Texas Longhorns Basketball: Inside the Numbers, Week 8

Julien Lewis has taken a step forward this season. - USA TODAY Sports

Big 12 play starts in a week. So where do the Longhorns stand?

The non-conference season is finished. Myck Kabongo's status is now understood. The youngest team in Division I is 8-5, with one really nice win against North Carolina, and a handful of losses in games they would like to have another shot at.

The Texas Longhorns now face a tough path to get to the NCAA tournament. With only 8 wins, Texas needs to go 10-8 in conference play, and pick up two more wins in the Big 12 tournament just to get to 20 wins. With some quality victories, even 19 wins might be enough to land in the first round in Dayton. And this team still has upside, if it can figure out an easier way to score. Still, I worry that Texas will regret dropping winnable games against USC and UCLA. If Texas were 9-4 with a win against the Bruins, instead of 8-5, the NCAA tournament prospects would look much better.

Points have been hard to come by for Rick Barnes' team, and that is likely to continue against the tough defenses of the Big 12. Of the ten teams in the conference, only Baylor, Iowa State, and Texas Tech are better on offense than on defense, based on Ken Pomeroy's rating system. The Big 12 has three of the top ten defenses in Division I (including two of the top five), and only one top ten offense.

Shooting and turnovers have both caused Texas trouble through the non-conference season. While the worst of the turnover problems appear to be behind the Longhorns, getting good shots and making them is still a struggle. One bright spot has been Julien Lewis, who is 21-50 (42 percent) from three point range. Lewis was billed as a tough defender with an outside shot coming out of high school, but in his freshman year the outside shots didn't fall particularly often. Now a sophomore, Lewis has been much better from long range. Players who defend and hit three point shots are extremely valuable, and Lewis has been Texas' best player to start the season.

Sheldon McClellan has struggled shooting from the floor, which is in part a consequence of a high proportion of his shots coming from mid-range. 45 percent of the sophomore guard's shots are two point jump shots, compared with the 33 percent of his attempts that came from mid-range a season ago. McClellan has compensated for this by finding his way to the free throw line often, and is hitting 85 percent from the stripe.

Freshman center Cameron Ridley is big, strong, and has very good hands. He is an outstanding shot blocker. But he is not very developed on offense. So far, his touches in the post have not gone well, often resulting in turnovers and missed low percentage shots. In other words, he is a typical freshman center. The offense can come for him eventually, but it is going to take a few years. Or it may never come; at any given time there are probably fewer than forty people on the planet who can score efficiently on the low block against top level competition. It isn't easy.

To take a step forward on offense, Rick Barnes needs someone else to help carry the scoring load. Texas' best chance to get offense from someone else probably is with freshman Ioannis Papapetrou. Papapetrou has a nice outside stroke, is creative off the dribble and in the post, and shows the ability to get to the rim and make shots from in close. Papapetrou is really going to be something in two years, but Texas could use his help right now.

In this week's inside the numbers, I look back at the Rice game and mock a few of my Big 12 preseason predictions.

The Week In Review

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

TEXAS (57) vs RICE (41)

CATEGORY

TEXAS

OPPONENT

DIFFERENCE

FGA

49

47

2

FTA

29

6

23

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

62.8

49.9

12.9

Off Rebs

16

2

14

TOs

14

13

1

ORB - TO

2

-11

13

TS%

0.454

0.411

0.043

ORB%

43%

6%

TO%

23%

21%

Points/100 Poss

94

67

Rice kept things close for a while, but Texas did enough down the stretch to pull away. This was a slow game, played at the tempo that Rice wanted, with only 61 possessions. The Longhorns dominated the glass at both ends of the floor, earning 13 extra shots (where "shots" refers to the composite number FGA + 0.475xFTA) against one of the weakest rebounding teams in the nation. Texas' defense also held down the Rice true shooting percentage, leading to an easy win for the Horns.

The Longhorns pulled down 43 percent of the available offensive rebounds and 94 percent of the possible defensive rebounds. Jonathan Holmes, Jaylen Bond, and Conner Lammert all did damage on the offensive glass, each pulling down more than 20 percent of the possible offensive rebounds while in the game. Texas' defensive rebounding was a team effort. The rebounding differential says more about Rice's problems inside then it does about Texas.

Texas' turnover percentage could have been better, but we have seen much worse this season. As has often happened, the turnovers for the Longhorns weren't the fault of freshman point guard Javan Felix, who only turned the ball over twice (a 19 percent turnover percentage from Felix is something Texas can live with). Julien Lewis turned the ball over four times, Jonathan Holmes turned it over three times, and Cameron Ridley turned it over twice. The turnovers didn't really cost the Horns, as Rice nearly matched the Texas total.

Rice kept the game close through the first 30 minutes with three point shooting. The Owls went 7-21 from three point range, including 4-7 three point shooting from Austin Ramljak. 44 percent of the Rice attempts were from beyond the arc. Ramljak led the way for Rice with 6.3 Points Above Median (PAM). Max Guercy chipped in with a PAM of 2.3. There were no other bright spots for the Owl offense; most notably, leading scorer (and shot catapult) Tamir Jackson was held to a PAM of -5.2. Texas center Cameron Ridley did nice work on the defensive end, swatting an estimated 17 percent of Rice's twos while on the floor. Rice also only attempted six free throws.

