Big 12 Season Preview: Texas Longhorns

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 12th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Texas. 

Texas

Hey look, Rick Barnes magically became a good coach again! Some may have actually had this thought, but no, he didn’t become a terrible coach after one bad season. Those calling for his termination have to remember that Barnes has taken the program to heights not seen since the midway point of the 20th century. It’s hard to believe the same Texas team picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches Poll last season won 24 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32. Now with virtually everyone back on board for another year, the Longhorns are primed to jostle with the Jayhawks atop the Big 12 standings. Just like old times.

Did we mention Rick Barnes won Big 12 Coach of the Year? No? Well yeah, he did. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Did we mention Rick Barnes won 2013-14 Big 12 Coach of the Year? No? Well yeah, he did. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Strengths: A team full of freshmen and sophomores at key positions a year ago grew up rather quickly. Most can point to their December win at North Carolina as a turning point in the season. Then you throw in some tournament experience, a blue-chip recruit and a largely intact rotation, this has the makings of a colossal year in Austin. Myles Turner is the blue-chip center out of the Dallas area. The center and forward spots are in capable hands even without Turner but there’s little reason to believe a player of his talent will not have a role carved out for him by Barnes. The fascinating thing about Texas is that they don’t beat you with a star or two. At any time, all five guys on the floor for the Longhorns can beat you in a multitude of ways. Isaiah Taylor showed great polish as a freshman driving and dishing. Jonathan Holmes successfully took on the role as top scorer, rebounder and big shot-maker (see buzzer beater vs Kansas State). A slimmed down Cameron Ridley still clogged up the paint scoring easy buckets, improving at the free throw line and altering shots on the defensive end. Aside from Taylor, Holmes and Ridley, guys like Demarcus Holland, Connor Lammert, Javan Felix and Prince Ibeh were hustling after nearly every rebound (ranked fourth nationally; sixth nationally in offensive rebound percentage per Kenpom) and block (ninth nationally in block percentage per Kenpom). I could understand if a fan of another team became annoyed watching them. They were like a fly that would buzz past your ear every few seconds but you could never find and destroy. It would not be a stretch to expect the same effort this time around.

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Matchup Analysis: Is Texas Built to End Kansas’ Big 12 Dominion?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 6th, 2014

It’s been 10 long years, but the prominent question in the Big 12 remains the same: Will someone throw Kansas from the mountain top? There have been some fantastic runners-up in the Big 12 over the years and four teams have shared the regular season crown with the Jayhawks, so even if the streak isn’t quite as dominant as it appears, it is still incredible. Impressive as it is, though, consistency can be boring, too. With that in mind, it’s natural to identify the next-best team in the conference at the beginning of the season and ask the question of whether this is the year it can rise to the occasion.

Texas was picked second in the Big 12, but are they built to be the team that dethrones Kansas? (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas was picked second in the Big 12, but are they built to be the team that dethrones Kansas? (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

This season, it’s clear that Texas (on paper) is the second-best team in the conference. You probably know their story, but if you aren’t familiar, the Longhorns return nearly everyone from the campaign that saved Rick Barnes’ job and they fortified a strength with the addition of super-recruit Myles Turner. While rankings aren’t everything, Texas sits at #10 in both the AP and USA Today polls and appears to be about as good as any preseason number two the Big 12 has had over the years. With a double-round robin format in this league, the fate of the conference championship could come down to the head-t0-head battles (January 24 and February 28) between Texas and Kansas, so let’s take a look at those match-ups. To be clear, no team is built with the singular goal of beating another specific team, and any of a number of things could happen that would render this post meaningless, but the possibility is still worth exploring.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Michigan 79, #7 Texas 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 22nd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

