Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:00AM

With just three games to play in the Big 12 regular season, the Texas Longhorns find themselves squarely on the bubble. Despite being ranked in the Top 10 nationally during the non-conference slate, the Longhorns have squandered numerous opportunities for quality wins, and would now need a miraculous run to reach .500 in league play.

However, it seems that every year fans forget just how average the teams are that you find on the famous bubble. Texas fans can be excused for overestimating the quality of bubble competition, considering that their team has only had to sweat the bubble twice in over a decade. It’s even more understandable when you remember that, in the south, basketball is a cute distraction that fills the time between football and spring football.

Still, the fact remains that every February, when it’s time for the college basketball world to finally assess the state of the bubble, the same annual conclusion is reached — it’s a soft bubble. Perhaps we can just do away with the idea of a soft bubble, and realize that it’s always mushy. There is no surface tension on the bubble, and all of the cute TV graphics saying “Poppin’ Bubbles” are misguided because the thing is always so damned squishy it could never pop.

With all that in mind, perhaps it will come as less of a surprise that the Longhorns still control their own destiny when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Win two of their final three games, and they should be in the field. Furthermore, if any of the other bubble teams play like bubble teams, two out of three wins could even help the Longhorns avoid the dreaded First Four.

Now, to the data. In this chart, the “Matrix” column is a ranking of the teams based on The Bracket Matrix. Due to some participants not updating their brackets as frequently, it can lag a little bit behind real-world results, but the composite can be more helpful than focusing on one or two bracketologists at the big-name sites.

A team’s W-L mark includes all games, but the committe only looks at D-I results. If a team has an asterisk next to its name, that means that one of its wins came against competition not in D-I. If it has two — that’d be you, Boise State and BYU — then they have two wins against scrubs. If it has one in the “100+ Ls” column, that means that the team actually lost to a team outside of Division I. That’s not a hot look for Tulsa.

The records, RPI, and SOS are updated through Thursday’s games. The KP W-L column is a team’s projected finish, as of Friday night.

Some key stats to consider as you look at the table above and consider the road ahead for Texas:

First, the highest RPI for a power-conference team left out of the tournament was 2005-06 Cincinnati, with an RPI rank of 40. That year, the Bearcats played three teams outside of Division I, so the exclusion was likely a verdict on their scheduling.

Second, the committee has been kind to teams from tough conferences that miss the .500 mark by a game. In each of the last three seasons, at least one team sporting an 8-10 mark in one of that season’s toughest leagues made it into the tournament. This year, the Big 12 is the nation’s toughest league in terms of both RPI and KenPom rankings.

However, you have to go all the way back to 1998 to find a team two games below .500 in conference play that made the Big Dance. If the Longhorns cannot win two of their final three to reach the 8-10 mark, they would have to log some pretty impressive victories in the conference tournament to still be in contention for bid.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:21AM

#14/14 Iowa State (19-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (17-9, 6-7)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 1 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Texas -2.5 | KenPom: Texas, 75-72 (63% WP)


Keys to the game

1. Tighten up the defense – In the first meeting, the Longhorns found themselves in a huge hole after Iowa State shredded their zone. The Cyclones posted a raw offensive efficiency mark of 1.265 points per possession against Texas, their best Big 12 performance of the year, and their fifth-best of the entire season.

The Longhorns traded that zone for quite a bit of man-to-man in an impressive defensive performance against OU earlier this week, which is a reassuring sign coming into this one. To match up with the athleticism and quick ball movement of Iowa State, they will need to be able to perform just as well in a man D this afternoon. Even though the Cyclones will be very tough to keep up with in a man, they are far too disciplined to shut down with a zone.

The toughest matchup defensively for Texas will be found on the wing. With Dustin Hogue (No. 22) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (No. 13) both checking in at 6’6″, a three-guard Texas lineup would give up significant size. However, even with the Longhorns giving up a few inches on the wing, that’s probably the best option. Connor Lammert or Jonathan Holmes would eliminate the height issue at the three, but neither has the agility or foot speed to properly defend Iowa State’s wings in a man.

2. Stop the ball in transition – It would be too simple to say that Texas just needs to control the pace against the up-tempo Cyclones, as the Horns actually look better when they get out and run. However, if the Longhorns agree to a track meet with Iowa State, they have to prevent transition buckets. The Cyclones run the floor very well, and will quickly pile up the easy points if Texas isn’t alert in transition.

