Texas Longhorns Basketball: Inside the Numbers, Week 2

The Silverswords earned the right to celebrate. - Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

So what exactly happened last night?

I love basketball, but some nights I wonder why. After Texas' loss to Chaminade, I was in a pretty rotten mood.

Upon further reflection, nights like last night are precisely the reason why I love basketball. Chaminade played a tough and smart game. They hit a few shots from outside, and made their free throws. Texas was flat, and Chaminade beat them. If it had happened to any other team, I would have been thrilled.

But I am not thrilled. Still, let's set aside the anger, and try to understand what happened. So what exactly happened last night?

The Week In Review

All of the Background information on the statistics is posted here, here, and here.

TEXAS vs CHAMINADE

CATEGORY

TEXAS

CHAMINADE

DIFFERENCE

FGA

56

57

-1

FTA

30

39

-9

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

70.3

75.5

-5.2

Off Rebs

11

15

-4

TOs

18

16

2

ORB - TO

-7

-1

-6

TS%

0.520

0.569

-0.049

ORB%

28%

38%

TO%

23%

21%

Points/100 Poss

94

112

Texas was beat by Chaminade rather easily. This comes through clearly looking at the numbers. Chaminade took five extra "shots" ("shots" is used as a proxy for the composite number FGA + 0.475 x FTA), and had an advantage in true shooting percentage. So Chaminade had more chances to score, and scored more efficiently with each chance.

During the first two games of the season, the Longhorns have struggled on offense, and have won with their defense. In this game, Rick Barnes' squad wasn't particularly good on either end of the court. Chaminade scored 1.1 points per possession, which is the first time that a Texas opponent has scored more than a point per possession this season.

Chaminade played the perfect game to pull off an upset victory. First, they scrapped for loose balls on offense and held Texas off of the offensive glass, which was a big factor in gaining the shot advantage. Texas' advantage on the offensive boards in the first two games didn't show up in this one. The Silverswords deserve credit for hustling and boxing out.

The second thing that Chaminade did to increase their chances of an upset was to push the tempo at every chance they had. This game was played at a rapid pace, with an estimated 77 possessions. 50 percent of the Silverswords' initial field goal attempts off of rebounds came in transition, and 33 percent of their initial attempts after a Texas score also came in transition. NCAA Division I averages for these two shooting rates typically hover around 40 percent, and 15 percent, respectively. It is important for smaller undersized teams to run, as it partly neutralizes an opponent's size advantage on defense.

The Texas interior defense was still good, as the Longhorns blocked 31 percent of Chaminade's layups, and only allowed the Silverswords to make 44 percent of their attempts at the rim. But Chaminade was smart to mostly shift their shot distribution away from these interior looks, which further neutralized Texas' size advantage. The third thing that Chaminade did to increase their chance of an upset win was to jack up threes. Often, the best way to beat a tough interior D is to shoot over it. Chaminade went 10-30 from three point range, which accounted for more than half of their field goal attempts. Three point shooting was decisive as the Silverswords pulled away in the second half; Chaminade was 6-12 from three in the final 20 minutes of the game.

With a big lead, Chaminade salted away the game at the free throw line, attempting 39 free throws and making 87 percent of them.

De'Andre Haskins brought his A game. His Points Above Median (PAM) total for the game was 14.6, which could end up being the highest total that the Longhorns allow all season.

The Texas offense was not good, but buried underneath the ugliness was the fact that Javan Felix had a good game. Felix had a PAM of 4.6, turned the ball over in less than 19 percent of his possessions, and seemed to at times be the only assertive offensive player for Texas. While Texas had turnover problems, they weren't for the most part Felix's fault. If we can find fault with what Felix did, it is that he probably should have been more assertive, given the funk his teammates were in. Felix should have taken the game over last night. We also should give Jonathan Holmes credit, as he seemed to be the only Longhorn who showed any interest in chasing down loose balls on the offensive end, which is captured in his 18 percent offensive rebounding percentage. Sheldon McClellan left his shot back on the mainland.

