Well, we're 11 games into an already historic season of Texas Basketball. The Horns have devoured their fair share of cupcakes, taken out two top 10 juggernauts on the road, and now a difficult part of the schedule awaits. Next up is Michigan State. A team that has one prolific shooter and 4 guys who score by playing volleyball on the offensive glass. Which, when you're playing defense for 30 seconds each possession tends to become a bit disconcerting when the Spartans are getting 2nd and 3rd chance points. Oh yeah, by the way, they will straight up guard your ass every possession. This style of play has a tendency to wear teams down. Even deep ones. And, unless you're just tuning in, this Texas team ain't deep.
So, here are a couple of preliminary thoughts, or worries, without too much detail 3 days before the big game. I'll try to have a more detailed preview Friday...
At the risk of oversimplifying things, this game will be a battle of tempo. The UCLA "tale of two halves" game gives coaches a blueprint of what and what not to do vs. Texas. I'm betting Tom Izzo coaches to replicate the second half of the UCLA game from the opening tip.
It should be second nature for the Spartans since MSU is nearly a UCLA clone in style if not substance. Look for MSU to run clock every possession and make Texas work on the defensive end. They'll probe Texas' interior defense much like UCLA did with Love, but they'll do it the entire game. The strategy may bear immediate fruit by getting Texas in foul trouble, but it will certainly test the frontcourt depth by making Texas' bigs work.
As a whole, running 20 to 30 seconds of every shot clock, and multiple screens for Neitzel will force the Texas defense as a whole to help and recover, and expend more energy, in hopes of wearing them down in the long run. In the short run, long possessions could get Texas' defense out of position further exploiting them to MSU's advantage on the glass. If the Spartans have the patience to run clock and extend possessions with some rebounds, they'll turn the game into a grinder, which gives them a huge advantage. Texas needs to play sound defense, and do a really good job of team rebounding, and closing out stops with one and done rebounds so they can use their superior quickness at each position to get out and run. If Texas can make MSU worry more about transition defense than pounding the glass, it's advantage Texas.
My early outlook on the game: I don't expect Izzo's team to come out with the hubris UCLA showed in the first half of the Texas game, which was to get out and run with Texas, bailing our depth out with quick shots leading to poor transition defense and totally nullifying UCLA's size advantage. Expect MSU to try to bog Texas down and turn the game into a half court battle, which should pay dividends down the stretch against a conceivably gassed Texas team.
Don't get me wrong, we can win, we just need to rebound and shoot it better than we have all year, or hope we can coax MSU into quick shots. Intermittent pressing/half court trapping might be on the table, with some zone mixed in to rest our guys. We have to find some way to get MSU out of their comfort zone.
In any event, this will be a great test of our tourney chances because invariably you'll run into a team that plays defense, rebounds, and runs clock. We know Texas can run most teams out of the gym if that team takes the bait (see Tennessee, UCLA first half), but if we can win this one, especially in a slow paced game, this team's versatility makes it a legit threat come tourney time.