Isaiah Taylor drew a lot of attention in Ames
(Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

3. Attack with the bounce – The Longhorns nearly finished off a crazy comeback in the second half of their loss to Iowa State by spreading the floor and turning Taylor loose. Texas rained down three-pointers, led by a hot Javan Felix, forcing the Cyclones to stick closer to the perimeter and open up the driving lanes for Taylor. When they did try to help down into the paint, Taylor found the Longhorn shooters for open looks outside.

With the recent emergence of Kendal Yancy as an additional three-point threat, the Longhorns have even more options to spread out the Cyclones and let Isaiah do his thing. Spreading Iowa State and tilting the floor for Taylor will also allow the Texas bigs even more space to find offensive rebounds against the undersized Cyclones.

The Longhorns desperately need to log some big wins to boost their NCAA tournament résumé, and Iowa State offers a prime opportunity. If Texas wants to ensure their place in the field, and possibly even play their way out of the dreaded 7-to-10 range of seeds, they will need to score some big scalps down the stretch in a loaded Big 12.

Fortunately for Texas, the Cyclones have historically had trouble winning away from the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum. Since the advent of the Big 12’s double round-robin, the Cyclones are 31-3 at home, and just 12-21 on the road, including a 2-4 mark this season. To improve their odds of post-season success, Texas will have to continue the Cyclone road misery.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 9:05AM

#19/20 Texas Longhorns (14-5 overall, 3-3 Big 12) at #15/16 Iowa State Cyclones (14-4, 4-2)
Hilton Coliseum | Ames, IA | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
Vegas: Iowa State -5.5 | KenPom: Iowa State, 72-70 (61%)


With a long list of contenders lining up in the preseason to knock Kansas off its perch atop the conference, college basketball analysts hesitantly predicted that perhaps this was finally the season in which the Jayhawks might not take home a piece of the league title. History would make it hard to bet against the champs, but with such a deep stable of challengers, for once “the field” seemed to at least be an even favorite. However, in the span of just a few hours on Saturday, the landscape of this year’s Big 12 race quickly shifted, putting Kansas back in its familiar spot in the driver’s seat.

Texas Tech shocked Iowa State in Lubbock on Saturday
(Photo credit: Tori Eichberger/Associated Press)

First, the Texas Longhorns let a second-half lead slip away as Kansas put on a clinic at the Frank Erwin Center, with the Jayhawks excecuting to near-perfection on the offensive end. A few hours later and a few hours up the road, Iowa State fell victim to the Lubbock pothole that trips up at least one team annually. Just like that, the Cyclones conceded the edge they had claimed with a home win over KU only a week prior, and the Jayhawks were once again all alone atop the Big 12.

Saturday’s losses make tonight’s Big Monday contest even more important for both Iowa State and Texas. If the Cyclones want to keep pace with the Jayhawks and position themselves to take advantage of any KU stumbles, they cannot afford any losses at home. We are only a third of the way through the Big 12’s meat-grinder schedule, and it’s true that a lot can happen in the next six weeks. Still, history and a strong home-court advantage at Phog Allen Fieldhouse both indicate that Kansas will give Iowa State little margin for error.

For Texas, the depth of the Big 12 might make it a battle just to reach .500 in league play. The Longhorns have already dropped two home games, and their recent results do not give fans reason for optimism on the road. Texas is just 10-19 on the road since the league switched to a double round-robin format, with six of those 10 wins coming against Texas Tech and TCU. With the Longhorns already logging road wins against the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs this season, it means they must win the rest of their home games to reach .500, or at least steal enough road wins against the league’s laundry list of Top 25 teams to make up for any more home losses.

If the road struggles for Texas weren’t enough to make tonight’s task a daunting one for the Horns, Hilton Coliseum has also proven to be one of the nation’s toughest venues for visiting opponents. Since the arrival of Fred Hoiberg in Ames, home crowds have consistently been at capacity, with noise levels through the roof. That has made home wins for Iowa State nearly automatic, as the Cyclones have posted a 27-3 mark at Hilton Coliseum since the advent of the Big 12’s double round-robin.

By the Numbers

Clocking in at 70.7 adjusted possessions per game, the Cyclones boast the nation’s 13th-quickest tempo. Iowa State doesn’t use high-pressure defense to force turnovers and turn the game into a track meet, but they instead constantly look up after defensive rebounds and baskets by the opponents. Cyclone shooters drift to the arc as the the ball is quickly moved up the floor, frequently allowing them to strike before defense has even thought about setting up. The Cyclones take 29.6% of their shots in transition, the ninth-highest percentage in Division I, according to Hoop-Math.

