Men's Basketball

Starting 5: The Longhorns' NCAA Tournament hopes take a dip after a terrible week

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Posted February 12th, 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.

A bad week needs to be followed by a good week, or a bid to the NCAA Tournament is in jeopardy.

Texas forward Mohamed Bamba (4) contests a shot by Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) during the Longhorns’ loss to the Wildcats Wednesday. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

5. The no good, stinking, terrible week Texas had

Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls summed by the feeling of the Longhorns’s mood after uninspired losses to Kansas State and TCU this week here. 

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First, the Kansas State loss.

In terms of defeat, this could be the worst of the season. Not because Kansas State is a bad team. The Wildcats, I think, are solidly in the field of 68 right now with a 17-8 record, 6-6 in the Big 12 and with wins over Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Georgia. The Wildcats have, really, just one bad loss, 64-54 to Tulsa. They’re in, probably. But this was a bad loss for Texas because it erased any momentum from beating Oklahoma a few days earlier and taking Texas Tech to overtime a week earlier.

There are the games that good teams find a way to win. Heck, these are the games — when playing a similar team at home — bad teams find a way to win. Texas losing by three, 67-64, at home makes no sense. Kansas State showed they were a bit tougher to grind out a win, but not worlds tougher. This loss is more about Texas. The defense held a good offense to 67 points, but Kansas State still shot 53.7 percent from the field.

Texas even out-rebounded Kansas State 36-26. And shot better from the line.

But here’s the thing: If Texas is going to start two power forwards and the league’s best center, they shouldn’t be outscored in the paint 38-28. If Texas and its coach Shaka Smart have a reputation of pressing and creating havoc, they shouldn’t be outscored on points off turnovers 22-16.

This loss was bizarre, and uninspired is the best way to put it. Kansas State needed a road win for the resume, but Texas needed to hold serve at home to improve their chances to go just 9-9 in conference play.

A dud of a game is why I thought Texas would bounce back and play really well against TCU on the road. It’s been the M.O. under Smart. Win or lose the following game, Texas usually plays better after a loss (like a lot of teams). Texas didn’t play great against Tennessee State, and then they come out and stomped Alabama on the road. Lose to Kansas at home, go on the road to beat Iowa State. Lose at Baylor, beat TCU.

The Longhorns are terribly inconsistent, but that’s why I thought Texas would play well against TCU.

Instead, they hit another bottom.

A 16-point loss is the second worst of Big 12 play for Texas. And the Longhorns never led in the game. Sure, against one of the league’s worst defenses, Texas shot 51.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range, but Texas’ vaunted defense allowed TCU, one of the best offensive teams in the nation, to play offense like they were scrimmaging TCU. The Horned Frogs shot 54.8 percent, made and took the exact same amount of 3-pointers and went 9-of-10 from the line.

Again, look who Texas is starting — three bigs — it makes no sense that they’re outscored in the paint 38-30. Especially with Mo Bamba. Texas scored two points off turnovers, and TCU only turned the ball over six times.

What Texas did Saturday is something Big 12 observers can live with. After all, Texas Tech looks unbeatable, but yet has an 18-point loss to the last-place team on the road. Baylor is tied for ninth and crushed Kansas at home. Road teams lose.

That’s why the Kansas State loss was clearly the worse loss of the week and the season so far.

Texas players celebrate a score during the Longhorns’ game against TCU earlier in the season. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

4. Is there an easy fix?

Eric Davis is only a sixth man because he’s not starting. He played the fourth most minutes against TCU and third most minutes against Kansas State. The lineup that’s playing the most minutes: Matt Coleman, Mo Bamba, Dylan Osetkowski, Kerwin Roach and Davis. Sims and Febres are next followed by Jacob Young.

At this point, how teams do things are pretty set in stone. I don’t think Texas is suddenly going to stop taking a lot of 3-pointers. If you’re looking for a quick fix to a bad offense, Texas has taken 568 threes and are shooting a league-worst 31.7 percent. That’s the fifth most attempts in the Big 12. And that’s more attempts than the team that shoots it the best, TCU and it’s 84 more than first-place Texas Tech (for a little more context).

The quick fix is Texas shoots more shots inside the arc. But that’s anything but a quick fix. That’s changing the offense in the middle of February. Why Texas is running this type of offense — one based on taking 22.7 3-pointers a game — is another story.

