Texas Longhorns Basketball: Inside the Numbers, Week 1

Sheldon McClellan had a good week. - Cooper Neill

Inside the Numbers takes a look at the first week of the Texas basketball season.

When I was a shy and scrawny 12 year old in the middle of a growth spurt, my basketball coach pulled me aside one day before practice. He had me stand underneath the basket as he walked around the edge of the paint. "Jeffrey," he said, "this is your territory. Nobody f---s around in your territory." Over the years, he would occasionally repeat these words, or write them down on the small white board he used to diagram plays. "Nobody f---s around in your territory" remains some of the best advice I have received in my life.

This Texas team is going to be much different from the one that we watched last season. This is a team capable of following through on that simple directive, "Nobody f---s around in your territory." In their first two games, the Longhorns have blocked 26 percent of opponent shots at the rim, and are allowing opponents to make only 52 percent of these shots from in close. Last season, Texas blocked 10 percent of attempts at the rim, and opponents made 60 percent of these attempts. The best teams are typically the best because they control the space immediately in front of the basket. Those who doubt this should look at the teams that participated in last season's Final Four, or at the NCAA champions of the last decade. Offensive and defensive fads will come and go, but dominating the paint will never go out of style.

We are right to have questions and concerns about this iteration of the Texas basketball team. Can this team shoot? Where will the offense come from? Are these guys simply too young to compete? Although we have concerns, the ceiling for the Longhorns this year (and likely next year) is considerably higher than it was last season, simply because this team is capable of controlling the interior. Basketball favors the tall. That basic fact is why coaches pull aside six foot tall 12 year olds and teach them the F-word.

Texas' first two games are in the books. Texas beat Fresno State in a tight game to open the season, and then blew out Coppin State.

The Week In Review

Success in basketball comes down to four simple things:

1. Maximize the number of shots you get per possession.

2. Minimize the number of shots your opponent gets per possession.

3. Be as efficient with your shots as possible.

4. Make your opponent as inefficient with their shots as possible.

This column looks at these four things, and the factors that affect them. All of the background information on the statistics is presented here, here, and here.

TEXAS vs FRESNO STATE

CATEGORY

TEXAS

FRESNO ST

DIFFERENCE

FGA

49

59

-10

FTA

24

11

13

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

60.4

64.2

-3.8

Off Rebs

15

13

2

TOs

13

7

6

ORB - TO

2

6

-4

TS%

0.455

0.413

0.043

ORB%

44%

32%

TO%

22%

12%

Points/100

94

91

Texas started off the season playing sloppy offense and strong defense against Fresno State. The first game of the year was low scoring for two reasons. The first reason was that the game was played at a very slow pace, with an estimated 58 possessions for each team. The second reason was that neither team was particularly efficient with their offense. The result was a score that was in the mid-fifties. More efficient offense at a comparable pace would have delivered a score of around 65 points.

When breaking down a game, the starting point is to look at each teams' true shooting percentage (TS%) and the number of "shots" taken by each team. Here, the term "shots" is used as a proxy for the composite number FGA + 0.475 x FTA, which we use to track the scoring opportunities for each team. In this game, the Longhorns had a somewhat higher true shooting percentage than the Bulldogs, but the Bulldogs took approximately four more shots. Recalling that a 0.01 differential in TS% is worth approximately 1.3 extra shots, Texas' advantage in true shooting percentage was enough to cover between five and six extra shots by Fresno State. Fresno State took four extra shots, so the game was close, but Texas won.

Fresno State generated extra shots largely by protecting the ball, and by pulling down 13 offensive rebounds, compared with Texas' 15. First the ball protection: last season, Fresno State took care of the basketball about as well as any team in the country. That trend continued in this game. Fresno State's 12 percent turnover rate was outstanding, and kept them in this game.

For Texas' part, turnovers were a problem, but it isn't particularly surprising that Texas turned the ball over on Friday. Fresno State gets after it on defense, and forces turnovers. The surprising thing for Texas is where the turnovers came from. They didn't come from the guards. Javan Felix handled the ball a lot, and only turned it over three times, which was an estimated 16 percent of his possessions. This is outstanding for any ball handler, but particularly for one who is playing his first college game, and against a defenders who are up in his shorts. Felix may have shot too much (we will get to that below), but his handle was terrific. Sheldon McClellan picked up where he left off last season when it came to avoiding turnovers, with zero on the night. Julien Lewis only had one turnover (14 percent of his possessions). An unusually high number of the Texas turnovers were committed by the front line. Freshman center Cameron Ridley had three turnovers in 13 minutes (55 percent of his possessions), while Jonathan Holmes and Ioannis Papapetrou had two turnovers each. Two of Ridley's three turnovers came on offensive fouls. He is so much bigger and stronger than everyone else on the court, and he is just going to pick up offensive fouls from time to time.