That ability to quickly score also helps the Cyclones on the defensive glass. Despite being much smaller than most of their opponents, the Cyclones are currently ranked 40th in the nation when it comes to winning defensive rebounds. Opponents are usually so concerned with preventing transition baskets by Iowa State that they will not commit rebounders on the offensive end, turning many possessions into one-and-done affairs.

When teams do manage to stop Iowa State from scoring in transition, they can still find it tough to prevent points in the half-court. The Cyclones do not turn the ball over, with their 16.1% turnover rate one of the 25 best in the land. Iowa State moves the ball quickly and will keep a defense scrambling until they find an easy look at the rim or a shooter with space. Thanks to their crisp passing and disciplined offense, the Cyclones log assists on more than 63% of their buckets, currently the 15th-best rate in the country.

Meet the Cyclones

Point guard Monté Morris can do it all for Iowa State
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Although all of the Cyclones are good passers with nice assist totals, it’s point guard Monté Morris (No. 11) that leads the way in that department. Morris is perhaps the nation’s most underrated floor general, having posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of more than 5-to-1 this season. He is incredibly calm under pressure, as evidenced in Iowa State’s road win against West Virginia. Despite constant trapping and a variety of defensive looks, Morris posted six assists against one turnover, looking the part of an unflappable hostage negotiator every time the Mountaineers rushed at him in the backcourt.

A big part of the reason why Morris is able to facilitate so well is his ability to create off the bounce. He can quickly get into the paint and create shots for himself, but is always looking for his open teammates camped out in the corner or leaking out to the wings. Morris is also a defensive pest, posting a steal rate just shy of 3% while only being whistled for 1.6 fouls per 40 minutes.

The Cyclone that most benefits from Morris’ ability to draw defensive attention with the bounce is sharpshooter Naz Long (No. 15). The 6’4″ junior is the team’s best three-point threat, having drained more than 40% of his attempts this season. Long lives on the perimeter, with nearly 77% of his attempts coming from beyond the arc, but is not afraid of putting the ball on the deck and driving to the tin when a defender closes out too aggressively.

If there’s one thing that Coach Hoiberg is known for, it might be his dance moves. But if there’s a second thing Hoiberg is known for, it would be his ability to mesh a group of transfers to create a solid team. This season, he has a trio of contributing transfers, led by former USC and UNLV scorer Bryce Dejean-Jones (No. 13).

Although the 6’6″ senior takes about three shots behind the arc each game, he’s at his best attacking the basket. Dejean-Jones is very athletic and can score in bunches, as evidenced by the 17-plus points he averaged in his first eight games as a Cyclone. Big 12 teams have done a much better job at limiting his output, but he’s still always a threat to go off for double-digit scoring.

Perhaps the most unheralded player on the Cyclone roster is 6’6″ forward Dustin Hogue (No. 22). Even though Hogue only typically takes one or two three-pointers per game, he has made almost 50% of his attempts, so defenses have to be honest when he’s behind the arc. That outside threat pulls opposing defenders out to the perimeter, and it also allows him to beat bigs off the bounce and get to the rack for a layup.

Despite his size, Hogue is a phenomenal rebounder, particularly on the offensive end. His timing is impeccable once a shot goes up, even when he’s on the perimeter. Watch Hogue after he passes to an open shooter, and you’ll notice that he immediately breaks towards the rim, quickly finding cracks between the defenders to get position and win back any misses.

At just 6’8″, junior Georges Niang (No. 31) is the closest thing to a post in Iowa State’s offense. He is an outstanding passer that can break down zones from the high post, and he is also incredibly slippery when beating opposing bigs in face-up situations. Although Niang has struggled inside against the likes of Oklahoma State’s Michael Cobbins and the big frontline of Baylor, his versatility and court vision make him invaluable.

One newcomer who may some increased minutes tonight is 6’9″ junior Jameel McKay (No. 1). The forward became eligible at the semester break, having transferred from Marquette without ever playing a game for the Golden Eagles. McKay is a long and lanky forward who does a fantastic job protecting the rim, and his rebounding rates on both the offensive and defensive ends are tops in the Iowa State rotation. The junior has averaged 22.1 minutes in his nine appearances, but will likely be called on for additional duty against the size of Texas.