The quickest fix could be adjusting minutes — if you can — and trying different lineups. That’s not working great in Lawrence, where coach Bill Self has started two different lineups the last two games. He said he did so because he didn’t like how certain players were playing. The Jayhawks have no depth, so those two players still played minutes akin to a starter. Texas, on paper, has depth, so benching players is actually a reality, but that can affect team chemistry.

So is it scheme or rotation? It’s not an easy decision, but something has to change if Texas wants to be selected to the tournament in 27 days.

So no. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious easy fix.

Texas head coach Shaka Smart shouts to his players during the Longhorns’ win over Texas Tech in January. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

3. Let’s check on Texas’ tournament hopes

The tournament snapshot released on Sunday of the first four seeds, not surprisingly, didn’t include the Longhorns and probably never will. Three Big 12 teams: Kansas (2), Tech (3) and (for some dumb reason) Oklahoma (4) were included.

CBS analyst Jerry Palm has the Longhorns as a “First Four” team as one of two 12 seeds. They are one of the last four teams in the field. That was updated Sunday.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi literally has one job for ESPN, yet on the day the NCAA gave us a sneak peek of the brackets, his projection hadn’t been updated since Thursday, so he had Texas in then.

The Statesman’s own Kevin Lyttle has the Longhorns as an 11 seed. 

So the experts say the Longhorns are a tournament team. And the experts say Oklahoma State is not a tournament team. Texas played a much stronger and better non-conference schedule than the Cowboys. But put the resumes together and I’m not sure how OSU isn’t getting the love the Longhorns are and pushing Texas out of the field. OSU has wins at Kansas and at West Virginia. Texas doesn’t have anything like that. OSU has a better non-conference win than Texas — a victory over Florida State on the road.

And, oh yeah, OSU beat the Longhorns head-to-head. Both teams are 5-7 in the Big 12. Both teams are 15-10.

What am I missing here?

The three losses in non-conference for the Cowboys are to Wichita State, Texas A&M and a 1-point loss on the road to Arkansas.

Texas lost to Duke and Gonzaga and played them tough. They also lost to Michigan at home.

This isn’t meant to dump on the Longhorns’ tournament chances. It’s to magnify how thin their tournament hopes are when compared to a team in their own conference.

Texas forward Mohamed Bamba (4) shoots over Baylor forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (0) during the Longhorns’ loss to the Bears in January. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

2. Texas plays Baylor on Monday

The Baylor elevator pitch: There are two “hot” teams in the Big 12: Texas Tech and Baylor, and Baylor has won three straight games by double figures.

After getting crushed 81-60 by Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge a few weeks ago, Baylor traveled to Norman and nearly knocked off the Sooners, 98-96 on the road. Since that loss, they’ve beaten Iowa State  81-67, Oklahoma State in Stillwater 67-56 and Kansas 80-64. That’s some heavy lifting to get back in the tournament picture.

Baylor has a crescendo the rest of the way: at Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, at TCU, Oklahoma and at Kansas State. The way Baylor is playing, that’s enough to finish at least 3-3 or maybe even 4-2 down the stretch.

Against Kansas, Baylor almost lost a double-digit lead with about eight minutes to play when Kansas cut it to a two-point game, then Manu Lecomte, the most forgotten returning standout from 2016-17 season in the league, made back-to-back 3-pointers that mentally killed Kansas. Lecomte took a 3-pointer from the “B” in Baylor on the court and swished it. How do you defend that? He finished with 18.

Jo Lual-Acuil and Nuni Omot scored 19 and 17 points. Guard Jake Lindsey had 11 and no one else had more than five points for Baylor.

Baylor is great inside on defense while playing their zone. They rebound well and they don’t get in foul trouble. They don’t shoot the ball well from 3-point range and they turn the ball over. It’s why they’ve looked terrible in some games, but really good in others.

In the first meeting in Waco, Texas lit up Baylor for 40 points in the first half, but the Bears hung with the Longhorns, scoring 38 themselves. In the second half, Texas scored just 20 points. Baylor does that. Kansas scored just 20 points in the first half on Saturday.

Texas guard Jase Febres was the story in the first game. He scored 18 points in the first half. He scored none in the second.

