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Shooting From the Corner: Texas 96, UAB 60

The Offense Finally Clicked

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NCAA Basketball: UAB at Texas
They called this a foul. It was not.
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but a team in a Texas game lost because they turned the ball over too much, were ice-cold from three, and missed more free throws than they should. Fortunately, for the sanity of all 1,500 people in attendance (and my blood pressure) this time it was Texas’ opponent, UAB. The Blazers kept things close for the first 10 minutes of the contest before Texas took control, and Texas blew the Blazers’ doors off in the second half for a surprisingly comfortable 96-60 victory. Texas scored an unholy 1.32 points per possession, which is a mark the team is unlikely to duplicate this season. Frankly, it’s a number most teams never hit. As a point of reference, Kentucky has hit or exceeded 1.32 PPP twice this season. The Citadel threatens that somewhat regularly, but they push an incredible tempo and live & die by the three so their offensive numbers are a basketball funhouse mirror. Any time you average better than 1.00 PPP you’re doing alright, so going 32% over is pretty stellar.

Texas played a good game against a decent opponent; UAB was looking to contend for the Conference USA title before they lost their starting point guard one game into the season. They’re dealing with a PG situation not unlike when Texas had to push freshman Javan Felix into extended duty, and having some of the same problems. Shaka’s decision to press was a good one, it produced a number of turnovers that led to easy baskets and generally rattled a UAB squad. UAB tried their own press to limited effect; it wasn’t much of an approximation of Press Virginia, but any practice this team can get against the press will pay dividends down the road.

I’m eschewing the usual recap format tonight (besides, Haley went supernova on the poetry jam session over on BON and I can’t compete with that) as I spent more time than I care to admit working up a limited possession chart. The concept was to dig into how possessions initiated by each ball-handler ended. I looked at who was handling the ball when the ball crossed half-court and in the case of an offensive rebound who reset the possession. (I also charted which shots happened in transition, but that’s not in the table below.) The possession result being pinned on the first person to start the offense is a bit simplistic and misses some nuance — it’s prone to give Kerwin Roach Jr. a hard time if Shaquille Cleare fumbles his entry pass, as an example — but if we’re going to look at who is staking their claim at the PG position, stats like this offer a limited glimpse into things. The table is below (it doesn’t look great on cell phones, sorry):

UAB PG Chart

Abbrev. Play Kerwin Andrew Jacob Eric
Abbrev. Play Kerwin Andrew Jacob Eric
26 24 15 7
MJ Missed Jumper 0 1 0 0
MkJ Made Jumper 1 0 1 1
ML Missed Layup 3 4 1 2
MkL Made Layup 7 3 3 1
MLFT Missed Layup, Free Throws 2 1 0 0
MkLFT Made Layup, Free Throws 1 1 1 1
M3 Missed Three 6 6 4 0
Mk3 Made Three 4 2 4 1
TO Turnover 2 6 1 1
FT Free Throws 0 0 0 0
26 24 15 7
UAB PG Chart

You know what I learned about the PGs from this info? Not much. Honestly, this was a bad game to chart; every ball-handler looks great in the box score when the team nearly cracks 100 shooting over 50% on the night. If I have time to go back and chart previous games where the offense performed worse, it might be more enlightening on the little ways each guard is succeeding or failing. But I spent an indefensible amount of time building the spreadsheet and I do have a few thoughts, with the offensive caveat mentioned above, so we’re digging into this thing, dammit:

  1. It’s interesting to see how often Andrew Jones was the primary PG in half-court situations. Of the 24 possessions I have Jones classified as the initiator, only 5 came in transition. Shaka was testing out Jones as the primary ball-handler for large stretches of the first half, and the results were mixed. Jones had six assists and four turnovers, a few of which were self-inflicted. Jones still has a tendency to get sped up by aggressive guard play, which is expected of a freshman but still concerning in the short-term.
  2. Jones and Roach had almost the exact same number of ‘initiator’ attempts, 26 for Roach and 24 for Jones. The rest of the team combined for about the same number of attempts as each of Jones and Roach; Jacob Young got some run at the point towards the end of the game, but it was mostly well after the game’s outcome was no longer in doubt.
  3. Nearly 40% of the charted plays ended in an attempted three; I’ve been hammering on this point a lot, but I will continue to do so: this team is hamstrung by its bad three-point shooting and will look considerably better just hitting threes at a middle of the road D-I level. Tonight they hit 41% of their threes on 29 attempts, which is outstanding but not a mark they will hit consistently. They are at least cracking the 30% mark as a team now, which is a significant improvement. Hell, even Eric Davis is now at the Mendoza Line. Getting him comfortably into the 30s will heal a lot of wounds within the offense, and it’s a doable number. Davis hit 38% from three last season.
  4. On the same note, the possessions ended in an attempted three or attempted layup (I fudged a bit here and coded any shot within five feet of the basket as a layup) at nearly the same rate. I’m pleased to see that ~80% of Texas’ shots came either near the rim or behind the arc, the less mid-range jumpers Texas takes, the better. This is the way of the NBA, and it makes sense if the team can hit threes. Yea, I know.
  5. Roach may not have made headlines with the way Jones scored and Jarrett Allen dominated inside, but he was deceptively effective in transition tonight. Five of his seven transition possessions ended in some sort of made basket.

Oh, and Texas went 12-12 from the free throw line. That’s rare enough it needs to be praised on its own.

If nothing else, it’s nice to see Texas dispatch a team with relative ease when they could have slept-walked into a bear trap. UAB isn’t horrible, and if Texas shot like they did against Northwestern this game could have been more interesting than we wanted. Instead, Texas gets to enjoy their Christmas week thinking about how to build on a win rather than focus on how they let another game slip away. Texas finishes out their non-conference schedule on December 27th against the Kent State Golden Flashes, tip is 6pm CT on ESPNU.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by Phil Tangent & Penny Giles.