When I went on Chad & Kevin this afternoon to talk about this game, they asked me about the path to 9 conference wins and I said the Big 12 is currently composed of 5 tiers:
Tier 1: Kansas
Tier 2: Baylor & West Virginia
Tier 3: Texas Tech
Tier 4: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas
Tier 5: Kansas State
Going into the game, there were 10 possible wins in tiers 4 & 5. For Texas to have hopes of 9 wins in conference play they need to load up on as many wins as possible against tiers 4 & 5, because every loss in those tiers means they have to steal a game against tiers 1-3. The idea of Texas winning 9 or 10 out of 10 against those teams was always a stretch, but - and I cannot emphasize this enough - Texas CANNOT LOSE THE HOME GAMES IN THESE TIERS. Just like every other school on the planet, Texas is a better at home than on the road so these are the highest win probabilities in their remaining schedule. Oklahoma presented the 4th-most likely home win out of the five teams mentioned, but the Longhorns were still a mild favorite. Well, there went their mulligan, and I don’t blame anyone for thinking it’s extremely unlikely Texas runs the table on those other 9 opportunities. The path to the NCAA Tournament just narrowed and Texas has 16 conference games left to play. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go stare at the moon for a couple of hours and contemplate my life choices.
If you had told me at the start of the season Matt Coleman would be playing at an all-conference level and Jericho Sims would turn into a double-double machine, I would have thought Texas is in the running for a top-3 conference finish. Sims has been great as of late, playing great defense as far out as 25 feet and hoovering up rebounds anywhere within a city block of the rim. He has some go-to moves near the rim and is playing with a delightful level of confidence right now; he’s been a stud. 12 points, 15 rebounds, and about as good a defense as you can play against a scorching-hot Kristian Doolittle - if you can hit a step-back three over an outstretched Jericho, nobody is stopping you - Sims was great. But I’m sure somebody out there still wishes Sims played with more passion, or something.
Coleman had a down night from three - 0-5 sucks, but is part of an expected regression for a guy who was hitting 50%+ for several games - but otherwise he was on point everywhere. He’s so incredibly decisive with the ball in his hands, making hard cuts to the basket and directing screens exactly where he wants them to go. He played solid defense against Austin Reaves but Reaves’ size got the better of him a couple of times, for example that shot at the end of the half. There’s no way to defend that better without fouling and Reaves hit that shot, it happens. One of the few joys I have this season is watching Matt Coleman run this team and I hate that it’s getting wasted because he’s operating at a level few Texas point guards have reached.
A game after Baylor rampaged all over the glass, Texas took the boards back for a game. The Longhorns took 8 more shots than Oklahoma and one of the reasons that happened is because they went after rebounds. It is a relatively rare occasion that Texas outrebounds its opponent, so call it a minor victory in an otherwise significant defeat.
Kamaka Hepa/The 4
Texas fans finally saw the stroke that made Hepa a prized recruit connect on a few shots, and you understand why coaches like Mark Few were going after him pretty hard. When Hepa is hitting threes (3-5 from deep is a good line for anybody) he becomes the stretch-four this offense so desperately needs. He grabbed four rebounds, threw in a couple of assists, and generally makes the offense move better when he’s in the game. HOWEVAH* his defensive deficiencies were on full display tonight; he’s not yet strong enough to battle guys like Brady Manek in the paint and he’s too slow to stick with Doolittle, and Lon Kruger exploited this multiple times in the first half before Texas subbed in Gerald Liddell to help on this end. This meant the offense evaporated from that position, so there’s really no good answer here right now. When we write the epitaph on this season, the 4 is going to feature heavily.
*I wanted to find a good link for this term and the top search result was a weird Youtube video that’s been viewed 12 times in 9 years. DuckDuckGo comes up with the weirdest results sometimes.
Or Jose Febres, or Kamaka Hepa, or whatever the announcer called him multiple times through the game; there were moments where he did the things we all wanted to see. He hit a couple threes, drove the ball into the lane regularly, tried to make himself multi-dimensional, even played willing defense including blocking a shot. But he also took some questionable threes, got burned defensively on switches a couple times, and wasn’t the net-positive Texas needs to contend in the conference.
It would almost makes sense if somebody told me Jones spent the day watching his game-winning three against Oklahoma a couple years ago and thought he’d try to recreate the magic, because he came out ready to fire regardless of context. 1-5 from two, 1-4 from three, and a ton of those were... I’m going to politely say ‘questionable’ decisions given somebody on Twitter admonished me for saying anything negative about a cancer survivor. They also complained about the fan noise on a night when Texas was losing, as if 3,500 people with Shaka-inspired PTSD can make the Drum loud. Other than his rebounds, Jones was bad tonight. The ball moved more slowly when he ran point, he didn’t make the right plays in the paint, etc. Kruger used the switching defense to get Jones repeatedly defending either Manek or Doolittle in impossible situations; it was a rough night for Andrew.
There was a stretch in the second half where Texas turned the ball over four times in five possessions and every one of them was directly attributable to Ramey; he was losing the ball in the paint, throwing the ball away on tough passes to the post, just not a good night for him. Our friend Longhorn Road Trip summarized it well:
Probably would've been worth calling that timeout three minutes ago, when Coleman was waiting at the scorers table for four or five possessions while Ramey was infected with malware.— Zach Pizazz (@LonghornRdTrip) January 9, 2020
The next game is against Kansas State on Saturday, and I don’t think I can stress enough just how vital it is Texas wins this game. The next three games after KSU: AT Oklahoma State, home against Kansas, then AT West Virginia 48 hours later. If Texas loses to the Wildcats at home, starting the conference slate 0-6 is a very real possibility. Tip time is 7 PM CT on LHN. Jar Jar Blanks and Cocaine Chinchilla are going to turn it up to 11 for all of our entertainment; maybe there will be a DVD release of Joker they can dress up for or something. Who wants to lay odds they pretend to get in an argument in the second half?
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Greg Downey.