This seems an appropriate time to look at the Smart Texas Basketball preview for the UT-Arlington Mavericks.
I circled this game on the calendar precisely because it would give us a sense of how much Texas had improved (or not) against a team that is probably headed to the NCAA Tournament (and was last year before their NBA-caliber big Kevin Hervey went down with an ACL injury). I don’t think you need Bill Raftery breaking down tonight’s game to know how Texas stacked up, but let me paraphrase: nobody on this team had ONIONS tonight. Instead, Texas squandered one of the worst offensive halves I have ever seen; UT-Arlington missed their first TEN three-point attempts, hit less than half their free throws, and actually led at the half because Texas was only incrementally better from beyond the arc and behind the line but gave up many offensive rebounds. These two teams traded rebounding opportunities for 20 minutes and UT-A outrebounded a team clearly bigger than the Mavericks. When the second half rolled around and UT-A went from ice-fucking-cold to room-fucking-temperature, Texas couldn’t keep up because they were too busy trying to dry-hump the week-old chicken breasts in the walk-in freezer. And yes, that is probably a record for hyphens in a sentence. Somebody had to produce something other than record futility tonight. This game was bad enough that I don’t even feel like making fun of Arlington; the same Arlington that thinks cheese whiz is a wonderful wedding gift and picks up dog poop with their bare hands before putting it in the plastic baggie. They’re the same Arlington that bought stock in Pets.com in 2016 and wears rain panchos every time they leave the house just in case they come across an impromptu Gallagher show. That Arlington, I can’t make light of them right now even though they eat applesauce through a straw and think Bitcoin is made by sawing through pennies. It’s just not the right time to make jokes about how their collective IQ increases when they huff paint and that their life alert necklace is just a garage door opener on a rope. No Arlington jokes, guys; not tonight.
Allen nearly had a double-double in the first half, scoring 8 & grabbing 11 rebounds. He finished with 13 & 12 on the night as UT-A basically spent the second half telling UT to find somebody else to beat them (spoiler alert: they didn’t). Fun fact: Jarrett Allen has as many assists as Jacob Young and more assists than Kendal Yancy. He’s 6-11”. Well, maybe this would be a fun fact if Texas were winning, so let’s just call it a sobering fact instead. Allen went 5-7 from the line tonight. He’s now 8-11 from the line in the last two games, which is a promising sign. The rest of the team’s performance from the line was....less promising.
Tevin was the leading scorer on the night — 19 points — accounting for nearly a third of Texas’ points in 30 minutes on the floor. He was only 1-5 from three, but 7-9 from two which is a distinct improvement from last year. Mack also accounted for one turnover, so he’s playing more minutes and taking better care of the ball on a per-minute basis. Mack is also in a lot less foul trouble, his FC/40 (fouls charged per 40 minutes) rate is half what he was charged last season. Mack is a rare bit of sunshine for a team currently hanging onto a floating door in the North Atlantic.
One of the few things Texas is doing well this season is playing defense without fouling. The current free throw rate — free throws divided by field goals attempted — for Texas is top ten in the country and their effective field goal percentage is in the top 50. The defense is not the issue for Texas thus far, in fact it’s a little maddening to ponder what Texas would look like if their offense was even at D-I average levels. I know my Twitter mentions would be more enjoyable, or at least as enjoyable as Twitter mentions ever get.
The Mixed Bag
Assists and Turnovers
UT-Arlington had 12 assists to 16 turnovers. Other than DJ Bryant having 3 assists & 0 turnovers in 10 minutes — which led to an insane 226 O-Rating — Texas kept UT-A in check on this front.
Texas also had 12 assists to 16 turnovers. Welp.
Kerwin Roach Jr.
Kerwin had some good drives, a nice opening dunk, and shot 8-14 from the floor for 16 points. (If you’re keeping track, three Texas players accounted for 79% of the scoring.) On the down side, the 6 turnovers by Roach were a bad sign. (The time he went for a steal and on his way out of bounds throwing it back to the middle of the floor and toward his own *&%^ing basket was a nice microcosm of the highs & lows of Roach to date. He made that same mistake against UT-A last year as well, which doesn’t speak to a mental progression on his part.) Further, he wasn’t able to initiate team offense with any regularity. He scored on a number of drives that were as much as showcase of his elite athleticism rather than working within the flow of Shaka’s plays. When he starts playing against guys who are able to stay in front of him, the rubber will once again meet the road.
