Alright, now we can breathe. Well, a little. Texas has walked an in/out March Madness tightrope for what feels like months now, and for the first time since the first Oklahoma win — I like that I have to specify which time Texas beat Oklahoma, it’s one of the few unconditional joys of this season — Texas appears to have a bit of breathing room when it comes to their postseason hopes. There is still work to be done in the Big 12 Tournament next week but barring major calamity in the mid-major tournaments, Texas’ destiny is back in its own hands for now.
This Team Does Not Quit
There have been at least three points in this season where Texas could have thrown in the towel: when Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia, when Eric Davis Jr. was held out for being involved in the FBI probe, and when Mohamed Bamba sat out the Kansas game with a toe injury. You could add in the three-game slide to Kansas State, Baylor, and TCU, if you like. This team is currently operating without two players widely considered to be first-round draft picks coming into the season and one of their better shooters; if this was football it would be similar to the team missing 8-9 of their starting 22 and a handful of second-string subs. They went from going toe to toe with powerful programs in the PK80 to a fairly easy path to the NIT. This season has been downgraded multiple times for things no program can really prepare for (you don’t see a lot of DNP-Leukemia in box scores) and other teams would pack it in. Hell, other Texas teams have packed it in for less. (I’m looking at you, 2014-2015 squad.) This team may not always play pretty basketball, but their effort is rarely lacking. Credit to the players and the coaching staff for staying the course even when a lot of us were ready to bail on the season. Kyle had it right in his Kansas recap, this squad has heart.
I think we’re beginning to see Sims tap into his potential, and it’s a testament to this coaching staff that they took an extremely athletic lump of clay and started to mold a basketball player. Sims now has a couple of moves he can use to drive to the basket that highlight his ridiculous hops. I don’t know that I’ve seen Sagaba Konate get posterized twice this year and Sims did it twice today; that first dunk would have been jaw-dropping on anyone, but doing it against one of the five best shot-blockers in D-I added an element of incredulity to the dunk. Konate is a grown-ass man and Sims took him straight-up. There are other elements to his game that are growing as well, like his ability to use his verticality to put up a solid hook shot over anybody. If Texas manages to reconstruct Sims’ shot to the point he can start hitting threes — to be clear, we’re a long way from that point — he’s a lottery pick. I think it’s also fair to say the defensive drop next year with Bamba gone won’t be as severe as I feared a couple of months ago. Sims is learning to use his body more effectively in defending the post, and he’s got enough lateral speed that he’s not a significant liability in the PnR. Shaka has been trying to tell us all year that Sims has a world of potential, and we’re seeing Sims realize some of that potential.
The 22 points were great, but the manner in which he generated those points were what I liked. Coleman was driving to the rim intelligently and decisively, diving down on the PnR with the speed and urgency I hope he will continue to show as his career progresses. He took a pair of threes but only in good situations. Also, he had two fouls early in the first half and rather than sit him Shaka sent Coleman back out with 8-10 minutes left in the first half. Coleman responded by picking up one foul the rest of the game, and he wasn’t avoiding contact or disengaging from the game. He simply kept playing quality basketball, riding the fine line between smart and aggressive. Coleman missed a couple of late free throws and had a brain fart on a drive in the waning moments of regulation that could have been catastrophic, but he responded by scoring 7 of Texas’ 15 points in the overtime period. Compare that to how he responded to his mistakes in the Texas Tech game and you see another step forward for the freshman.
Kerwin Roach II
I will take any game where Roach goes 8-10 from the line and dishes out 8 assists. He still takes too many contested threes where he hasn’t run the offense first, but that’s a minor point in a game where Roach was making smart decisions against a press that can fluster even the best guards from time to time. Sometimes the value of a good guard is in the times plays aren’t made, like the times he brought the ball up against the press where West Virginia didn’t disrupt anything. That’s important in any game, but doubly so against a team who needs to generate turnovers to win games. Oh, and he had twice as many blocks as Konate. How many games has somebody blocked twice as many shots as Sagaba Konate?
Now you see why they keep telling him to shoot the three. His stat line is kind of crazy, 8 shots with only one of them being inside the three-point line. Osetkowski also tied Sims for the team lead in rebounds with eight, and other than his obligatory once-per-game foul for lowering a shoulder into a defender he played mostly smart defense against some big bodies. Osetkowski sat for exactly one minute of this game, so maybe grab a couple extra ice packs and let him sit out a practice before the Big 12 tournament begins.
