Men's Basketball

Starting 4: A 1-1 start with a Bear trip coming up

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Posted January 2nd, 2018

Every Monday during the basketball season we give you four things Texas men’s basketball fans need to know about the week to come.

Texas learned why the Big 12 King is still King until further notice.

Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) shoots around Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) during a NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

4. Kansas shoots and shoots and shoots and beats Texas to begin conference play

Kansas made 17 3-pointers in a 92-86 game that didn’t seem as close in real time. If it weren’t for two of the seven 3-pointers Texas made (out of 25 attempts) falling in the final minute-and-a-half, Kansas lands a double-digit road win to open Big 12 play.

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Despite scoring the second-most points of the season against a defense that is ranked in the top 25 in KenPom, Texas’ offense at times was a mess — multiple missed dunks (one that Jacob Young will never, ever, forget), shot clock violations and bad 3-point attempts. Kansas played a 2-3 zone, something its hall of fame coach Bill Self has regularly despised in his time at Kansas. It was a genius move for Self. He gave Texas a handful of open 3-pointers and dared Texas to make them. They eventually did, but it was way too late.

It was a missed opportunity for the Longhorns who got their biggest home crowd of the season, their top scoring guard back and had some momentum after beating Alabama a few days earlier (an Alabama team that just shredded then-No. 5 Texas A&M on Saturday).

At the end of the day it took 17 3-pointers for Kansas to win by six points.

Positives: The offense did score 86 points and Mo Bamba was sensational (more on that later). Jones did return and looks like he should have no problem getting back to his normal self over the next couple weeks. Also, despite what some have written about the 13-time defending Big 12 champs, this is still Kansas.

Negatives: Kansas plays with one big man. The Longhorns play with two and sometimes as many as three. Yet Kansas and Texas were even in rebounding. It caused coach Shaka Smart to get furious at his team — especially when Kansas was chasing nearly every rebound. On one series, Lagerald Vick scored after missing a jumper, followed his shot, grabbed the rebounds after several tries and was able to score. Few teams should be out-rebounding Texas.

Texas forward Mohamed Bamba (4) blocks a shot by Iowa State forward Solomon Young (33) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Ames, Iowa. Texas won 74-70 in overtime. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

 

3. Bamba love

Have you heard that Bamba’s wing-span is 7-foot-9-inches long? ESPN hadn’t — or so it seems. In two games this weekend I must have heard that nifty fact so many times I was ready for the president to tweet that he too had a 7-foot-9-inch wing-span.

Bamba was sensational the last two games.

His game against Kansas follows a long line of standout freshman performances against the league’s top program. Back in March of 2007 Kevin Durant scored 25 in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. An injury thwarted him from having an even bigger night. He finished with 32 points. A few weeks later in the Big 12 Tournament, Durant scored 37 in a 88-84 loss.

In February of 2014, freshman Isaiah Taylor scored 23 points in a blowout win over Kansas, 81-69, at the Erwin Center. A few years later, back in Allen Fieldhouse, Jarrett Allen scored 22 and grabbed 19 rebounds against Kansas.

Bamba flirted with a triple-double– which would have been only be the second in program history– against Kansas with 22 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks.

Personally, what Durant did in one half at Allen Fieldhouse has never really been done again and, as I remember watching the game, may have been the greatest performances a player has ever had in that gym– including Buddy Hield’s 2015 performance. Had an injury not occurred, Durant may have poured in 50 points.

The bigger thing is Bamba looked like a true rival to Oklahoma’s Trae Young for conference player of the year — if that’s even possible after what Young did to TCU on Saturday. He certainly is the unquestioned leader for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Against Iowa State, Bamba blocked four more shots and grabbed 16 rebounds (12 defensive ones) and scored 10 points. Not to mention the 7-footer played 38 minutes.

If Bamba plays like that for the next two months — something he didn’t do in the first two months, then Texas won’t have many winless nights.

Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) drives to the basket over Texas forward Mohamed Bamba (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

2. Texas doesn’t believe in Magic or Iowa State

At first it looked as if the vaunted “Hilton Magic” was going to push Iowa State to a win over the Longhorns on Monday’s New Year’s Day matchup in Ames. The two schools played even for 45 minutes, with Iowa State breaking out for an eight-point lead with 12:08 to play before Texas soared back.

Texas played its third overtime game of the season and had its largest lead of the night in the final second of overtime at five points. 

This was a matchup of two teams who really, really, really didn’t want to drop to 0-2 in conference play.

At the end of the day Texas will be moving forward a better basketball team than this year’s Iowa State squad. Eric Davis might have played the game of his Longhorn career scoring 15 points — most coming in the second half. Matt Coleman finished regulation with four points. He finished the game with 12.

Bamba didn’t have the offensive impact he had against Kansas, but his defensive presence may have actually won the game for Texas. Iowa State settled for bad jump shots and wild 3-pointers down the stretch and made a series of head scratching offensive decisions. The Cyclones wanted nothing to do with going inside against Bamba.

And of course after not playing his best against Kansas, Dylan Osetkowski carried the Longhorns offensively when no one else would or could. He scored 25 points, many of those coming when Iowa State was humming. Osetkowski kept Texas in the game.

With less than 10 seconds to go, Iowa State had two chances to win it in regulation, but Texas’ defense was having none of it.

This isn’t your older brother’s Iowa State Cyclones. Monte Morris, Georges Niang, Jameel McKay and Fred Hoiberg aren’t there any more. They’ve now lost twice inside Hilton. But winning on the Big 12 road isn’t easy and a road win for Texas puts less pressure on the Horns to go 8-1 at home in conference play (something I think only two teams have a chance at doing this year).

Positives: One Longhorn media member told me he thought Davis was the key to their success. Davis was sensational in the second half when it looked as though, for the second straight game, Texas would spend the last 10-15 minutes trailing by double-digits. Davis didn’t let that happen, the defense clamped down in the final minutes and Texas won its first close game against a quality opponent.

Negatives: Cameron Lard scored 21 points for the Cyclones down low.  On the perimeter, Iowa State was 7-of-27 from three. The game before Kansas was 17-of-35. We know teams are going to avoid the paint because of Bamba, so running defenders off the 3-point line is a must. Texas entered the Big 12 as one of the best perimeter defensive teams in the league and the nation. So far they’ve allowed 24 3-pointers in two games and 24-for-62 (38 percent) overall.

Head coach Scott Drew of the Baylor Bears talks to his players at a time out during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on December 29, 2017 at United Supermarket Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Baylor 77-53. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)

1. Texas plays Baylor on Saturday

The second of back-to-back Big 12 road games is a few miles up the road.

The Baylor elevator pitch: After a hot start to the season, Baylor’s December has been a nightmare with three losses to three teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25 and the Bears are coming off a 77-53 loss to Texas Tech to start conference play and host No. 16 TCU on Tuesday to start the week.

There were five Big 12 season openers on Friday and Saturday. Three of the games were thrilling and great — TCU and Oklahoma lived up to the billing — but Texas Tech made a statement by dominating Baylor like the Bears hadn’t been in what seems like years. Baylor trailed 40-19 at one point. They played better in the second half, but it was too late, and were still outscored 37-34. Manu Lecomte’s Big 12 opener couldn’t have been much worse, going 3-for-11 from the field with just eight points.

Terry Maston, who missed most of the month due to a hand injury, was scoreless in 21 minutes.

Now, Baylor was clearly not itself. Its best player this season has been Jo Lual-Acuil and he didn’t play against Texas Tech due to a foot sprain. So while Maston was cleared to return just before the game, they lost Lual-Acuil, which means Baylor has not had its best players all healthy since November.

If he’s back in time for the Texas game, then it’ll be some bad timing for Texas. If not, then Texas and Bamba shouldn’t have much trouble down low on both ends of the floor.

Interesting fact: Jarrett Allen’s older brother, Leonard, joined the Bears this offseason after playing at San Diego Community College. However, you won’t see him anytime soon. Leonard, a former Round Rock High School star, is on a leave of absence for “personal medical challenges” according to Baylor. Another interesting thing is that while Texas and Baylor are two of the closest schools in the Big 12 in terms of proximity and are both in the center of Texas, the only player-high school connections come from Baylor transfer Mario Kegler (who is sitting out this season) and Matt Coleman. Both are products of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.

Interesting matchup: It’s obviously Bamba and Lual-Acuil, but since we’re unsure the Baylor big will even play, we’ll go with Lecomte and Coleman. The two guards are so important for their teams and Lecomte was so instrumental to Baylor’s 2016-17 season that he entered this year on the All-American radar. Coleman has played against so many good guards already that Lecomte may not even be in his top five.

Bottom line: The worst thing that could happen for Shaka Smart is Baylor falling to 0-2 in Big 12 play, then having to play the Bears on the road with Lual-Acuil returning from injury, the Ferrell Center gets packed and Texas stumbles on the road. However, we’re guessing win or lose, the home crowd will be stoked for this matchup and Texas and Baylor should really try to make this the rivalry both programs need it to be — one that can really sell out arenas and draw big-time performances from both sides. I think Texas is a better team even with a healthy Lual-Acuil and Maston, and I think that Texas having the whole week to gameplan is an advantage.

Final prediction: Texas 65, Baylor 53

 

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