Welcome to the roller coaster, everybody! The short-staffed Texas Longhorns rode up & down performances from a number of to an unnecessarily close victory over noted D-I powerhouse Incarnate Word. It was a game that definitely wasn’t giving me Chaminade flashbacks at all. Nope, not in the slightest. Wasn’t thinking about Hawaii, just hanging out and enjoying the game. Yep, that’s it.
If you read our 'Smart Texas Basketball' preview, you would've known to worry about Incarnate Word. pic.twitter.com/NrWMBmJNVP— (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ (@Bitterwhiteguy) November 12, 2016
If I told you that Jarrett Allen went for 16 & 12, James Banks set a UT freshman debut record for blocks (5), and five players scored in double-figures, you’d probably think Texas won by 20+. Well, that didn’t happen, partly because Texas was turning the ball over like crazy (11 in the first half, alone) and partly because Texas was ice cold from behind the arc (3-18 from deep). Credit due to Incarnate Word for their role in forcing the issue and almost turning in the biggest NCAA upset of the night, but it wasn’t to be.
16 points, 12 rebounds, and only 2 fouls in extended minutes for the freshman All-American was about the best you could really hope for from him this early in his Longhorns career. He showcased a couple of low-post moves (albeit against inferior talent), displayed the quickness that makes him a good defender against guards, and just generally made the right plays. He wasn’t flawless, but my complaints about him are minor compared to what some of the other guys were doing tonight.
2 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks for the ultra-athletic-but-still-super-raw freshman, on a night where he had to play more due to Shaquille Cleare’s foul trouble and Shaka’s schematic decisions. I think it’s fair to say he’s already moved beyond the “freshman Prince Ibeh” tag I’ve applied to him since his commitment. He wasn’t drawing silly fouls jumping on an opponent’s first shot-fake, he wasn’t turning the ball over at an above-average rate. He’s already playing at a level that any D-I coach would love to have from a backup center, and he’s still got room to grow.
Andrew’s first few minutes on the court were pretty poor, but they were almost all due to him being too keyed up. Jones was going 150 mph through a school zone and it resulted in some sloppy plays, but once he settled in he was a pretty clear net-gain for Texas. Incarnate Word had nobody who could stay in front of him, and even when they did get in front of him he still burned them with excellent passing. His vision really is remarkable; he threaded the needle on a phenomenal half-court fast-break pass to Jacob Young that resulted in an and-1 situation. I know Kerwin Roach is going to have some say at who plays the point guard position this season when he comes back, but I’m about ready to hand the keys to Jones 1 game in. He’s just....he just has ‘it’. I know this is a small sample size and I’m at risk of turning into a Jones-stan prematurely, but I don’t care. This guy is special.
The Mixed Bag
Let’s start with the good: Kendal went 8-9 from the line, including some clutch free throws late in the game. He had four steals that felt like seven, and played mostly good defense. However, he was awful shooting from anywhere other than the free throw line. He was 1-7 from behind the arc, and some of those misses were so bad I had to wonder if he was cramping. Or point shaving. Or doing some sort of next-level performance art. Multiple wide-open threes clanked off the front of the rim; his perimeter shooting was so poor that the Cardinals were giving him the full Dogus treatment. His passing wasn’t much better, he had 1 assist and 4 turnovers which is a reasonable ratio for a freshman center with no hands — honestly, a 1:4 ratio for a guy nub-bumping basketballs to his teammates would be pretty impressive — but not for a senior guard with functional digits.
Just kidding, he was fine.
When you outweigh your opponents by 50 pounds and have a reasonably superior offensive skill-set, you shouldn’t foul out in less than 10 minutes. Shaq is more nimble than a year ago, but he still makes some of the same mistakes. I’m sure Shaka has his reasons for starting Cleare at the 5 — maybe he’s trying to bring Allen into high-major ball slowly, maybe he thinks Allen has the range to stretch the defense at the 4, etc. — but it doesn’t make sense to me at this point. Hopefully this was just a bad outing for Shaq and he’ll look better next game.
The Offense Against a Zone
My primary complaint about having Cleare on the floor with Allen/Banks is it means there are 2 non-shooting bigs together. None of these three are going to be confused with Connor Lammert, and with none of them showing a decent shot beyond 10 feet the defenses can pack the paint and dare Texas to shoot from deep. On a night like tonight when the team hits less than 20% of their threes, the game bogs down and Texas gets stagnant. Incarnate Word went to a 2-3 zone, focused on denying the entry pass to the bigs, and Texas was back to the 2014 “why can nobody feed the ball to Ridley” mode. It’s rough, and the only answers are to either play with four shooters (maybe this happens when Mack/Isom are back) or to have your three perimeter players hit from deep. Neither happened tonight, leading to the extended scoring drought that allowed Incarnate Word to slowly get back into the game.
Texas got the win, which ultimately is all that matters in this scenario. Next up is Louisiana-Monroe on Monday 11/14 at 8pm ET on Longhorn Network. With Kerwin Roach and Tevin Mack back from suspension we’ll be nearing our first look at the complete 2016 Longhorns roster.
Read up on the rest of Texas’ opponents in Smart Texas Basketball.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Mark Knight.