Texas Longhorns Basketball: Inside the Numbers, Weeks 4 and 5

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Inside the Numbers provides some non-Mack Brown related content for the week.

Basketball can be a funny game. But last Saturday, Temple sharpshooter Dalton Pepper wasn't laughing.  With 14 seconds left, Pepper, a superb free throw shooter, walked to the line with a one point lead. With two free throws from the nearly automatic Pepper, Temple could go up by three. Pepper drained his first free throw.

And then came his second. Pepper shot the ball, thought he had left it short as he released it, and then stepped in to the lane early, committing a violation as he tried to chase a rebound. This happened as the ball bounced in.

Pepper's error, a mistake made in a split second, a mistake that was nearly a reflex, cost the Owls a point. That point would prove critical only two seconds later when Javan Felix drained a three to put Texas ahead 81-80, which is where the score ended up.

North Carolina, an upcoming Texas opponent, knows just how funny this game can be. The Tar Heels have been described as a perplexing team. Roy Williams' squad has a neutral court win over Louisville and and an impressive road victory at Michigan State. But the confusion comes from losses against Belmont and UAB, teams that normally shouldn't beat North Carolina. As a result, national pundits "can't get a read" on the Tar Heels.

My read is that North Carolina is pretty damn good, and it wasn't that hard to arrive at. The Heels lost at home to Belmont, but Belmont is a solid team that went 15-37 from three point range in that game. Surprising losses and hot three point shooting often go hand in hand. Couple that with North Carolina's free throw woes -- UNC on the season has hit less than 62 percent from the line and went 22-48 against Belmont -- and you have the perfect set of conditions for an upset. It is far less perplexing than Duke's near loss at home to the now 3-6 Vermont Catamounts, a game where the underdogs dominated the favorites at the rim -- which is much more unusual. But the Duke game is forgotten now, as the Devils ultimately prevailed, while the North Carolina loss is still talked about.

The UAB loss was a different matter. That game was a true road game for North Carolina. It is exceedingly rare for a major conference team like UNC to play a true road game at a mid-major opponent. If this happened more, perplexing losses like this would be far more common. Heel coach Roy Williams set up this game to help out his former player and assistant Jerod Haase(*), the second-year coach at UAB. In exchange for his desire to help his friend, Williams was handed a surprising non-conference loss.

I am always puzzled why people act surprised and confused about this stuff. There is nothing confusing about North Carolina; the Heels are just a good team with two unexpected losses to "no name" schools. Basketball deals us plenty of surprises and unexpected losses. You would think that we would be used to it by now.

(*If we ever make a list of college basketball players who played with the best teammates, Jerod Haase needs to feature prominently on that list. Haase started for much of his freshman season at California-Berkeley in the same backcourt as Jason Kidd. After his freshman season, Haase transferred to Kansas, eventually finding his way into a starting lineup that included Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Scot Pollard, and Jacque Vaughn. Pierce and Kidd will both make the basketball Hall of Fame someday. I am sure there are other people who played college ball with two guys this good, but none come to mind.)

The Week In Review

With final exams, and a reduced schedule of games (and a more demanding work week), I have decided to consolidate two weeks worth of games in this review.

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

TEXAS (72) vs UT-ARLINGTON (69)

CATEGORY

TEXAS

UTA

DIFFERENCE

FGA

55

60

-5

FTA

37

18

19

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

72.6

68.6

4

Off Rebs

9

10

-1

TOs

9

16

-7

ORB - TO

0

-6

6

TS%

0.496

0.503

-0.007

ORB%

24%

26%

TO%

12%

22%

Points/100

99

93

This was a game that was unexpectedly tight. Both teams struggled with shooting, as indicated by the true shooting percentages for each team. In the Longhorns case, the struggles were largely at the free throw line, where Rick Barnes' squad went 19-37. For UT-Arlington, the struggle was with Texas' size. The Mavericks went 8-17 on shots at the rim, with Texas blocking seven of these attempts from in close. As usual, Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh were Texas' primary rim defenders, each blocking three layup attempts, while Kendal Yancy also turned away one Maverick attempt at the rim.

With neither team able to create an advantage in true shooting percentage, the game was won by the team that took more shots (where "shots" refers to the composite FGA+0.475xFTA). Texas' shot advantage came primarily in the turnover category. The Longhorns only registered nine turnovers, only giving the ball away in 12 percent of their possessions.

The Longhorns weren't able to gain their typical advantage on the offensive glass in this game. UT-Arlington deserves a lot of credit for keeping Rick Barnes' team off the glass, which helped keep the game close.

