The first game of the A.C.E. (After Cam Era) for the Texas Longhorns resulted in a 71-66 loss to the Connecticut Huskies. The Huskies were able to overcome a career night for Tevin Mack, ending a 6-game win streak for the 'Horns and sending Texas into conference play with an 8-4 record. We got our first look at how Shaka plans to handle life without Cameron Ridley, and it's not quite as dramatic a shift as you might have thought/feared. We saw some instances of Prince Ibeh and Shaquille Cleare running the PnR Ridley would have, we saw some post feeds to (mostly) Cleare, we saw something vaguely resembling 4-out motion, it was the kind of mixing & matching you usually see at the beginning of a season. Unfortunately for Texas, it's happening with more than a third of the season complete and with conference play looming. Such is life when you're reorganizing your record collection on the fly because your storage locker was set on fire by a crazy ex. Texas fans are likely going to see Shaka dust off every Sugarhill Gang record he has over the next 3 games in the hopes of finding a beat the team can dance to against Iowa State 2 weeks from now, because it looks like Cam's return won't happen until the post-season.
Shaka Smart says Cam Ridley's surgery went well. Says rough estimate doctors gave him before procedure was 8-10 weeks. Could be longer.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) December 30, 2015
This is probably the best overall game Prince has had this season, which is admittedly a low bar but one he cleared easily. His defense was mostly good; he had 5 blocks, exhibited good body control more often than not, and managed to hit a free throw by shooting it through a wormhole. (I won't mention he airballed the first free throw if you don't.) He still has issues with getting muscled out of rebounds & put-backs by guys his size or smaller and there's no reason why any team should do anything other than foul him any time he touches the ball, but this was a big improvement from the first 11 games. Contributing 18 minutes of even replacement-level D1 play will help keep guys like Connor Lammert fresh as the season wears on.
Even when teams know Zay is going to the basket, they still have a hard time stopping him. As Fran Fraschilla astutely noted, Zay's best weapon isn't his speed it's his ability to change pace & absorb contact near the rim. A similar guard with only one gear gets charges called in situations where Taylor can skirt a defender and still score. There were a number of situations where Zay was able to take 2 enormous strides to the basket and hit a layup most guards can't even reach; I think he's been taking triple-jump tips from Kerwin Roach Jr. He also had a nice block that might have been goaltending when you look at the replays.
The Mixed Bag
I wanted to praise Tevin tonight as his offense in the first half was one of the only reasons Texas stayed within 10 of UConn. It's good to see him shooting with confidence and (more importantly) hitting those shots. I don't know that he has the green light to try Steph Curry-range 3s often, but he was hitting tonight. What's keeping me from putting him a category higher is his defense, especially his off-ball defense. The general rule of thumb in perimeter man off-ball defense is to back far enough away from your man that you can see the ball-handler & your guy without turning your head; Tevin is not doing this on a regular basis and it causes problems. If your head is turned watching the ball, your man is free to slide away from you into an open position(which happened), he's free to kill you with back-cuts(also happened), he's free to crash in for rebounds and put-backs because you're not aware enough to block him out. For as important as Tevin was offensively - and kudos to him for finding his groove - he still needs to figure things out on the defensive end or this team is going to struggle to get stops when he's on the floor. Right now he looks like a foal trying to figure out how to walk with limbs flailing in all directions.
Free Throw Shooting
Hey, 14-20 is 70%! That's basically the average D1 FT %, which is better! At this point, being the ~150th best free throw shooting team in the country would be a great achievement for the current 331st best team (out of a possible 346). This is arguably the only positive aspect of Cam being injured; well, as long as his free throws aren't being shot by Prince. Maybe Shaka could petition the NCAA to allow Prince to use one of those Portal guns so he could literally drop the ball in the basket, I bet he could hit at least 60% of those. Probably.
Every 3 Shot By Somebody Other Than Tevin Mack
Javan Felix hit a trey with 7.4 seconds left in the game, meaning Texas only had to go 39:52.6 before somebody other than Tevin hit a 3. The Non-Tevins ended up 1-14 from distance, which will happen some nights. Javan gets a pass because he missed a pair of 3s by a combined 4 millimeters; you're not going to over 50% of your 3s for an entire season because nights like this happen. The only really awful 3s I saw came from Eric Davis Jr., who looked terrible tonight.
Texas snagged 9 offensive rebounds, they would have had 13-15 with a healthy Cameron Ridley. Guys tried to pick up the slack for Ridley in a lot of areas, but rebounding as a whole - and especially on the offensive glass - was pedestrian at best. This area has already been an up & down affair all season, and it won't likely get better with the team's best rebounder out for the foreseeable future.
It seems the Dell Medical School has started storing cadavers in the building ahead of schedule, because that was the quietest 14,000 people I've heard this side of the annual "Doing It With the Lights Con" missionary position convention held in Provo. Did they lace the craft beer with methadone? Did somebody let Drew Gressett give a halftime speech on the importance of hamburger patty selection? That place was dead.
Kudos to the Huskies for the win, their combination of perimeter length, active hands, and timely buckets earned them the win. Texas now has to re-group and prepare for an away game against a significantly improved Texas Tech Red Raiders squad. Tip is 1pm CT Saturday on ESPNU.