The Texas Longhorns secured a solid resume-building home win against the Oklahoma Sooners, 76-63. Buddy Hield went nuts for an extended period, Texas did a good job limiting everyone else, and the game was tight for most of the second half. This description could apply to either game this season, but one game ended in a 3-point OU win and one ended in a 13-point Texas win. The difference? There are a number of things you could point to, but the easiest one is Shaka's defensive adjustment to Buddy. Rather, the series of different looks Shaka threw at Buddy to make him take extremely difficult shots. Let's delve into that.
Shaka Smart's "Anybody But Buddy" Defense
With 7:29 left, Buddy Hield hits a mid-range 2 to put OU up 58-51. Buddy is now closing in on 30 points and is on pace for nearly 40 despite cooling off noticeably in the 2nd half. While Texas had been focusing on Buddy throughout the game, from this point on they locked in on Buddy at the expense of all other Oklahoma players. Things were ratcheted up a degree, from "We'd like somebody other than Buddy to beat us" to "There are no other OU players on the floor". Javan Felix & Kerwin Roach Jr were the two guys tasked with face-guarding Buddy and attempting to deny him the ball any time OU looked to pass to him; this wasn't really new, but they stopped sagging off him at all regardless of where the ball was. They were attached to Buddy like a sex swing is to Scipio Tex's four-post California King canopy bed, that is to say permanently and any escape attempt would be met with severe punishment from the guy carrying the clipboard. If BuddyBall was going to succeed, Hield would have to break out the serrated knife and start hacking at the leather straps. (Serrated knives are in the second drawer of the night stand, next to the lube. Don't ask how I know these things; what four grown men, two suspiciously eager women, and a free-range emu consent to do in a San Francisco high-rise is their business.)
This wasn't the only wrinkle Shaka threw into the mix; for a large portion of the first half Oklahoma took advantage of Texas switching to get Buddy's defender (usually Felix) switched onto Ryan Spangler, leaving Buddy with the choice of driving on a big(Ibeh or Cleare) or passing to Spangler who would back down Felix or Roach for a relatively easy shot. Starting at the 4:45 mark, whenever Buddy would get the ball and try to force the switch with the PnR, both Texas players would follow Buddy. It's a calculated gamble - I think Shaka has a little experience in this realm - that basically hopes to fluster Buddy into giving up the ball with Texas flying around the court trying to make up the 4-on-3 deficit they have everywhere else. (This has thematic similarities to the Miami Heat's defense during the LeBron James years.) For the most part, it worked, even if it did look a bit like Texas players were being shot haphazardly out of a t-shirt cannon at various OU defenders.
But wait, there's more! Starting at 2:09, every time Buddy touches the ball on the perimeter, Connor Lammert immediately runs in to trap Buddy. This confuses Buddy Hield more than a 4am dental dam application in a Walker Center tower suite, and he reacts about as well as you'd expect from someone that's spent the last 4 years studying at Oklahoma's premier educational institution. This trap is exclusive to Buddy, no other guard faces it over the next ~90 seconds of game play. With 37.6 seconds left, Buddy drains a 3 and Oklahoma ends a 22-0 Texas run. The good guys are up 12, all that's left is free throws, and I just lit a post-coital cigarette from inside the iron maiden in Scipio's closet.
Driving The Lane
I've been harboring a hunch that the drop in Texas' 3-point % over the last 2-3 weeks is due to them not driving the lane as consistently in games; while the ultimate ceiling of this Texas season rests on their ability to make 3s, that doesn't mean they should shoot 40 of them a game. Open looks come from shifting the defense around and getting them into suboptimal alignments; the most reliable way to do this is to drive the lane, force the defenders to contract into the paint, and give shooters an extra 1-2 feet they need to get off a clean shot. Isaiah Taylor has consistently drove the lane because that's his game, but the other guards haven't been doing this as reliably and I think this is a primary reason the 3s haven't been falling; the defense doesn't have to contract if Zay is on the bench or off the ball & nobody is driving. Today Texas was bound & determined to get into the paint, and the 3s were more available. 6-15 from 3 will win a lot of games, especially when it's paired with guards who are driving to finish like Zay, Javan, Roach, and to a lesser extent Eric Davis Jr were doing from the jump. With Cameron Ridley still out and Prince Ibeh/Shaquille Cleare not able to generate much post offense, this is a reasonable inside-out facsimile. More to the point, it's a replicable formula that caters to the strengths of the current Texas roster.
A Team Victory
I'm not picking out any individuals for the categories today, because this was the epitome of a team win. 5 players scored in double figures, 5 players had 3+ rebounds, 6 players notched 10+ minutes, and nobody had more than 3 fouls. This was a stark contrast to the one-man show on the crimson side of the ledger, and a victory everybody on the team should feel involved in. Case in point, watch this 8-second Vine where 4 players touch the ball.
I love me some teamwork.
Shaka Smart Gets It
I love me some Shaka.
The Mixed Bag
I got nothin'. Texas was +8 on the boards, hit 74% of their free throws & nearly 45% of their shots from the floor. For all the reasons listed above, this was a good win any way you want to look at it.
My Predictive Powers
This sorta feels like a good summary of Texas' ceiling: good enough to hang with the elites, not quite good enough to get over the hump.— Nitro Zeus (@Bitterwhiteguy) February 27, 2016
I posted that right around 58-51. As usual, I know nothing.
Texas doesn't get much time to enjoy this win as the soon-to-be 12-time Big 12 Champion Kansas Jayhawks come to Austin on Monday. As raucous as the crowd was today, they need to equal or surpass it if they want to help propel Texas to a victory. There's a decent chance Kansas enters the game ranked #1, and a win for the Longhorns would go a long way to pushing them into talk of a protected seed. Tip time on Monday is 8pm CT on ESPN.
BWG's writing tunes provided by Metalheadz.