The Texas shooting wasn't pretty, but it was good enough. Lewis led the Longhorns with a PAM of 3.5, while Sheldon McClellan managed a PAM of 1.7. Javan Felix ran the offense well, assisting on 43 percent of Texas' made field goals while in the game. Texas' offense struggled to get good shots, attempting 55 percent of its field goal attempts on two point jump shots, and only making 26 percent of these shots. Rice was switching screens on the Texas offense, and the Longhorns weren't able to make them pay. Two lobs to Ridley (how Texas likes to counter against switching and over-helping) resulted in turnovers. They should have been easy dunks for Ridley.

Preseason predictions, Oklahoma State, and why I am a dummy

Prior to the season, GoHornsGo90 and I put together our predictions for the Big 12 season. Some things we got right (Kansas is really good, which didn't take a lot of insight to figure out). Some things we really messed up. The team that we seem to have missed on the most was Oklahoma State, who we picked to finish eighth in the conference.

The Cowboys weren't very good last year, and now the best offensive player from last season (Keiton Page) is gone. Too much will be asked of Smart and Nash, players who at least for now are defined more by potential than performance. This team was very small last year after part time player Philip Jurick tore his Achilles' tendon. We also wonder who will knock down shots for this team. (The answer to that question is, probably no one.)

....

With Smart and Nash, a lot will be expected of the Cowboys, and there is a very good chance that they don't live up to these expectations. We could see this being the team that gets head coach Travis Ford fired.

That was dumb. The Cowboys currently have a 10-2 record, including good wins against North Carolina State and Akron. They also lost a close game against Gonzaga, a game that the Cowboys had a chance to win. Travis Ford's team is doing it with defense; the Cowboys have the No. 6 ranked defense in the nation per kenpom.com. I didn't see this coming at all.

Here is what I missed. After Philip Jurick went down last season, the Oklahoma State defense was not good. This season Jurick is back, again getting rebounds and protecting the rim. Additionally, he is joined inside by freshman Kamari Murphy. On the season, OSU opponents are shooting 49 percent on shots attempted at the rim. This improvement was obvious early in the season, but I still overlooked it. Well, I didn't exactly overlook it -- I talked myself out of it being real. Here is what I wrote after OSU's impressive start to the season.

The Cowboys' still struggle to get defensive rebounds, and their strong two point field goal defense (No. 6 in Division I) during their first several games appears to be something of an illusion. In their first three games, OSU opponents have only made 53 percent of their unblocked shots at the rim. The NCAA average for this statistic in the 2011-2012 season was 68 percent. In the previous two seasons, the Cowboys' opponents have shot near average on unblocked shots at the rim. It is a similar story for unblocked two point jump shots, where OSU opponents have made 21 percent of their attempts, compared with last season's value of 40 percent.

As of now, OSU opponents have made 58 percent of their unblocked shots at the rim. The Cowboys have blocked 16 percent of opponent attempts in close. Gonzaga clobbered them inside (something that the Zags do to everyone), and I still wonder how sustainable this unblocked shooting percentage is, but the Cowboy defense is doing enough else well to live with some reversion to the mean.

One of the crazy things about the OSU defense is that so far this year, opponents are actually shooting for a lower percentage on shots at the rim in transition than they are doing in the half court. In transition against the Cowboys, opponents are only making 42 percent of their shots at the rim. (Transition attempts are defined as occurring within ten seconds after taking possession on a defensive rebound, opponent score, or a steal.) This is a strange result. Some of it is due to the effort of Marcus Smart on defense, which has resulted in some spectacular blocks in transition by the freshman guard. Smart has blocked an estimated 4.4% of opponent two point attempts this season, which is a remarkably high total for a guard.

I still get a nasty case of cognitive dissonance when contemplating the Oklahoma State defense. It will take me some time to shake off.

At the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia is much worse than I anticipated. Prior to the season, GoHornsGo90 and I both liked them, but I liked them more.

The West Virginia defense will be good, simply because Huggins' defenses almost always are. Last season was a surprising down year for the Mountaineer defense, but most of their problems can be traced to struggles defending the rim, where opponents made 68 percent of their attempts. West Virginia blocked less than seven percent of opponent attempts last year, but that problem will probably be fixed by La Salle transfer Aaric Murray, who blocked eight percent of opponent attempts during his first two seasons. With the rim protected, we expect that the Mountaineer defense will grind opposing offenses into a tasty sausage.

Despite being the No. 12 team in eFG in the Big East, WVU had the third best offense in the conference, on the strength of offensive rebounding and protecting the rock. These are characteristics of virtually every team Huggins has ever coached. It is an ugly but effective brand of basketball.

Well, at least I got the ugly part right. Murray has improved West Virginia's ability to protect the rim, but not by enough to compensate for their serious problems shooting the ball. The West Virginia offense relies on protecting the ball and getting offensive rebounds, like Bob Huggins' teams always have, but no amount of extra shots will cover up for an effective field goal percentage of 44 percent. The Mountaineer offense is a lot like the Texas offense, but without being backed by one of the best defenses in college ball.

Predictions are hard to do well. I still believe in Iowa State, and I still do not trust the Kansas State offense or the Baylor defense (at least until Isaiah Austin starts blocking shots). But Oklahoma State is for real, and West Virginia could be in for a long season.

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