Abdel Nader (No. 2) is yet another transfer for the Cyclones, arriving by way of Northern Illinois. Nader plays much bigger than his 6’6″ frame, but still has serviceable handles that he can use to attack from the wings. He has taken more than 44% of his shots from behind the arc, but has made jut 22.9% of them. Nader is a strong 6’6″ and a solid rebounder, so he would likely be better served by focusing on his interior game and exploiting mismatches when isolated against other wings near the paint.

The final member of Iowa State’s rotation is sophomore three-point gunner Matt Thomas (No. 21), who is averaging about 17 minutes per game. He’s taken more than two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc, but has struggled through a sophomore slump this year, connecting on less than 30% of them. Fortunately, Thomas showed an ability to put the ball on the floor, create shots, and get to the rim in a breakout performance against Oklahoma State, so he can still contribute for the Cyclones even when his long-range shot isn’t there.

Keys to the Game

1. Limit transition points – The Longhorns have the second-best transition defense in terms of effective field-goal percentage, per Hoop-Math. Texas is also one of the nation’s better teams in terms of limiting transition opportunities altogether, as opponents take just 17.2% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of a possession.

Those two stats will be key in slowing down Iowa State tonight, but a commitment to stopping the break could also cost the Longhorns their usual edge on the offensive glass. Coach Rick Barnes is typically not one to change his system based on opponent, so it may be up to the Texas guards to get back in a transition prevent, while the big Texas frontcourt continues to attack the offensive glass.

2. Pressure outside shooters – Iowa State might not be making threes at the rate that they have enjoyed in recent years, but the Cyclones still have enough dangerous shooters to make the perimeter a key battleground tonight. Iowa State had a tough time scoring inside against the size of Baylor, and will likely face the same difficulty tonight. If the Longhorns can rely on their bigs to patrol the paint and alter shots down low, they can then afford to push their guards and wings closer to the perimeter and challenge Iowa State’s long-range shooters. A failure to get hands up in front of the Cyclone shooters, might just get Texas run out of the building.

3. Attack inside – This may be easier said than done, as Iowa State found quite a bit of success against both Oklahoma State and West Virginia with a sagging man-to-man that made it very difficult to get the ball down low. Texas has seen its share of that kind of defense this season, and the Horns have typically not fared well against it. However, if the Longhorns can manage to find some room in the post and pound the ball down low, they will not only exploit their size advantage, but also potentially put a very thin Iowa State frontcourt in foul trouble.

Cyclone Alley makes Hilton Coliseum an intimidating venue
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

4. Survive runs – With Iowa State’s up-tempo approach and its rabid home crowd, the Cyclones can quickly go on a scoring run that dazes their visiting opponents. It would be nearly impossible for the Longhorns to play a full 40 minutes tonight without seeing at least one of those scoring outbursts from ISU, so the Longhorns must weather those runs and respond in kind.

If they can survive the scoring spurts and try to win the small battles between media timeouts, the Longhorns should be able to keep it close with an Iowa State team that has won its four conference games by an average of just 3.75 points. When on the road in conference play, being within striking distance in the final minutes is often all you can ask for.

[Ed: This post was revised after publishing to reflect the new rankings in the January 26th polls.]

Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:27AM

#17/18 Texas Longhorns (13-4 overall, 2-2 Big 12) at TCU Horned Frogs (14-3, 1-3)
Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center | Fort Worth, TX | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
Vegas: Texas -3 | KenPom: TCU, 59-58 (54%)

The Texas Longhorns bounced back from a two-game losing streak in impressive fashion on Saturday night, thumping West Virginia by a 77-50 count. The win brought Texas back to level on the young Big 12 season, with tonight’s road game at TCU providing a chance to build a little momentum heading into this weekend’s clash with Kansas.

Although TCU is just 1-3 in the league and has been a doormat since joining from the Mountain West, the Horned Frogs are not nearly the easy win of years past. With some solid transfers and key players finally staying healthy this season, the Horned Frogs finished a fairly soft non-conference schedule with a pristine 13-0 mark. While they haven’t found the same success in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs battled both West Virginia and Baylor in close losses at home, with the latter contest going to overtime.

Texas once again looked like a legitimate contender in Saturday’s dominating win over West Virginia, but if they are going to remain relevant in the conference race, they have to follow it up with a road win tonight. Even though Ken Pomeroy’s model gives TCU the slight edge in this one, the Fort Worth road trip will likely prove to be the second-easiest in the Big 12 this year. The Longhorns cannot afford to give up ground to their competitors by dropping a winnable game away from home.

