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Bricking From the Corner: VCU 54, Texas 53

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

You want to know when this game was over? I’ll tell you when it was over.

It’s a rule that whenever one player slaps the floor on defense, the defense must give up a layup. When two players slap the floor, the other team will score five unanswered points. When three players slap the floor - also known as a slapurkey - you’re giving the finger to the basketball gods and will be smote in short order. Little known fact: the 1989 Bay Area earthquake was caused by the starting five of Stanford all slapping the floor at the same time.

The Texas staff remade the offense to be a faster tempo, get in the paint, and make open threes. Thus far in the season they’ve only reliably done one of those things - the tempo is up to D-I average from being measured in geological terms last year - because from the Michigan State game on everyone is doing the same thing: throwing down a hard hedge on the PnR. VCU was the most aggressive with it, effectively treating it as an opportunity to put a soft trap the ball handler. Even if it didn’t create a turnover, the offense was mucked up enough to remove the ability of the guards to get into the paint. Two birds, one stone. For Texas to do anything remotely like they did against North Carolina, they have to figure out an answer to the hard hedge. The downside to putting together an offense based on speed and simple actions is that when an opponent blows a hole in the desired pace, there are limited answers available. If Matt Coleman, Kerwin Roach II, Courtney Ramey, and Elijah Mitrou-Long aren’t getting into the paint, the whole offense suffers. There were some adjustments made as the game went on where Texas tried to use the trap against itself, but it wasn’t enough, especially if guys in the corner can’t hit a reliable three.

The Good

Jericho Sims

It didn’t matter who VCU put on Jericho Sims tonight; Michael Gilmore, Marcus Santos-Silva, etc., they all lost out to Sims when Texas could get Sims the ball. I will take 14 points on 9 shots from Sims every time he offers it. Sims is quietly (because of course he’s being quiet) starting to string together good games. His performance is limited by how well or poorly the guards can get him the ball, but both he and Jaxson Hayes are capable of going up and getting nearly any lob/post entry pass you send their way.

Team Defense

Texas held VCU to 0.83 PPP, they held VCU to 31.2% from inside the arc and 24% from outside the arc. VCU had six assists to 15 turnovers. The defense was good enough to win.

Depth

Texas played nine guys and nobody played more than 32 minutes (Coleman) but everyone played at least 11 minutes (Kamaka Hepa). If this team has any designs on making it to March Madness, fresh legs is an underrated requirement.

This Sequence

I don’t know much about performance art, but I’m pretty sure what we just watched was a commentary on the need for civility in the world or an allegory for climate change or something. If you watch this sequence of events ten times, you’ll pick up something new every single time. I want this played on the Jumbotron of every arena whenever somebody says the college game is better than the NBA. It will stop playing when they admit that they’re wrong.

It’s Complicated

Turnovers

Texas was able to get back to more of what they did early in the season in forcing turnovers, the 15 they forced meant VCU turned the ball over on 23.1% of their possessions. That’s a good number and in line with what Texas has been doing most games. The other side of that coin is that Texas turned the ball over 18 times for 27.7% of their possessions; even if you include tonight Texas is only turning the ball over on 17.1% of their possessions, so tonight was significantly worse than normal. What was frustrating was how unforced a few of them were. The Sims throw to the bench, Jaxson Hayes letting a pass go through the wickets, Dylan Osetkowski getting butterfingers in the lane followed by sliding in the paint because he found the one drop of humidity on the floor, these weren’t because VCU pressed Texas into something uncomfortable. They just coughed it up. Some of it was because of VCU, some of it was on Texas, but it added up to enough that it helped turn a winnable game into one they came up just short.

Dylan Osetkowski

I don’t have the energy for this one right now. Suffice it to say I hope Kamaka Hepa starts to show out soon.

The Bad

Kerwin Roach II

Hoo boy, Snoop is not handling being the focal point of the defense very well. This is the second clunker in a row, and it appears as though Roach isn’t quite sure how to stay effective when the lane is closed off with the ball in his hands. He deserves some credit for not settling for a ton of threes (8 of his 11 shots were inside the arc) but a number of the drives to the lane resulted in lower-quality shots than you would hope for. VCU decided they needed to stop Roach, and stop Roach they did. Texas probably needs to get him involved in more off-ball plays, or at least get him where he’s catching the ball in motion as opposed to initiating the offense.

That Last Fucking Play

When you’re down by one and have a chance to let a 28% three-point shooter take the shot, you’ve got to do it. That’s science. I went back and watched it a handful of times and it seems pretty clear they were designing a play for Roach to get to the rim and either take a close shot or get fouled, but he froze in the lane and Coleman was the only guy in a position to bail him out. I’m putting that on Roach for bailing on the play, especially when the two guys in the lane weren’t really in a spot to draw a charge if he was smart with his body control. You want to be the focal point, you need to take the big shot. He didn’t.

Everybody’s 2nd Half Threes

The two teams combined to go 1-18 from deep in the second half. VCU was 1-11, Texas was 0-7. Wheeeeee.

I imagine there will be a number of comments tonight talking about Shaka needing to go, and I understand where you’re coming from. I’m not really up for talking about the future of the coaching staff at this point - partly because it’s complicated, partly because there will be plenty of time to talk about that in March/April, and partly because I need to wrap this thing up - but I imagine many of us are in agreement that the Purdue Boilermakers game will be the biggest game to date in Shaka Smart’s tenure at Texas. Win that game and things can turn around, lose it and Texas becomes almost wholly reliant upon conference play to make their case for March Madness. The game is in Austin on Sunday as part of a men’s/women’s double-header, tip time is 5 PM CT on ESPN2.

Speaking of the women, they’re currently ranked #12. They got popped by #6 Mississippi State this weekend 67-49 for their first loss of the season (they’re 7-1) and they’re adjusting to losing leading scorer Lashan Higgs for the season to an ACL injury. They’ll play Tennessee at noon on ESPN2 as well.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by Gai Barone.