  1. Michigan’s three-point shooting carried it to victory. The Wolverines have been a very good three-point shooting team all season, and that carried over to Saturday afternoon. John Beilein’s squad used 14 three-pointers – on 28 attempts from behind the arc – to pace itself to a comfortable victory over Texas.  Starters Derrick Walton Jr., Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III combined to hit 11 from behind the arc and this forced the Longhorns to make defensive adjustments throughout the game. Hot three-point shooting has been known to carry teams deep into the NCAA Tournament. Michigan has shown repeatedly that its long-range shooting is about as good as it gets this season, so you should not be surprised if the Wolverines keep advancing as long as they are hitting shots from deep.
  2. Offensive rebounding and free throw shooting kept Texas in the game. The Longhorns did not have their best game on either side of the court Saturday afternoon. They shot just 37.1 percent from the field and starting guards Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland, and Javan Felix finished a combined 11-of-34. Rick Barnes’ group also had a long night defensively, as they allowed Michigan way too many open looks from the perimeter, resulting in the Wolverines’ hot shooting performance. Two areas where Texas excelled were on the offensive glass and at the free throw line. The Longhorns collected an astounding 21 offensive boards and used those to record 19 second-chance points. They also took advantage of their 16 attempts from the charity stripe by knocking back all but one of them. Texas probably should have been put away shortly after the commencement of the second half, but due to its performance on the offensive glass and at the free throw line, it was able to keep the pressure on Michigan well into the final minutes.
  3. Jordan Morgan has been the interior presence Michigan needs. When Mitch McGary went down with a season-ending back injury in late December, many question arose regarding if Michigan’s inside play would be good enough for the team to have a successful season. Those questions were certainly answered in the Big Ten, as the team’s inside play was not an issue en route to a 15-3 conference record and an outright league title. Entering the NCAA Tournament, however, it still seemed as if there were doubts if the team’s inside play would be enough for it to advance far into the bracket. Senior forward Jordan Morgan’s play in the first two games of this Tournament has shown that those doubts were unwarranted. The big man has tallied 25 points and 20 rebounds over the first two games and has provided the team with a much-needed interior defensive presence. Morgan has already played a lot of minutes in his Michigan career and if he can continue to produce in the post, he is going to likely play quite a few more before his Wolverines career is over.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Texas 87, #10 Arizona State 85

Posted by Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

When it mattered most, big #55 Cameron Ridley came up huge. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

When it mattered most, big #55 Cameron Ridley came up huge. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Three Takeaways.

  1. This victory was a team effort from Texas. The Longhorns have been a balanced offensive unit all season and that was again the story for them in the win over Arizona State. Six Longhorns (guards Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland, Isaiah Taylor and big men Jonathan Holmes, Martez Walker, and Cameron Ridley) finished the evening in double figures. Taylor, a freshman, did not show his inexperience at all, as he totaled six assists and only committed one turnover. Ridley was a load inside and his 17 points and 12 rebounds were the production Texas needed in the post. Obviously, Ridley’s biggest two points came on his putback to beat the buzzer, giving his Longhorns the victory and pushing them into the round of 32.
  2. Cameron Ridley vs. Jordan Bachynski was an outstanding post match-up. Ridley will garner nearly all the press due to his game-winning shot, but it must be noted how productive Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski was throughout the game — the Sun Devils’ big man finished the evening with 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting. There were portions of the game where it would alternate between Texas pounding the ball to Ridley on one end and Arizona State pounding it to Bachynski on the other end. It was the most entertaining match-up on the floor all evening. While Ridley ultimately got the best of Bachynski with his final shot, Bachynski was a worthy adversary and the battle between the two center greatly contributed to the game’s entertainment level.
  3. Texas faces a tall task against Michigan on Saturday. The Longhorns do not have much time to relish in their emotional victory, as they now have a match-up with #2 Michigan in the round of 32 on Saturday. The Wolverines play a similar style to that of Arizona State, but they are a much more polished unit than the Sun Devils. Michigan’s ability to shoot from distance is well-known and Texas’ perimeter defense was an issue on Friday night (it allowed Arizona State to shoot 53.3 percent from three). If Texas does not find a way to shore that up a bit before Saturday, it may be in for a long night of Michigan three-pointers. An area where Texas should have an advantage, though, is with its inside play. Ridley and Jonathan Holmes give the Longhorns two legitimate threats in the post and on the glass and those are two areas where Michigan struggles a bit. The Wolverines deserve to be favored, but don’t be surprised if Texas keeps it close and has a chance to ultimately win the game.