What is wrong with the Texas offense?

The Texas offense isn't very good right now. But rather than just shaking our fists at the sky, let's see if we can actually understand what is going wrong. Aside from general early season sloppiness, there are five basic problems I see with the Texas offense:

1. Players trying to run offense, rather than trying to score. A structured offense seldom creates shots all by itself (this only happens when the defense is asleep at the wheel). A structured offense instead helps players beat their man. Texas is running its sets mechanically, instead of trying to use the screens being set to help break down the defense. It is simply a matter of being more assertive and aggressive. We will see some examples of this below.

2. Texas doesn't yet have the spacing right in their offense. I will show an example below, and compare it with what the spacing looked like when Texas ran a similar set in 2011.

3. To some degree, some of the Texas players still don't grasp the basics of the offense, which is slowing things down. We will see one example of this below.

4. More subtly, the Longhorns seem to be struggling to read screens properly. Many of Texas' offensive possessions have been run out of the Flex set that Texas ran successfully two seasons ago. (Follow the link for what I wrote describing this set a year ago.) Jordan Hamilton was outstanding at reading screens and making the proper cuts. This, combined with less movement away from the ball (either by design or because of players not yet grasping the offense), makes the Texas offense much less dynamic. We will see an example of this below.

5. Texas has not yet been able to consistently knock down shots. Offensive design is useless when the shots don't fall. Below, we will see examples where good offense ends with a missed shot.

To help illustrate these issues, I have selected three possessions from the first half of the Chaminade game.

First, let's look at a series where Texas runs some decent offense and scores. Problems with shot making and assertiveness will still crop up here, but ultimately offensive rebounding and Javan Felix will save the day.

Link to video on YouTube.

To set the action, Texas starts out with a set play, where a down screen will be set for Julien Lewis. Lewis is indicated with the yellow arrow, shown below.

Box1_medium

The next image below shows the down screen. Lewis' defender fights over the screen. Lewis reads this correctly, and flares out to the wing for an open three point shot. He misses a good look from three point range. Here is our first example of an offensive set creating a good look for a high value shot, but the shot doesn't go down.

Box2_medium

Fortunately, Jonathan Holmes tracks down the offensive rebound, and Texas gets a second chance. After the offensive rebound, Texas resets, and runs the same play a second time. Things are again being set up for a down screen for Lewis, who is again indicated with a yellow arrow.

Box3_medium

This time, Lewis' defender chases him through the screen. Lewis reads this, and curls off of the screen.

Box4_medium

Now we reach the critical point in this series. Lewis curls off of the screen and catches the ball at the elbow. He is indicated with a teal arrow. His defender is fighting through the screen, and is indicated with the yellow arrow. The defense is broken down; the screen has held up Lewis' man, and there are no help defenders coming up to stop him. All Lewis has to do is attack off the dribble. Instead, he hesitates.

Box5_medium

Help defense comes, and Lewis passes the ball back to Felix. Lack of assertiveness was a problem here. Thankfully, Felix saves the possession by attacking the basket off the dribble. Texas needs more attacking, just like that, and less waiting for the offense to create opportunities. You need to run the plays, but you can't expect the plays to score for you.

The second play that I want to highlight again features guard penetration, leading to an open shot that is ultimately missed.

Link to video on YouTube.

Texas starts out in its Flex set, with the goal of getting the ball inside. To set the stage, the ball handler is indicated with a blue arrow below. The flex cutter is indicated with the yellow arrow. The ball will be reversed to the second guard, and the flex cutter will work of a baseline screen set by Prince Ibeh.

Dk1_medium

In that photo above, there is a serious problem that we can see right away. The spacing of the offense is messed up. This has been a problem for Texas in each of its first three games. You cannot possibly hit the flex cutter or get the ball inside when the guards are handling the ball 35 feet from the basket. Below is a screen capture taken from the 2010-2011 season for the same basic Flex set. Notice how much closer to the basket Texas sets up. The Texas guards need to penetrate deeper into the defense before reversing the ball. This gives a chance to get things inside.