Now onto the rebounds. Fresno State didn't really hurt Texas on the offensive glass, as the Bulldogs' 13 offensive rebounds were a product of missing so many shots. The Fresno State offensive rebounding percentage was 32 percent, which indicates that Texas did a nice job on the defensive glass. This is particularly true when we consider that Texas' best rebounder Jaylen Bond was out with an injury, and Texas played about ten minutes of the game in a 2-3 zone. Texas' good showing on the defensive glass was a team effort, with Papapetrou, Holmes, Felix, and Lewis all registering defensive rebounding percentages of greater than 15 percent. Ridley's defensive rebounding percentage of 8 percent is low, but it partly reflects the fact that Texas mostly played zone defense while Ridley was on the floor. Ridley was active challenging shots in the zone (more below), but that frequently took him out of position for rebounds.

Texas' offensive rebounding was a strength last season, and that strength was evident in this game. The Longhorns captured 44 percent of the available offensive rebounds. Jonathan Holmes chased down everything, grabbing 29 percent of the available offensive rebounds while on the floor. Papapetrou pulled down 10 percent of the offensive rebounds while playing. On both ends of the court, Papapetrou did impressive work on the glass (he led Texas with a 21 percent defensive rebounding percentage).

When we look at team true shooting percentages, it is clear that neither team was very efficient with their shots. Both Texas and Fresno State clearly look better on defensive than on offense at this point in the season. The Bulldog perimeter defense frustrated Texas' guards, who struggled to move the ball on offense. The result of this for Texas was a shot distribution on offense that isn't particularly good. 47 percent of Texas' shot attempts were two point jump shots. Texas hit 39 percent of these two point jumpers, which is actually a decent percentage for these types of shots. As a team, 27 percent of the Longhorns' attempts were at the rim, which is much lower that you want to see. Texas also struggled to knock down what were mostly open looks from three, going 1-13 from three point range.

A lot was made after the game of Texas' low assist rate. Not a single one of Texas' points on two point jump shots were assisted. This low assist rate on these types of shots isn't in and of itself a problem. Unless a team has a very poorly conceived offense, you tend not to see many assists on two point jump shots. The problems highlighted by the low assist rate were: (a) Texas wasn't making open three point shots, and (b) Texas wasn't getting anything to happen at the rim. The Fresno State perimeter defense did a good job of forcing Texas' offense to operate much further from the basket than it should. Because the Texas wings were unable to get open, they often were 30 feet away from the basket when receiving the ball. Texas mostly ran the flex while on offense, which is a set that we didn't see last year. It is a nice offense, but it is hard to run when the guards are very far from the basket, as it is hard to hit the cutter with a pass.

With not much happening offensively for Texas until late in the game, Javan Felix started to freelance. Because the Longhorns struggled to reverse the ball and run their offense, Felix was forced to attack the defense one on one. In the first half, Felix scored several baskets this way, but in the second half he went cold. After each game, I calculate a number called Points Above Median (PAM) for each player; PAM shows the positive or negative effect that each player had on team true shooting percentage. Javan Felix had a PAM of -4.8. Felix missed his two attempts at the rim, and the remainder of his shots were of the mid-range variety. (Felix's floaters mostly register as "two point jump shots" in the play-by-play data.)

There is an argument to be made that even when you miss a floater in the lane, it still helps your team. Shots taken when attacking the rim are more likely to be rebounded by the offense than other shots. In Felix's case for this game, five out of his ten missed field goal attempts were rebounded by Texas. With a team as good on the offensive glass as Texas is, just putting a shot on the rim is often a good way to get things going.

McClellan was very efficient, with a PAM of 4.0. This was in large part because McClellan was 14-14 from the free throw line. That is a lot of free throws, and he made every single one. Additionally, five of McClellan's ten field goal attempts were at the rim. In the second half, Barnes adjusted the offense, running sets specifically designed to put McClellan in a position to score. McClellan looked good working off screens away from the ball, and he basically took over the game for Texas down the stretch.

While the Texas offense wasn't particularly good, the Texas defense was the best we have seen since the 2010-2011 season. It is my belief that this team has as much potential to be great on defense as any team Rick Barnes has ever coached. We will see if they live up to that potential, but at least after the first game they are off to a good start.

