RECORD 12-4 (1-1) BRACKET TRAJECTORY #3 seed LAST WEEK 1-1 (75-67 vs Iowa St, 63-78 at OU) KENPOM NATL. RANK #30 LONGHORN MVP None this week
OFF. EFFICIENCY (RANK) 107.1 (#73) NEXT WEEK Sat, 1/17 vs Texas Tech (10-6, 0-1) / Tues, 1/24 vs Texas A&M (15-2, 1-1)
DEF. EFFICIENCY (RANK) 87.4 (#13) NATL. RANKINGS #11 AP / #11 Coaches / #22 RPI STRENGTH OF SCHED. Offense #32, Defense #72, Overal SOS #79
INTO THE WILD
When I was about 12 my family for the first time got a pet -- a six-week old kitten named Charlie. I took to him quickly, as he was exceptionally affectionate and playful in a way unusually rambunctious for a cat. He was in spirit more a puppy than a kitten, eager to explore, play, and mix things up. So overwhelming was his adventurous spirit that it overrode the "avoid water at all costs" gene universal to all cats -- Charlie on more than one occasion took a playful plunge into a bathtub of water. Once wet, he realized he was out of his element, but he couldn't resist the temptation to dive in and see for himself.
As he neared one year in age, the adventures began moving outdoors, which worried us, given his cavalier approach to... well, everything. So we started trying to tame him a bit -- kept him indoors for the most part, avoided indulging his hyperactivity, tried to get him to just mellow out and, you know, be a cat. The effort was at times successful, but never wholly so. Charlie just couldn't sit still and hang out; he was a prowler. There soon developed a shared feeling among the family that Charlie was in a decisive period, during which he'd either begin to calm down and mellow into a normal house cat or would reject the comfortable life and head out into the wild.
I feel the same way about this year's Texas basketball team. They've teased with reasons to believe there could be happy endings ahead, but the bad moments have been incredibly worrisome. As we move into the second week of conference play, I feel like things could still go either way and there's not much to say other than I hope things are peaking come March.
TEXAS AT TEXAS TECH PREVIEW
Texas today begins a critical three-game stretch with a road trip to Lubbock, to be followed by a home date with A&M and then a road tilt against Baylor. Winning the Big 12 is and has always been about holding serve at home and stealing a game or three on the road. If the Longhorns were to win each of those three, they'd be in excellent shape for the next three-game set -- a manageable slate versus K-State, Missouri, and at Nebraska. Get hot, get to 7-1 in conference, and hope the team is starting to gel into one that can handle its business at home and steal a road win either at OSU or Kansas.
If that's the best-case scenario, the nightmare would include a loss today at Texas Tech. Texas under Rick Barnes has won four outright or co-Big 12 championships because he just hasn't lost many games to his South Division foes. Barnes has never lost to Baylor (22-0), and has dominated both Texas A&M (16-5) and Texas Tech (19-3). For the Longhorns to slip up today -- against a very average Red Raiders squad -- would signal big trouble for this team the rest of the way.
Texas Tech is 10-6 on the season, 0-1 in Big 12 play following a road loss to Baylor. Bad losses at Lamar and at home to TCU wart their non-conference resume; quality wins over Mississipi State and New Mexico stand out as the bright spots.
In the half court the Red Raiders still run a motion offense, but this year have upped their tempo behind sophomore point guard John Roberson, who likes to push and create. Turnovers are up, but without any dangerous go-to scorers who can create for themselves, Tech looks frequently for opportunities in transition. If unattended, three point specialist Alan Voskuil (50-111 3PFG, 45%) can be a real pest.
Defensively, I expect the smaller Red Raiders to zone Texas for large chunks of the game. Tech doesn't secure defensive rebounds well at all in any case, while the Longhorns have been dreadful when forced into a game of shooting three-balls.
This match up is one that suits Texas well -- if they execute with even modest competence, they should leave Lubbock with a win. The keys:
1. Be aware in transition defense. Tech is an average half court offensive team, but will fire out quickly with Roberson to seek points in transition. Justin Mason needs to be careful about crashing the offensive glass, opening up the floor for Tech the other way.
2. Attack the zone. Texas too often resots to dribble, dribble, jack when the opponent takes away an easy entry to the lane. If the Longhorns are sharp, look for James and Johnson to flash to the free throw line, where upon catching the ball they're a triple threat to the zone: pop it if they're open, drive it if there's a lane, dump it in if the baseline D pushes up court too far.
3. Get to the line. Tech will put opponents on the line if attacked on the interior; hand-in-hand with the preceding point, Texas needs to work inside-out, looking for opportunities to work Tech inside or -- if they collapse -- kick out to wide open shooters.