 59% of their long-range attempts. In two games against the Longhorns, however, West Virginia has made just 12-of-48 from behind the arc.

While some may say that means the Mountaineers are due, a big factor in those numbers is Texas forcing West Virginia into taking tough looks. If the Longhorns can do the same tonight — and keep close tabs on Eron Harris (No. 10), Terry Henderson (No. 15), and stretch forwards Nathan Adrian (No. 11) and Rémi Dibo (No. 0) when they drift without the ball — they should be able to advance to the next round of the Big 12 tournament.

3.08.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:49AM

Texas Longhorns (22-8 overall, 11-6 Big 12) at Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-17, 5-12)
United Spirit Arena | Lubbock, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNEWS
Vegas: Texas -1.5 | Pomeroy: Texas, 69-68 (51%)

There’s only one day left in the Big 12 regular season, and there’s still quite a bit left to sort out. While Kansas clinched an outright title last Saturday despite losing at Oklahoma State, there are massive logjams in the middle of the standings that will likely come down to numerous tiebreakers after today’s action.

What we do know is that Kansas will be the No. 1 seed in Kansas City next weekend, while Texas Tech will be No. 9 and TCU is assured No. 10. Teams second through fifth are separated by just one game, while there’s currently a three-way tie for sixth. With the league’s top six teams getting a bye to the quarterfinals, that means there’s even drama in the middle of the table on the final day of the season.

For Texas, seeds two through five are still possibilities as the day tips off. Since Iowa State and Kansas State play earlier in the day, by the time the Horns square off with the Red Raiders in Lubbock, the picture will be a little more clear. At the moment, though, here are the possibilities for Texas’ seeding in Kansas City:


UT’s SEED HAPPENS IF…
2 Texas wins, OU loses
3 Texas wins, OU wins
Texas loses, OU loses, ISU loses, KSU loses
Texas loses, OU wins, ISU wins, KSU loses
Texas loses, OU wins, ISU loses, KSU loses
4 Texas loses, OU wins, ISU wins, KSU wins
Texas loses, OU wins, ISU loses, KSU wins
Texas loses, OU loses, ISU wins, KSU loses
Texas loses, OU loses, ISU loses, KSU wins
5 Texas loses, OU loses, ISU wins, KSU wins

The key tiebreakers in play are the fact that Oklahoma swept Texas and that Kansas State and Texas both beat Kansas. In multi-team ties, record against the entire group is used as a tiebreaker, so the Horns end up at the bottom of any multi-team tie involving OU, since all other matchups between these four teams ended up in splits.

When group record is tied, then the records are compared against the first-place team, second-place team, etc. That means that Kansas State and Texas both hold the edge over Iowa State thanks to their KU wins, but Kansas State holds the edge over Texas by virtue of a win against Oklahoma.

Of course, the easiest way to clear this up is for Texas to win at Tech today. That won’t be an easy task, as nearly every Big 12 team has discovered in their visit to Lubbock this season. The Red Raiders picked off Baylor and Oklahoma State at home, and would have knocked off Kansas if not for the heroics of Andrew Wiggins. Tech also played Kansas State down to the wire in Lubbock and even surprised Oklahoma in Norman.

The Longhorns barely escaped with wins in their last two visits to Lubbock, and this year’s Texas Tech team is considerably better. Securing a season-ending win on the road this afternoon will certainly be a challenge.

Keys to the game

1) Take care of the basketball – The Longhorns have apparently packed grease in their travel bags the last few weeks, as their turnover rates in losses at Kansas State and Oklahoma were both over 23%, while the Horns coughed it up on 18.9% of possessions in a road thrashing at Kansas. Even in the loss at Iowa State, where Texas had a turnover rate of just 14%, it was early turnovers that put the Horns behind the eight-ball.

Texas Tech plays a very low-tempo game, making every possession even more valuable. In Tech’s last four home games, the team has forced turnovers on no less than 20.4% of their opponents’ possessions. Add in the fact that the Longhorns had a turnover rate north of 20% when the teams first met in Austin, and there’s cause for concern this afternoon. If Texas wastes possessions on the road in Lubbock, the team will likely be heading to Kansas City with one more loss.

2) Force jump shots – Tech’s offense is very patient, often running the shot clock down very low before an excellent cut and timely passing leads to an open look in the paint. The other primary source of Red Raider points are simply iso plays for point guard Robert Turner (No. 14). The Red Raiders are not a great shooting team, so if the Longhorns can pack the defense in, take away Turner’s driving ability, and be aware of movement off the ball, Tech will be forced to beat the Horns with jumpers. Although that’s not a guarantee for a W, it’s certainly a formula that increases UT’s odds today.

