Texas Longhorns Basketball: Inside the Numbers, Week 3

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After three weeks of the non-conference season, the Texas Longhorns currently stand at a record of 5-1. Enquiring minds probably want to know just how good this team is. The answer to this question is a little bit tricky.

We have all sorts of advanced rating systems to look at, but early in the season these ratings systems have little to go on. Kenpom.com currently ranks Texas as the 63rd best team in the nation, while the Simple Rating System puts Texas at 48th(*).

Still, let's jump to some hasty conclusions, just for fun. If these basic ratings hold up over the course of the season (and they probably won't), then Texas is likely to find itself on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, and should expect to be in a dog fight with Oklahoma and West Virginia for fifth place in the Big 12. Actually, that sounds about right.

Another way to try to estimate how strong the Texas basketball team is this year is to look at the level of competition the Horns have faced. Texas is 5-1 against the teams in the table below.

Team KenPom Rank SRS Rank
Mercer 112 88
S. Alabama 125 105
Stephen F. Austin 153 168
Houston Baptist 316 294
BYU 47 34
DePaul 126 138

BYU projects to be a strong team this season, and will likely draw an at large bid for the NCAA tournament. Mercer is the favorite to win the Atlantic Sun. Houston Baptist is the only real stinker on the list, although Texas has not yet faced a powerhouse team like Michigan State. (That is coming.)

Texas has hung with BYU, destroyed DePaul on a neutral court and Houston Baptist at home, won a tight game against Mercer, and pulled away down the stretch in competitive games against South Alabama and Stephen F. Austin. Such a record is consistent with what you would expect of a team likely to end up on the NCAA bubble.

I have basically given up making projections for Texas basketball, as my track record is lousy. But after these early games, I am cautiously optimistic about the season. The Longhorns are highly unlikely to challenge the top teams in the conference, but they don't seem like they will stink.

(*The Simple Rating System, or SRS for short, is a method for rating teams that I have explained before. By the end of the season, the SRS and KenPom.com's ratings look similar, but early in the year they often have some differences. Pomeroy's ratings early in the year are stabilized by incorporating his preseason projections, while the SRS only uses the results of games this year. Looking at both together is probably a good idea.)

The Week In Review

All of the background information on the statistics is presented here, here, and here.

TEXAS 82 vs BYU 86

CATEGORY

TEXAS

BYU

DIFFERENCE

FGA

74

62

12

FTA

31

28

3

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

88.7

75.3

13.4

Off Rebs

17

7

10

TOs

13

16

-3

ORB - TO

4

-9

13

TS%

0.462

0.571

-0.109

ORB%

34%

19%

TO%

15%

19%

Points/100 Pos

97

102

This was a tight, up-tempo, high-energy game where Texas didn't shoot the ball very well, but nearly made up for it by earning extra shots (where "shots" refers to the composite number of FGA + 0.475xFTA) on the offensive glass, and through avoiding turnovers.

BYU did shoot the ball well, posting a true shooting percentage of 0.571, compared with 0.462 for Texas. As any regular reader of this column knows, basketball comes down to how many shots you get, relative to your competition, and what you and your opponent do with them (true shooting percentage measures "what you do with them"). When one team gets more shots and posts a higher true shooting percentage that team is guaranteed to win.

But when one team posts a higher true shooting percentage, while the other gets more shots, we need a way to figure out which mattered more. The rule of thumb is that a 0.01 differential in true shooting percentage (TS%) is worth approximately 1.3 extra shots. Based on this rule, BYU's true shooting percentage advantage was just enough to overcome the extra shots by the Longhorns.

And where exactly did that true shooting percentage advantage come from? BYU was highly effective at three aspects of its offense:

  1. The Cougars were 10-12 from three point range, led by Matt Carlino, who was 5-7 from deep, and Frank Bartley IV, who came off the bench and went 3-3 from three. Barley led BYU with 5.8 Points Above Median (PAM), while Carlino posted a PAM of 3.7.
  2. BYU was highly effective in transition, getting 22 of its 62 shots up in transition, and posting an effective field goal percentage of 66 percent on these shots.
  3. Tyler Haws roasted the Texas D, posting a PAM of 5.1. Haws' shot attempts were mostly jump shots (3-10 on two point jumpers and 2-2 from three), which didn't have much of an impact on his PAM total. Where he hurt Texas most was with his many trips to the free throw line; 9-10 free throw shooting accounted for 4.4 of his 5.1 points above median.

For the Longhorns, the jump shots were just not falling. Texas shot a combined 25 percent on jump shots, which is lower than its season average of 37 percent. Damarcus Croaker led the Horns with a PAM of 2.1.

The Longhorns almost made up for a tough shooting night by going to the offensive glass and taking care of the ball. Almost.

TEXAS 77 vs DEPAUL 59

CATEGORY

TEXAS

DEPAUL

DIFFERENCE

FGA

52

47

5

FTA

28

22

6

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

65.3

57.5

7.8

Off Rebs

18

10

8

TOs

15

15

0

ORB - TO

3

-5

8

TS%

0.590

0.513

0.076

ORB%

64%

31%

TO%

24%

24%

Points/100 Pos

124

94

Four big reasons that Texas slaughtered the Blue Demons:

  1. 69 percent of Longhorn shot attempts were layups or dunks. Texas took 36 shots from very close to the rim, while only seven Longhorn attempts were logged as two point jump shots. That is a solid formula for good offense. Cameron Ridley was the poster-child for this behavior, attempting all of his shots at the rim. He was 6-8 from the floor, with all 8 attempts coming right at the basket.
  2. The Longhorns rebounded 64 percent of their own missed shots. Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh, Connor Lammert, Kendal Yancy, and Isaiah Taylor all registered offensive rebounds.
  3. Rick Barnes' squad was 23-28 from the free throw line.
  4. DePaul was mostly shut out from long range. Through the first three weeks of the season, teams have hurt Texas with the three. The Blue Demons were just 5-17 from distance. Texas defends the basket exceptionally well -- on the season opponents have made only 52 percent of layups and dunks, while the Horns have blocked 20 percent of all shot attempts in close -- so when opponents don't hit their threes, they find it hard to score.

The only thing the Longhorns didn't do well against DePaul was protect the ball. Javan Felix, Taylor, and Demarcus Holland all struggled a bit with ball security.

Cameron Ridley led Texas with a PAM of 7.7, grabbing 23 percent of the possible offensive rebounds while in the game. There will only be a handful of players on Texas' schedule who are big and strong enough to match up with Ridley, and DePaul doesn't have any of them. Ridley won't play like this every game -- no one plays like this every game -- but his improvement on offense makes everything so much easier for Texas.

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