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Big 12 M5: 02.27.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma team is soundly in the field of 68. In some years, that’s considered enough, but with three games still to play, the Sooners have room to improve their seeding. Oklahoma should be able to fatten up. To wrap up the season, Oklahoma hosts Texas and West Virginia before heading to Fort Worth to play TCU. In other words, Monday’s game at Kansas was the final serious road test for the Sooners before the Big 12 Tournament tips off in two weeks.
  2. CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander crunched some numbers to illustrate the amazing continuity and eye-popping stats that Bill Self and Kansas have been able to compile over the Jayhawks’ reign of Big 12 dominance. Perhaps the most amazing factoid that Norlander pulled out is that eight Big East coaches have won their league over the last ten years while only Kansas has held court in the Big 12. Inevitably, someone will pick against the Jayhawks next season, but don’t look at us.
  3. Back on Big 12 Media Day in October, the league’s coaches named Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim to the preseason all-Big 12 First Team. Ejim was coming off a solid year, but since he was only named an honorable mention at the end of the 2012-13 season, it looked curious. Fast forward a few months, though, and not only can one make the argument that he belongs on the All-Big 12 First Team, but his conference player of the year case is strong as well – or so says Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg is understandably biased, but Ejim’s numbers (18.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game) on a very good Iowa State team speak for themselves.
  4. Speaking of Iowa State, the Cyclones soundly beat the Mountaineers 83-66 in front of a packed house at Hilton Coliseum. Georges Niang led all scorers with 24 points while Monte Morris dished out 12 assists without committing a single turnover. West Virginia was done in by poor ball-handling and a lack of tenacity on the glass. The Mountaineers have made a decent run in league play to make up for their lackluster showing in non-con play, but it’s looking more and more like they’ll have to do some damage in Kansas City to feel good about their chances for a tournament bid.
  5. In other Big 12 action, Baylor made things interesting on the road at Texas, but ultimately fell to the Longhorns, 74-69 to end the Bears’ four-game winning streak. Aided by five three-pointers from Javan Felix, Texas led by 15 at the end of the first half. The Bears had a chance to surge ahead in the last two minutes, but couldn’t hit shots down the stretch. In the final minute, a driving lay-up from Kenny Chery was rejected by Texas center Cameron Ridley and the Longhorns finished Baylor off from there. Projections on Baylor’s postseason future are mixed, as they currently sport a 6-9 record in league play with three games left. At this point, the Bears probably need to go 2-1 to finish off the regular season. Any less and they’ll likely need to win a game or two in the conference tournament.
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Iowa State Rides Stars In Win Over Texas

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 19th, 2014

In the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference on Monday, Texas head coach Rick Barnes emphasized his team’s chemistry and his players’ focus on the current mission at hand (rather than looking to the next level) as the reason for the Longhorns’ improved play this season. Coming into Tuesday night’s game at Iowa State, Texas was just one game behind Kansas in the loss column in the Big 12 standings, with Barnes’ preseason hot seat having cooled significantly.

Melvin Ejim Dominated Texas Last Night

Melvin Ejim Dominated Texas Last Night (Austin American-Statesman)

Iowa State is another team that prides itself on making its pieces fit together well rather than relying on future lottery picks. While opinions of mock drafts are certainly worth your scrutiny, it’s also worth pointing out that the first round of DraftExpress.com‘s latest mock draft doesn’t include a single player from either Texas or Iowa State. But yet, here’s where we are: Both teams are challenging for a top-three finish in the Big 12. Earlier this season, Texas knocked off four ranked teams in a row; and Iowa State trails only Kansas in top-50 RPI wins. With NCAA Tournament bids now down to a matter of formality for both teams, how could we not have been in for an entertaining battle between the Longhorns and Cyclones on Tuesday night?