3) Don’t lose Hannahs – While most of the Red Raiders aren’t great shooters, that description doesn’t extend to sophomore Dusty Hannahs (No. 2). The sharpshooter has drilled 38% of his three-point attempts on the year, and has taken 30 more long-range attempts than any other Tech player. If the Longhorns lose track of Hannahs on the perimeter, he can quickly make them pay, as West Virginia learned when he drilled 7-of-7 against them earlier this year. If Texas can limit his damage while also turning the rest of the Red Raiders into jump shooters, they should be able to end the season on a winning note.

3.05.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:12PM

TCU Horned Frogs (9-19 overall, 0-16 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (21-8, 10-6)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. | TV: Longhorn Network
Vegas: Texas -18 | Pomeroy: Texas, 77-60 (94%)

It won’t be Senior Night, but the Texas Longhorns will play their final home game of the year when they host TCU tonight. In a season where the Horns were expected to finish at the bottom of the standings and maybe flirt with the NCAA bubble, they are instead safely in the field with a week left in the regular season and are only playing for seeding at this point.

In addition to that NCAA tournament seeding, the Horns are also still locked in a fierce battle for seeding at the Big 12 Championship tournament in Kansas City. Heading into tonight’s action, Texas is tied with Oklahoma for second, although the Sooners own the tiebreaker by virtue of a season sweep of the Longhorns. A half-game behind the Red River rivals are Iowa State and Kansas State, two teams who have home games scheduled on Saturday in arenas where they hardly ever lose.

TCU, meanwhile, is fast approaching history with their winless conference mark. At 0-16, the Horned Frogs are two losses away from a perfectly futile Big 12 campaign, and just three wins away from tying Texas A&M’s record 20-game Big 12 losing streak. With stretch forward Amric Fields (No. 4) out for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury, the Horned Frogs now have just one player taller than 6’6″ on their roster.

The first time around, the Longhorns had a very tough time with TCU in Fort Worth, just days after taking care of Kansas in Austin. Early turnovers and horrid shooting made Texas fight for the win until the final seconds, as the Longhorns had to rely on a ridiculous 59.5% offensive rebounding mark to squeak out a narrow, 59-54 victory.

There are far too many tiebreaker permutations to compute before tonight’s action, but with wins in their final two games, the Longhorns would be guaranteed no worse than the No. 3 seed in Kansas City. There is still a doomsday scenario on the table where five teams could tie for second at 10-8, but my computer started smoking and shooting out sparks when I tried figuring out how those tiebreakers would shake out. So, for the sake of my laptop, let’s just hope Texas wins tonight’s contest.

Keys to the game

1) Hang on to the ball – Turnovers are what kept things close in Fort Worth, and they are what kept TCU within striking distance until late in the second half of games at Oklahoma and against Iowa State. With TCU taking the air out of the ball and limiting the number of possessions, even a moderate turnover rate can make things dicey against the Horned Frogs.

2) Dominate the paint – The Horned Frogs have a promising young center in Karviar Shepherd (No. 1), but he is their only post option and he is not yet a dominant one. Shepherd and TCU often give up far too easily when trying to establish an inside game, meaning that their only big man will often drift out and play a midrange game. Although he has a nice midrange jumper in his arsenal, the Horned Frogs cannot afford to have Shepherd anywhere but the painted area.

If the Longhorns play their typical style of tough, physical D, they can likely own the lane and force Shepherd off the blocks. In addition to making it tougher on TCU to score, that will also serve to increase Texas’ advantage on the boards. While it’s hard to imagine that Texas could top the 59.5% offensive rebounding mark and 79.5% defensive rebounding rate from the first meeting between these two teams, another strong performance on the glass would cripple TCU’s upset hopes.

3) Take away penetration – With Fields out of the game, the TCU offense is now almost entirely reliant upon the ability of point guard Kyan Anderson (No. 5) to generate points. He is great at varying his speeds and taking good angles to get to the rim, and he knows how to get his shots up through taller defenders, despite being listed at a very generous 5’11”.

Although he is also a good three-point shooter, Texas should be most concerned with taking away Anderson’s driving ability. None of the other Horned Frogs are very good at creating their own looks, so if Anderson can’t open things up with his dribble penetration, he’ll have to single-handedly beat Texas from beyond the arc.

