Texas fell to Michigan 53-50 in a blistering basketball game; the dunks and high-arcing threes from all over the court showcased the kind of ball movement and offensive flow one usually only sees in a Spurs game. It was unusual to see them only play two twelve-minute halves, I’m not sure if the Big Ten is experimenting with new rules or something, and as weird as it was to see Texas don black uniforms it was even weirder to see the Wolverines ditch their maize & blue for white and blue home unis. I didn’t recognize many of the players, for that matter. Hang on, what channel am I on? Son of a bitch, this is the Spurs / Wolves game. I guess that explains why Kerwin suddenly had corn rows and locked down half the court defensively. BRB loading up the DVR.
Mother of God, this...this is ugly. These offensive sets are painful, and nobody can finish at the rim for either team. Are you sure the guys at Pounding The Rock don’t need a recap tonight? Shit, alright.
It’s safe to say the debate over whether Mack has put his freshman season behind him. Further, he seems to be pretty clearly establishing himself along with Cleare as the team’s emotional leader. Over and over you see him clapping his hands, talking up his teammates, and engaging in more opponent trash-talking than I can recall seeing from a roundball Longhorn in recent memory. That’s not to say there haven’t been some epic shit-talkers at UT, I just can’t remember any that were so brazen about it. Mack’s in the opponent’s ear from the time he laces up his shoes to about 15 seconds before he gets on the bus to go home, and frankly he’s earning the right to do it. Mack is the sole reliable offensive force on this team, and tonight he was the only UT player in double-figures. He’s not doing it on a crazy shot rate, either; tonight he was 5-11 (3-6 from three) and 5-6 from the free-throw line to go along with 5 rebounds, an assist, and a steal. He’s carrying the team right now, and will continue to be called upon to do so until somebody else shows up more than one night in a row. Mack is averaging over 30 minutes/game the last two weeks, and tonight was the second-straight 37-minute game for him. Mack accounted for 36% of the UT points, 60% of the made threes, 100% of the free throws, and 21% of the defensive rebounds: somebody get the guy an ice bath.
I wish I loved anybody as much as Dan Dakich loves Cleare; the way Dakich talked about Cleare, you’d think he’s Cameron Ridley 2.0. Maybe Dakich is trying to up his Twitter popularity by hash-tagging #CleareBlock, because he spent an inordinate amount of time saying Texas needed to get Cleare the ball in the low block. It’s not the worst advice, but you would think a guy sitting courtside would see that Texas was struggling with entry passes most of the night and that Cleare’s not going to be creating anything without the ball in his hands. That’s not really Cleare’s fault, he was an active rebounder and played well enough on the offensive end to offset some PnR/screen lapses on the defensive end. Shaq put up solid minutes on a night where he had to due to Allen essentially laying an egg. (We’ll get to this later.)
Texas rebounded nearly 83% of their potential defensive rebounds, which is the highest number on the season. Texas had a 17-10 rebounding advantage in the first half, which helped offset their turnover issues and keep the game within reach when by all rights Michigan should have been running away with it. The rebounds were nicely spread around; five players had at least three boards to their name, Mack and Kerwin Roach lead the way with 5 each. That was the best rebounding performance of the season against a Michigan team that has some size of its own.
Michigan isn’t a fast team this season, they’re currently ranked nearly at the bottom of D-I in adjusted tempo (348th out of 351), average possession length (340th out of 351), and near the top of D-I in viewer melatonin production. But just because they’re fast doesn’t mean they don’t score; they’re ranked in the top 30 in offensive efficiency and have three players in the top 500 national O-ratings — Texas has zero — so they know what to do with the ball in a half-court set. Texas managed to hold Michigan to 0.82 points per possession, well below their season average. The diamond press wasn’t particularly effective, but Texas was able to execute on “fix it” situations when the press was broken so Michigan didn’t get many free runs to the basket. In the half-court, Texas showcased a defensive discipline for most of the game that they haven’t shown consistently this season. This wasn’t a game where Michigan had a ton of open looks they just missed (they mostly hit their open looks in the first half), Texas played a solid enough game on defense to win. If you’re looking for a bright spot and potential rallying point for the team going forward, this is it.
The Mixed Bag
Eric Davis Jr.
On the plus side, Eric was penetrating the lane and managed to hit nearly half his shots inside the arc. He was also solid holding the ball with only two turnovers despite logging relatively extended minutes bringing the ball up the court. He also played well enough on defense that he warranted playing 31 minutes despite not scoring much. On the negative side, the shots he hit were all off-balance, circus-y shots that aren’t going to go in very often and his perimeter shooting was still off the mark. His inability to finish at the rim last night was disappointing, but he was far from alone in that respect.
Kerwin Roach Jr.
Roach came into the game with exactly 5 minutes left on the clock and Texas nursing a 46-45 lead. With just over 3 minutes left, Derrick Walton Jr started guarding Roach 30+ feet out and from that point on Roach was useless as a point guard. Repeatedly, Roach would spend more time with his back to the basket as the shot clock drained away than moving around looking to initiate the offense because he was letting the defender setup a tent inside his shirt. Roach also had trouble inbounding the ball in the last few minutes of the game, most of the successful inbounds plays were a result of Davis being the initiator rather than Roach. I’m not going to harp on Roach too hard because he still managed to do some good things last night — he led the team with 5 assists, most of them in the first half — but if he wants to be the point guard for this team, his late-game execution needs to improve.
This team seems to excel at being good at possessing the ball in 20 out of 40 minute increments. The first half saw 10 turnovers against a defense that isn’t exactly being confused with their football counterparts; lazy cross-court passes were being picked off, two of the first three possessions ended in a turnover, and Jarrett Allen was dribbling the ball like it was coated with a layer of dog snot. Not great. The team settled down and only accounted for four turnovers in the second half, but they also only had four assists in the second half. It’s like this team is determined to end the year with a 1:1 ATO ratio. Ahh, the ups and downs of a young, talented, occasionally brain-dead team.
Allen was not good last night; he had more fouls than made baskets, he had more turnovers than made baskets, and he was unable to get into the flow of the game at all. Allen was on the floor for 23 minutes but it felt like 12. Some nights you get the majestic deer Allen who glides around defenders for easy buckets, some nights you get the clumsy fawn Allen who can’t dribble and move at the same time. Tonight was not the majestic variety.
Texas is 4-4 on the season with four games left before conference play begins. As frustrating as this team is to watch in the half-court offense, there were glimmers of hope for Texas fans if they looked closely enough. If Texas is able to play that kind of defense the rest of the season and one or two guards can get untracked offensively, the outlook for the season improves. Consider that last season, the ninth game was the North Carolina victory, so there’s still time for Texas to make a leap. Of course, I’ve been talking about the guards starting to hit shots for the better part of eight games now, so....yea. The next game is on Saturday against Long Beach State on ESPN2, tip is at 5pm CT.