Well, that was unexpected. The Texas Longhorns went into Morgantown and beat the hottest team in the country at their own game, 56-49. Shaka Smart dialed up a couple presses of his own against the West Virginia Mountaineers and - with some help from a group of whistle-happy referees - he managed to add another layer of ugly on a game lacking any semblance of offensive flow. I haven't seen a team shoot as poorly as West Virginia did since the China debacle(that bricked free throw is brought to you by Alibaba. Alibaba: a name so nice you have to say it 180 times. Alibaba!); they shot 31% from the field, 14% from 3, and 35% from the line. Yeesh. Some of that is Texas playing good defense, but a lot of it is on the Mountaineers. The refs made a lot of questionable decisions, but they didn't let Prince stand in the lane during WVU free throws.
At the risk of turning this article into a 2,500-word ode to Coach Smart, we need to give the coaching staff credit for making over this team for the third time in less than a season. They started the season as an amorphous blob(form #1) - trying to sort out who could do what - while Shaka tinkered with lineups and strategies. He formed them into an inside-out team(form #2) that highlighted the ascendancy of Cameron Ridley into a double-double machine, which hit its peak against North Carolina. Then Cam went down with a foot fracture, and now Shaka has the team playing a flavor of 4-out perimeter scoring(form #3) that is increasingly able to affect its opponents with a couple different kinds of presses. Oh and we're less than 2/3 into the regular season. He probably won't win Big 12 Coach of the Year, but find me another coaching staff in this league that has worked through more adversity than this. You can't. Anybody who says Shaka is underperforming is an abject moron.
Handling the Press
West Virginia forces an average of 22 turnovers a game; they forced 18 in the Oklahoma loss and 22 in the Kansas win. They caused 8 tonight thanks to pretty adept ball-handling by all of the Texas guards. This is a primary factor in Texas winning the game; West Virginia doesn't shoot particularly well, but they make up for it by generating extra shots through turnovers. 14 turnovers below their average means 14 possessions West Virginia has to make up elsewhere. Hats off to all of the guards - and to the bigs who helped pass over/around the press - for beating West Virginia at their game.
The Amish Fire Hydrant was great tonight. He made smart decisions with the ball against the press (2 years ago I would've laughed my ass off writing that sentence), took smart shots, and hit clutch free throw after clutch free throw. 17 points on 4-9 shooting, 2-3 from 3, and 7-8 from the line. Javan was easily the MVP of the team tonight.
I don't think Felix was ever supposed to play as much as he has for #Longhorns. But damn the kid made a career for himself, won some games— Mark Rosner (@MarkRosner3) January 21, 2016
Prince Ibeh and his 1 basket
I let out the loudest OMG when I saw him rising up for this bucket. Every once in awhile, he does something that gives every NBA scout in 3 counties an erection. This was no half-staff dunk, somewhere out there a Pacers scout had to change his pants.
The Mixed Bag
The Mountaineers frustrated Taylor all night. He didn't make a single field goal(0-8) as all of the off-balance floaters & layups he usually sinks were drawing the front of the rim instead. He couldn't hit the angles he wanted and credit is due to WVU for shutting him down offensively. However, he handled the ball extremely well against the press, accounting for exactly ZERO turnovers on the night while notching 3 assists, 2 steals, and 5 rebounds. Texas doesn't win tonight without Zay & Felix handling the ball for the majority of the game.
If you'd like to know why West Virginia was able to stay in a game where they went 3-21 from 3 and 8-23 from the line, I'd like to direct your attention to the rebounding column. West Virginia had 22 offensive rebounds, Texas had 29 rebounds total. WVU ended up +16 on the offensive glass, allowing them to take 20 more shots(61) than Texas(41). If WVU shot 31% from the floor on 41 shots, they lose by 20 tonight. I can understand if Texas wasn't grabbing a ton of offensive rebounds as they might be doing other things(like setting up the press or getting back on D) but they were beaten soundly on the defensive glass and that's a bad look. This continues to be an area of consistent inconsistency for the Longhorns.
This win was big for a variety of reasons; not only is it a road win against a top 10 team, but it's a road win against one of the elite conference opponents, a road win in the same house then-#1 Kansas lost in barely a week ago, a road win without Cameron Ridley on the floor. This counts for a lot when you're a team flirting with the NCAA bubble. Pomeroy had Texas with an 11% win probability tonight, which is tied for the lowest (with the game in Norman) among Texas' remaining games. If Texas can win this game, they know they can win any of them. No team in this conference is unbeatable, and Texas is starting to punch above its weight often enough to make anybody nervous. Texas now has 2 wins against the top 4 teams in the conference(KU/OU/WVU/ISU) and has 6 more games to go. If they can manage to win 1-2 more wins against this group of 4 and hold their home court against the other 5 teams, their path to the NCAA Tournament becomes a lot more clear. Next up is the conference king, Kansas. The game is in Lawrence on Saturday, tip is 1pm CT on ESPN.
BWG's writing tunes provided by Ruben De Ronde (SFW).