3.01.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:25PM

#24/23 Texas Longhorns (21-7 overall, 10-5 Big 12) at Oklahoma Sooners (20-8, 9-6)
Lloyd Noble Center | Norman, OK | Tip: 3 P.M. CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN Full Court/ESPN3
Vegas: Oklahoma -4.5 | Pomeroy: Oklahoma, 83-78 (66%)

The Longhorns are looking to avenge their only home loss in conference play as they head to Norman this afternoon to take on the Sooners. In addition to trying to split the season series, the Horns are also still barely alive in their pursuit of a shared conference title, and are in the midst of a tough battle for the league’s No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The Sooners are currently tied for fourth in the league with Kansas State, just a game behind Iowa State and Texas with three games to play. Since Oklahoma won the first meeting with Texas, a loss today would doom the Longhorns in a head-to-head tiebreaker, and also bury them in any multi-team tiebreakers involving OU. Although the final week of the schedule is more favorable to Texas than the other three teams, the tiebreaker math means that a loss this afternoon would make it very tough for the Horns to earn that No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament

Keys to the game

1) Crash the boards – In the first meeting between these two teams, the Sooners dominated the rebounding battle, holding the Horns to just a 26.7% mark on the offensive glass. On the other end, OU reclaimed 45.9% of its own misses, including some back-breaking boards in the game’s final minutes that led to key second-chance points.

While the Longhorn bigs will have to do a much better job to win the battle of the boards this afternoon, the Texas guards also must step up. Although Ryan Spangler (No. 00) and Tyler Neal (No. 15) did a good job on the boards, it was the quick, athletic guards and wings who consistently outraced Texas to the ball. If the Longhorns can’t keep OU from winning rebounds and extending possessions, it will be very tough to avenge their earlier loss this afternoon.

2) Pound it inside – The Longhorns found quite a bit of success early in the second half when they ran the offense through Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley down low. Foul trouble plagued Holmes throughout the game, and the Texas offense clearly struggled when he was cooling his heels on the bench. While he obvioulsy has to avoid that same scenario this afternoon, Texas has to exploit its size advantage all game, even when the frontcourt reserves are on the court.

3) Clog the gaps – Much of Oklahoma’s offense comes from the slashing ability of its young, talented backcourt. However, the Sooners have proven that they will often settle for long jumpers when penetration isn’t there, even forcing challenged looks with a defender in their face. If the Longhorns can keep the OU guards in front of them and shade off the ball to discourage drives, they may be able to slow the Sooner offense down and give themselves a chance for the road win.

4) Challenge shooters – Oklahoma is full of great shooters who can knock it down all over the court. Texas quickly learned that fact in the first meeting, as poor defense led to numerous wide-open looks in the first half on which the Sooners capitalized. While it can be tough to take away driving lanes while also preventing open looks, Texas can do so with quick rotation and good communication on D. If the Horns are able to stop the drive, but leave shooters open on the arc as a result, Oklahoma could snow Texas under with a flurry of threes. Neutralizing the high-powered Oklahoma offense is a tall order, so the Longhorns certainly have their work cut out for them on the road this afternoon.

2.26.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:54PM

Baylor Bears (18-9 overall, 6-8 Big 12) at #24/23 Texas Longhorns (20-7, 9-5)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
Vegas: Texas -4 | Pomeroy: Texas, 73-68

With just a week and a half left in the Big 12 season, the conference race is heating up. No, not the race for the conference title. Kansas wrapped that up on Monday night, clinching at least a share of the Big 12 crown for a 10th-consecutive season. Not even the 1-seed line in the conference tournament is up for grabs, as Kansas also holds the tiebreaker in any of the unlikely scenarios that would see them sharing the title of co-champions with Texas or Iowa State. Instead, the real drama as the Big 12 race heads down the stretch is seeing just how the bunched chase pack will finally shake out.

Heading into tonight’s action, Texas and Iowa State hold a slim half-game edge over Oklahoma and Kansas State, who have already played once this week. The schedules of all four teams are generally even over these final 11 days, with Iowa State and Kansas State squaring off on Saturday, the same day Texas and OU will have their rematch. The race is so even at this point, Ken Pomeroy’s computers are currently predicting a four-way tie for second, with all teams finishing 11-7.

But while those four teams jostle for position, there is additional drama further down in the standings. Baylor, Oklahoma State, and yes, even West Virginia are living life on the bubble as we head into March. Before Monday’s action, the Big 12 had seven teams in Joe Lunardi’s bracket projection. Baylor had jumped to the 10-seed line by virtue of a timely four-game winning streak, while Oklahoma State was clinging to one of the last four spots in the field. The Mountaineers were still sitting nine spots out of the field, according to Lunardi, but with games left against Iowa State, OU, and Kansas, opportunities still exist for WVU to play its way in.

