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Shooting From the Corner: Texas 75, Louisiana Tech 60

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NCAA Basketball: Louisiana Tech at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

This recap got started late, as I was far too enamored of watching Gregg Marshall scream at his freshman Asbjorn Midtgaard for accidentally bumping into his coach during a celebration to start writing.

When you get a chance to make a Skyrim joke while taking shots at Gregg Marshall’s famously prickly demeanor, you take it and don’t look back.

The Texas Longhorns never trailed the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, winning 75-60 in a game that had moments of self-inflicted stress upon both the team and your dear writer. In the Michigan recap I mentioned Texas shouldn’t sleep on Louisiana Tech today, as they’re a talented mid-major — currently ranked a few spots behind Georgetown in Pomeroy, for reference — with a legitimate NBA prospect in Jacobi Boykins. Shaka Smart’s staff must have sent the same message to the team, because Texas did not sleepwalk at any point in this contest. They made mistakes, took a few ill-advised shots, but were not lacking energy on either end of the court. This game could have gotten away from Texas at a couple points in the second half, but the Longhorns did enough to salt away a W instead of the alternative. Mark the win and move on.

(Random note: Texas won their 8th game last year on January 4th against Oklahoma State, which was the last time they were .500 or better the entire year.)

The Good

The Young’ins are Starting to Get It

Andrew Jones’ absence — which I will only reference fourteen more times in this recap — is forcing Shaka Smart and crew to make some significant adjustments in playing time. Against Michigan, they started Eric Davis, Jr., which went....poorly. Today, it was Jacob Young starting, and Young responded with 27 minutes of solid defense and mostly-good decisions on the offensive end. He had a couple of drives that almost ended in scores, and even better he’s continuing to show improved shot selection. The game has slowed down a bit for him this year, and while Young still has room to improve he’s no longer a clear detriment on either end of the court. He’s not the only player to make a noticeable improvement; Jase Febres was much more effective than his two minutes against Michigan where he was overwhelmed. Febres put in 24 minutes of solid effort, dished out three assists, and made one of two from deep. He played largely within himself, and it showed with an Ortg of 127. Finally, it’s probably pretty obvious I’m not as enamored of Jericho Sims in the short-term as most of Longhorns nation. I see him as incredibly talented and incredibly raw, and I’ve been on him for not making much progress (offensively at least, his defense has been better than his offense to date) thus far in the season. Well, today I saw some glimmers; there were a couple of possessions where he made himself available for the post entry pass, received it, and made one move to the basket. The moves didn’t always pan out, but they were decisive and more compact than earlier in the year. If Sims can continue to build upon these little moments, I will stop mentioning that three he took or his attempt to break down a defender off the dribble today (spoiler alert: it didn’t work). Sims has incredible potential, and today he took a step towards realizing it.

These three players will have a significant impact upon the trajectory of the season, and seeing all three put forth a good effort is a small sign this team still has potential to do something more than it has thus far. They’re going to need to continue to expand their effectiveness because conference play is around the corner, and the Big 12 has no bad teams this year. Seriously, Oklahoma State might be one of the worst and they just beat #17 Florida State on the road. The Big 12 is going to be brutal.

Team Defense

Louisiana Tech shot 24% from deep, including 2-11 from their NBA prospect Jacobi Jenkins. Texas is now holding opponents to 28.1% from three on the season, which is 11th in the nation. I try not to ascribe much to three-point defense as historically it is as much random chance as good defense, but we’re 13 of the way through the season and Texas is showcasing an ability to man up on the perimeter that is beyond what I’d consider just a string of lucky bounces. At the D-I level, simply guarding guys on the perimeter is enough to lower their make percentage (though there are exceptions, like Buddy Hield and Trae Young). Texas is doing something beyond simply guarding on the perimeter, and I need to watch more closely to figure out if there’s anything specific they’re doing to make life so difficult on the perimeter. I’ve been banging this drum for 1.33 seasons, but Texas is once again an excellent defensive team. For people who are concerned about whether Shaka Smart & his staff know Xs & Os, let’s list a few statistics.

5th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency

11th nationally in effective field goal percentage

11th nationally in opponent three-point make percentage

35th nationally in opponent two-point make percentage

15th nationally in block rate

95th percentile in team defense on Synergy

95th percentile in half-court team defense on Synergy

93rd percentile in out-of-bounds defense on the end court in Synergy

93rd percentile in defense out of timeouts in Synergy

93rd percentile in man defense

95th percentile in zone defense

1st nationally in press defense in Synergy

You can quibble on some of those stats by referencing small sample sizes, but that’s a lot of categories where Texas is elite defensively. This doesn’t happen under a coach who rolls the ball onto the court and tells his guys to go play.

The Mixed Bag

Mohamed Bamba’s fouls

Foul trouble happens to a lot of bigs, and Bamba is no exception. However, Bamba is drawing fouls at a rate (4.3 per 40) significantly higher than Osetkowski (2.7) and that’s a problem for the whole team because when Bamba goes to the bench he gets replaced with guys who draw fouls at an even higher rate (Sims 6.0, Banks 8.8). Bamba is generally on the right side of the ‘goes for blocks’ vs ‘draws fouls’ line, but when he’s on the wrong side of that line it shows a weakness in the depth of the team. It’s not really his problem, exactly; it’s more a situation that Texas has to deal with because while they’re deep with bigs, there’s enough of a drop-off in quality with the rest of the bigs that teams who can get Bamba in foul trouble will benefit. Such is the life of a team that isn’t quite as deep as the North Carolinas and Dukes of the world.

