There is no tomorrow for Texas Longhorns Basketball.
Win tonight and we can more than likely get back in the hunt for a protected 2 seed that goes through Houston. Lose, and you're probably going to end up a 5 seed, and if the wheels really come off against Nebraska, you're staring the NIT right in the face. If the NIT is Darrin Hancock and you're trying to take a charge on the break, then you're staring the NIT right in the nuts. Been there done that.
On a macro level, we've talked about the Horn's problems for the better part of two months, so we'll try to keep focus on the Jayhawks in this preview, and how I'd try to attack them in a monumental effort to save the season.
If you've had nightmares about Tommie Mason-Griffin and his T-Rex arms I'm here to tell you that it doesn't get any easier with Sherron Collins. He's got every bit the game TMG does only he takes better shots, has a better supporting cast to deliver the ball to, and he's a much more experienced player. His arms are remarkably normal, and uncarny-like so we've got that going for us.
Even better news is that Collins is a much better matchup for Balbay than TMG was, because Sherron is not quite as quick and tries to body defenders that can stay with him.
Also, Collins is different than TMG because he loves ballscreens so our bigs better be prepared to do a lot of hedge and recover. I'll talk more about this in the keys section.
But straight up, you cannot let Collins into the lane because he finishes well for guard with his tremendous upper body strength. If you over help he loves to dime to Aldrich or Morris for dunks. You have to make him try to beat you shooting over the top.
Morningstar and Reed are basically the same player in that they are less dribble drive oriented and more catch and shoot guys. Simply put, you cannot leave them and help away from them or they will kill you from behind the arc. It's another reason keeping Collins out of the lane is so important. When these two do catch it, chasing them off their jumpers should be the focus. You must make Morningstar and Reed make plays in the midrange and dribble game.
The fourth guard is Tyshawn Taylor and he's a kid that you hope doesn't come out with his head in the game because he can flat kill teams with what he does. He's so quick that when he's on the floor with Collins I shudder to think what he can do to our help and recover defense when their penetration gets us in proverbial cement mixer. I make Taylor make a couple 3's before I really get into his jersey defensively and stop penetration at all costs. He's that good on the bounce. If he's hitting form deep, we're porked anyway.
It all starts with bellcow back to the basket guy Cole Aldrich. On defense he's a one man wrecking crew patrolling the lane as a shot blocking eraser, while his dominance on the defensive glass allows the other four Jayhawks to leak out early and get into transition before you can get back. Texas has to put pressure on the KU rebounders by attacking the glass in an effort to keep them honest. I'm mainly talking about Pittman making Aldrich work because James will battle. Shot selection will play a part in our ability to rebound but I'll talk about that later.
On offense, Aldrich has elite touch around the basket and a variety of post moves. More importantly, the KU supporting cast understands ball movement and entry pass angles so our post defenders must play fundamental post position defense or they'll be pinned by a combination of Aldrich and superb ball reversal. Scared yet?
On the weakside glass, the Morris twins thrive on creating position and cleaning up the garbage for easy putbacks. Marcus Morris is the better offensive player of the two, so Damion James can't sleep on him. One interesting battle will be our third guard or small forward depending on personnel vs. either Morris on the weakside glass. There will be a dozen or so plays where James is forced to help penetration or help to Aldrich so it's important our third guard or forward slide down and really put a body on Morris so he doesn't get anything cheap.
Xavier Henry is the last player I'll cover and he may be the key to the Longhorn's chances of winning this game. Right now Xavier is in a J'Covan Brown like funk, so he may be source of help if he struggles early on tonight. He's a terrific athlete and a solid shooter, but in games played in 2010 he's been a woeful 30 for 92 from the field. If Texas can force Henry to play a big role in the offense, they have a great chance for the upset.
The Keys to the Game
1) Shot selection. Texas must take shots going to the rim and attacking the paint. I can't emphasis this enough. Not only are these better shots intuitively, but they allow you better opportunities to rebound offensively which helps mitigate the KU break. They also force Aldrich to play defense, increasing his chances of getting in foul trouble. If we make it easy on KU with step back 3's from Hamilton or fadeaway midrange shots from James, we'll lose. Who knows, maybe we're due for some home cooking with the officiating.
2) Playing the ball screen. We'll see a lot of it, especially when Pittman's in the game because KU wants to pull him away from the bucket. If I'm Texas, I'm trapping all ballscreens involving Collins and forcing someone else to make plays. We may end up with James on Aldrich in some cases, but I'll take my chances if Xavier Henry or Brady Morningstar is the one creating. If Taylor is getting the screen, I hedge it and have my guard go under the screener, enticing Tyshawn to shoot. I know Taylor can shoot it, but we have to pick our poison and manufacture misses because our off the ball defense is horrible.
3) Play Fast and Loose. Physically and mentally. We'll have a raucous crowd and we really don't play well on either end in the halfcourt so let's press and run and let it all hang out. I get that playing loose can be detrimental to shot selection, so if I'm Barnes I tell the kids that anything coming off of penetration is a good shot. Whether that's a floater, an entry pass, or a kickout for 3 take it. No one's shooting unless we're doing it as a result of attacking the rim.
Prediction. I couldn't begin to tell you. We could get beat by 20 or we could win going away. It depends on the mindset of the kids and the coaching staff. What I do know is that this is the season boys. Our hope springs eternal offseason has come down to one game.
There is no tomorrow.
For some thoughts on Kansas basketball check at our friends at Oread Boom Kings.