Interesting note: For all the love just heaped on the surging Bears, they are 1-7 on the road this season and the one win, being very impressive, was last week against Oklahoma State– who was coming off a win over Kansas and about to beat West Virginia. Look closer, and it’s still not good to sleep on Baylor as a road team. The Bears led Kansas in Lawrence by six points before Kansas went on a 9-0 run to end the game. Oklahoma led by as many as nine points but then it flipped and there was nine ties and three lead changes. Baylor lost in Morgantown by three. Texas lost there by 35 points.

Prediction: You wonder if Texas may have just suffered its own version of what Baylor did in Gainesville. Texas’ collapse at TCU felt like rock bottom just like Baylor’s challenge dud. Texas has been way better at home — Kansas State loss and all — and like the West Virginia game, it may be a good thing that Texas plays Baylor on a Monday instead of having to stew on the loss. The nature of this league is that you can’t take what a team did one game and apply it to the next. Why does Kansas beat K-State on the road, but then lose to OSU? How does West Virginia beat OU on the road and lose at home OSU? No rhyme and reason to it and KenPom doesn’t have a stat for that. In its last three games, Baylor is laughing at that trend. I think Texas winds up beating Baylor because logic and my eye balls tell me Baylor should win this game by 10 points, which means Texas will remind everyone — no one needs to be reminded– how hard it is to win on the road in the Big 12.

Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) celebrates a dunk during the Longhorns’ over Oklahoma earlier this month. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

1. Texas travels to Oklahoma on Saturday

The Oklahoma elevator pitch: If Baylor is the “hottest” team in the league, Oklahoma is the coldest. The Sooners are 2-6 in their last eight games and have lost three in a row. They travel to first-place Texas Tech on Tuesday.

How a team that is 2-6 in its last eight games is still considered for a top four seed is puzzling. Then again, I’ve seen the type of shots freshman point guard Trae Young takes and makes, and it puzzles me how some of them go in — but they do.

Yes, Oklahoma hasn’t won a game in February yet. Depending on what happens in Lubbock, they could be 0-4 this month when they welcome Texas to Norman this weekend. For the season, Oklahoma has lost just once at home, its last time out against West Virginia.

Nothing has really changed in my view of this matchup. Texas matches up really well with the Sooners. Young scored just 19 — 11 points off his 30 point average — in the first meeting. He also had 14 assists, so you can’t call it a terrible game — though 2-of-14 from 3-point range is bad.

Texas meanwhile had its best win of the year and Matt Coleman, Texas’s freshman point guard, outplayed Young. He scored 22 and was efficient from the field. He’s not played like that the last two games. Mo Bamba had 13 points and nine rebounds and blocked one shot.

Interesting note: So the last time these teams played we pointed out that Texas was 2-0 against Blake Griffin and Buddy Hield in Austin during the seasons they won National Player of the Year. What about in Norman? Two years ago No. 3 Oklahoma won 63-60 at home as Hield hit a game-winning 3-pointer to beat No. 24 Texas and cap off a 27-point night. Hield scored 12 points in the final 3:11 of the game.  In 2009, No. 5 Oklahoma bashed the No. 11-ranked Longhorns in Norman, 78-63. Griffin scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. The win snapped a six-game losing streak to the Longhorns.

Prediction: Young was 1-of-8 from 3-point range against Iowa State on Saturday. He was 4-of-10 against West Virginia. He’s been so human (he scored 54 points the last two games) that Holly Rowe of ESPN was floating the idea that maybe he was sick. Or maybe defenses are starting to figure out how to slow him down somewhat? He clearly isn’t the same player when he’s frustrated and there were times against West Virginia that I was thinking he was cruising for a technical foul. I think Young bounces back and plays well against Texas. But I also think Bamba shows the nation a little more. Bamba had a good game last time out, but aren’t we all still waiting for a monster Bamba game where he is as unstoppable as Young is but in his own way? He’s steam rolling toward that type of game– averaging 19.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and shooting 70 percent from the field the last six games. Bamba blocked just one shot in the first matchup. Because Young has struggled from long distances, he’s driving the basketball more. I could see Bamba having a huge night defensively. The problem is I am a big fan of OU senior  Khadeem Lattin, who despite being under sized, is still one of the best post defenders in the Big 12. I don’t trust any of the role players that much for Young and Bamba and this game is at home for OU. Sooners win.

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