The Starting 5: What a week it was for Texas, and what a week it could be

Advertisement

Posted February 26th, 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.

Texas guard Eric Davis Jr. cheers on his teammates during their game against Oklahoma State on Saturday, (Nick Wagner/ American-Statesman)

5. Eric Davis is named in a report involving the FBI investigation

On Friday morning, Yahoo! Sports released a monster story that ensnared almost every major college basketball program in the nation along with some of the most powerful athletic departments in the country. Texas was not unscathed. Current junior guard Eric Davis Jr. was named in the report  along with former center Prince Ibeh, the 2016 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Davis did not play against Oklahoma State as the university sits him out.

Advertisement

So without rehashing the whole investigating (click on the above links) let’s ask this question: Can Texas beat NCAA Tournament teams without Davis, who was one of the best bench players in the league and was a crunch time player for Texas?

On the surface it should be a no. Texas can probably survive missing a 8.8 points per game scorer. But then again, Texas already has trouble scoring, so it’s definitely not going to help. Also, you can look at a handful of games in which the offense was running through Davis and it’s easy to think “yeah, it’s going to be a struggle.”

But Texas beat Oklahoma State on Saturday without him, 65-64. The Longhorns needed a shot with one second left to beat a decent OSU team at home, but an OSU team that despite road wins over Kansas and West Virginia, will likely not be heading to the NCAA Tournament.

Texas is still on track for the tourney. And lucky for the Longhorns — if Davis continues to stay out — they’ll have at least three more games to adjust to life without him.

However, there are a handful of other players in that same report who aren’t missing games. ESPN had another bombshell involving Deandre Ayton, the potential No. 1 pick, and he still played on Saturday. So it’s reasonable to think that maybe — just maybe — Davis doesn’t miss the rest of the season or even the rest of this week.

There’s so much we still don’t know and, even though there are expense reports and numbers flying around, these reports have a vagueness to them.

Texas players celebrate with guard Kerwin Roach II (12) after Roach made the game-winning shot to defeat Oklahoma State 65-64 Saturday. (Nick Wagner/ American-Statesman)

4. Texas goes 1-1 in the second to last week

The Longhorns’ week of games were tricky. A road game against Kansas State is one of the toughest a team will play in the Big 12. A home game against OSU has spelled doom for some of the best teams in the league. Texas walked away from the week with their NCAA hopes intact. Losing at Kansas State doesn’t hurt. But losing any road game — even the West Virginia game this week — could derail that March ticket.

Texas did both games with a limited Mo Bamba, who has a toe injury. Bamba didn’t play much against Oklahoma State after playing 31 minutes against Kansas State. He reportedly suffered the injury against Oklahoma.

The Kansas State game has to be a frustrating one for Texas coaches, fans and even the players. It’s just another example of how Texas has struggled to develop offensively over the course of the season. Entering the year as a bad offensive team and ending the season as a bad offensive team is not what you want to see. It’s not what even the average teams do. Shooting 18.8 percent in a deciding half is unacceptable for a team projected to play in the NCAA Tournament against a defense ranked No. 57 in the country. But it’s also not surprising to anyone who follows this squad, because they’ve been rudderless all year on offense.

The Oklahoma State game is one that kind makes coaches, fans and even the players feel better. It’s another example of how Texas responds to bad games and, really, adversity. Without Davis playing, I had no idea if the Longhorns could beat OSU. And it looked like they wouldn’t. Trailing double-digits in the second half, the Longhorns rallied and won in the final seconds.

Texas did what it had to do, but there’s more work needed to cement a NCAA bid.

Texas forward Mohamed Bamba (4) and Baylor forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (0) battle for a rebound during the first half of earlier this month. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

3. Will Bamba’s toe injury hurt his Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year bid?

No.

Bamba won this award weeks ago. In fact, I think he was a bigger lock got DPOY in the conference than Trae Young was Player of the Year.

Even if Bamba is limited in the last few games, he should easily win this honor, and if he doesn’t, it’ll be some freshman-senior bias as West Virginia’s Jevon Carter would likely get the award.

But it won’t happen. Bamba is going to win this easily.

Fans and the Kansas mascot hold up signs as the prepare to celebrate another Kansas Big 12 Conference championship  in 2016. Kansas defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 to clinch its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

2. Texas travels to Kansas on Monday

They’ve won 14 freaking conference titles in a row.

The Kansas elevator pitch: No team in the league is playing better than Kansas is right now. The Jayhawks just beat Texas Tech, 74-72, in Lubbock. No other team in the league — or the country — has beaten Texas Tech in Lubbock.