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Big 12 M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. After Kansas’ loss to Kansas State on Monday, Bill Self said that Jayhawks center Joel Embiid could miss some time to focus on recuperating from knee and back injuries. Embiid played just 18 minutes in the loss at Bramlage Coliseum, and the Wildcats exploited his health problems to attack the paint effectively. Embiid hasn’t officially been ruled out for Saturday’s game against TCU, but Self noted Tuesday that “he has no strength” and “he winces when he moves.” The Jayhawks will need their future lottery pick back and at 100 percent if they are to live up to expectations, but it appears they have a little bit of wiggle room to take it easy with their big man in the short term as they face a relative lag in the Big 12 schedule with the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders next on the docket.
  2. Speaking of the Wildcats, Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber is doing a fantastic job of shaking the critics who believe that the second-year head coach can’t win with his own players, and guard Marcus Foster might be the poster boy for the campaign. The Texas native took home National Freshman Of The Week honors for his 34-point outburst against Texas last Saturday, and legitimized it by following up that game with a team-leading 20 points against the Jayhawks on Monday. The Wildcats aren’t a Tournament lock just yet, but they’re getting close, and their standout freshman is a big reason why.
  3. Texas took it to the short-handed Oklahoma State Cowboys throughout an 87-68 win that wasn’t even that close. Javan Felix led the way for the Longhorns, scoring 27 points and hitting six out of eight three-pointers. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Texas led comfortably despite being without leading scorer Jonathan Holmes, who missed Tuesday’s game with a knee injury. With the win, Texas picked up a half-game on Kansas in the league standings, while the Cowboys fell firmly onto the bubble. We can only assume that Travis Ford is counting the hours until Marcus Smart can return to game action.
  4. Suffice it to say that Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has had better weeks. Following a gut-punching blowout at the hands of West Virginia, the Cyclones lost out on the services of Rashad Vaughn, a highly-touted guard prospect from Henderson, Nevada. Vaughn opted to stay close to home, announcing his intentions on Tuesday to attend UNLV and play for Dave Rice. While the Cyclones will lose DeAndre Kane at the end of the season, they still still figure to be in good shape moving forward with Matt Thomas, Monte Morris, Naz Long and Sherron Dorsey-Walker comprising what should be a highly formidable backcourt.
  5. TCU has an opportunity to turn their 0-10 ship around when the Horned Frogs welcome Baylor to Fort Worth tonight. Trent Johnson’s team has been outrebounded in nine of its last ten games, but Baylor’s rebounding core has left a lot to be desired, considering the athleticism of guys like Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers. Both teams could use a kickstart; The last time either team won consecutive games, Oregon and Ohio State were undefeated, Spencer Dinwiddie was healthy, and Michael Cobbins had only missed one game due to his torn Achilles.
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Big 12 M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Last night posed the opportunity for a letdown with Texas beating league-leading Kansas on Saturday and then turning around to face last-place TCU on the road. The Longhorns trailed by two points at the half and had committed their season average of 10 turnovers to that point, but the second 20 minutes were a completely different story. The Horns regrouped as Jonathan Holmes poured in 17 of his 20 points on their way to their seventh straight Big 12 win. The Horns did all of this without one of their better ball-handlers available, as Javan Felix was out of the lineup due to a concussion he suffered on Saturday. It looks like we’re seeing the young Longhorns grow up right before our eyes.
  2. Kansas’ win over Baylor last night might appear confusing on paper because the Jayhawks won easily despite Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden Jr. only combining for 23 points on 6-of-22 shooting. But the focus should be on point guard Naadir Tharpe, who had another good offensive game on the road. Oddly enough, Tharpe has had some of his better offensive performances away from Allen Fieldhouse. In the four Big 12 road games where he’s attempted at least one shot, Tharpe is averaging 16.2 points on 22-of-33 from the floor and 10-of-14 from downtown (71.4%). Statistical anomalies: Ya gotta love ‘em.
  3. Oklahoma State‘s defeat to Iowa State on Monday night could not have come at a worse time. The school had dedicated the night to longtime head coach Eddie Sutton; Gallagher-Iba Arena was half-empty; and then there was the whole triple-overtime loss. Sutton took some thinly-veiled shots at the fan base and perhaps even the team while attending the game. “It’s easier to play here [at GIA] now than it was before,” Sutton told the Tulsa World. “It was a lot louder.” Gee, he may have a point there. It is a little embarrassing when the head coach of a team with several NBA Draft prospects has to urge students to come to their games. Guess the thermometer on Travis Ford’s seat is heating back up again.
  4. It seems as though most pundits have Kansas State pegged as NCAA Tournament-bound at this point in the year, but with so many holes in this team can we really be so sure of it? The Wildcats haven’t won any important road games; they are hard to watch on offense; and they also rank dead last in the Big 12 in free throw percentage (64.4%). For a team that beats opponents by keeping games in the 60s, making free throws is all the more vital in creating some late-game separation. If they don’t fix this problem somewhat soon, the Wildcats’ life on the bubble will be a short one and the NIT is where they’ll be headed.
  5. This isn’t news to anyone at all, but Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg is very much winning in life. He played in the NBA; he is currently coaching his alma mater (and doing well); and now he is putting up high scores on the Flappy Bird app. Now I’ve heard the Flappy Bird game is the thing kids are into these days but I have no clue how it’s played (how does one go about flapping the bird or does the bird flap you somehow?). In any case, Hoiberg scored a 123 which is apparently very hard to do. More power to him.
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Big 12 M5: Day After The Super Bowl Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. We’re not wrong when we say Saturday in the Big 12 was more Super than the so-called Super Bowl. Kansas brought its perfect conference record to “The Drum” in Austin and left imperfect. Jonathan Holmes’ jumper with 16:38 left in the first half gave Texas a lead it would never relinquish. This makes it six wins in a row for the Longhorns, and while it’s still a surprise considering what the Longhorns went through a year ago, we shouldn’t really treat it as a surprise. Think about Rick Barnes’ best teams from the 2000s: Barnes had multi-year players like T.J. Ford, Brandon Mouton, A.J. Abrams and Damion James that took the program to the next level. This year, the junior Holmes and a crop full of sophomores continues to defy logic while shooting up the national polls.
  2. One of those heralded Texas sophomores will be out for Tuesday’s game against TCU. The school announced that Javan Felix will be unavailable because of a concussion he suffered in the team’s win over Kansas two days ago. Texas will try to extend its winning streak to seven without Felix’s 12.0 PPG in the lineup. I should the mention that the game will take place in Fort Worth, and with all the craziness that’s gone down in conference play so far, the Horns had better be on Upset Watch headed into this one.
  3. Speaking of craziness, Baylor ran into problems just making its way to Stillwater for a weekend tilt with Oklahoma State. According to Jimmy Dykes, who worked color commentary on the game for ESPN, their flight was re-directed to Oklahoma City due to icy conditions near the Oklahoma State campus. The bus from OKC to Stillwater cautiously braved the ice with high speeds topping out at five miles an hour. On top of that, starting point guard Kenny Chery was out because of a turf toe injury. So it only made sense for the Bears to win their first game in three weeks, right? Gary Franklin and Brady Heslip stepped up big-time, combining for nine threes between them, and we also got to see Rico Gathers start and finish a sweet fast break dunk. It was that kind of day for the Bears and who knows, maybe this is the turning point in the season that Baylor fans have been waiting for.
  4. On the other sideline, backup point guard Stevie Clark was arrested and charged with “outraging public decency” early Sunday morning. This marks the second arrest for Clark in a little more than a month after he was caught with possession of marijuana around New Year’s Day. Most of us also remember that Clark was suspended for four games and sent home from the Old Spice Classic for another undisclosed reason back in November. Travis Ford has yet to comment on Clark’s status but it will be interesting to see how he rules on his talented but troublesome freshman this time around.
  5. Can you guess the team that sits in fourth place in the Big 12 ahead of Iowa State and Oklahoma State? It’s OK if you had to Google it for the answer, but yes… it’s West Virginia. WVU took down Kansas State on Saturday to get to 5-4 in Big 12 play (K-State also has a 5-4 record but they might as well be fifth with the Mountaineers owning the head-to-head advantage). This win coupled with their road victory at Baylor appears to have brought some at-large possibilities back to life. If they’re able to beat Oklahoma this week and continue to add a few more good wins, that might be able to offset the missed opportunities the Mountaineeers had in non-conference play to earn a Tournament bid. Could we be talking about EIGHT teams dancing from the Big 12? Wow!
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Who Won The Week? A Nebraska Sharpshooter, the Wolverines, & Rick Barnes…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 24th, 2014