Eric Davis Jr.
We’re a couple games away from renaming this The Eric Davis Jr section. Eric’s struggling. Actually, I don’t think that’s a proper term: Eric Davis had Rick Barnes’ #hardbutton (™ Mike Finger) surgically attached to his forearm so he can hit it with zero wasted motion every time he goes up for a shot. Eric is now 6-36 from deep this season, which is bad enough I spent part of the second half looking up Dogus Balbay’s shooting percentages to see how they compared. Eric’s still ahead, but the percentage gap is closing on Dogus’ freshman season where he hit 25% of his three-point attempts. OK, Dogus only tried four shots from deep that year, but he hit one! Eric has a Tin Cup-level case of the yips, and his solution seems to be to shoot the ball harder. They’re not just short or long, they’re now off to the left and right, sometimes painfully so. I’m about one more 2-10 performance away from arranging a night for Eric at McCounaghey’s 1200 sq. ft. peyote hut just to see if he can escape his own brain for awhile. Eric’s clearly talented enough to perform better, but he can’t get out of his own way. You can see the frustration written all over him; somewhere down the road — maybe at Michigan, he’ll be plenty motivated by family in the crowd — he’s going to go off for like 8-11 and Super Saiyan while the entire team loses their minds.
Well he wasn’t out there for very long with his early foul issues, but he was still a net-negative for the team. I still am not sold on this concept of Shaq as the starting center, but I guess we’ll have to trust in Shaka’s assessment of the situation.
The Mavericks collected 40% of their possible offensive rebounds, and in a first half where rebounding opportunities were plentiful, that’s a lot of second chances for a team that didn’t need much help to win in the end. If Texas doesn’t start sorting out their rebounding issues against relatively smaller teams, the Big 12 is going to murder them on the glass.
Handling the Press
UT-A is a good team, but they are not Press Virginia. Still, they managed to flummox Texas into multiple turnovers — including a ten-second call, wheee — with a fairly standard trapping press. Kerwin Roach, he who wishes to be the team’s starting PG, had 6 turnovers on the night. Bob Huggins turned off Brazzers for the evening and watched game tape of tonight instead; I am more than a little concerned how Texas is going to handle that press if the Mavericks can cause the Longhorns issues. Shaka has 7 weeks until to figure it out, less if you count Brad Underwood’s half-court press tactics.
There are 351 teams in D-1 basketball this season, and 302 of them are hitting their free throws at a higher rate than Texas. In some previous seasons, it was one player — Prince Ibeh, Tristan Thompson, etc. — that sank the overall percentages for the Longhorns. Not this year, it’s all over; there are only 2 players (Andrew Jones and Shaquille Cleare) who make 70%+ of their free throws. There are 4 players (Allen, Mack, Jacob Young, and James Banks) who are averaging in the 50-59% range right now. Texas’ only player who might be considered ready for clutch late-game free throw attempts (Jones) has 6 more games in D-I than I do. I know we’re still in the land of small sample sizes, but this team doesn’t have any more areas it can afford to be bad if they have designs on experiencing March Madness. Speaking of one of those areas..
Anybody care to hazard a guess how many Texas players are shooting better than 25% from beyond the arc so far this season? It’s two: Tevin Mack (41.3%) and Kendal Yancy (35.7%). Everybody else is an appalling 25% (Jones) or worse (Roach, Davis, Allen, Young). A team that makes less than 27% of their threes is a team that loses a lot of games.
Wait, he’s the other kind of bad. Forget I put him here.
Most reasonable fans knew there would be some bumps in the road early as Texas tried to figure out how to replace Isaiah Taylor, and on its own losing to a likely tournament team isn’t the worst thing in the world. Having said that, this team is in a bad way right now and they’re staring at the distinct possibility of being below .500 going into conference play. There’s a good argument to be made that as things stand right now, Texas is the 7th or 8th-best team in the Big 12. If Shaka is unable to get consistent guard play (both in terms of running the offense and perimeter shooting) from this team before conference play begins, 2016 could be a long season for Texas fans. Next up, Texas hosts Alabama and the Lil’ General on Friday at 8:30p CT on ESPNU.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Metalheadz.