With Baylor playing for its tournament life and finally starting to look like the team most expected to see back in October, tonight’s game is a very dangerous one for Texas. The Longhorns own a two-game losing streak after facing the Big 12’s toughest road pairing last week, and another stiff road test awaits on Saturday in Oklahoma. A loss tonight would put Texas in serious jeopardy of a four-game losing streak at the most important time of the year, and it would make their quest for the second seed in the Big 12 tournament a dicey proposition.

Keys to the game

1) Own the paint – The Baylor bigs have not battled for position that often this season, instead being content with leaking out to the perimeter or high post when they can’t body up down low. During the team’s recent winning streak, the Bears have made a concerted effort to get the ball inside, with Rico Gathers (No. 2) providing a nice dose of physicality for Baylor in the paint. If Texas can Isaiah Austin (No. 21) and Cory Jefferson (No. 34) work for their space down low, the Horns could force the Bears back into their bad habit of settling for outside looks. In addition to forcing lower-percentage shots, it also takes some of Baylor’s size out of the paint and helps to neutralize their strength on the offensive glass.

2) Stick to Heslip like glue – Baylor’s best three-point threat happens to be one of the best three-point shooters in the entire country, but Texas managed to hold him to an 0-for-4 mark behind the arc in the first meeting. While it will likely be tough for the Longhorns to again skunk the Canadian from long range, they definitely need to be aware of his location in transition and when the ball gets into the paint. Although Baylor frequently works to free up their marksman with multiple screens, a good game plan can account for that. It’s on the dribble penetration and kickout or fast break spot-up looks where Heslip can break the backs of even the best defenses, so the Longhorns cannot afford to lose track of him tonight.

3) Keep the ball moving – The Texas offense has stalled out at times this year when dribble penetration and post entries aren’t immediately available, and Baylor’s zone defense could give the Longhorns those same kinds of issues tonight. However, the Bear D has been slow to rotate many times this season, leading to a defensive efficiency in conference games that is ranked 7th out of 10 teams. Texas needs to move the ball quickly, be ready to attack right on the catch, and they need to look opposite under the rim for easy layups. The Longhorn offense desperately needs a bounce-back game after a pitiful performance in Lawrence, and if they can execute, they will certainly have that opportunity against a spotty Baylor D.

2.22.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:53PM

#19/17 Texas Longhorns (20-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) at #8/8 Kansas Jayhawks (20-6, 11-2)
Allen Fieldhouse | Lawrence, KS | Tip: 6:30 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
Vegas: Kansas -10 | Pomeroy: Kansas, 81-71

The Texas Longhorns sit all alone in second place in the Big 12 as they head to Lawrence for tonight’s matchup with Kansas. But at two games behind the conference-leading Jayhawks, tonight’s game is essentially make-or-break for Texas as it tries to earn a piece of its first Big 12 title since 2008. A loss at Allen Fieldhouse would put the Longhorns three back with four games to go, practically ensuring that Kansas would win at least a share of the Big 12 title for a 10th-consecutive season.

While the Longhorns took care of KU in Austin at the beginning of the month, winning at Phog Allen is an entirely different beast. In the last six-plus years, the Jayhawks are an incredible 54-2 at home in Big 12 play, with one of those losses coming at the hands of Texas in 2011. The margin for error is very, very slim for the Longhorns tonight if they hope to pull off the rare road win in Lawrence and stay alive in the title hunt.

Meet the Jayhawks

For a detailed look at the KU roster, check out LRT’s preview of the February 1st game between these two teams.

The First Meeting

Cam Ridley and the Texas defense stifled Kansas early
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Texas dominated things early against the Jayhawks in Austin, stifling Kansas’ interior attack in a first half where KU shot just 25.8% from the field. The Texas bigs stayed home and protected the paint, cleaning up dribble penetration and providing timely help when KU found space down low. Isaiah Taylor had the floater working in a masterful performance, repeatedly finding cracks in the Kansas defense and attacking quickly.

The Longhorns took a 15-point lead to the locker room and held a double-digit advantage the rest of the way. With Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid struggling for Kansas, Wayne Selden, Jr. flipped the switch at half and played much more aggressively in the second. He scored 21 points on the afternoon, knocking down 50% of his shots from the field.

Both teams did a fantastic job on the offensive glass, effectively negating the extra chances earned by their opponents. The Longhorns won 48.7% of their misses back, while Kansas reclaimed 40.5% of theirs on the other end. Although Kansas won the second-chance point battle by a 16-11 count, timely Longhorn putbacks were key to building a big lead late in the first half.

In the end, Texas knocked off the Jayhawks, 81-69, earning a fourth-consecutive win over ranked opponents. The Longhorns pulled to within one game of KU in the league standings and solidified their NCAA tournament résumé with a convincing win over the No. 1 team in the RPI.

