Earlier this week I went through Texas’ record against Big 12 opponents since Shaka Smart arrived on campus. Some of the records are about what you’d expect for a program that hasn’t breached the top 2-3 spots; 0-7 vs Kansas, 4-4 vs West Virginia, to name a couple. One that stood out to me: 4-2 vs. Oklahoma; well, make that 5-2. Smart has largely had Lon Kruger’s number since arriving on the 40 Acres and tonight is another notch in the belt for Texas as the Longhorns win 75-72 in Austin. Texas snaps a three-game skid and returns to .500 in conference play at 3-3, right in the thick of things 1⁄3 of the way through the conference schedule.
Through 6 conference games, Texas is shooting 75.9% from the line which is second-best in the Big 12 (Baylor 76.3%). Tonight Texas won the game at the line, shooting 20-25 (80%) and hitting enough late-game free throws to keep Oklahoma from retaking the lead. There’s only one player hitting less than 60% from the line on the season and it’s...a guard? Elijah Mitrou-Long is a rounding error away from 60%, Dylan Osetkowski is 69%, Jaxson Hayes is 70%, Kerwin Roach II is 71%, Matt Coleman is nearly 76%, basically there’s nobody on the team that is in danger of being a target of a ‘Hack-A’ strategy. Texas is 100 spots higher in D-I free throw shooting year-over-year, and with as small as the margins are in the super-drunk Big 12, this is an important stat to maintain. None of it looks fluky to my eye, either; Hayes lets his elbow flare out a bit more than I’d prefer, but he’s hitting enough shots that I wouldn’t change anything if I was one of the coaches.
I have bagged on DO’s inability to hit close shots in recent games in part because it was insane and in part because these recaps are cheaper than therapy sessions. Credit to the big man for playing one of his best games of the year; the early returns weren’t looking good as Brady Manek was losing Osetkowski on screens and getting open for threes, but Osetkowski sorted out his defensive issues and Manek wasn’t much of a factor after the first 5-8 minutes. On top of that, DO sorted out his bunny issues; he went 5-7 from two and nearly all of them looked like they were going to go in. That was the sort of below-the-rim game that I’ve been wanting to see from him all season and he added in 11 rebounds, two assists, and two steals to round out just a really good effort. Hats off to the senior for finding himself, at least for one game. His next trick is turning it into two consecutive games like this.
Kerwin Roach II
Roach was the majority of the three-point shooting for the team tonight, making 3 of 6 from beyond the arc while the rest of the team went 2 of 16. It wasn’t just the outside shooting though, Roach got to the rim nearly at will tonight and converted most of his looks. 23 points, 8 rebounds, and a couple of assists for a guy who the team wasn’t sure was going to play on the night. It seems like every time Roach is questionable for a game, that’s when he’s going to go off. His defense was more good than bad, though he had a couple of lapses that I’d like to see him work on. He’s not reliably up to the level of defense we saw in the first half of last year, though he’s still more than adequate as is.
I’m not allowing myself to imagine Hayes coming back next year because I need to sleep between now and November. Hayes took 12 shots and missed one, going 4-4 from the floor and 7-8 from the line. He had six rebounds - if he was better at anticipating/working for the boards, he’d be a double/double machine - and five blocks, and yet again struggled with foul problems. While one or two were questionable calls, he’s still putting himself in a position where the refs control his fate more than he does. I keep harping on this because there’s not a lot else to complain about with him.
Matt Coleman Fighting Through Screens
This is one of those little things where I see incremental improvement from a player. Matt Coleman doesn’t get hung up on screens in the PnR much; to wit:
One of the little things Matt Coleman has improved: battling through screens while defending the ball. pic.twitter.com/oy7FZopELf— (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ 750 (@Bitterwhiteguy) January 20, 2019
This doesn’t make any sort of stat sheet, but it’s vital in a sport that revolves around creating daylight by putting bodies between you and the guy you’re defending. Coleman is getting so much better at anticipating the screen and working around it, not to mention making the right decision about going over/under the screen. Little things.
He scored! Okay, I know, it wasn’t much, but it would appear that the coaches are starting to trust him a bit more. This is important if/when Hayes continues racking up fouls at the rate most long-but-not-strong freshmen tend to do. Some other players in Sims’ situation would fold up their tent and update their LinkedIn status from the sideline, but Sims seems to be invested in seeing this thing through to the end of the season.
8 assists isn’t exactly lighting it up, they only assisted on 32% of made shots. Having said that, tonight’s game was a game where the guards were able to get to the rim in iso situations so the assist numbers were likely to drop. I don’t want to see this become the norm as the ball movement in the previous few games was getting pretty crisp, but for tonight it was the prescription.
The Minister of Culture
Matthew McConaughey being ON THE BENCH is weird, and it’s not going to stop being weird any time soon. That burnt-orange suit was....something.
“You feel that, young squire? There’s a cadence in this adobe tonight. An ar-rhyth-mi-a, k? Reckon there might be a sacrifice this evenin’. Full moon. What will you bring to the feast? That orange pelota is a start, but Saint Erwin haha well he wants your blood. Onward.” pic.twitter.com/Df6VIkQT5d— Jimmy G (@jimmygards) January 20, 2019
Maybe I need to split this topic between good and bad, because - stop me if you’ve heard this before - the shot selection was solid, the shots just didn’t fall. Or maybe I need to create a new category called ‘defensible’ that’s devoted to talking about shooting. That’s what we need, MOAR CATEGORIES. Febres had an off night until the last minute, but most of his shot choices were fine.
This is the second game where Texas allowed more than 1.1 PPP, which isn’t what I’m looking for from this team. Their defensive efficiency numbers are slipping, though still top-25 nationally. It’s not going to get any easier as they have TCU up next, but I hope Shaka and crew are able to reassert the lockdown defense Texas has been known for more often than not.
Texas stopped the slide, but now they go to Fort Worth where Texas has lost four straight. TCU is in a very interesting spot; 1⁄3 of the team has transferred - including their stellar but continually injured Jaylen Fisher, their highest-ever-rated recruit Kaden Archie, and Yuat Alok. They’re low on depth but the players that remain are still good, including senior Alex Robinson who is orchestrating the offense in Fisher’s absence. I think I’ve spoken about games that I call ‘flippable’ games, which is another term for games that Texas could use to flip their spot in the conference standings; a win at TCU would be a ‘flippable’ game because it would be a relatively unexpected victory that vaults Texas into discussion for a top-half finish in the conference. The path to 10+ conference wins involves at least four road victories, and so far Texas only has one (albeit a good one at Kansas State). TCU would be a good one, especially for tiebreaker purposes 6-7 weeks from now. Also, with the gagglefuck happening in the Big 12 where 9 of the teams are between 4-2 & 2-4, every road win is incredibly valuable. Tip time on Wednesday is 6 PM CT on ESPNU.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by DJ Alibi.