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Clanking From the Corner: Texas 66, Alabama 50

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NCAA Basketball: Texas at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Texas has now won two road games against top-100 competition, the VCU Rams and the Alabama Crimson Tide. If your barometer for a successful season is a March Madness seed line — and before we get things twisted, that’s a reasonable request — then Texas has built a reasonable non-conference resume with the Mississippi State game still to be played in late January. What a team that may spend some time on the bubble (deserved or otherwise) is looking for from their non-conference slate is a couple of quality wins (check!) and a lack of bad losses (check!) (barely!). One of the few positives of playing in a conference devoid of bad teams is it means Texas has zero opportunities left for a bad loss in the eyes of the selection committee. Eight of the ten Big 12 teams are in the top-100 of the RPI as I type this recap, and the other two will enter the top 100 as conference play starts. Nine of the Big 12 teams are in the top 50 in Pomeroy’s ratings, with Iowa State 74th right now. Texas can only build a March resume from here.

Y’all still want to freak out about Tennessee State or nah?

The Good

Team Defense

Texas is ridiculous defensively. They are now SECOND in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, holding Alabama to 0.76 points per possession. Collin Sexton was held in check. John Petty was held in check. Texas is now 9th in the country at defending the three-point line, 21st in defending the two-point area, and 10th in blocking opponent shots. They are the Virginia of the Big 12; which, I admit, isn’t sexy. Still, there are a lot worse places to be as a team. As the clip above shows, it’s not just Mohamed Bamba (although a lot of it is, let’s be honest). This is the best defensive team I’ve seen at Texas in a long, long time. I know the threes and dunks are sexy, but Texas is putting together some defensive numbers not seen in Austin in quite awhile and that’s without having to press a ton. Shaka Smart and his staff is not just a gimmick press, they can lock teams down.

Kerwin Roach II

I’m not sure Synergy has a stat for defensive swagger, but I think this should suffice in absence of analytics.

Snoop is ready to lock down every guard in the Big 12. He might be one of five guys in D-I that can limit Trae Young at this point, which is a statement I don’t say lightly. Roach is phenomenal on defense; at this point he’s better than Dogus Balbay and Avery Bradley in my view. I’m running out of adjectives to describe what he’s doing to opponents, he’s just ruining guys. If that’s not enough (and to be honest, it would be) consider that Roach is finishing at the rim better than 90% of D-I and is hitting 33% from three his last six games. That’s not a great mark, but it’s enough that defenses can no longer sag off him. For a guy that thrives on slashing to the bucket, simply hitting enough threes to keep a defense honest is enough to open up the paint. Jeff Haley and I are having a discussion over whether Roach is the best player on Texas right now; regardless of how that discussion ends, the fact that we’re even having this discussion speaks volumes to what Snoop is doing on the court. Oh, and, uhh, he had five assists against one turnover. Did I not mention that part? Seems relevant. You know, if you’re into stats, and math, and basketball.

Eric Davis Jr.

Maybe having Tevin Mack on the Alabama bench was what Davis needed, because he showed flashes of his freshman form tonight.

Y’all want to guess who Davis was chirping at after this three? Maybe a Texas booster can work out a deal with Mack’s parents to have him transfer around the Big 12, enabling Davis to hit shots all over errrrbody. We (OK, I) have been rough on Davis this season, so it’s worth giving him props when he showed something. There was a point late in the second half where Alabama was keeping things on a knife’s edge; Texas was up, but the lead would vacillate between 6-12 and the Crimson Tide were making a push to try to retake the lead. Eric Davis made two enormous threes in a row, followed by an equally major rebound on the other end which killed the last realistic attempt at a Crimson Tide comeback. For all of his issues the last two seasons, Davis was 3-5 from deep and provided the offensive spark Texas has needed so often this season.

Matt Coleman

There are some out there who called this the best game of Matt Coleman’s Texas career. I’m not sure I’m quite there, but I was very pleased with Coleman tonight. Four assists against two turnovers is solid, and 1-3 from deep is also solid. What was good to see was Coleman’s ability to balance getting the rest of the team involved with looking for his own shot and feasting from the free throw line. Coleman scored 13, played solid defense against the secondary guards (and Sexton in relief of Roach), and flashed the ability to hit his own shots in the paint when the team needed a late-clock score. These are the little things that take a guy like Coleman from facilitator to floor general, from pass-first point guard to all-around point guard.

Mohamed Bamba

Bamba is a sight to behold when he hits on all cylinders.

Any time Bamba hits 7-8 from two, hits all three free throws, snags 11 rebounds, and blocks five shots, you just have to sit back and enjoy it. Maybe it was the 37 NBA scouts in attendance, maybe it was Sexton trying to run up on him a few times (only one of which ended well for Sexton), maybe it was the coaching staff getting him ready to play; whatever it was, Bamba was the Gargantua supernova in the middle of this elite defense. Bamba got a bit of an assist from Avery Johnson refusing to play a 2-3 zone (thanks, Lil’ General!) as he feasted upon some transition opportunities and a defense not interested in swarming him for some reason (thanks again, Lil’ General!). If a team is going to play Texas straight-up, they’re doing the Longhorns a favor. I hope somebody in the handshake line took a moment to thank Avery for that.....questionable decision.

Free Throw Shooting

11-14, a touch shy of 79% from the line. Coleman & Bamba were both perfect from the line, Roach was two of three from the line, and Osetkowski & Sims were both one of two from the line. Take this and ruuuuuuuun to the bank.

The Mixed Bag

Dylan Osetkowski

His 11 rebounds were great. His 1-6 from three, not so much. His five turnovers, even less so. Still, he does a lot of smaller things for the team; he sealed a couple of lanes for the guards to slash to the rim, and the aforementioned rebounding helped keep a number of possessions alive. Effort is never in question with Osetkowski; neither is my ability to spell Osetkowski from memory at this point in the season.

OSETKOWSKI

O-SET-KOW-SKI

OOOOOO-SETTTTTTT-KOWWWWWW-SKKKKKIIIIIIII

I GOT THIS

Team ATO

10 assists to 9 turnovers is not ideal, especially for a team who is trying to increase offensive efficiency. They’re better than they were last year, but that’s not exactly a bar worthy of a Fosbury flop.

The Bad

Three-Point Shooting

7-26 actually dropped their average for the season, which is kinda remarkable in its way. It’s sort of like throwing vodka bottles in front of Ben Sanderson and waiting to see if he can take them all out.

Spoiler Alert: he did.

Maybe this is a mixed bag in that it shows how Texas can win despite being without good perimeter shooting from the team as a whole, but that’s a hill I don’t care to die on tonight. There will be plenty of chances to engage in the trench warfare of whether perimeter shooting matters (it does) in every game (it doesn’t).

Non-conference play is over, aside from the Big 12/SEC challenge in a month. Texas starts conference play with a gimme, 13-time reigning champ Kansas in Austin, Friday December 29th. The game tips at 8 PM CT on ESPN2, and will be commentated upon by people who reference the streak but not the fact that Kansas shared the title with Texas twice during that streak. NOT THAT I’M BITTER.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by Hospital Records.