Four minutes into the game, the Kansas Jayhawks were up 14-2 against the Texas Longhorns and looked ready to run Texas out of the gym. Texas had more turnovers than buckets, assists, blocks and fouls combined, were completely disorganized, and had me ready to start writing the recap before the first TV timeout. Thankfully, the players have more intestinal fortitude than your author. They responded with a 12-5 run to get the game back into single digits and played Kansas roughly even the rest of the way. Every time Kansas would go on a run to stretch the lead to 12-15, Texas would battle back and get it within 3-6. Texas never led in this game and didn’t have many chances to take the lead, but they fought their asses off all the same.
In a season like this, you can look at the game and say Texas could never execute long enough to take command or you can look at the game and say Texas has enough talent & mental toughness to take the best shots of elite teams and keep coming back. Both statements are true, and both say something instructive about the team and how you view them. This coaching staff is pretty clearly building for next year at this point, both in who they play and how they deploy them, so I’m inclined to focus on the latter of the two statements as it’s more relevant to the long-term trajectory of the program. If you’re disappointed with this season, you have every right to feel that way. Hell, we all are. I’d much rather be posting recaps for a 12-6 team than a 7-11 team, discussing Allen cementing his status as a lottery pick and talking about which guard might go pro because of their performance, but that’s not where we are. So I’m keeping an eye on the horizon, and I might advise everyone else to do the same as dawn may be approaching soon.
Allen was a human cheat code today, relentlessly punishing Kansas on the inside. If it wasn’t for a shaky start, Allen would have likely had a 20/20 game in Lawrence, which is a rare feat. Allen ended with 22/19, one rebound away from only the 5th 20/20 game in Texas history. Allen’s passing choices in the first half were questionable, he didn’t handle the KU double-team well early on. (Bill Self’s gameplan was pretty easy to smoke out, he was doubling Allen every time he touched the ball until Allen proved he could beat it.) Once Allen stopped trying to throw to James Banks in the lane, his turnovers disappeared and he was able to wreck the Jayhawks from nearly every spot on the court. This game was a little reminiscent of Myles Turner’s trip to Lawrence — where a 5-star big balled out against less-agile Kansas centers in a loss — except Allen was an even bigger beast than Turner. In the last four games, Allen has averaged 19.5 points and 10.75 rebounds. I think it’s safe to say he’s adjusted to NCAA basketball.
Credit goes out to Cleare for being the steadying hand on the team after the early shellacking; Texas could’ve folded and lost by 30, but between Shaka’s early timeout and Cleare’s calming presence in the middle, Texas was able to regroup. Cleare and Allen have developed into a little bit of a thunder & lightning tandem, with Cleare playing the role of the more traditional big and Allen using Cleare’s ability to collapse an interior defense to find open spots for putbacks and interior passes. Cleare’s stat line — 11 points, two rebounds, 1 block — doesn’t adequately describe his contribution to the game; he hit important buckets, had timely rebounds, and threw down one of the meanest mean mugs I’ve ever seen after sending a Frank Mason shot into the third row. Cleare ran out of gas in the second half, but not before providing some important minutes to a team that needed it.
Post Entry Passes
One of the many areas where this team is improving is their ability to feed the bigs. If you can stomach a rewatch, roll through some of the early non-conference games and watch how difficult it was for Kerwin Roach Jr., Andrew Jones, Jacob Young, Kendal Yancy, and Eric Davis to get the ball inside. When you’re done dry-heaving, flip this game on. It’s almost night and day; credit to Shaka’s staff for working on the guards and for flipping the passing angles around to where the guards are more comfortable getting the ball to Cleare, Allen, and Banks. I particularly enjoy the little Tiki-Taka triangles Texas will setup where a guard will move to one side of the three-point line while Cleare flashes to the top of the key, receives the pass, and immediately feed it to Allen in the paint. (Both Cleare and Allen are polished enough passers to be able to flip their roles as needed.) It’s a remarkably simple and effective way to change the passing angles more quickly than the defense can contain, and this team can pull that move off reliably now.
The list of 5-star McDonald’s All-Americans who would react to being taken out of the starting lineup by hanging their heads and not producing is long. Andrew Jones has been pulled out of the starting lineup more games than not lately, and he’s not sulking at all. In fact, he provides a nice boost of energy to the team when he comes in the game. Today was no different; he poured in 15 points on 9 shots, led the team with five assists, and did it against one of the best backcourts in the nation. There are little moments every game where you see his potential being realized, and they’re happening more frequently each week. Of all the players on the team, I’m looking forward to watching him next year the most. (Well, unless Allen comes back, but I don’t dare even whisper that as happening for fear of extinguishing the smoldering embers.) That boy good.
This is your regular reminder that Texas is flirting with the top 25 in defensive efficiency. Kansas scored 79, which is their second-lowest offensive output in conference play and fifth-lowest overall. Self’s gameplan against a lesser team goes for 90. They’ve actually scored 90+ more times than they’ve been held under 80 this season.
The Mixed Bag
Eric Davis Jr.
If there’s any justice in the world, Davis is going to average 68% from the three-point-line next season. He’s not hitting his outside shots at the rate he should, but he’s at least averaging 25% instead of 15% so....yea, you’re right, that’s not much of a silver lining. Still, 12 points from Davis however he can get them is a bonus for Texas on the offensive end.
James Banks has the hand strength of Tyra Banks. Not since Gary Johnson (and hey, congrats on getting four more years of eligibility!) can I recall a Texas big who more easily gets the ball poked out of his hands. Coach Roose needs to have Banks doing farmer’s carries starting yesterday. Banks is raw as hell, and as enticing as it may be to pass it to him when he’s wide open 15 feet from the basket, consider that there may be a reason why the defense is leaving him open there.
11-17 for 64.7% is not great, guys. Cleare gets a pass because he made over 20 in a row before missing one today, but these are the little areas Texas needs to hit at a reasonable rate if they want to start pulling the upsets.
Alright, so Texas is 7-11 and the chances they hit .500 again this season are.....small. Still, they’re coming home to play another extremely-young-but-improving squad in the 8-10 Oklahoma Sooners in what’s likely the battle for the 9-seed in the Big 12 Tournament. Or, as I like to think of it, The Battle To Not Face Kansas In The Second Round. Oklahoma just lost a double-OT game to Iowa State and will hopefully be a bit tired when they face Texas on Monday. Plus, it’s the Sooners; if you can’t get up to hate them, I don’t know what to tell you. Tip is 8pm CT on ESPN.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Disciples.