“Under control” Jacob Young is a positive for this team, particularly with their depth issues. He’s feeling increasingly comfortable on the court, and the swagger has ratcheted down from a frat bro screaming “YOU WANNA GO” at a Sixth Street dumpster to a quiet confidehahahaha just kidding he’s not quiet at all, but he’s learning he doesn’t have to push everything to 11 all the time. He’s also 6-14 (42.8%) from three in the last three games, which helps a lot.
Jevon Carter Taking Late-Game Inbounds Passes
I was laughing my ass off with how long Carter would let that ball roll before touching it, to the point the refs were getting annoyed. Then there were the times Texas would send a guy at him to make him pick the ball up and all he would do was block the Texas defender while escorting the ball down the court like the curling sweepers. I’m going to miss Carter next year.
Jase Febres’ Defensive Awareness
I noticed on more than one occasion today where Febres was spotting offensive rotations and anticipating West Virginia’s movement. This has not always been the case, particularly early in the year. Febres didn’t have a great overall game, but I can see the game starting to slow down for him some.
The Mixed Bag
Coaching Xs & Os
Without trying to set Texas boards ablaze with the “can Shaka coach” topic, allow me to mention a few coaching decisions today that I really enjoyed.
- The 2-3 zone Texas showed for significant stretches had an interesting wrinkle I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Fortunately, I have ready access to Jeff Haley; due to some questionable loans he’s taken over the years to fund his ill-fated attempts at resurrecting Kazaa, he now has to answer all of my texts and DMs within 30 minutes or his interest rate jumps a quarter-point. He pointed out that the weakside forward would sometimes sag heavily into the high post, eliminating the soft spot at the top of the key and appearing almost like a man defense. It’s a move that leaves the defense vulnerable to a skip pass, but Texas was recovering quickly enough that West Virginia was unable to throw the skip pass to the corner for a wide-open shot regularly.
- On the offensive end, Texas was using a pair of staggered screens for the ballhandler (usually Roach) to gain a bit of separation from his defender. Once he used the screens, one screener (usually Osetkowski) would fill the space Roach just left while the other screener (usually Sims) would dive to the basket. This was basically a pick & pop and a pick & roll at once with the added benefit that Sims diving to the far side of the lane kept Konate from being able to block the ballhandler’s shot. There’s a lot to like about that play design, and they did it repeatedly in the second half.
- Also on the offensive end, I liked the various wrinkles Texas used to keep West Virginia from being able to trap in the backcourt. Sometimes they would bring a big up as an outlet if the inbounds man was having trouble finding an open guard. Sometimes — and this is my favorite — they would inbound the ball to a guard and run all four of the other guys down the court, forcing the WVU interceptors to have to cover way more space if they wanted to come on the trap. Texas decided that their guards were quick enough to beat their man straight up, and they were mostly right.
- The reason this is in the mixed bag is because Texas was burned on BLOB (baseline out of bounds) plays multiple times today. Huggins had some very good play designs and the Mountaineers capitalized on several of them.
The first half was bad with 10 turnovers (five by Roach alone); Texas was getting sped up by the press and even when the press wasn’t working Texas still gave the ball away too much. The second half and overtime was much better, with four turnovers in 25 minutes.
Bamba is Still Out
The coaching staff hopes he will be ready for the Big 12 tournament, but that’s far from assured. As much as this team is fighting and battling without its two best players, it would still be better if one of them returned this week.
Texas’ next game is Wednesday March 7th against, uhh, somebody.
If Baylor, Texas OU, OSU all finish at 8-10, it'd be BU 6, UT 7, OSU 8, OU 9. Bears were 5-1 against the group, Horns 3-3, OU/OSU 2-4. Bedlam was split, so OSU wins 8 by virtue of better results against KU (they'd have a sweep in this hypothetical).— Palpable Buzz Williams (@LonghornRdTrip) March 3, 2018
If Oklahoma State can hold on and beat Kansas (they’re up by 12 with 9 minutes left) then Texas is probably the 7 seed playing Iowa State. It would be nice to avoid the 8 seed, as a second round matchup against Kansas in their other home venue (Jayhawks fans flood the conference tournament) does not inspire a lot of hope. Tip is on Wednesday at either 6 PM or ~8:30 PM on ESPNU.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Submerge.