It’s simply amazing. The last time Kansas didn’t win the league, I was two months away from graduating high school. Kansas has split the league title a few times and that certainly looked like the case this year and still can be. Kansas could go 0-2 in its last two games and split the league with either West Virginia or Texas Tech.

If the glare of the Big 12 Championship trophy (trophies?) don’t intimidate the Longhorns on Monday, the actual on-court play could. Kansas made 17 3-pointers in December when they kicked off the league and won 92-86 in Austin. That game felt a little more lopsided than the final score as Texas had a late burst in the final minutes to cut into the lead.

It also helps when the Jayhawks have the come-from-behind Big 12 Player of the Year favorite in Devonte Graham. Trae Young and Oklahoma’s late season swoon has damaged his POY chances. Keenan Evans probably took the lead from him a few weeks ago, but his injury and Tech’s recent 3-game losing streak has cooled him. Graham, meanwhile, is the most consistent player in the league. He has played 98 percent of Kansas’ Big 12 minutes. He is second in scoring with 17.9 ppg. He’s second in assists with 7.1 per game. He is fourth in steals per game, fourth in 3-pointers made, sixth in 3-point percentage and tied for first in assists to turnover ratio.

More importantly, Kansas doesn’t win the Big 12 without him. He had played at least 40 minutes in 10 of the last 11 Kansas games. He has played 1,081 minutes. That’s almost 300 more minutes than the second guy, Iowa State’s Nick Weiler-Babb.

Interesting note: We’ve written a few times this season about Texas wins being the “biggest win of the Shaka Smart era.” The win over TCU could have qualified because of the raw emotion that was involved. The win over Texas Tech at home because of how good Tech is this season. The home win against Oklahoma, because it was GameDay and a prime time ESPN telecast. But let’s make no mistake, any win over Kansas would be the “biggest win of the Shaka Smart era” to date. It’s also, as we’ve written before, the team that his biggest win of his coaching career came against. The buzz around Smart’s career started the moment he beat one of the overwhelming favorites to win the title in the 2011 NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. Even at his introductory press conference at Texas, Smart invoked Kansas, as almost every new coach does these days. Smart has not beaten Kansas yet. In some of these games, it hasn’t even been close. But there’s a first time for everything.

Bottom line: Kansas just won the league, just beat the second-best team in the league and are led by two seniors celebrating their last game at Allen Fieldhouse. Texas’ best player could be out, one of its veterans is likely to be out and a bigger game is this weekend against West Virginia at home. It’s a tough ask for Texas — and any Big 12 team — to win on Senior Night at Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) drives while being defended by West Virginia guard James Bolden (3) during the Longhorns’ road loss to the Mountaineers in January. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

1. Texas hosts West Virginia

They could lose and no one would punish them, but they could win and rest easier entering championship week.

The West Virginia elevator pitch: The Mountaineers responded to its dramatic loss to Kansas with dominating back-to-back wins last week.

I thought Texas and West Virginia matched up well this season, then the Mountaineers won by 35 points in Morgantown. That game was the first time I thought Texas really laid down this season.

West Virginia and Texas have the same M.O. Great on defense, can be really be bad on offense. Texas, I think, is a better half-court defense than West Virginia, and, if Bamba is playing, then that is definitely the case. But getting West Virginia in half-court sets is difficult because of the press. Texas turned the ball over 15 times against West Virginia in January, which really isn’t that bad against the Mountaineers. What was bad is those 15 turnovers led to 22 points. And the Mountaineers outscored Texas 21-6 on second-chance points.

What will be fun is if Bamba plays and matches wits with Sagaba Konate. Those are the two best shot blockers in the league.

Interesting note: Entering the week, Texas is 3-4 in Big 12 rematches. They are 1-2 in rematches against teams they previously lost to. Those numbers will change after Monday when they play Kansas. It’s been a mixed bag in rematches. Texas’ game against TCU in Fort Worth is probably the second worst game they’ve had in Big 12 play. The Baylor game was one of the best and they just happened to lose in double overtime. The OSU game was a display of toughness in that comeback, therefore it’s one of the best games of the season for Texas.

Bottom line: Remember when I wrote above about the “biggest win of the Shaka Smart era?” Well, this will be another game in the running if Texas can win. In fact, a 2-0 record this week would be the greatest week of the Smart era. There could be another story-line too. If Texas beats Kansas on Monday, and West Virginia wins at home against Texas Tech, this game could be for a share of the conference title for WVU — Kansas has to also lose to OSU on Saturday. I’m sure WVU isn’t concerned with seeding for the Big 12 Tournament, but it is an element as well. Then again, if Texas loses to Kansas, then WVU is playing for second place. A possible short-handed Longhorn team will have a tough time beating WVU even if it’s in Austin.

Comments