Since Then…

Although the Jayhawks have struggled on the road this month, they continue to take care of business at home. Kansas dispatched a tough West Virginia team with excellent execution in the final five minutes and absolutely obliterated TCU in a second half where the Horned Frogs seemed content to just watch the Jayhawks waltz to the hoop.

Kansas suffered its only other conference loss in Manhattan on February 10th, but the team showed grittiness in a late-game comeback that forced overtime. The Wildcats led by nine with just 1:53 to go, but a key steal by Brannen Greene, free-throw problems for KSU’s Wesley Iwundu, and a huge, last-second putback by Wiggins on his own miss all led to an extra period of basketball. In the overtime, Kansas State managed to escape with a key home win, but Kansas proved their mental toughness in the frantic comeback.

Wayne Selden and KU are on the verge of a Big 12 title
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Just four nights ago, it was again Wiggins who provided the heroics for Kansas on the road, but this time the Jayhawks didn’t ultimately lose. Down by one with 16 seconds left, KU fed Embiid on the block for a final chance. He was stripped by Tech’s Dejan Kravic, but Wiggins scooped up the loose ball in the lane and put it in for the winning bucket. With Texas losing at Iowa State on the same night, KU’s thrilling victory put them on the verge of winning yet another conference title.

Keys to the Game

1) Strong interior defense – Although Kansas has shooters, the Jayhawks have always been and will always be an inside-out team with Bill Self at the helm. The Longhorns didn’t choose to double-team Embiid or Perry Ellis when the teams met in Austin, yet still played very sound interior defense that frustrated KU all afternoon.

Texas will once again have to stay home in the lane, but must also avoid foul trouble in the frontcourt. Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh made key contributions in the earlier win over Kansas, but it’s obviously preferential to have Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley out there for as many minutes as possible.

2) Don’t settle for jumpers – Texas played right into Iowa State’s hands on Tuesday night, particularly Javan Felix, who took every open look that the Cyclones gave him. He shot 15 three-pointers and was just 27.3% from the field, although in a game where Texas was even missing point-blank shots, it’s tough to say that made a huge difference.

However, against a Kansas team with an imposing frontcourt, the temptation to settle for jumpers will again be there. Taylor did a good job attacking with the bounce against Kansas in the first game, and the Horns repeatedly found post players in the paint when the Jayhawks pushed out and denied dribble penetration. The Longhorns need to make the same commitment tonight to driving and to feeding the post if they want to have any chance to win. Having a player take 15 threes will be a recipe for disaster for UT tonight, unless Baylor’s Brady Heslip somehow transfers this afternoon and is immediately eligible.

3) Clean up the glass – The Longhorns didn’t do a great job on the defensive glass in the first meeting, but they balanced things out by winning nearly half of their own misses back. Texas must again be competitive on the boards tonight against a KU team that is ranked third in the Big 12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates. If the Longhorns are dominated on the glass on either end of the floor, the disparity will likely be far too much to overcome in a road environment where there is little margin for error.

4) Show poise under pressure – The Big 12’s three toughest road venues are Allen Fieldhouse, Bramlage Coliseum, and Hilton Coliseum. You can argue which one is second and which one is third, but Phog Allen is undoubtedly the toughest place to play. The Longhorns have gone 0-2 so far this season in those hostile environments, including a blowout loss at K-State.

If Texas is going to hang in this game long enough to have a chance for the upset, the team will have to withstand a few Kansas rallies. When the Jayhawks get cranking, Allen Fieldhouse is a cacophony of noise and emotion. If the Longhorns can fight through that and throw a counter, they might be able to give Kansas a good battle tonight. If they don’t, Kansas can turn it into a rout in a matter of seconds.

2.18.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:31PM

#19/17 Texas Longhorns (20-5 overall, 9-3 Big 12) at #17/19 Iowa State Cyclones (19-5, 7-5)
Hilton Coliseum | Ames, IA | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Iowa State -6 | KenPom: Iowa State, 81-76 (68%)

With less than three weeks left in the regular season, the Texas Longhorns are feeling quite comfortable with their NCAA chances, and still sit just a game out in the Big 12 title race. For a team that was predicted to finish 8th by the coaches during the pre-season, that is quite an accomplishment.

To reach this point with a stellar record, Texas had to survive a brutal stretch of four consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Longhorns not only mowed down all four, but did it in the midst of a seven-game win streak. Texas had the benefit of playing three of those teams — Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas — at home, which means that the back half of its league schedule is loaded with tough road tests.

