Men's Basketball

Starting 5: Texas needs to rebound quick, then an average SEC team awaits

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Posted January 22nd, 2018

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

Good Texas, bad Texas and the week to come.

West Virginia guard James Bolden (3) shoots the ball after stealing it from Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia defeated Texas 86-51. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

5. Texas gets its biggest win of the season, then takes 35 steps backwards

Before we get to what happened on Saturday, the game against Texas Tech needs to be acknowledged as one of the best wins of the season for Texas. Beating a top-10 Texas Tech team (No. 8 last week in the AP) poll could be the best win Texas gets all year. They’ll have plenty of opportunities for more good wins, but who knows if West Virginia or Oklahoma will get ranked as high as eight by the time both teams arrive in Austin, or by the time Texas plays Oklahoma in Norman or Kansas in Lawrence.

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Yes, Texas Tech going on the road and getting bulldozed by Iowa State 70-52 takes some of the shine off that win, but at the same time, this was a Red Raiders team coming off a victory against West Virginia, who beat Texas by 35 points on Saturday, so it’s still a good win regardless of how you slice it for the Longhorns.

It’s a win that people will look at when Texas finds itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and we say when, because following a 67-58 win over the Red Raiders, Texas was beaten more soundly than any team in the Big 12 has been beaten this year. West Virginia and the Longhorns actually played even for the first 10 minutes of the game on Saturday, then Texas couldn’t score. The Longhorns led 20-17 with 8:51 in the first half after a Kerwin Roach 3-pointer.

Texas scored two points the rest of the half and trailed by 10 at halftime.

It got worse in the second half and, though he has a worse defeat on his resume, that might take the cake as the worst 30 minutes of Shaka Smart’s coaching career as Texas lost 86-51.

Now, losing at West Virginia is forgivable. West Virginia is really good at home. Losing by 10 is forgivable. Losing by 20 a coach can live with. But losing by 35 is alarming no matter who and where a is played. Being non competitive against a team that just lost at home six days earlier and nearly lost at home to Baylor about two weeks before that is something you can’t just toss off. Texas had every incentive to win. A victory over two top-10 AP teams probably would have landed Texas near the rankings.

But a 35-point loss, then taking a step back and looking at the blown leads to Oklahoma State and Baylor doesn’t help Texas in a race to the NCAA Tournament– especially since the committee, whether fair or not, isn’t going to be jonesing for eight Big 12 teams to make the field. Yes, Texas beat TCU and Texas Tech. Kansas State handled TCU on Saturday. Iowa State demolished Tech– point being that Texas’ marque wins are also the marque wins of the teams they’re fighting for spots with. If TCU goes in and gives WVU a game in Morgantown, same with K-State, the committee will notice.

But I’ll go back to the Texas Tech win real quick. Texas needs as many home wins as they can get, and that was huge. Texas Tech, I’m guessing, will bounce back from back-to-back losses and take it out on Oklahoma State on Tuesday. A Red Raider win over South Carolina, and Texas’ victory over Tech regains all the shine. But if Tech drops off and TCU continues to be sort of average in Big 12 play, where is Texas’ “they need to be in the field win?”

I have an idea.

TCU guard Shawn Olden (2) defends aa Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) drives the ball during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)

4. Who does Texas matchup well with in the Big 12?

Spending Saturday watching Big 12 basketball, I kept thinking about matchups that haven’t happened yet. Oklahoma hasn’t played Kansas (the Sooners will on Tuesday) and hasn’t played Texas. Kansas and OU will be a flip-of -coin-game. The two teams matchup pretty well with another. But Oklahoma is going to have some trouble with its biggest rival.

The Sooners will tumble in the rankings Monday, but they’ll still be ranked. When Texas plays OU on Feb. 3 in Austin, we’ll see the league’s two best freshman play and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mo Bamba gets the edge in the matchup. OU is not good defensively (No. 55 at KenPom, but the eye test doesn’t do them any favors), which means Texas may find it easier to score.  And while he is immensely talented, Texas has the defense that could cause trouble for National Player of the Year favorite, freshman Trae Young. While the 40-point games are fun, Young is taking nearly 40 shots to get there and his team and coach seem to be OK with that. Against two other KenPom top-10 defenses, Young was 7-of-23 against Tech and 8-of-22 against West Virginia. He was 14-of-39 against Oklahoma State, which has No. 87-ranked defense at KenPom. 