Texas blocked 18 percent of Fresno State's two point shot attempts. That is a very good total, particularly when we consider that Ridley and Prince Ibeh only played a combined 15 minutes. While Ridley was on the floor, he was effective challenging shots, blocking an estimated 23 percent of opponent two point attempts. That high of a shot blocking rate is a small sample size fluke, but it still shows promise. As a team, Texas protected the rim, blocking about one quarter of the Fresno State shots there, and holding the Bulldogs to a shooting percentage of 53 percent on dunks and layups. Papapetrou chipped in two blocks, and Holmes and Felix each had one.

Texas' perimeter defense was also very effective. Fresno State's best offensive player Kevin Olekaibe ended the game with a PAM of -7.4. Julien Lewis can take a bow. Lewis stuck to Olekaibe and harassed him all night. Lewis was a very good defender last season, but what we saw Friday night was at a different level. Olekaibe was probably pretty happy to get on the plane back to California, and I am sure he breathed a sigh of relief when he verified that Julien Lewis hadn't purchased the seat next to him.

TEXAS vs COPPIN STATE

CATEGORY

TEXAS

COPPIN ST

DIFFERENCE

FGA

49

57

-8

FTA

29

17

12

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

62.8

65.1

-2.3

Off Rebs

16

9

7

TOs

26

17

9

ORB - TO

-10

-8

-2

TS%

0.550

0.353

0.196

ORB%

50%

21%

TO%

36%

23%

Points/100

95

63

The Longhorns won this one rather easily, despite turning the ball over in 36 percent of their possessions. The fact that they turned the ball over so much and still cruised to victory illustrates just how throughly they dominated every other aspect of this game. Unlike the first game of the season against Fresno State, this game was played at a fast pace, with 73 possessions. Coppin State spent most of the game in a full court press, forcing turnovers and speeding up the action. I think the Texas is well suited for this pace, but the turnovers are a problem.

Let's look at those turnovers. Ridley picked up six turnovers in 17 minutes. Two of these turnovers came on offensive fouls. Ridley turned the ball over in 58 percent of his possessions. Javan Felix struggled against the full court pressure applied by Coppin State, turning the ball over eight times, which accounted for 73 percent of the possessions that he ended with the ball in his hands. This high turnover percentage is in part due to the fact that Felix only shot three times. Turnover percentage is artificially inflated for players who handle the ball a lot, but don't shoot very often. Still, Felix's turnovers were bad. Connor Lammert also had three turnovers.

Because Texas turned the ball over so much, Coppin State actually managed to take a couple more shots than the Longhorns. The two extra shots taken by the Eagles did not come close to making up for the huge differential in true shooting percentage. Texas partly negated the huge loss of shots with turnovers by creating many second chance opportunities and controlling the defensive glass. The Longhorns rebounded half of their own misses on offense, and 79 percent of the defensive rebounds. Texas dominated the glass at both ends. Controlling the offensive boards is no surprise, but after last season, it is nice to see a Texas team that is capable rebounding while on defense. Holmes, Papapetrou, Ridley, Lewis, and Ibeh all registered defensive rebounding percentages of 20 percent or greater, while virtually the entire team chased down offensive rebounds.

When the Horns broke Coppin State's pressure, McClellan made the Eagles pay. McClellan had a PAM of 10.8. He was very efficient, going 3-4 from three point range, and 8-10 on free throws. While Felix was turnover prone, he did register a lot of assists this game, assisting on approximately half of the Texas field goals while on the floor. Papapetrou had a PAM of 3.3 and Demarcus Holland chipped in with a PAM of 3.2.

The Texas defense was the story of the night. Coppin State isn't a very good team, but they are still composed of Division I players. Coppin State had a true shooting percentage of 0.353. The Eagles only managed to get 14 percent of their shots off at the rim, and Texas blocked 25 percent of these shots. The Longhorns also blocked 18 percent of Coppin State's two point jump shots. Holmes, Papapetrou, and Ridley all came up with blocks, and Prince Ibeh blocked three attempts. While on the floor, I estimate that Ibeh blocked 24 percent of the Coppin State two point attempts. He could have come up with even higher shot blocking totals if Coppin State hadn't totally abandoned trying to score inside. This is what we hoped we would see from Ibeh, and I am very pleased with how he played. Good job, Prince, and I promise not to tell those who couldn't see this game what your free throws looked like.

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