In their first of those tests, the Longhorns laid an egg at Kansas State. The team turned it over early and often, digging a huge hole that was made even deeper when Jonathan Holmes suffered a knee injury midway through the first half. Texas managed to rebound nicely from that meltdown with two home wins last week, but now the team must tackle the league’s toughest road games, back-to-back.

The ceiling can’t hold Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Tonight, the Longhorns square off with Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum, a place where the Cyclones have won 21 out of their last 24 conference games. With a trip to Allen Fieldhouse to face first-place Kansas on Saturday, it would be easy for Texas to look ahead, but against a talented, high-octane offense in a gym where visitors rarely win, the Longhorns certainly can’t afford to. However, if Texas can manage to escape with the road upset tonight, its title hopes will still be alive for a monumental Saturday showdown.

Keys to the game

1) Pound the paint – In the first meeting between these two teams, the Longhorn frontcourt duo of Holmes and Cameron Ridley exploited Texas’ size advantage in the paint. The pair combined for 39 points and 18 boards, with Ridley posting a double-double. If Texas is going to pull off the upset tonight, it will have to once again pound the ball down low and expose the mismatch.

2) Stop transition – Iowa State has been known as an up-tempo, three-point shooting team for most of Coach Fred Hoiberg’s tenure in Ames. The Cyclones are still a quick team this season, but the accuracy from beyond the arc has taken a dip this season. Iowa State is currently ranked 170th out of 351 Division I teams in three-point accuracy, down significantly after a season in which it finished 34th in the nation.

That isn’t to say that Iowa State is taking less threes this season. In fact, the team takes nearly 40% of its looks from long range, making it one of the top 50 teams nationally in terms of three-point shot distribution. However, the Cyclones are great at knocking down open triples in transition, something that Texas must limit tonight. The Longhorns have to avoid turning it over and firing up the ISU break, and they have to beat their men down the court after missed shots.

Of course, simply finding the shooters as Iowa State gets in transition won’t be enough to win at Hilton. The Longhorns really can’t afford to give up many two-point transition hoops, either. The Texas defense must stop the ball and force the Cyclones to run a half-court offense, something ISU sometimes lacks the patience to do. If the Horns can get their half-court defense set on most possessions, they will have a shot to get the road win tonight.

3) Crash the glass – Iowa State is an undersized team, so it doesn’t do a very good job reclaiming its own missed shots. That fact isn’t too surprising, but the Cyclones’ success on the defensive glass does seem to clash with conventional wisdom. However, the ‘Clones can thank their strong transition game for the defensive rebounding success, as most opponents have to sacrifice a few offensive rebounders in an effort to stop the ISU break.

With Texas likely committing its own guards to stopping transition, it will be on the the Longhorn bigs to earn second chances. Since Iowa State’s strong defensive numbers are built on preventing opponents from scoring second-chance points, even just a few extra offensive rebounds could make a big difference for the Horns tonight.

2.15.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:33PM

West Virginia Mountaineers (15-10 overall, 7-5 Big 12) at #19/19 Texas Longhorns (19-5, 8-3)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
Vegas: Texas -6 | KenPom: Texas, 81-74 (73%)

Join me in my time machine, as we go all the way back to January 8th. The Longhorns were heading to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State in their second Big 12 game, having just let a prime opportunity slip away at home against Oklahoma in the conference opener.

“Texas was already going to have a hard time reaching .500 in conference play, and in turn getting to the magical 20-win plateau, especially in such a deep league,” a wise UT basketball blogger wrote. “Losing a home game against another mid-tier team makes those goals even tougher for Texas to achieve, and it means that an extra win is going to have to be picked off on the road at some point.”

Here we are, just five-and-a-half weeks later, with seven games still left on the schedule. Texas is now just one victory away from the 20-win plateau and .500 in league play. In this week’s mock bracket exercise in Indianapolis, the Longhorns were one of the early locks in the field, and are currently a 5-seed in The Bracket Project’s bracket matrix.

Bob Huggins wasn’t buying the pre-season Big 12 poll
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

There are hits and there are misses, and then there are misses. Yours truly, along with essentially every other expert out there, was way off on this team. The Longhorns are still just one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 race, although next Saturday’s matchup with the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse tilts the title odds strongly in KU’s favor.

While the Longhorns have been quite the surprise this season, so have the West Virginia Mountaineers. Predicted to finish seventh by league coaches in October, WVU is now tied for fourth and is just 1.5 games behind the second-place Longhorns. For a team that scuttled through non-conference play and looked rather underwhelming in the first few weeks of Big 12 play, the turnaround has been remarkable.

