Last Wednesday in Lubbock, the Texas Longhorns missed a chance at a spectacular win when Keenan Evans ripped the Longhorns' hearts out, Temple of Doom style. He then proceeded to then eat those hearts Jeffrey Dahmer style, but with a Texas twist — Mr. Evans favors a side of ranch for dipping.
A loss is a loss is a loss, and once they are done they really don't matter anymore. What really matters is the next ten games. It is time for some tournament math.
While major media outlets begin preparing mock NCAA tournament brackets around the time the new year rolls around, updating these brackets frequently, it is still too soon in the first few days of February to pay much attention to them.
One of the framing principles of Bracketology as it is widely practiced is that a well-made bracket is intended to reflect the likely NCAA tournament pool if the season ended today. It is not a forward-looking document, but rather a snapshot of where things currently stand. And there are still too many games to be played to pay too much attention to these snapshots, as the picture is going to change a lot over the next month. On the other hand, a month from now these snapshots will be quite useful; Bracketologists are collectively very good at their craft and have a high rate of success in predicting the behavior of the NCAA tournament selection committee. Their time to shine will come soon enough.
I think it is more interesting at this point in the season to talk about what a team — in this case the team is Texas — needs to accomplish to have a good chance of ending up in the NCAA tournament. The most relevant thing for us at this point is to answer this question: with nine more regular season games and at least one more chance in the Big 12 tournament, how many games do the Texas Longhorns need to win to get into the NCAA tournament? We hit on this in the last game preview, but I want to touch on it again.
The models of teamrankings.com still give a very similar answer to this question. If the Longhorns win only four more times between now and the end of the Big 12 tournament, then Texas will likely be planning for the NIT. If Texas instead wins six more games, the odds of their selection become quite good. Five wins right now means we all go to Bubble City, which sadly is not the name of a strip club located near the Milwaukee airport that contains an unusually large number of hand sanitizer dispensers and has a bring-your-own-cheese-curds policy. In that case, the Bubble City we are headed for actually sort of sucks.
Five of Texas' nine remaining scheduled games will be played at home. In principle, Texas can win all five of these games, and then with just those five wins perhaps barely squeak into the NCAA tournament. Every home game the Longhorns lose has to be made up for with either a win on the road or a win in the conference tournament.
There isn't much room for error left.
Welcome to Austin, Mr. Trae Young
Circumstances are what they are, and the Texas Longhorns need to get down to the business of winning basketball games. The next opponent up is Trae Young and the Oklahoma Sooners.
If you are reading this article, it almost is impossible for you to not have thoughts on Trae Young. Young is no one's idea of an explosive athlete; he is instead a gym rat and a miracle of muscle memory. He has been endowed by his Creator with gifts that are invisible up until the moment that he sets foot on a basketball court, but these gifts matter as much the breathtakingly visible ones granted to Mohamed Bamba.
For a variety of reasons, Trae Young has been compared with Steph Curry. This comparison, though imperfect, is at least a useful framework for understanding both his game and the threats he creates. Like Curry, Young pulls up from anywhere he can find the tiniest look at the rim under just about any circumstance and then watches as the ball goes through the hoop. This particular threat breaks one of the basic elements of basketball decorum; it is downright impolite to pull up of the dribble and nail contested 28-foot jump shots at a rate high enough that said shots are qualify as effective offense. This is the Steph Curry aspect of Young's game, and it breaks conventional defensive tactics of college basketball in much the same way that Curry breaks them in the NBA.
For Young, everything follows from there. This stress of his shooting ability creates driving lanes for him, and Young is both quick with the dribble as well as a crafty finisher around the rim. When he draws a foul — and he draws many of them — he is nearly automatic from the free-throw line. He also sees the floor well, and the threat he creates tends to produce chances for him to find wide open teammates with the ball. He dominates the OU offense almost completely, and is somehow leading D-I basketball in both scoring and assists as a scrawny 180-pound freshman.
The Rhythm Section
Young is surrounded by some talented offensive players. 6'4 junior Christian James is on the Eric Davis plan — show promise as a freshman, look awful as a sophomore, and then put it all together as a junior — and is knocking down the shots created for him in the OU attack. James did miss Wednesday's game against Baylor with the flu.
6'9 freshman Brady Manek is a stretch four and a major nuisance. He has hit 42 percent of his 111 attempts from three-point range so far this season. Rashard Odomes and Kameron McGusty are a pair of scoring wings that have taken a back seat in the Year of Trae Young, but both can score when given the chance. Kristian Doolittle has worked back into the rotation after missing most of the non-conference season due to academic issues, and has yielded many of his previously expected minutes to Manek. Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace are a pair of bouncy shot blockers and finishers that rotate through the front court.
OU plays fast basketball; they are the most up-tempo team in the Big 12, and one of the fastest teams in the nation. They are highly efficient on offense, but have been nowhere near as effective defensively as what we have come to expect from teams coached by Lon Kruger.
The Erwin Center will be sold out and will hopefully be rocking. It's something we don't often see at Texas, so we should enjoy it when we have it.
The game tips on Saturday in Austin at 5:15 p.m CT., and airs on ESPN.