Without their best perimeter threat & best free throw shooter* in Andrew Jones, Texas shot 40% from three, 71.4% from the line, outrebounded their opponent, and scored 1.05 points per possession against what was at the time the 2nd-most efficient defense in the country.
*title may be unexpectedly up for grabs
Fans who have been lamenting this particular Texas team’s inability to close out games probably took some heart in the Longhorns answering every Texas Tech run when it mattered; Texas started the second half up by five and eventually pushed the lead up to 13, but Texas Tech kept fighting and clawing their way back into the game. The Texas lead never got below four points, and at 49-45 Texas went on a 17-8 run that left the Red Raiders down 66-53 with 1:04 to play. Texas not only withstood the surge, they countered with their own. This is the type of win the team, the coaching staff, and many fans needed to see to feel like a NCAA tournament bid was still on the horizon.
Kerwin Roach II
In the surprise of the night, word leaked out 30 minutes before the game that Roach might be available to play. He was cleared to play just before tip; I quietly wondered if this was a panic move by the coaching staff who were desperate to shore up their rotation, and they might be playing a guy who would be tentative and subconsciously shielding a not-fully-healed hand.
I have no further questions about Snoop’s hands.
Speaking of his hands, Snoop was 8-9 from the free throw line tonight. In the eight games since he shot 1-4 from the free throw line against VCU, Roach is now 21-26 from the line. That’s 80.7%, which is better than any player on Texas who has shot at least 10 free throws this season. Roach is the 12th-best free throw shooter by percentage in the Big 12 through the first 1⁄3 of conference play. I know. Roach is already finishing at the rim at a tremendous rate, but if he’s now hitting free throws at an 80% clip he’s basically junior year Isaiah Taylor without having to worry about running the offense. That’s a remarkable improvement over last year.
We’ll get to the dunk, but I want to talk about defense and his impact on the opponent OK fine we’ll start with the dunk.
With respect to Jarrett Allen, Myles Turner, and J’Covan Brown, Bamba is responsible for more jaw-dropping moments where I yell out OH SHIT to nobody in particular than any guy in a Texas basketball uniform since Kevin Durant. That dunk is so obscene it should only be shown during FCC Safe Harbor hours. We need a BBC Planet Earth hour that’s just slow-motion 1000 frames/second clips of Bamba snatching the life out of opposing players. It would look something like this:
Texas held a very efficient Texas Tech offense to 0.91 points per possession in no small part because guards would get inside the three-point line, see Bamba in the same area code, and literally turn around to look for someone, anyone else to take the ball. There are few times in my life I can recall watching a single player single-handedly seal off the rim from a team. Anthony Davis at Kentucky is the closest defensive comparison I can make, and even he wasn’t blocking shots at the rate Bamba is. Their offensive and defensive rebounding rates are similar, but Davis was better at stealing the ball and shooting free throws. Davis wasn’t hitting threes at the rate of Bamba...whichever way you go on this comparison (and I’d still give the nod to The Brow) it says a lot that it’s even worth discussing. Bamba is making an above-average defense into an elite defense, and we’re only halfway through the year. He’s worth the price of admission; Texas fans should enjoy watching Bamba as much as Coleman enjoys playing with him.
Defending Home Court
Texas has won two home games in a row against ranked opponents; we all said from the start of the year that was likely, what with us all being well aware that Club Erwin is a tinderbox trapped in a hornet’s nest that’s inside the seventh circle of Hell. Fun fact: the Under Armour ‘Protect This House’ ads were inspired by ad execs watching a 2008 Texas home game against Arkansas Monticello.
Texas has played four teams in Austin who are currently ranked and are 2-2 in those four games. Texas is favored in all its remaining home games, though two of them (WVU at 51% & OU at 56% win probabilities) are basically toss-ups. If Texas can win out at home, that guarantees Texas at least a .500 record in conference play and very likely a ticket to March Madness. Texas is a long way from 8 home wins in Big 12 play, but the number just got a bit more attainable tonight.
Getting Roach back was big, but even bigger were guys like Jase Febres, Jacob Young, and Royce Hamm giving enough minutes that Matt Coleman & Dylan Osetkowski could get a little breather here and there. This team looks a lot fresher down the stretch when 9 guys can carry the minutes 7 guys had to the last couple of games. Hopefully the bench can continue to contribute, because wearing down against Press Virginia is a death sentence.
Eric Davis Jr
29 minutes, 9 points on 5 shots — including 2-2 from three — and a couple rebounds; that’s pretty much exactly the kind of night I want from Davis. He got burned defensively here and there, but he’s playing well enough that it seems safe to say the light has gone on for him. He’s just shy of 38% from three on the year now, and he’s hitting 44% from deep in conference play. This is what you want from a sixth man, hopefully this kind of performance is here to stay.
The Mixed Bag
I think Coleman might have taken the challenge of battling Keenan Evans a bit too personally, because early in the game it seemed like Coleman wanted to take Evans to the hole regardless of what else was going on. I want to see Coleman amped to take over a game, but tonight felt like a game where the freshman was trying a bit too hard. As the game progressed Coleman started to find that balance of distributing and driving a bit better, but some of his turnovers are attributable to him pushing in the wrong moments here and there.
Handling the Press
Texas Tech was able to stay in the game in the second half because of a full-court press that yielded a handful of turnovers; this is not what I want to see a few days before Texas travels to Morgantown. I imagine Shaka Smart and his staff will be hammering the guards about how to attack the traps and hammering the bigs on how to provide outlet passes for guards who will inevitably get into trouble against Press Virginia. We will see if it works soon enough. I am ambivalent on whether that will end well for the team in burnt orange.
The Limits of the Offensive Rating Formula
Jase Febres clocked an O-rating of 300, which I’ve never seen before. He played 13 minutes, shot one three (which he made), and the O-rating stat was not ready for him. Jericho Sims had an O-rating of 226 despite not scoring a single point in 14 minutes. Small sample sizes are hell.
On Pretend We’re Football this week (it will come out eventually, I swear) (probably) (I think) Tim Preston and I said that 1-2 out of the next three games (v Tech, @ WVU, v Iowa State) was the most likely outcome and 2-1 would be a pleasant surprise. We also agreed that 0-3 was more likely than 3-0. Well, 0-3 is off the table, and 2-1 is significantly more in play than it was 24 hours ago. If Texas can manage to beat West Virginia on the road, this week will vault Texas from ‘on the bubble’ to battling for higher seed lines. That is a big ‘if’, though. The game is on Saturday at 1 PM CT on CBS. Maybe we’ll get lucky with some sweet Bill Raftery commentary.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Dax J.