That turnaround was punctuated on Monday night, as West Virginia destroyed Iowa State at home, winning by a lopsided 102-77 count. The quality victory actually put the Mountaineers on Joe Lunardi’s Thursday bracket, squeaking into the “Last Four In” category. To say that West Virginia would greatly benefit from a road upset in Austin tonight would be drastically understating the situation. For a team that is now squarely on the bubble, a win tonight would carry quite a bit of weight on Selection Sunday.

Meet the Mountaineers

For an in-depth look at the West Virginia roster and a look at the team’s four factors, check out LRT’s preview of the game in Morgantown between these two teams.

The First Meeting

Holmes and the Horns owned the glass in Morgantown
(Photo credit: Andrew Ferguson/Associated Press)

The Longhorns dominated the glass and forced the Mountaineers into taking — and missing — a bunch of challenged threes when the teams met at West Virginia last month. Texas used a 27-11 run over the final 12 minutes of the first half to open up a big lead, and the team never looked back. Although the Mountaineers clawed to within 11 points by the final buzzer, the game was never in doubt in the second half, and Texas cruised to an 80-69 win.

Cameron Ridley was dominant inside for Texas, posting 12 points and 12 boards for what was then his fourth double-double of the season. The Longhorns reclaimed more than 34% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, while limiting WVU to contested one-shot possessions. Texas locked down the defensive glass, allowing the Mountaineers to win back just 22% of their own misses.

Texas did a good job limiting open looks on the perimeter, something that opponents often find difficult to do against the spread attack and driving ability of West Virginia. The Mountaineers made just 16% of their three-point attempts on the night, shooting 4-for-25 from long range. Point guard Juwan Staten went off for 23 points and added five assists, while freshman forward Brandon Watkins had a nice performance off the bench, logging five blocks and snagging six boards in just 14 minutes of action.

Since Then…

Staten had entered the game with Texas as the team’s second-leading scorer, but his offensive explosion against the Horns was just the beginning. The former Dayton Flyer has averaged 20.6 points per game over the team’s last nine outings, a stretch that started with the first Texas game. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s lighting up the scoreboard while also filling up the rest of the stat sheet. During the same nine-game stretch, Staten has also averaged 5.8 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game, making him a leading candidate for post-season All-Big 12 honors.

The Mountaineers have also caught fire from behind the arc in recent weeks. Although they followed up the Texas game with another disappointing 26.7% three-point mark in a blowout loss at Kansas State, the ‘Eers have been lights out since. In the team’s last seven games, its three-point percentage is a scorching 40.1%, and triples have accounted for 33.1% of the team’s scoring. For comparison’s sake, Division I teams average just 26.6% of their scoring from long range.

West Virginia has won four of its last five games, including home victories against Kansas State, OU, and Iowa State. An ability to force mistakes has been a big part of the team’s success, with its defense causing turnovers on 19.3% of opponents’ possessions in Big 12 contests. While the Mountaineers are stealing possessions from their opponents, they are also protecting their own, turning it over on just 14.2% of their Big 12 possessions. The team’s turnover rates on both ends of the court are tops in the Big 12 heading into today’s action.

Keys to the Game

1) Lock down the perimeter – There’s no way to shut down Staten and his driving ability for an entire game, but staying home against perimeter shooters will certainly limit the damage he can do on the drive-and-kick. Texas has to stick with Eron Harris, Terry Henderson, and the floor-stretching Rémi Dibo when they are waiting behind the arc, or else dribble penetration by the other WVU guards will lead to wide-open looks from long range.

Texas will find it tough to slow down Juwan Staten
(Photo credit: Andrew Ferguson/Associated Press)

2) Avoid foul trouble – The Longhorns have a strong interior defense that can frustrate Staten when he gets to the rim, if they play vertically and avoid fouls. With Jonathan Holmes working his way back from a knee injury, Texas can’t afford to let the slashing ability of the West Virginia guards cause foul trouble in the frontcourt. The Longhorns have a distinct advantage inside in this game, but picking up silly fouls would erase that edge quickly.

3) Clean the glass – The Longhorns dominated the glass in the first meeting between these teams, and they should be able to do the same again tonight. West Virginia’s defense has improved greatly over the last few weeks, so earning second and third chances will be key to keeping the offense going. On the other end of the court, if Texas can stop penetration and force the Mountaineers into contested jumpers, the team has to take advantage by closing out the possessions with solid board work.

4) Hang on to the ball – Texas turned it over 18 times against West Virginia in the first meeting, which equated to more than 24% of the team’s possessions wasted. In last week’s blowout loss to Kansas State, the Longhorns again struggled with the same demons, turning it over on more than 28% of their possessions. West Virginia’s defense is the best in the Big 12 when it comes to forcing mistakes, so the Longhorns have to avoid falling into that same trap tonight. If they don’t, the Horns could become the second-straight Top 25 opponent to fall victim to the Mountaineers.

