It is fair to say that today’s contest against the Purdue Boilermakers was not just the most important for the Texas Longhorns, but also for Shaka Smart. A three-game slide had robbed Texas of all the forward momentum and good vibrations of an early season five-game winning streak, put a damper on an already questionable level of fan support, and started the Twitterverse grumbling about Shaka’s overall tenure. By beating a ranked team for the second time this season (Purdue is #24 in the coaches poll) and with an eye on VCU taking Virginia to the wire today, Texas put the grumbling on ice for a bit. Texas now has two quality non-conference wins to counteract their three losses in the eyes of the selection committee - though it’s worth noting the three losses could end up being to three conference champions, so it might not be as detrimental as it currently seems - and has an easier path to staying out of bubble talk than it otherwise did. Let us leave the tourney talk for another day though, and take a moment to enjoy Texas beating a team that is roughly its equal.
I know this is supposed to be a Texas-centric recap, but you have to hand it to Edwards. I knew he was good, but he really is something else to watch. At least 1⁄3 of his shots were what I would classify as high-difficulty and/or highly-contested and he drained damn near all of them. The guy has gone from lightly-recruited - the offers he got from places like Texas Tech and Kansas State were more backup options than intense recruitments - to NBA draft pick through a lot of hard work and he’s really showing out. Hand in his face? Didn’t matter. Bigs rolling to the rim with him? Didn’t matter. Outside of a handful of layups in the first half that were given up by bigs overcommitting, he made tough shot after tough shot. Tip your hat to the guy, he’s the only reason this game was close.
This was easily Coleman’s best game of the year; I don’t know if he was playing up to the level of competition against Edwards or he just got his head right, but that was the sort of controlled aggression and lane penetration I’ve been wanting to see from him. He spent more time weaving through the paint than the last 3-4 games combined and it paid dividends in all sorts of ways. 22 points including 3-5 from three, three rebounds, and he even managed a pair of blocks. If Coleman can get back to this level for conference play, it makes everything easier for the rest of the team.
Also, it was fun to watch him celebrate this Hayes dunk:
Free Throw Shooting
15-16 from the line, just like we all expected. There are two guys who are shooting 70%+ from the line (three if you include Kamaka Hepa going 2-2 on the season) but even more importantly there’s nobody who is a clear negative at the line. There is only one guy shooting below 60%, and that’s the team’s best three-point shooter Jase Febres as he’s 2-4 from the line on the season. Right now Texas doesn’t have a Udoka Azubuike issue in late-game situations.
Basically, The Whole Offense
Purdue didn’t try the hard hedge against Texas, so I still want to see Texas defeat that tactic before making any sweeping characterizations about the improvement of the offense, but today was a good sign in the right direction. They attacked the paint repeatedly, and it collapsed the defense well enough to provide for a host of open looks from all over the court. If you were listening to Fran Fraschilla on the TV broadcast he made a point I have a handful of times: the offense creates open looks, the team just has to hit them. Today they did; nobody is going to confuse this team with last year’s Villanova squad, but they have the capacity to run a coherent offense when the shots are falling. Today they fell, we will have to see if they will fall as often in other games this year.
I think it’s fair to say the coaching staff feels like it’s time for them to roll with Hepa, increasing his minutes and decreasing the minutes of Dylan Osetkowski. Hepa is the higher-upside player of the two, and Osetkowski’s had enough struggles with turnovers this year that it makes sense to see how much they can stretch out Hepa. He had 23 minutes to DO’s 17 and that could be the norm going forward. Osetkowski is the most consistent rebounder on the team and has value in certain situations, but Hepa is the one of the two who most resembles a stretch four when he’s on his game. This could be the start of the Hepa Era in Austin.
The down side of penetrating the lane is if you’re not totally sure what to do when you get to the rim things can go very badly. Elijah Mitrou-Long found this out a couple of times as his high-wire act went flying into the safety net, and a team with more active defenders will pick off more of those wraparound passes. Texas had 15 turnovers (23% of possessions) while only forcing six (9%), which is clearly not ideal. Texas needs to be at least close to even with its opponents on a percentage basis if they want to get out and run.
Texas has a bit of a break as their next game isn’t until Saturday December 15th against Grand Canyon. If you were starting to feel even slightly comfortable about a mid-major coming to town, the Antelopes gave #6 Nevada a scare today. Yayyyyy. Tip time is 5 PM CT on LHN.
Also, Andrew Jones will be out until January going through another round of treatment. This was planned, but still sidelines the guy for awhile. Keep him in your thoughts.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Loxy.