Dylan Osetkowski

Dylan’s last three games he has gone a combined 8-15 from three, raising his percentage from behind the arc almost 20 points in that span. He has become for the moment Texas’ most reliable perimeter threat in Andrew Jones’ absence, which is sort of a backhanded compliment when you think about it. If he can spend the rest of the season hitting north of 30% from three — which seems significantly more plausible than it did a couple of weeks ago — then he can open up a lot of options for his teammates with shot fakes and pick & pop plays. He also went 5-6 from the charity stripe, which is greatly appreciated on a team that (to put it mildly) struggles from the line. How could I put Osetkowski in the mixed bag, you’re probably screaming at your monitor, phone, or in srr50’s case, at the grandson who is reading the internet to him because he’s tired of printing out webpages for PaPa. It’s a fair question, and the answer is seven turnovers. Osetkowski was responsible for nearly half of the team’s turnovers today, and at least a couple of them were very much unforced errors. This was a glaring error in what was otherwise a great day for him; watching him pass the ball to a ref when there wasn’t a teammate within 8 feet of the ball’s destination was rough. He didn’t mis-read Jacob Young’s cut, he flat threw it at the ref as if he was on Texas’ side, though given the generous goaltending non-call on James Banks it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Free Throws

You’re probably expecting this to be in the bad category; so was I. However, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s possibly not quite the weakness we think. Yes, some players (Sims, Roach, me if I was somehow able to sneak onto the court) are pretty clear negatives at the line. However, I think there’s a path forward that allows Texas to be okay from the line. Humor me.

I’m going to break down the free throw shooters into four categories; good (OK, these are relative terms), decent with upside, bad, and sweet jebus no.

Good: Jones, Osetkowski, Young

Decent with upside: Coleman, Davis, Bamba, Febres (he could be good, it’s just a small sample size)

Bad: Roach, Banks

Sweet Jebus No: Sims

Free throws matter all game, and the ability to choose who shoots free throws is at best limited. Having said that, there are certain high-leverage situations where the team can nudge the percentages slightly in their favor. In the last 3-4 minutes of the game with a lead is an example of a situation where Texas can attempt to keep the ball in the hands of its best free throw shooters, or late in the game when they need to make up points is another. If Texas makes a priority of running offense through their better free throw shooters, they could potentially bump their percentage a few points over the season. It’s easier said than done, though if Coleman can start to knock down 70%+ from the line this proposition gets more viable. It might be a fool’s errand thinking this way, for all I know. Given how small the margin of error will be in conference play, a couple of free throw attempts per game could decide if Texas is 7-11 or 11-7 in the Big 12.

The Bad

Matt Coleman

It hurts me to put Coleman here as I’m rapidly turning into a Coleman homer, but he fell back to Earth today. 4 assists against 4 turnovers is fairly representative of how Coleman played; he was harassed repeatedly by the Bulldogs guards and never quite got going. He also continued to pass up high-percentage shots:

Texas needs Coleman to start looking for his shots if they’re going to reach their apex on the season, especially in the 6-8 games Jones has probably yet to miss. Teams are likely going to increasingly sag off him if he refuses to shoot, I only hope Matt starts shooting (and making) enough to keep teams honest.

Breaking the Press

Here’s a fairly simple rule for teams trying to beat a press: every second you stand still is a second you lose options. If I can jog your memory back to the West Virginia game where Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix wrecked West Virginia’s press defense (blocked if you’re not a Pomeroy subscriber, which, if you’re not, you should be), one of the main reasons Texas repeatedly broke Huggy Bear’s favorite defense is that they took the ball and hauled ass down the court. A fast guard blowing past a press before it can react is still one of the best ways to break it, and the Texas guards could stand to watch a bit of film there. Coleman especially spent too much time holding the ball in the back court prior to dribbling today, and this coaching staff is likely to hammer into him the need to get the lead out. It was surprising to see Texas this flummoxed by the press; under Shaka they’ve usually been really good at defeating it. Hopefully this was a one-game hiccup.

This is probably by far my longest recap of the season; they need to go back to playing games at 8 PM so I get to the point quicker, I’ve got too much damn time to noodle on a game that ultimately doesn’t matter this much. Also, Fury Road is on TV, so I probably subconsciously started spitting gas into the engine intake of my brain a couple hours ago. NEXT UP: 4500 WORDS ON WHY GEORGE MILLER IS AN AVATAR FOR NET NEUTRALITY

Texas has a quick turnaround, their next game is on Monday against Tennessee State. This is pretty easily the last easy game on the schedule, and Texas better whip some Tiger ass. Tip time is 8 PM CT on ESPN2.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by Andromedha.

(Random note: I was actually at this set outside of Amsterdam this summer. Patryk is good people and worth a follow if you’re into what you hear.)