Flex1b_medium

Back to 2012. Let's show how things further go wrong in this set. In the image below, we see Ibeh setting a good screen for the cutter. Using yellow arrows, I have indicated the cutter, the Chaminade player defending the cutter, and the player defending Ibeh. There are some good things going on here. The cutter is beating his man through the screen, and he will briefly come open -- unfortunately Texas' poor spacing makes it hard to enter the ball here. But that is OK, as Ibeh's defender is drawn to help on the cutter, creating a great opportunity for Texas to work the ball into the big man.

Dk2_medium

The Texas guards see this, and quickly reverse the ball. This is a good read by the offense, doing what I am sure they have been taught do do. All that needs to happen now is for Ibeh to seal off his defender in the post, and receive the entry pass. Ibeh is indicated with a yellow arrow below.

Dk3_medium

An instant later, we reach the frame below. Ibeh failed to seal off his man, and the defense has recovered. A good set and the proper read by the guards wasn't enough, with a freshman big man still struggling to understand the basics of low post footwork. This is yet another example of a Texas player failing to grab hold of the opportunity created by the offense. Felix wisely holds the ball, as an attempted entry pass now would likely lead to a turnover.

Dk4_medium

But all is not lost. Texas still has the ball, and will still get a good look out of this possession. If you watch the entire play, Texas will eventually get a nice drive and kick. But it is all for nothing when Jonathan Holmes misses the open three point shot.

The third and final possession that I will look at shows Texas again running a Flex set, this time out of a secondary break.

Link to the video on YouTube.

Texas brings the ball up the floor, running the Flex series out of transition that we saw frequently in the 2010-2011 season. In this case, the spacing is much better. Felix is able to penetrate to the free throw line, and reverse the ball to the trailer. Notice in the figure below how deep Felix takes the ball. When he reverses the ball to the trailer, things will be well spaced.

Con1_medium

After two reversing passes, the ball is now on the wing, with the screen and flex cut taking place on the opposite side of the floor. So far, so good.

Con2_medium

The screen is a good one, and the ball is entered into Demarcus Holland, flashing across the lane.

Con3_medium

Holland doesn't have a shot, so maintaining the continuity, he kicks the ball out to Felix.

Con4_medium

And now everything stops. It seems as if Holland doesn't know what he is supposed to do next. Meanwhile, a double screen is being set up on the weak side of the floor. Holland's hesitation costs Texas, as it takes away the advantage created by rapidly running a defender through a series of screens. After some coaxing by Felix, Holland eventually runs through the screen.

Now here is where Ibeh messes things up. I have highlighted him with the arrow below. Ibeh is the first stage of the staggered screen being set for Holland. When you are the first screener in a double screen, after setting the screen your main job is to move. Ibeh needs to get out of the way, by flashing across the lane. This occupies a defender, and creates space for the action that will occur later. Ibeh just stands there.

Con5_medium

Ibeh's mistake clogs up space for the offense. It is compounded by what is probably a misread of a screen by Holland. In the image below, I have indicated Holland, and his defender, with yellow arrows. Holland's defender is chasing him under the second screen set by Holmes. I am not sure how Barnes is teaching these guys to read these staggered screens, but I suspect that the read should be based on the second screen in the series, rather than the first. If that is the case, Holland's man is chasing him through the screen so his read should be to curl. Holmes' defender is aggressively playing this curl, which means that Holmes should roll off this screen and cut to the basket. Holmes would do this, if only Ibeh weren't in the way.

Con6_medium

The play continues for a few more seconds, before a frustrated Ibeh picks up a silly offensive foul.

It is very hard to execute a play perfectly. Perfection isn't required to score. But when you string three or four mistakes in a row, things generally end badly.

Happy Thanksgiving

I decided to run this post a day early, as Thanksgiving is coming up. Next week, I will look at the remaining games in Hawaii, as well as Texas' game against Sam Houston State.

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