I am not an NCAA tournament bracket guru, but we have now reached the point in the season where the Texas Longhorns could really use a few wins to insure their spot in the NCAA tournament. With four games left in the season, Rick Barnes' team realistically needs to at least go 2-2 or better to give itself the best chance of making the top post season event in college basketball.
Of course, not going 2-2 or better doesn't necessarily eliminate the Longhorns, as the conference tournament will still provide an opportunity to make up some ground, but Texas fans will feel a lot better with at least two more wins at the start of postseason play.
So where will those two wins come from? Here is Texas' schedule for the remainder of the season:
- At West Virginia
- At Kansas
- Home against Baylor
- Home against Kansas State
While nothing is impossible, it is hard to see Texas winning a road game in Lawrence. This means that Texas really needs to win two out of three against West Virginia, Baylor, and Kansas State.
This makes tonight's contest vs. West Virginia very important.
Since being blown out by the Longhorns in Austin, the Mountaineers have gone 6-3, bringing their conference record to 9-5. The story really hasn't changed much for Bob Huggins' squad since these teams last met. West Virginia still applies intense defensive pressure, and the game will still come down almost exclusively to how well Texas handles this pressure.
West Virginia picks up man to man in full court, and will periodically trap the ball handler. But even when not trapping, the Mountaineer's all or nothing defensive approach looks to deflect passes and create turnovers. What I wrote about the WVU defense in the preview the first time these teams played is still relevant:
West Virginia denies every pass. Off ball defenders, even far away from the ball, typically play in a straight line between their man and the ball handler, as illustrated in the photo below. In this photo, the player with the ball is indicated by a blue arrow. This is a fairly usual way to play; it is the closest thing basketball has to playing press coverage and blitzing the quarterback on every down.
Playing defense like this distorts the game, making it quite unlike other games that you will watch. It is hard, and perhaps even pointless, to try to run plays or patterned offense against this sort of defense. It is hard to simply pass the ball. The offense's best bet may be to just attack the basket off the bounce. West Virgina distorts things further by extending its pressure man defense over the entire floor for the entire game.
In the first match up, Texas aggressively attacked West Virginia's pressure with dribble penetration. The result was a lot of easy shots at the rim, and a lot of dunks for Cameron Ridley. This makes sense when we look at that photo above. If the dribbler can get past the initial line of defense without turning the ball over and get into the paint, the back line of the defense is frequently exposed to a lob pass over the top. This attack worked perfectly a month ago, and Texas won by 27. This would be a great game for Isaiah Taylor to go on a full out attack on the rim, forcing the back line defenders to choose between stopping the ball and stopping the Texas big men.
West Virginia feeds off of turnovers, both to keep opponents out of the lane as well as to create some easy chances for an offense that can otherwise struggle to score. The Mountaineers generally take care of the ball, and crash the offensive glass hard, but don't shoot particularly well. Point guard Juwan Staten is a tremendous basketball player, and Huggins will play as many as 12 men to keep the defensive intensity as high as possible throughout the game.
Texas can take some of the pressure off simply by beating the pressure and picking up a win in Morgantown.