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

WINNER: Ethan Wragge

Creighton’s starting center/three-point assassin/reason why there’s no trees left in Nebraska had a performance for the ages Monday night at Villanova. The Wildcats thought it would be wise to double-team fellow Bluejay Doug McDermott – you know, the best player in college basketball – and left Wragge open. BAD. IDEA. Wragge came out and made his first seven three-pointers as the Jays shot the Wildcats to smithereens in a 96-68 game that was 90-50 before Greg McDermott’s team took its foot off the gas. Wragge wrapped up the game with 27 points on 9-of-14 three-point shooting, and also had the time to dish out three assists without a turnover. Creighton’s team stats from that game are almost as ridiculous as their bearded center’s: 33-of-58 shooting from the field, 21-of-31 from three-point range, 25 assists on the 33 made shots.

Ethan Wragge had a game to remember against Villanova. (AP)

Ethan Wragge had a game to remember against Villanova. (AP)

The Bluejays came into Monday night’s game ranked 13th  in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings and the Wildcats came in second. Because of Creighton’s ludicrous 1.4 points per possession against a team that had only given up more than a point per possession once in 17 games, the two teams flipped spots in the rankings, despite the college basketball season only half over. The difference between Creighton’s top-ranked offensive efficiency and Duke in second is equal to the difference between Duke and 16th-place Oregon. (Back to Wragge for a bit: Let’s just overlook Saturday’s eight-point performance in Creighton’s 81-68 loss versus Providence. He obviously had to save his three-pointers for a bigger game.)

