I’ll admit, I am impressed. For a season that has been full of turmoil and upheaval, disappointment and controversy, this Texas squad has come out focused four games in a row. There has been a clarity of vision from this team that was lacking for significant chunks of the regular season. The Longhorns have shown different forms of dominance in different games; against Colorado it was an offensive explosion, against the TCU Horned Frogs it was a smothering defense. This team has been something else in the NIT Tournament, man.
There have been some quality defensive stretches from Texas off and on this year, and while their defense has been less than the last couple of seasons it has still been above-average on the whole. What they did tonight to TCU was phenomenal. Alex Robinson is one of the best assisting point guards in the country bar none, he is the player who makes the TCU offense run. He had one assist tonight. ONE. Texas ran a nice action against him in PnR where they did basically the exact opposite of a hard hedge; when Robinson used the screen, the big (usually Jericho Sims) would show the faintest of resistance then immediately start to fade back to his man. This slowed down Robinson for just enough that the guard who had him (usually Courtney Ramey, but it varied) could recover and put a moving wall between Robinson and the basket, pushing him out just far enough to make layups difficult. This kept Robinson from driving to the rim, but Texas also did something else: they didn’t help off the corner onto Robinson. Alex Robinson is one of the most dangerous passers in the country and the first place he looks when the rim is blocked is the near corner. This is one of those spots Desmond Bane makes teams pay, and Texas simply didn’t allow that pass. This means Robinson - or Kendric Davis, who the Longhorns also made miserable - had to either try to skip pass to the weakside corner (a dangerous pass even in good conditions) or try to create something in the paint with a spin move. Did you notice a lot of Horned Frog pirouettes tonight? Yea, that was Texas’ doing.
Texas held TCU to 0.71 PPP tonight. I don’t know how to put that sort of death by boa constrictor defense in perspective, exactly. Imagine Texas put together a deal with TCU where instead of running offense: they let the Horned Frogs go to the free throw line each possession and shoot one free throw, and imagine TCU made 75% of their free throws. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN A BETTER OFFENSIVE OUTCOME THAN TONIGHT. Did you watch the Texas Tech/Michigan game? Tech held the Wolverines to 0.71 PPP in that game. Texas just did that to TCU. It was a fucking clinic, man.
Kerwin Roach II
Roach scored 22 points tonight. Desmond Bane and Alex Robinson combined for 23. HOT TAKE: if Roach can score the same amount as the two most important opposing players on Thursday, Texas is likely to win. If Roach could have hit some free throws - it looked like they were sliding off his pinky - then he would have approached the 30-point mark. Texas schemed multiple ways to get Roach open and he converted most of them. I’m not even going to mention his multiple turnovers, that’s how well he played.
Sims played 28 minutes without fouling against some seriously mobile bigs. You want a piece of positive news to hold onto looking forward to next season, one you can stash away is Sims putting in quality minutes without fouling. He got posterized by Kevin Samuel once, but overall that was some really good PnR defense and just generally understanding how to defend without fouling. He grabbed 8 rebounds, which is one of the underrated aspects of having a bouncy big with some strength. If Sims can provide that sort of rebounding presence next year, that will answer a significant offseason question.
Ramey scored zero points and still managed 8 assists on the night. If it weren’t for a couple of missed layups, he might have cracked double-digits. His defense on Robinson was great as well. Did I mention Ramey led the team in blocks with two? I’m really, really interested in seeing who Ramey becomes his sophomore year.
5-15 is mediocre from deep; between Texas and TCU I’m wondering if they were toeing the wrong line. In the home games leading up to the tournament the furthest line was the FIBA line the NIT is experimenting with, but in Madison Square Garden the furthest line is the NBA line. I saw more than one player on TCU square up a foot further back than they needed to and it appeared as if they were eyeing the NBA line. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s something to watch on Thursday. So why is this in the ‘complicated’ section? Because Texas never really forced an attempt from deep; the vast majority of the threes were either rhythm shots, corner threes taken after a good pass, or transition opportunities. A couple you might like to take back, but overall the shot selection was very good. More to the point, they took 15 out of 64 shots from deep. The threes weren’t them falling in love with the triple or them settling, they got into the paint and used that as the method for opening up the shot from three. You know, the thing they said they were trying to do in the preseason.
(The NIT has been a small but instructive sample of why I believe the deeper three-point line can help offensive flow in the college game, but we’ll talk about that some other time.)
The NIT has been a sign of progress for the athletic freshman; his ability to cover ground was useful tonight on defense. There were a couple possessions where I saw him switched onto Desmond Bane and cringed, but to Liddell’s credit he stuck with Bane pretty well. He needs to get comfortable asserting himself offensively if he’s going to really snag some minutes next year, but there are signs he’s starting to get it defensively.
7-15 from the line is rough, though most of that is Roach. Ramey was 0-2 from the line as well. Just not a great night from the line.
Finishing at the Rim
Texas was up by 14 at the half and it would’ve been 20+ if they finished their layups. There were a couple of point-blank misses in the second half as well; honestly, Texas was a few missed layups away from making this game as big a rout as the Colorado game.
Texas gets a chance to win a championship on Thursday, which is something not many of us would have expected a couple of weeks ago. I know it’s the NIT, but Texas could have packed it in early like Alabama did. They didn’t, they decided to go out on as positive a note as possible; now they’ve won four straight games and are one win away from putting up a banner in the Drum. All that stands in their way is a Lipscomb team who is no slouch. Lipscomb tied for the Atlantic Sun title with Liberty, and if they had won their conference final they would have been in the dance instead of Liberty; the Bisons like to push tempo and shoot the three well. Their defense is solid and they hit the defensive glass. Texas should not take this team lightly. Tip time is 6 PM CT on ESPN.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Randall.