Texas Longhorns Basketball: Inside the Numbers, Week 12

Ioannis Papapetrou was the best player on the floor Saturday night. - USA TODAY Sports

In the first six Big 12 games Texas' defense is less impressive, and Texas turnover problems have vanished.

Has the Texas defense suddenly softened? For much of the non-conference season, the Longhorn defense rated as one of the best in the country according to the Kenpom.com ratings. Now, through the first six games of the conference season, Texas has allowed 1.02 points per possession, which is the eighth lowest total in the conference. Are the Longhorns actually the eighth best defense in the Big 12, ahead of only Texas Tech and TCU?

The Big 12, with round robin play, delivers one of the most balanced schedules of the power conferences. But the schedule isn't fully balanced until the season is over. Right now, the three best offenses in the conference, by far, are Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State; Texas has played games against all three. The three worst offenses in the conference, by far, are TCU, Texas Tech, and Texas. The Longhorns have only played one of these bottom three offenses.

Contrast that with the leader in Big 12 points per possession defense -- Baylor. Baylor has played Kansas, and defended the Jayhawks pretty well in that game. But four of the Bear's six conference games have come against the bottom three offenses in the conference, and Scott Drew's team has already played TCU twice.

Baylor's defense is fine; probably more or less in line with the historical norms for a Scott Drew coached defense when we look at both non-conference and conference season performance. One thing we know is it isn't better than Kansas' D, and it probably isn't better than the Texas D.

That said, more than just the schedule has created problems for the Texas defense. Since the start of conference play, the Longhorns have fouled a lot, putting opponents on the line 0.48 times for every field goal attempted, which is the highest rate in the conference. Last season, Texas also struggled with fouls, allowing 0.45 free throws for every field goal, the second highest rate in the conference. Looking over the last ten years of results, fouling isn't generally a problem for Texas. In some years, the Longhorns foul a lot, and in some year they don't. For example, 2006, 2007, and 2011 Texas had the lowest allowed free throw rate in the Big 12. On the other hand, in 2004 Texas was ranked tenth out of 12, and in 2009 was ranked seventh.

This week's Inside the Numbers looks at the Texas Tech game.

The Week In Review

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

TEXAS (73) vs TEXAS TECH (57)

CATEGORY

TEXAS

TECH

DIFFERENCE

FGA

54

54

0

FTA

25

19

6

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

65.9

63

2.9

Off Rebs

12

17

-5

TOs

10

19

-9

ORB - TO

2

-2

4

TS%

0.554

0.452

0.102

ORB%

39%

49%

TO%

16%

29%

Points/100 Poss

114

88

Texas ran Texas Tech out of the gym. Given the talent differences between these two teams, this is they way it should be, but there are never guarantees. The Longhorns created a modest advantage in shot differential (where "shots" refers to the composite of FGA + 0.475xFTA), and a large true shooting percentage advantage. This combination led to an easy win.

The biggest factor that helped Texas earn extra shots was by forcing so many turnovers, and by keeping its own turnover rate down. The Longhorns took care of the ball. While turnovers were a big problem for Texas early in the year, through the first six conference games Rick Barnes' team has turned the ball over in under 19 percent of possessions, good enough to rank fourth in the league. Turnovers have not been holding Texas back in conference play. After the Tech game, I noted this about the Texas turnovers:

A final positive note about the offense -- Texas turned the ball over only ten times. This is encouraging for several reasons. First, as I noted in the preview, about the only thing that Tech does really well is force turnovers. Second, Texas managed to protect the rock while Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland were splitting time as the primary ball handler.

If the Raiders were going to upset Texas, turnovers were likely to play a prominent role.

Instead, the turnovers went the other way. Rick Barnes turned up the pressure on defense, and it proved to be decisive. Not only did Tech's 19 turnovers cut into the number of shots that they were able to attempt, but 14 of those turnovers were steals. Steals are great, because a high fraction of the time they turn into easy baskets. 18 percent of Texas' initial shots of a possession came in transition off of steals, compared with its season average of 6 percent. That is a big difference, particularly when you consider that 86 percent of these shots were at the rim, and overall Texas had an effective field goal percentage of 71 percent in transition off of steals.

Combined with all of those easy baskets in transition, the Longhorns were just more aggressive attacking the rim in general. Even in half-court situations, Rick Barnes' team still managed to get 35 percent of their initial attempts at the rim, which is nearly double their season average of 19 percent. When we factor in transition shots and offensive rebounds, the Texas took 44 percent of its shots at the rim. This extra aggression also earned Texas 25 free throw attempts. The difference between this game for Texas and some of the Longhorns' recent games is simple; in this game Texas was on the attack.

Leading that attack was Ioannis Papapetrou. Papapetrou has 6.5 Points Above Median (PAM). Making Papi a more involved player on offense helps this team a lot, as I suggested last week:

If there is a chance for improvement, it may come from Ioannis Papapetrou. Papapetrou has been one of the few Texas wings who is adept at getting to the rack, attempting 36 percent of his shots on layups and dunks. This ability to get to the cup also accounts for his higher than average free throw attempt rate; the 6-8 freshman is attempting 0.56 free throws for every field goal attempt.

Against the Red Raiders Papapetrou took and made two shots at the rim, went 2-3 from three point range, and went 5-6 from the free throw line. He missed his only mid-range attempt. This was his best game at Texas.

Another player who enjoyed his best game of the year was Demarcus Holland. Holland's PAM of 3.3 is nice; also nice is his respectable 20 percent turnover rate as a primary ball handler. On defense, Holland murdered the Raider guards, and when he had the ball he took it to the hole, going 3-3 on shots at the rim. Not every game will go like this for Holland, but given that he is athletic, long-armed, and plays really hard, good things seem likely.

Speaking of playing hard, Cameron Ridley's effort shows through in the numbers. While he was on the floor, the freshman center blocked 16 percent of Tech's two point shots, which is part of the reason that the Red Raiders only made 45 percent of their layups and dunks. Ridley also pulled down 31 percent of the possible offensive rebounds and 27 percent of the available defensive boards.

I haven't mentioned a single Texas Tech player yet in this writeup. That is not fair to Jordan Tolbert, who deserves some recognition for his game. Tolbert is a good player playing on a bad team. Against Texas, the sophomore forward had a PAM of 3.3, and not a single one of his points was assisted. It is hard to be so efficient without help, but Tolbert managed in part by getting to 8 offensive rebounds, which was 27 percent of the possible ones he could have grabbed while on the floor.

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