They ain’t dead yet.
The Whole Damn Team
From the opening tip to the final buzzer, Texas was the more aggressive, energetic, and focused team. Every player played like they knew the path to March Madness ran straight through Norman. Texas never trailed in this game, and the final score doesn’t indicate just how much Texas took the fight to Oklahoma. This was a 20-point win hidden inside an 11-point victory. Mohamed Bamba had a career-high 18 rebounds; Kerwin Roach II hit his only two three-point attempts, dished out three assists, and sublet an apartment inside Trae Young’s jersey; Matt Coleman put up 11 points on 5-5 shooting inside the arc, dropped five dimes, and helped contain Young; Dylan Osetkowski broke out of his slump by scoring 21 points on 9-17 shooting. Jacob Young (?!) was a defensive pest snatching a pair of steals and converting one into a fast-break bucket, and Jase Febres was quietly efficient shooting 2-5 from deep and playing good man defense. Even Wildcard himself, Eric Davis Jr., got in the act by hitting all four free throws and diving for loose balls. Texas grabbed defensive rebounds on 83% of their opportunities, had five players grab at least four rebounds, got double-digit scoring from four players (Davis was nearly the 5th with 9 points), and rolled eight-deep on the rotation. The team held Oklahoma to 0.89 points per possession, the lowest PPP Oklahoma has had all year. Oh, and Texas swept the Sooners this year.
Texas spent the last five days recovering physically from a three games in five days stretch, and it showed in their energy. Legs were fresher, cuts were sharper, passes were crisper. They outworked Oklahoma at every opportunity, creating doubt in the Sooners and capitalizing on The Trae Young Capitulation. (I’m pretty sure Young will be happy to be in the NBA next year where he doesn’t have to see Snoop on the other side of the court, because Roach has a timeshare inside Young’s brain. I don’t think even Jevon Carter has played Young this well to date.) Oklahoma never once led in a game on their own court, and when they did get close Texas always responded. Oklahoma got the score to 45-44 with 13:15 left in the game and Texas followed that with a 12-0 run over the next 4.5 minutes that was pretty much ballgame. From that point on Oklahoma’s defense was incapable of stopping the Texas guards, and Texas responded by driving the lane repeatedly for open layups on a defense that seemed uninterested in helping off their own man. I don’t want to say Oklahoma quit, but they didn’t seem to believe they were ever going to mount a serious comeback. The Sooners were waiting for Superman, but Kerwin Roach II is 180 pounds of kryptonite. (To be fair, both Coleman and Davis played good defense on Young as well. It was a team effort.)
Texas’ NCAA Tournament Chances
Texas' NCAA tournament resume pic.twitter.com/r5mLC3yAK7— (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ 1096 (@Bitterwhiteguy) February 17, 2018
Texas sorely needed to flip a road game to a W for them to have a shot at making March Madness, and they got it today. An 8-10 conference record is back in play; if Texas can flip another road game by beating Kansas State on Wednesday (42% KenPom win probability) or upsetting West Virginia in Austin at the end of the season (49% KenPom win probability) then the Texas team sheet will start to round out for at least making the tourney. None of the remaining games are easy and Texas can not rest on its laurels if they want to go dancing, but today’s win widened the path that had become more like a tightrope than a highway.
Sweep #2 in Conference Play
Texas swept zero Big 12 teams last year; they’ve now swept Iowa State and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the four remaining teams have all beaten Texas so there aren’t any other chances to add to this total. Splitting the Kansas series would be a pretty sweet outcome though, considering it would mean the Longhorns won at the Phog.
The Mixed Bag
The Win Was Against Oklahoma
OK, hear me out. Beating Oklahoma is always good because it’s Oklahoma, but that’s not really what I’m getting at. Oklahoma has been defensively-challenged all season and it’s only gotten worse in conference play. They have a tendency to make everybody look good on offense, so there’s an asterisk to how well Texas played on that end of the court. Kansas State will not let Texas get that many easy looks, neither will West Virginia (or Oklahoma State, or Kansas...probably). It’s unlikely Texas will shoot 64% from inside the arc against any of their four remaining games, which means Texas will have to play this well on defense to secure the 2+ wins they still need. When you ask yourself why Texas can’t play this well every game, part of the answer lies within the opponent.
When I heard Dick Vitale was going to be calling the game, I prepared myself for a Trae Young cock-gobbling the likes of which we haven’t seen since Scipio invited me to peruse his Betamax video collection. That’s probably an unfair comparison; Scipio’s videos were tasteful and artistic while ESPN’s coverage of Trae Young was more like Pornhub’s throat-gagging hashtag. I mean, if they have that hashtag, I wouldn’t know.
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None of this is really fair to Trae Young; he came out firing in November, exceeding most everyone’s expectations, and ESPN decided to dust off the Tim Tebow spotlight and crank it to eleven. What started out as a fun story became ESPN overwhelming us all with Youngisms about what player he’s like, what NBA stars are tweeting about him, whether his hair has evolved beyond this plane of existence. It’s a circus, and it’s not his doing. So congratulations, ESPN, you’ve done the impossible: you’ve made me feel sorry for a Sooner.
It wasn’t just the Trae Young stuff though, ESPN missed the mark in so many ways. They decided to chat up Baker Mayfield for ten minutes, ignoring what was a tight game in favor of asking him what his favorite color is and whether he’d like to play in New York. After the TV timeout, they decided to ignore a one-possession game in favor of chatting up Joe Lunardi for five minutes. The balance of this entire game is unfolding in front of them and Lunardi’s talking about the Sooners’ tournament resume. I don’t blame Lunardi for this, it’s his job to talk about this stuff; this is on ESPN and their unyielding urge to do anything other than focus on what’s in front of their face. It’s a live broadcast, the producers could have flipped that Lunardi interview to the last 1:30 of the game when the outcome was academic and the interview would have made more sense, plus they could have, you know, talked about how this game affected each team. I know any game with Vitale in the booth is going to have the attention span of a toddler after his third chocolate bar, but it would seem like the best bet would be to focus the rest of the broadcast on the thing people actually tuned in for rather than continuing to feed Vitale Ensure bottles spiked with trucker meth. Seriously, read Ryan’s thread:
In honor of @CardChronicle, today I'll live tweet the topics Vitale covers that have nothing to do with the game he's announcing.— Ryan Clark (@LonghornRdTrip) February 17, 2018
I had the game muted for probably 20% of the broadcast, and that estimate might actually be low.
Texas gets three days off before traveling to The Other Manhattan on Wednesday to face Kansas State. If Texas can bring this level of energy to the Wildcats’ home, they might just manage to flip another road game. Tip is at 8 PM CT on ESPNU.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Len Faki.