2.11.14
Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:28PM

Oklahoma State Cowboys (16-7 overall, 4-6 Big 12) at #19/19 Texas Longhorns (18-5, 7-3)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Texas -4.5 | KenPom: Texas, 77-75 (59%)

By 2 P.M. on Saturday, it was clear that the Texas Longhorns were having an awful day. The team looked good on its first two possessions in a road game against Kansas State, but the wheels came off quickly after. Texas dug itself a quick hole against a hot-shooting Wildcat team, as KSU freshman Marcus Foster lit up the scoreboard and repeatedly crushed the Longhorns’ hopes any time they showed signs of life. When all was said and done, K-State whipped the Longhorns by a 75-57 count, ending a seven-game Texas winning streak.

Although Texas had an awful Saturday, it wasn’t the worst in the conference. If you haven’t been sleeping in a cave for the last 72 hours, you’ve seen exactly what happened — Marcus Smart, frustrated by his team’s losing streak and impending defeat at Texas Tech, took offense to heckling by a mouthy Red Raider fan. Having just fallen in front of the baseline stands, he popped up like there was Flubber on his ass, spun around, and shoved now-infamous superfan Jeff Orr as the man tried to stammer a last-second apology.

Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and social media, the event was analyzed to death within hours. But while pundits and Twitter experts focused on Smart, his draft stock, fan and player safety, and even how the event represented the decay of modern society, the one thing most often overlooked was how dire the situation at Oklahoma State had become. With the Cowboys already on a four-game losing streak, Smart was handed a three-game suspension, leaving coach Travis Ford without a leader and cutting even further into his short bench.

On February 3rd, the Cowboys had finally dismissed backup point guard Stevie Clark after his second brush with the law. The freshman had previously been suspended twice — for his first arrest and for another violation of team standards. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, sources said that Clark’s first suspension was related to marijuana, the same drug he was allegedly found with during his January legal tangle.

Prior to that, an injury to Michael Cobbins gutted the OSU frontcourt, forcing them to go small just before Big 12 play began. The team’s rebounding numbers, which were already pretty poor, suffered even more. The team has reclaimed just 27% of their own missed shots in league games, while allowing opponents to win back 32.1% of their own.

Although Texas will be without forward Jonathan Holmes in the frontcourt, the Horns still enjoy a sizable advantage inside. Factor in Oklahoma State’s lack of a true point guard, and it seems like Texas should easily win the matchup. But the Cowboys are still very talented, and very desperate. There’s some sort of quote about being cautious around an injured animal that would likely work here, but I don’t know it and don’t feel like looking it up. It probably goes something like, “A wounded tiger is most dangerous because Phil Forte can make 13 threes in one half.” I feel like that’s wrong, but you get the idea.

For a quick look at some of the best players still left on the Oklahoma State roster (and some stuff about that Smart dude, too), click on over to LRT’s preview of the first meeting between these two teams this season.

Keys to the game

1) Dominate the paint – The Longhorns did a fantastic job cleaning the glass in the first meeting with Oklahoma State, and they need to do the same thing tonight. They also need to feed the post early and often, not only to exploit their advantage inside, but also in an effort to get Kamari Murphy and Le’Bryan Nash on the bench in foul trouble. There is a massive dropoff in talent when OSU has to plug in frontcourt reserves, which generally means that Coach Ford just goes even smaller with the lineup. If Texas can commit to playing this game in the paint, another big home win should be in the books.

2) Extend defensive pressure – When Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State on Big Monday two weeks ago, Smart spent much of the game on the bench due to foul trouble. At the time, the Cowboys still had Clark as a point guard option, but he also had his playing time limited by fouls. That left Phil Forte to run the point for extended stretches, and the sharpshooter looked like a deer in the headlights when the Sooners rolled out full-court pressure and rushed ballscreens on the perimeter. OSU turned the ball over and frequently settled for jump shots, so if Texas utilizes the same approach tonight, the Cowboys could find it tough to get on the scoreboard.

3) Settle down in the backcourt – The Longhorn guards had an especially tough time against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, repeatedly turning it over. Isaiah Taylor had one of his worst outings on the year, and although Demarcus Holland had some nice assists to pick up the slack, the Longhorn offense still suffered. Taylor and Javan Felix need to play with composure tonight, as Markel Brown and Brian Wiliams still provide a ton of length for OSU’s defense on the perimeter. The Texas guards should still be their natural, aggressive selves, but have to avoid making mistakes against a very talented defense.

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