Trent Johnson finally has a healthy team in his third year
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

By the Numbers

Although the Horned Frogs only played two power-conference opponents in their non-conference slate, their adjusted defensive statistics are still very solid. They are currently ranked 13th in the nation, having allowed an adjusted .902 points per possession, according to Ken Pomeroy. Through four Big 12 games, they have the league’s third-toughest defense, having allowed an adjusted .951 points per possession in conference play.

That stifling defense is anchored by a stout interior D, where the Horned Frogs have a ton of length. TCU’s big men are very patient and disciplined when protecting the rim, as they constantly keep their feet grounded and arms extended to the sky. As a result, opponents find it very difficult to score inside, and don’t usually get bailed out by foul calls. TCU’s two-point field goal defense is second-best in all of D-I, with opponents making just 34.8% of their shots inside the arc.

It only takes an instant for a second and sometimes a third Horned Frog big to collapse on a ball handler in the paint, so Cameron Ridley will need to pick where he left off against West Virginia. He, Prince Ibeh, and the other Texas giants will have to react quickly when they get the ball in the low post, or they will quickly find their window of opportunity closed.

While the big men tend to avoid fouling in the paint, the Horned Frogs do foul quite often when trying to stop dribble penetration, and when battling on the glass. Their defensive free-throw rate, which measures how often a team sends opponents to the line, is the 20th-highest in Division I, with TCU opponents shooting nearly one free throw for every two shots taken. Consequently, TCU opponents score nearly 30% of their points from the line, which is the highest percentage in the nation.

Although TCU gives opponents frequent trips to the charity stripe, they do a great job earning their own trips to the line to balance it out. TCU’s offensive free-throw rate of 51.6 is third-highest in the country, but they fail to take advantage of the opportunities. The Horned Frogs have made just 62.3% of their free throws this season, the 18th-lowest success rate in Division I. They have shot even worse in conference play, making just 61.5% of their free throws against Big 12 opponents.

The extremes demonstrated in free-throw rates are also mirrored in TCU’s rebounding numbers. The Horned Frogs are a top-ten team when it comes to winning back missed shots, while checking in near the bottom third of Division I teams on the defensive glass. TCU reclaims 41% of its own misses, but still allows opponents to snag 32.5% of their own. With the Longhorns posting strong rebounding numbers on both ends of the court, those extra possessions could big a huge factor in tonight’s game.

Meet the Horned Frogs

Kyan Anderson leads TCU in scoring and assists
(Photo credit: Tori Eichberger/Associated Press)

The Horned Frogs are led by senior point guard Kyan Anderson (No. 5), who has ascended TCU’s historical scoring ranks, and now finds himself in the top ten. Although he’s made just 33.7% of his threes this season, his career rate is just shy of 36%, and his range extends well beyond the arc. On a team that doesn’t shoot a ton of threes and is fairly average in its accuracy, Anderson’s ability from behind the arc is something that opponents have to keep in mind.

Typically, Anderson is slicing up defenses with the bounce, and he’s always alert enough to find open teammates when opponents take away a finish at the rim. More than three-quarters of Anderson’s assists come when he’s in the paint, and with an assist rate of 28.2%, Texas defenders off the ball will have to be aware of that fact when trying to help on his penetration.

Anderson is also a fantastic defender who hardly fouls, yet forces opponents to start their offense well behind the arc. He is quick enough to stop dribble penetration, and he makes it very difficult for his man to receive passes. Anderson’s 3.1% personal steal rate is currently ranked 220th in the nation, while his 2.5 fouls per 40 minutes also ranks him 427th in Division I.

Well-traveled senior Trey Zeigler (No. 32) joins Anderson in the backcourt after stints at both Central Michigan and Pitt. Zeigler loves to drive to the rack, and he will quickly spin around defenders who try to cut him off on his path to the rim. He has taken only four of his 113 shots from behind the arc this season, so Texas should give him a nice cushion and make it more difficult for him to penetrate.

Zeigler also rebounds well for his position, constantly finding cracks to get past defenders and snag the offensive boards. To put his offensive rebounding numbers in perspective, Zeigler’s personal rate of 7.1% is better than Connor Lammert’s and just a hair behind that of OU’s Ryan Spangler.