Texas’ defense is better than Oklahoma State’s defense– and Kansas State, who held Young to 8-of-21 shooting and 20 points. Kerwin Roach is as good as they come in the Big 12 on defense and certainly a better defender in the back court than anyone at Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats dominated Oklahoma in an 18-point beatdown in Manhattan. It would not surprise me if Texas– who once beat Buddy Hield and Oklahoma a few years ago– does well against the Sooners.

Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) celebrates a basket during a NCAA college basketball game against Texas Tech in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

3. Roach emerging as the go-to player?

One of the best offensive performances Texas has gotten in Big 12 play was had by Roach, who scored 20 points against Tech last week. One of the reasons West Virginia had its way with Texas is no one played like Roach did against Tech, including the junior guard, who scored just four points. The inconsistent go-to-guy for Texas is killing this offense. Roach shot 50 percent from the field and 8-of-9 from the line against Tech and was a sign that maybe, just maybe, he is the answer Texas is looking for on offense.

With 11 games to go in Big 12 play, let’s see if he can answer it.

Donovan Jackson #4 of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrates with fans after winning 70-52 over the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the second half of play at Hilton Coliseum on January 20, 2018 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 70-52 over the Texas Tech Red Raiders. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

2. Texas plays Iowa State on Monday

I loathe the “must win game” in Mid-January, but this one is pretty important.

The Iowa State elevator pitch: The Cyclones are 2-5 in Big 12 play and are 2-2 at home and 0-3 on the road. The Cyclones play like legit NCAA contenders in Ames, but play more like an NIT squad on the road.

Texas beat Iowa State 74-70 in overtime in Hilton Coliseum. It’s a giant road win considering that since Texas Tech beat Kansas in Lawrence on Jan. 2, Big 12 road teams are 2-24 and the two wins are by that same Kansas team. So any road win in the conference is important.

These teams are more similar than anyone would have thought in the preseason. Texas is really good on defense (No. 7 in KenPom) and bad on offense (No. 142) but it would be going too far to say they aren’t a good basketball team. Iowa State’s advance metrics say they’re a below average team as ISU is ranked 76 on offense and 132 on defense, but the eye test for them suggest that it to would be too far to say they aren’t a good basketball team.

Last week Iowa State lost by 23 points to TCU. Before that they beat Baylor and before that they nearly beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Then this past weekend they beat Texas Tech by 18. Iowa State is further away from being an NCAA Tournament team than Texas, but the two teams have the same marque win (an AP top 10 win over Tech) and when TCU comes to Ames, ISU will have a chance to rebound against the Horned Frogs (just like Oklahoma State did when they lost by 20 to Oklahoma, but beat them a few weeks later on their home court this past weekend).

Texas needs to slow down Donovan Jackson, who scored 24 against the Horns in a 74-70 Texas victory on New Year’s Day. He scored 13 against Texas Tech over the weekend. Dylan Osetkowski’s best game as a Longhorn came against ISU when he scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Interesting note: Steve Prohm and Shaka Smart will forever be linked as both teams took over their programs during the same season. Iowa State had a taylor-maid national title contender when Prohm became the coach. Texas wasn’t anywhere near them, but I think it’s a little dumb to say the Texas program was in shambles when Smart became the coach. If both Fred Hoiberg and Rick Barnes return for the 2015-2016 season, those teams probably still make the tournament. So far Prohm’s time in Ames has been more successful, despite some believing that the Cyclones should have been better the last two seasons. Prohm’s first year was an adjustment, but his second season when Iowa State rallied to finish tied for second in the Big 12 with a 12-6 record and win the Big 12 Tournament, was an unmitigated success. Texas reached the NCAA Tournament in Smart’s first season, but won just 11 games last year.  Smart is 3-2 against Iowa State at Texas.

