Saturday, Feb 20, 2010, 1:00 PM CST
United Spirit Arena (15,098) * Lubbock, TX
Television: ESPN (Franklin & Bardo)
Ken Pom Ratings: Texas #9; / Texas Tech #78
Ken Pom Predictor: Texas 85-77 (80 possessions)
Opponent blog: Double T Nation
First Meeting: Texas 95-Tech 83
The No. 15/17 Texas Longhorns travel to Lubbock this afternoon looking for a much need victory. I hate to put a road game in the ‘must win' category, but this one is as close as it gets.
After Wednesday's meltdown in Columbia, Texas is just 6-5 in conference play with five games left. Three of those five are on the road, including this afternoon's game. The other two are home with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Since December this season has been monumentally disappointing; however, finishing at or below .500 in conference play would put me over the edge.
I'm willing to put the two remaining home games in the W column. Therefore, Texas should finish with at least eight Big XII wins. Because the other two road games-Waco and College Station-come against much better clubs, today's match-up with Texas Tech is our best remaining chance to steal a road victory. Win today and 9-7 is in reach. Win today and a few things come together, maybe 10-6 is within reach too. (I know it's a stretch).
Keys to the Game:
1. Limit Dribble Penetration: Tech's motion offense is as difficult to defend as any in the country. The Red Raiders movement is probably even more challenging for the Longhorns to defend because they never see similar movement in their own practices. In the first game between these two teams, Tech won the first half 50-47 before Texas woke up in the second and dominated, 48-33, after halftime. The Texas guards must find a way to stay in front of the ball. This means playing slightly off non-shooters, moving their feet well laterally, and communicating on defense.
This hasn't been Rick's forte this season but I'd like to see Texas employ a 2-3 zone some this afternoon. With the zone, Texas doesn't have to chase Red Raiders all over the floor for 30+ seconds and possibly allows Dexter Pittman the chance to stay on the floor. Dex's defense is a huge liability in this game, but his size creates an even bigger mismatch on the other end. One caveot to the zone, Texas must find Tech's shooters-John Robertson and Nick Okorie especially. If Tech starts hitting threes, the zone must be shelved quickly.
2. Limit Turnovers and Sink Free Throws: We've talked about this all season: home court in college basketball means more than in any other sport. Elite teams struggle on the road; good teams are lucky to go split their road tilts; and poor teams may not win more than two or three true road games in a 30+ game season. In Big XII play, Texas is 2-3 on the road. Wins have come over Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Losses have come to Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
Mental mistakes, home-run passes, and consistent bricks from the line have hurt Texas all season. The Longhorns were able to overcome these deficiencies against the weaker teams in November and December and basically out-athlete their opponents. Conference play has been a different story, though. If Texas is going to steal this road game or either of the other two left on the schedule, the ‘Horns must play smart. From the players that means no more than a dozen turnovers and at least 65% from the line. From the coaches, that means calling quick timeouts to limit runs and changing defenses as needed.
3. Have Fun: PB wrote an excellent piece yesterday hypothesizing about what has gone wrong this season. In short, PB's speculates that Barnes saw this season in a similar fashion that we did as fans-that this was 'the one'-and that the coaches and consequently the players have pressed too hard, that confidence has been shot, and that negative play was over-identified and positive play was under-rewarded. As PB admits, we really don't and won't know if this is what has happened this season, but I think he is definitely on to something.
I also think it correlates with what I see on the floor. When this team is running, pressing, and finding each other in the open court, they seem to play with a weight lifted off their shoulders. Sure the occasional forced pass is there, but the players look and play more like a team and definitely look like they are having more fun. Conversely, when Texas plays a slower half-court game that comes down to thinking their way through a defense, we struggle. Our spacing is off, players stand around waiting for someone else to make a play, and the offense sputters.
We'll see what happens this afternoon in Lubbock, but if I'm Rick Barnes, I do everything in my power to make this a fun basketball game for my players.
Statesman.com on Texas possibly becoming on the fourth team to fall from No. 1 to out of the top 25.
Barkingcarnival.com's Nickel Rover on a 2-3 Texas zone