Coach Trent Johnson has made some quick strides in recruiting since arriving in Fort Worth, and the addition of JUCO transfer Kenrich Williams (No. 34) is another nice boost. The 6’7″ sophomore made his first start on Saturday at Texas Tech, and is averaging more than 23 minutes per game.

Williams is very poised with the ball, and has shown the ability to knock down the three, having made 5-of-12 on the year. He has used that threat to shot fake opponents out of position, and then found space in the midrange to sink a jumper. He also owns one of the nation’s 50 best offensive rebounding marks, while his defensive rebounding rate is in the Top 400, and his block percentage is 249th.

Sophomore forward Chris Washburn (No. 33) is another transfer for the Horned Frogs, arriving in Fort Worth by way of UTEP. The 6’8″ lefty can knock down midrange jumpers and hook shots, and does a good job stripping the ball when he helps on defense. Washburn also does a nice job blocking shots, despite looking like he could stand to shed a few pounds.

In the middle, sophomore Karviar Shepherd (No. 14) is a vacuum on the glass and an intimidating presence in the lane. The Horned Frogs don’t often post up their big men, so Shepherd can often be found knocking down midrange jumpers and causing a nuisance in pick-and-pop situations. Unfortunately, he has limited his effectiveness in some games by picking up dumb fouls away from the basket. The Horned Frogs will certainly need him for extended minutes tonight, so Shepherd will have to avoid picking up cheap fouls on the boards and defending outside the lane.

On the occasions where Shepherd has found himself in foul trouble, Amric Fields (No. 4) has had to step up, but the 6’9″ senior is only playing about 16 minutes per game this season. Like Shepherd, Fields can also stretch the floor, but he is not as comfortable with the bounce as Shepherd, and has had issues when teams throw doubles at him.

The other post reserve is 6’8″ junior Devonta Abron (No. 23), who is in his second season with TCU after starting his career at Arkansas. Abron is not nearly as disciplined on defense as the other Horned Frog bigs, but he gobbles up rebounds on both ends of the court and is chipping in 8.5 minutes per game.

Sophomore swingman Brandon Parrish (No. 11) came off the bench in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech, after starting the team’s first 16 games. He is not a strong ball handler, but is a deadly shooter from beyond the arc in catch-and-shoot situations. Parrish’s 41.9% success rate from three is the team’s best, but he’s averaging less than one make per game. On defense, Parrish has had difficulty keeping quick guards in front of him.

Another three-point threat for the Horned Frogs is sophomore Hudson Price (No. 21), the son of former NBA star Mark Price. Although he came in with a reputation as an outside scorer, he’s made just 32% of his threes in college, and has not found much success putting the ball on the floor when opponents chase him off the line.

The final member of TCU’s core rotation is freshman guard Chauncey Collins (No. 1), who is playing about 10 minutes per game. The 6-footer is very quick with the ball on offense, but that speed has not yet translated to good defense. Collins often lets his man get the corner, and he logs quite a few fouls as he struggles to keep opposing guards from penetrating.

On the other end, the freshman has taken 75% of his shots from behind the arc, but connected on just 30% of those attempts. At that rate, the Longhorns can probably afford to give him some space to neutralize his speed.

Keys to the Game

TCU’s defense does not give opponents much space
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

1. Attack with the bounce – The Horned Frogs do a fantastic job defending against typical post-up opportunities, and foul often when opponents put the ball on the floor. The Longhorns can earn themselves quite a few trips to the line if they are aggressive with the ball, and can also open things up a bit for the big men inside by drawing defensive attention with their penetration.

2. Force long jumpers – While the Longhorns should be trying to create things with the bounce, they will also want to take away that aspect of the game for TCU. The Horned Frogs thrive on dribble penetration to create open looks, so Texas needs to give some space on the perimeter and force TCU into taking long jumpers. Although the Horned Frogs have a few guys who can knock down the three, they are not used to relying on the outside shot for much of their scoring

3. Win second-chance battle – With both teams currently among the nation’s ten best offensive rebounders, there will likely be quite a few second-chance opportunities for these teams tonight. If either squad can limit the number of those extended possessions, it will take away a huge aspect of the opposing offense’s scoring. The edge seems to go to Texas here, as the Longhorns have posted much stronger defensive rebounding numbers. However, if they can’t reproduce that success in Fort Worth tonight, the Horns may find themselves in a tight one.

[Ed: This post was revised after publishing to reflect the new rankings in the January 19th polls.]

Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:28PM

#16/15 West Virginia Mountaineers (15-2 overall, 3-1 Big 12) at #20/20 Texas Longhorns (12-4, 1-2)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 5:15 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
Vegas: Texas -3 | KenPom: West Virginia, 68-67 (51%)

It’s no secret that the Big 12 is the nation’s toughest conference this year. You can’t flip on a game without hearing an announcer talking about the depth of the Big 12, and the statistics have backed up that nice bit of conference PR.

Although the ACC has more elite teams near the top of its league than the Big 12 does, there are certainly some nights that the ACC’s good teams can give a sub-par effort and still log a win. In the Big 12, there are eight solid teams, and a pair of average ones that can still put a scare into the rest of the league. With no guarantee games, every win is a precious commodity, and the margin for error is extremely slim.

Texas quickly found that out after conceding home court to Oklahoma in a 21-point thrashing nearly two weeks ago. The Longhorns traveled to Stillwater later that week as underdogs, and played according to script in a game that the Cowboys controlled comfortably. Just like that, the Longhorns found themselves sitting at 1-2 in a conference where just finishing with a winning record will be a badge of honor.

To stay relevant in the nation’s toughest conference, Texas must defend its home court and pick off a few road games that it isn’t favored to win. Thanks to that embarrassment at the hands of the Sooners, home wins become even more important, while the pressure for those road wins has increased. Unfortunately, with eight teams currently ranked in Pomeroy’s Top 50, defending home court is still a tall order. Although Vegas still considers Texas the favorite tonight, Pomeroy’s model gives the Mountaineers the edge in what is essentially a toss-up.

West Virginia’s defense constantly forces turnovers
(Photo credit: Raymond Thompson/Associated Press)

Keys to the game

1) Handle the pressure – West Virginia currently owns the nation’s best turnover percentage, forcing miscues on more than 31% of their defensive possessions. The Longhorns have struggled to hang on to the ball even against mediocre defenses, so they will likely waste quite a few possessions tonight and give up some easy fast break buckets. If they can limit the damage caused by West Virginia’s pressure, they can keep themselves in a position to win.

The Mountaineers love to press after made baskets, but they also will trap opponents when settling into half-court sets. The Longhorn guards need to avoid putting themselves into bad situations near the sideline, and the bigs must react quickly to find the open man and force West Virginia to rotate. With an entire week off to prepare for this game, Texas fans have to hope that the team has been able to make vast improvements in this area.

2) Clean up the glass – The Mountaineers don’t actually shoot the ball that well, relying on the offense generated by their defense and strong offensive rebounding that extends their possessions. West Virginia has the nation’s fourth-best offensive rebounding rate on the year, as they have reclaimed 42.5% of their misses.

In Big 12 play, the Longhorns are an unimpressive sixth in defensive rebounding, allowing opponents to win back nearly 34% of their misses. If Texas can’t handle the West Virginia pressure, the Horns may be able to hang in the game by taking away the Mountaineer edge on the offensive glass. However, if Texas struggles against the pressure and allows the Mountaineers their usual offensive board numbers, it could get very ugly.

3) Limit transition points – Star point guard Juwan Staten (No. 3) is always looking to push the ball in transition, and can be very difficult to stop once he gets into gear, so the Longhorns must be alert as they hustle back on defense. Forward Devin Williams (No. 5) also runs the court well in transition to give them easy finishes at the rim, and the quick, athletic West Virginia lineup does a great job of beating the defense back and staying in their lanes on the break, setting up wide-open transition jumpers.

Texas will already have a tough time limiting points off of turnovers, so the Horns cannot afford to give up easy buckets in transition. The Longhorns have to stop the ball and pick up men quickly, or else they will find it nearly impossible to keep up with West Virginia on the scoreboard.

4) Force long jumpers – West Virginia really struggles to knock down three-pointers, as they have made just 30.5% of their looks from long range this season. However, their team is great at canning their midrange shots, and Staten and Gary Browne, Jr. (No. 14) can also quickly slice through the defense with the bounce.

If Texas can limit penetration and challenge those midrange jumpers, they should force West Virginia to settle for long-range shots, dramatically improving their odds tonight. However, West Virginia frequently frustrates opponents who play 30 seconds of great defense against their constant motion, as Staten and Browne will often find a driving lane in the final seconds of the shot clock. To be able to slow down the Mountaineer offense, the Longhorns must be patient and disciplined until the very last second of their half-court defensive possessions.

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