(Related winners: Creighton; Providence, who also beat Butler on Tuesday; Doug McDermott, who still had 23 points despite the double-teams and the performance of Wragge. Related losers: Any voter who thought Creighton wasn’t worth ranking because of neutral-court losses to George Washington and San Diego State, and a road loss to a 14-5 Providence team; Villanova, for which there’s not enough ice left on the north pole to soothe its burns.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Texas in the CBE Hall Of Fame Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2013

With Feast Week kicking into high gear, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Big 12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: The Longhorns haven’t garnered many headlines this season, but as we mentioned in Friday’s M5, that’s probably a good thing, given that their schedule has consisted of four games against teams outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 100. After a couple of close calls against Mercer and South Alabama, Rick Barnes‘ team finally got the lead out last Monday, thrashing Houston Baptist in Austin. It may still be early, but things could be looking up, as the Texas offense is already more promising than it was at this time a year ago. Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert have made great strides, and a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio from Javan Felix has made scoring easier to come by. The Longhorns are still trying to get Cameron Ridley out of neutral, free throw shooting has been awful, and the team’s shot selection has been questionable at times, so there’s still a lot of improvement to be made. Defensively, kinks are still being ironed out, especially on the perimeter. Texas has allowed four nondescript opponents to shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc, the result of fielding a young team and showing a zone defense that hasn’t done a good job of closing out on shooters.

The 4-0 Longhorns look to keep the good times rolling in Kansas City. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

The 4-0 Longhorns look to keep the good times rolling in Kansas City. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

First Round Preview: Texas’ defensive three-point percentage will be an area of concern right off the bat as the Longhorns draw sweet-shooting BYU tonight in Kansas City. Even though the Cougars hit only 4-of-14 attempts from outside the arc against Iowa State, the Longhorns need to keep a close eye on Matt Carlino, Tyler Haws and Anson Winer, each of whom can do damage from the perimeter in a hurry. Inside, the match-up should work slightly more in Texas’ favor, especially if Cougars forward Erik Mika has trouble adjusting to the eye injury he suffered at the hands of DeAndre Kane. Any time would be a great time for the Longhorns to get Ridley going, but with such a distinct size advantage down low, this is an especially good opportunity for him. Still, none of it will matter if Texas doesn’t keep up with BYU’s quick-strike offense, as the Cougars’ possessions last an average of just 12.6 seconds.

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Big 12 Team Preview: Texas Longhorns

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 4th, 2013

Over the next two weeks, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Texas.

Where We Left Off: The 2012-13 edition of the Texas Longhorns featured the first losing season in the Rick Barnes era. Barnes’ squad struggled to a 16-18 overall record and a 7-11 conference mark, ending the streak of 14 consecutive years that Barnes had taken Texas to the NCAA Tournament. Texas was one of the youngest teams in college basketball a season ago, and was without point guard Myck Kabongo for all but eight games as Kabongo spent much of the season in limbo awaiting an NCAA eligibility ruling. Perhaps many saw the disappointing season coming after the Longhorns were ran out of the gym by lowly Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. Regardless, it would be fair to classify last year’s Texas season as a disappointment, to say the least.

A disappointing 2012-2013 season leaves Rick Barnes looking for answers (Credit: The Big Lead)

A disappointing 2012-2013 season leaves Rick Barnes looking for answers.

Positives: Unless you’re a Longhorn optimist, this becomes difficult heading into this season. With Kabongo out for much of last year, sophomore point guard Javan Felix earned valuable experience as the Texas floor general. Felix underwent hip surgery on October 1 with no timetable for his return, but showed an ability at times last season to break down defenses and get his teammates open shots. Joining Felix are newcomers Isaiah Taylor, Kendal Yancy, Demarcus Croaker and Martez Walker. Croaker figures to make perhaps the biggest impact this season as the 6’2″ guard is considered a quality shooter, something Texas severely lacked last season. Returning sophomore Cameron Ridley was a highly-recruited player out of high school, but struggled to 4.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season. The 6’9″ center will need to provide a boost to the Texas frontcourt for Barnes’ team to take a step forward this year.

Negatives: You don’t have to look far to identify why many aren’t high on Texas heading into this season. Kabongo decided to enter last April’s NBA Draft but went undrafted and is now a member of the Austin Toros. In addition to Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis and Jaylen Bond all opted to transfer. McClellan and Lewis contributed significant minutes a season ago, averaging 13.5 and 11.2 points per game, respectively. As if that wasn’t enough, former freshman guard Ioannis Papapetrou, who averaged 8.3 points per game in his first season in Austin, decided to leave Texas to play professionally overseas. The plethora of offseason transfers, coupled with an underwhelming recruiting class and the disappointing 2012-13 campaign, and it’s no wonder head coach Rick Barnes finds himself firmly on the hot seat heading into this season.

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