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Shooting From the Corner: The Oliver Millers 77, Texas 74

Texas loses another winnable game

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NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Texas Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Pomeroy has a statistical category called ‘luck’, which is in essence a formula to show the variance between how many games a specific team is expected to win and how often they actually win those games. Texas’ luck number is currently -.052, which is 262nd in the country. Basically, he’s saying Texas should be winning more often than they are, and it’s not hard to imagine an alternate reality where Texas is 7-3 right now, based off a couple luckier bounces in the Michigan and Arkansas games. Arkansas won this game, but Texas was right there until the end. It’s not particularly difficult to make a case that Texas was as good or better than Arkansas in nearly every category that mattered (except one, which I promise we’ll get to); Texas won the rebounding battle, shot a better percentage from both up close and from deep, had more assists, and played basically to a draw in the steals, blocks, turnovers, and fouls categories. If I handed a box score to Shaka before the game with all those boxes checked he’s probably guessing Texas wins 7-8 times out of 10, and he’s probably right. So why didn’t Texas win? Because free throws. It’s rare that a single category wipes clean all of an opponent’s sins, but today was one of those days. Let’s dig in.

The Good

Jarrett Allen

Jarrett Allen had a quality evening that went beyond his 11 points & 10 rebounds, as he did everything from dunking on upper-tier upperclassmen to setting quality screens to playing a prominent role in the press to heading up a 1-3-1 zone. Arkansas threw everything they had at the guy and he came up big over and over again. His free throws were a negative, but that’s true for most of the team today. Allen really showed up today.

Andrew Jones

Both Jones and Kerwin Roach Jr. have consistency issues running the point in the half-court, but there is no question Andrew Jones is uniquely gifted any time Texas gets out in transition. He sees passing angles that most D-I guards don’t, and the few that do usually attempt them a half-second too late. Not Jones; his dimes on the run are on point and through windows that only NBA guys can hit reliably. Any game where Texas can get out and run like this is a game Jones will thrive in. Seven assists to two turnovers is a winning effort from a guy trying to stake his claim at the point, but not the only category where he stood out. Eight of Jones’ 17 points came from the line, where he was 8-11 on the day. Jones is flirting with being an 80% free throw shooter this season, and in tight games that will continue to be a determining factor in who gets to run the point.

Shaquille Cleare

It’s not just the 3-6 from the field or the 4-4 from the free throw line, Cleare played one of his best defensive games of his career against a guy that was tabbed the preseason SEC player of the year in Moses Kingsley. SEC coaches thought highly enough of Kingsley that they picked him over the 37 NBA draft picks on Kentucky’s roster, and Cleare (along with Allen and James Banks) held him to 2-8 from the floor. Kingsley was clearly frustrated for most of the game, and Cleare was a big reason why. The 10 points and 7 boards were a bonus from Cleare, but also greatly appreciated.

Breaking the Press

This game was an instructive data point for what Texas might do against the press in conference play, and early returns were largely positive. While no team is perfect against the press, Texas threw out a handful of press-breaking wrinkles that speak to Shaka Smart & crew preparing for their upcoming battles against West Virginia and others. A couple of examples:

  1. They identified players Arkansas wasn’t willing to trap in the backcourt (Tevin Mack, mostly) and got them the ball in the first half.
  2. When Arkansas adjusted to front Mack, Texas started running hand-off drills that allowed guys like Roach, Jacob Young, and Jones to get the ball with a full head of steam to reduce the chances of a trap.

Texas did well enough against the press that Arkansas didn’t even run it that much; this isn’t going to be a luxury Texas will have against the likes of Press Virginia, but it’s a sign that this team may be better equipped to handle pressure than they were even a few games ago.

This Play Design

What do you do when you’re dealing with one of the premier shot blockers in the country? This play is a good counter-measure:

(click the tweet to enlarge the images)

Image #1: Jones has the ball near half-court, Allen has Kingsley on his hip in the paint.

Image #2: Allen comes out to the three-point line, ostensibly to set a screen for Jones. Kingsley comes out with him to defend the potential PnR. A second later, Mack makes a move to the three-point line a few feet from Jones. Mack’s defender has to follow, because Mack has demonstrated a willingness to shoot the ball from the parking lot.

Image #3: Jones is now initiating his drive, and you can count the number of defenders in the paint. If you’re an Arkansas fan coming over to gloat, I’ll help you out: it’s zero. There are zero defenders in the paint. Also, the paint is not for eating.

Image #4: Arkansas finds out the hard way that Jones is far too quick for help defense to get in front of him, as Jones ends his drive with the easiest shot of all: a dunk.

These kinds of plays are simple to execute with the right players on the court, and is yet another in a list of reasons why I’m a proponent of Texas playing a 4-out offense long-term. Anything that gets guys like Jones in space is a good plan.

Team Defense

Texas is turning into a coherent defense in front of our eyes. Don’t let the final score fool you, Arkansas had to work their asses off to crack 70, and if they were even a little bit mortal at the free-throw line they’re probably returning to their doomsday prepper bunkers with a loss, resigned to the small bedroom because their first two cousins only grant them coitus after victories over the liberal hordes. Arkansas averaged 1.05 PPP, but nearly 40% of their points came from the charity stripe. Arkansas has only scored fewer than 77 points twice this season, 71 in a win against UT-Arlington and 71 in a loss to Minnesota. The Hogs like to run more than most (their adjusted tempo is in the top 20% nationally) and Texas largely kept them from doing what they wanted. The defense was good enough to win today, which feels like a sentence I’m saying more and more with this squad.

First-Half Tevin Mack

Mack’s first-half stats: 8 points on 3-6 shooting (2-4 from three), 5 rebounds, ten pounds of brass balls and a metric ton of trash talk. 0-1 from the line wasn’t great, but came after a made three so he at least was contributing the the bottom line at the time. I can’t really overstate the leap Mack has made in most areas of his game this season, this team would be unrecoverable if he was playing at his freshman levels. However...

The Mixed Bag

Second-Half Tevin Mack

Mack’s second-half stats: 12 points on 4-10 shooting (2-4 from three), 7 rebounds, an assist and a turnover. So why’s he here? 2-6 from the line. If there’s one area of Mack’s game that still needs a significant upgrade, it’s at the line. A guy who shoots 43% from three should not be shooting 56% from the line, period. Some of his free throws were awful today, not just short or long but off to the left and right. As much praise as Mack rightfully deserves this season, the free throws are a big deal when you’re taking more of them than anybody else on the squad.

The Bad

Roach, Allen, and Mack’s Free Throws

These three combined to go 5-15 from the line, which is awful, full-stop. This was a primary factor in the loss, considering they each missed at least as many free throws as Arkansas did as a team. There’s nothing you can do about Arkansas making their free throws, but there’s definitely something you can do about making your own. These three players account for 53% of the team’s free throw attempts and 61% of the misses. Roach is the closest to a reasonable average at 66.7%, but he and Mack should both be north of 70%. This squad doesn’t have the margin for error in other areas to overcome a clear negative at the line.

Texas is back to .500 at 5-5 and only two games remain before the Big 12 meat grinder kicks into high gear. While they are showing improvement, they still need to improve their consistency if they want a shot at .500 or better in conference play. They return to Austin to face UAB on Wednesday, tip is at 7pm CT on LHN.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by F.Tek: