There’s an expression in the triathlete world: “You can’t win the race in the swim, but you sure can lose it”. The basic idea is that in the Ironman distance you can’t gain much time over your competitors in the water, but if you push too hard you’ll probably lose more time in the bike and the run than you gained in the swim. It’s effectively saying that there’s limited upside to be gained from one of the three disciplines. Such was this game for the Texas Longhorns and their NCAA Tournament chances; Texas couldn’t lock up a spot in the tournament with a win (despite Lance Blanks’ claims to the contrary) but they sure could kill their chances with a loss. Oklahoma State is in a similar bind, in fact the overall theme of this game was two bubble teams battling to a near-draw with their March Madness hopes in the balance. It was fitting that the game was decided in the waning seconds because they both knew a loss today likely sent them to the NIT. These two teams have played to a draw this season, each team has won once by a score of 65-64. You don’t get much more even than that.
I know, right? With the loss of Eric Davis, Jr. to the vagaries of NCAA amateurism rules (we can save that conversation for another day) there was a need for somebody to step up and hit some shots. Enter the resident hyper puppy, Jacob Young. Young has zero fear, zero conscience, and the way he plays is like watching Stevie Wonder stand in a public street and throw knives at targets he only knows about through detailed descriptions from his handlers. Alright, maybe that’s not fair; Young has the ability to shoot the ball when he gets set and he has the aggressive mindset some members of this team lack from time to time. Properly channeling that aggression has always been the challenge for Young, and today he showed what he can do when he’s on point. Young was 2-4 from inside the arc, 2-4 from outside the arc, and 4-4 from the line. That’s pretty much peak efficiency from a bench player and exactly the sort of game Texas needed from a depleted roster to pull out the win. Hats off to Young; we beat him up regularly on here and he deserves some love for being great today.
Sims had a very good first half, scoring 7 points on 3-4 shooting from the floor. He had to play a lot of minutes in the second half with Bamba shut down by the coaching staff and his efficiency dropped, but he still contributed in a number of other ways. He had big defensive rebounds, he set screens for the guards, and played with a lot of energy. His free throws were a problem — as they have been all season and will be for the rest of the season, the staff is rebuilding his shot from scratch — and this is going to be a source of frustration for viewers if Bamba has to keep sitting out. Still, we started seeing Sims showcase a couple of go-to moves on offense; you can see his progression on his game inside of 10 feet from the basket. If he can continue to develop, the drop-off next year when Bamba is gone won’t be as dramatic as we might have feared a couple of months ago.
Texas pulled down 34% of their possible offensive rebounds, which is above their average and even more impressive when you consider Mohamed Bamba was out for the entire second half. Dylan Osetkowski really battled inside today against guys who were either bigger or more athletic than him, and it was one of the reasons Texas was able to generate offense even when the shots weren’t falling.
Non-Roach Three-Point Shooting
The rest of the team was 6-14 from deep, and most of those shots were good decisions whether they went in or not. If Roach showed better decision-making from three (mentioned below) this team probably ends the game shooting 40% from behind the arc.
Non-Sims Free-Throw Shooting
Dylan Osetkowski, Roach, and Young took 10 of Texas’ 20 free throws (Sims made 3 of 9, James Banks missed his one attempt), the three of them were 10-10.
They Used the Horns Play
Our venerable commenter ‘In SEC Country’ is probably pretty happy.
The Mixed Bag
Kerwin Roach II
As much as that last possession nearly killed me, rewatching it after the game was over led me to appreciate a bit more what Roach accomplished. He was able to fend off a trap long enough that Solomon ran back to his man, then crossed over one of Oklahoma State’s best defender before driving with his left hand, beating Solomon to the rim and laying in a hell of a layup off the glass. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Shaka didn’t draw up a one-man weave drill thirty feet from the basket in that timeout, but Roach created a shot when it counted. Further, even though Sims was open due to Solomon helping off him, Roach didn’t make the mistake Coleman made a few games ago and try to lob it to him. He made the simple play, and sometimes that’s all you need. Roach led the team in assists (5), pulled down four rebounds, and was active defensively. He’s in the mixed bag category because he was 0-6 from three and most of those were poor decisions. It’s one thing if Roach was wide open and missed, but not many of them fell into that category. He needs to be more selective about when he pulls up from deep.
Bamba’s Toe is Going to be a Thing
The toe injury Bamba is dealing with was described in the broadcast as similar to turf toe, for which the only real treatment is rest. Yea, uhh, there’s not a lot of time for rest before heading to play the Kansas Jayhawks on Monday. This — along with Davis and Andrew Jones being out for the foreseeable future — means Texas is now down at least one NBA draft pick and possibly a second lottery pick alongside one of their veteran outside threats. It’s frankly impressive Texas pulled out a win today with the amount of talent they were missing, and unless Bamba can heal up before the West Virginia game or before the Big 12 tournament, this is going to be an ongoing problem. The ceiling for the season keeps getting lowered and the reasons for it are myriad. If I told you before the season Texas would lose Jones for 2⁄3 of the year, Davis would be out in the stretch run, and Bamba would be a question mark for the last 5-7 games, would you pick them to make the tournament? Probably not. Maybe Bamba heals up faster than I expect and this becomes less of a MASH unit, but it doesn’t seem wise to hope for that until we hear otherwise.
Texas heads to the Phog for their next game on Monday, as Kansas looks to take at least a share of their 14th-straight Big 12 title. The tip is at 8 PM CT on ESPN.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Rebekah.
UPDATE: Shaka Smart just said Eric Davis, Jr. has been advised to seek legal counsel. It seems hard to imagine we’ll see him in a Texas uniform again.