Last year the Longhorns were 3-8 in rematches, with one of those wins coming over Texas Tech and one of those losses coming against West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament, so 2-7 in rematches during the season. Three of those losses in rematch games came in Austin against three NCAA Tournament teams –Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State. One of the teams they beat? Iowa State. Texas beat ISU at home in the rematch.

Bottom line: Texas needs a win if they want make life easier in the Big 12. Right now Texas still has a chance to have a terrific home record in league play. They are 2-1 at the Frank Erwin Center. Because of how well Big 12 teams have played at home, no one wants to blow home games because it means they’ll have to pick up a road win to better their chances at an above .500 record in league play. Texas loses this game, they’ll be 3-5 in Big 12 play with 10 games to go. They would need be 6-4 in those games just to finish 9-9 in the league. The final 10 conference games feature road trips to Lawrence, Lubbock, Fort Worth, Manhattan and Norman. If Texas loses this game, they would need to go 4-0 at home with wins over Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kansas State and Oklahoma State and pull off multiple upsets on the road. Just to get to 9-9 in Big 12 play– and hope that’s enough to get them in the NCAA Tournament (it probably is). Win this game and Texas gets breathing room at 4-4.

Re-read that paragraph, and that Oklahoma State loss looks even worse.

Mississippi’s Dominik Olejniczak (13) shoots against Florida’s Gorjak Gok (12) during an NCAA college basketball game at the Pavilion at Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss. on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle via AP)

1. Texas gets a Big 12 break to play Ole Miss on Saturday

If Texas doesn’t beat Ole Miss at home, the selection committee is sure to notice.

The Ole Miss elevator pitch: The Rebels are 10-9 overall and 0-5 on the road. Coach Andy Kennedy’s very long tenure as head coach is in jeopardy– probably– if he can’t pull off a miracle turnaround.

There isn’t much more to say then if Texas can’t beat a bad Ole Miss team– No. 85 in KenPom with the No. 164 -ranked defense, then Texas will do harm to its NCAA Tournament hopes. We’ve already laid out the rocky road to a .500 Big 12 record the Longhorns have. If they lose to team ranked outside the top 80 at KenPom, who has yet to win a a game outside Oxford, then Texas would truly have a bad loss on the resume.

The Rebels are led by Terence Davis and Deandre Burnett who both average 14 points per game.

Interesting note: Andy Kennedy is the longest tenured coach in the SEC as he is in his 13th season. Before he was at Ole Miss, he was a top assistant for Bob Huggins at the University of Cincinnati from 2001-2006. His final season he was an interim coach at UC after Huggins was fired just before the season. He led UC to a 21-13 record and many still believe he should have been named head coach. He wasn’t and was quickly hired by Ole Miss. Here’s my interesting fact: Kennedy has only taken the program to two NCAA Tournaments in 12 seasons. Two. Rick Barnes was forced out of Texas a few years ago after making the tournament 16 times in 17 seasons and missed the tournament just once. Thus is the difference between basketball at Texas and basketball at Ole Miss.

Bottom line: ESPN’s win projector has Texas with an 80 percent win probability. Not only do I think the Big 12 goes at least 8-2 in this challenge, but I think Texas winds up with the most lopsided win.  Asking Baylor to beat Florida and Oklahoma State to beat Arkansas — both games on the road– are tough asks. West Virginia and Kansas will both be somewhat heavy favorites in their games, Iowa State gets a chance at a nice resume win at home against Tennessee and Oklahoma and Alabama should be a fun game if Collin Sexton plays for the Crimson Tide. Texas’ game against Ole Miss should be a no-contest and was lame when they announced it and is as lame as it looks in reality.

The fact that Texas plays Ole Miss when sexier matchups like LSU, Auburn and Missouri (the SEC teams not participating in the Big 12 challenge) exist make it even more lame.

The bowl game rematch against Mizzou? The student (LSU coach Will Wade) against the master (Smart was his boss at VCU)? Texas getting a chance to beat an AP-top 25 ranked Auburn team? No. Texas gets a 10-9 team who has gone to the NCAA Tournament twice since their current coach took over in 2006.

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