Tuesday, Jan 27, 2009, 8:00 PM CST * The Ferrell Center
Television: Big 12 Regional (Dave Armstrong and Reid Gettys)
Radio: 98.1 FM / 1300 AM (Austin) / XM Satellite Channel 231
Las Vegas Line: Baylor -1.0 / Ken Pomeroy Data Prediction: Baylor 74-70
Other Game Previews: TexasSports.com / Barking Carnival
|Overall Record||15-4||14-4||Offensive Efficiency (Rank)||118.7 (5)||107.8 (73)|
|Conference Record||3-2||3-1||Defensive Efficiency (Rank)||96.7 (94)||87.5 (14)|
||11-1||9-0||Strength of Schedule Rank||#35||#57|
|Away / Neutral Record||2-2 / 2-1||2-2 / 4-1||Quality Wins||n-Arizona St,
at Wash St,
at Kansas St
|Record Last 5 and 10 Games||3-2 / 7-3||3-2 / 7-3||Losses||
Prior to Saturday's tip with A&M I discussed how well positioned the Longhorns would be if they could rattle off five straight wins. One up, one down with the home victory over A&M, but Texas tonight faces its toughest test of the stretch -- on the road against a solid, at times explosive, Baylor squad. Tonight's contest is enormously important for both teams.
For Baylor, a loss tonight would be their first at home
drop them two in the home court hole (the Bears lost to A&M in Waco), placing them three games behind Oklahoma and Kansas in the loss column and two behind the 'Horns. Not only would that all but end any hope Baylor harbors of making a run at the conference title, but they'd find themselves with a tough row to hoe to earn a first-round bye in the Big 12 tournament. A win tonight, on the other hand, would give the Bears a much-needed short-term boost in momentum right before a back-to-back set at Missouri and versus Kansas in Waco. Should the Bears win tonight, stay hot, and win the next two over MU and KU, they'll be very much alive for the conference crown, ranked in the Top 25, and in a driver's seat for a first-round Big 12 bye.
For the Longhorns, the issue tonight is not so much that a loss would be horrible, but that a win would be exceptional. Win tonight and Texas gets to head back to Austin to host two strong North division challengers (KSU, Mizzou) before heading to Lincoln. If starting this evening Texas goes 2-2 or worse across the next four, a conference title run is out of the question and (depending on how things went down) it may be difficult not to feel discouraged about the team's post-season prospects.
For me, tonight's game is the big one. If Texas goes on the road and steals one from Baylor at the Ferrell Center, I love their chances of winning the next three to hit the home stretch at 7-1 in conference, with all priizes in play. Don't forget: Rick Barnes has never lost to Baylor in his entire career - a perfect 22-0 mark since he arrived in Austin. If he can extend that streak again tonight, it'll be time to talk about whether the team has turned a corner and begun to hit that late-season peak.
A few keys to tonight's game after the jump.
KEYS TO THE GAME
A few things to watch for tonight:
1. Dominate the boards. Baylor can run and gun with any team in the country. What they don't like to do is rebound. And I actually think it's a "like" thing: the Bears neither lack height nor athleticism. Their style is four-to-the-floor -- rebounding an afterthought. Starting with the obvious, Texas must keep Baylor to one-and-done on missed shots. Not so obvious, I think Rick Barnes should strongly consider trying to take advantage of Baylor's weak defensive rebounding efforts, sending three or four players to the offensive glass -- particularly Justin Mason, who excelled in that role against Texas Tech, pulling in six offensive rebounds.
Or maybe not. The flip side of crashing the glass is that it can leave the floor unbalanced, generally, and facilitate the transition opportunities upon which Baylor thrives, in particular. In my mind, how Barnes plays this is the most interesting strategic element of tonight's game. In each of Baylor's four losses this year, they've allowed opponents to recoup offensive rebounds at a 40% or better clip. In Baylor's 15 wins, that number never crosses the 40% line -- more often than not down in the 20-25% range.
2. Defend the three-point line. While the Longhorns are the worst three-point shooting team in the conference, Baylor is one of the best, ranking second in the conference and knocking down nearly 40% of their attempts from behind the line. Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn are the players to run off the line, as they both shoot well over 40% from distance, both at about 42%. Dunn is a streak shooter who doesn't elevate much on his jumper, so defenders don't have to close out as far as they normally might. Henry Dugat also shoots about 40%, but is more dangerous taking the ball to the basket, as is Curtis Jerrells, the Del Valle product who is the emotional leader of the team and its top scorer.
3. Control the crowd/big runs. In terms of dealing with the Bears' penchant for finding open three pointers in a high speed, fast-shooting game, the big defensive goal for Rick Barnes tonight is to make Baylor play uncomfortably. If the Bears are running up and down the floor in an up-tempo contest in which their guards have space to shoot in transition, it could be a long night for the 'Horns. The Bears are one of those teams -- when they're clicking on all cylinders, playing in a game that suits their style/tempo -- that can literally beat anyone in the country. It's up to Texas to make Baylor play a style game they don't want to play. If the 'Horns succeed, they'll win.
Relatedly, winning on the road tonight means thwarting the Bears each time they try start to get in their up-tempo groove and start to make a run. Baylor is favored at home for a reason, and Texas will have to do more than show up and play solidly to win. Rick will need to coach well tonight, both in making the Bears play our style of game and in being smart with game management to keep Baylor from getting hot and riling up the Ferrell Center crowd. Rick doesn't like to use timeouts when his team is going through adversity, but I wouldn't mind him strategically calling a few breaks tonight -- if not for his guys, then to slow down theirs.