While the Longhorns had a difficult time shooting the ball, Demarcus Holland was outstanding, posting 8.7  Points Above Median (PAM). Holland once again showed his ability to get to the rim in transition, getting four of his five attempts at the rim this way. Holland further boosted his scoring going 2-4 from three point range, and 3-4 from the free throw line.

TEXAS (70) vs VANDERBILT (64)

CATEGORY

TEXAS

VDB

DIFFERENCE

FGA

56

58

-2

FTA

29

21

8

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

69.8

68

1.8

Off Rebs

13

10

3

TOs

14

15

-1

ORB - TO

-1

-5

4

TS%

0.502

0.471

0.031

ORB%

34%

26%

TO%

20%

21%

Points/100

99

88

Texas won a contested game against Vanderbilt with its defense, holding the Commodores to 0.88 points per possession. In general, anything less than one point per possession is good for the defense, and bad for the offense. The Longhorns held Vanderbilt to a true shooting percentage of 0.471 by limiting penetration, which forced Kevin Stallings' team to settle for jump shots.

The table below shows the sorts of shots Vanderbilt had against the Horns. On the season, the Commodores have attempted 43 percent of their attempts at the rim. This is a high percentage that is greater than the national average of 38 percent. But against Texas, Vanderbilt ended up attempting just 26 percent of its shots at the basket.

Texas defense vs. Vanderbilt offense: shot distribution

(Source: hoop-math.com)

Shot Type

% of Shots

FG%

% of Shots Blocked

Unblocked FG%

At Rim

25.9%

66.7%

13.3%

76.9%

2pt Jumpers

37.9%

31.8%

13.6%

36.8%

3pt Shots

36.2%

23.8%

4.8%

25.0%

Forced to shoot jump shots, Vanderbilt also didn't draw many fouls, and didn't get many offensive rebounds. There weren't many easy opportunities against the Horns, and Stallings' team was forced to live and die by the jumper. They died, going 5-21 from three. Only two Commodores posted positive PAM numbers (Josh Henderson had a PAM of 3.4 and Eric McClellan posted a PAM of 1.7).

For its part, the Texas offense wasn't exactly sharp, but was good enough to win. Javan Felix led all scorers with a PAM of 3.4.

TEXAS (81) vs TEMPLE (80), OT

CATEGORY

TEXAS

TEM

DIFFERENCE

FGA

73

70

3

FTA

35

31

4

FGA + 0.475 x FTA

89.6

84.7

4.9

Off Rebs

20

10

10

TOs

17

14

3

ORB - TO

3

-4

7

TS%

0.452

0.472

-0.020

ORB%

38%

22%

TO%

20%

16%

Points/100

94

90

When one team is more efficient with its shots, while the other earns more shots via rebounds and turnovers, a tight game is often the result. Temple managed a true shooting percentage advantage in a game where both teams had a terrible time shooting (more on that below), while Texas earned extra shooting chances by controlling the glass on both ends. The rule of thumb is that a 0.01 differential in true shooting percentage (TS%) is worth approximately 1.3 extra shots, although in a game where the shooting is this bad, the rule of thumb is slightly off. Still, Texas' extra chances to shoot proved decisive.

The Longhorns had a difficult afternoon shooting the ball. Texas scored well attacking the rim, but just couldn't make a jump shot. Texas was 18-31 on layups and dunks, but was 6-29 on two point jumpers and 4-13 from three. Long time readers of this column perhaps remember that jump shots typically go in about 35 percent of the time in live action D-I games. On the season, Texas has made about 35 percent of its jump shots. But against Temple, the Longhorns only connected on 24 percent of their jumpers.

Texas shooting struggles extended to the free throw line, as they have all season, making only 60 percent if its 35 attempts. But it wasn't as bad as the shooting display put on by the Owls. I think I can safely say that Temple lost this game at the line, going 15-31 there. The worst offender was Anthony Lee, who ruined an otherwise excellent afternoon going 3-9 at the free throw line.

Texas has three additional things to thank for its win:

  1. Texas controlled the glass at both ends of the floor. Without this, Texas' tight road win would have been an ugly loss where the Horns gave up a huge lead during a second half collapse. 20 offensive rebounds, while limiting the opponent to only 10, gave the Horns a nice cushion.
  2. A strong showing by Jonathan Holmes, who posted a PAM of 4.7. Holmes was 4-4 on shots at the rim, and 6-8 from the free throw line.
  3. Good defense, particularly by Demarcus Holland, which held Temple's best offensive player Will Cummings to a PAM of 0.6. It was good defense by Holland, but not good enough to make up for his -9.1 PAM (Holland missed all nine of his field goal attempts, and went 5-12 from the line).
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