Penn. Long Beach State. Charleston.
All programs ranked No. 100 or lower in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric that came out with victories against a Providence team that entered the game against Texas at 6-6. In Saturday’s contest, however, the Longhorns turned in one of the most pathetic performances in the Shaka Smart era, an underachieving tenure that happens to have a lot of competition for that lowlight.
Earlier this week, the Friars lost to the Gators by 32 points. Back at home for only the second time in nearly a month on Saturday, head coach Ed Cooley’s team absolutely beat down the Longhorns for a 70-48 victory that featured exactly zero significant runs by Texas over the final 30 or so minutes.
Here’s the recipe for the absolute collapse — take a Providence team that ranks among the most experienced in the country, insert plenty of adversity, including that terrible performance against Florida, then give the Friars a home game against a Longhorns team they pushed around last season.
Throw in defensive breakdowns by Texas early that allowed Providence to gain confidence, especially from beyond the arc. Add plenty of missed open shots early and a strong defensive strategy by Cooley that forced the Longhorns to play one-on-one basketball offensively.
For good measure, throw in a healthy sprinkling of a mental and physical toughness deficit despite Smart emphasizing those areas all week. That’s right — with the Longhorns done with finals amidst the best start in Smart’s career in Austin, the team spent days talking about the need to respond to adversity, to push back when the Friars pushed them around, to enter the game with the necessary confidence and maintain it if things didn’t go well.
Suffice it to say that if the players performed as poorly on their finals as they did in the test of their mental and physical toughness on Saturday, they won’t be eligible next semester.
Texas guards start the game off strong attacking the basket — sophomore Courtney Ramey had two layups at the rim and junior Matt Coleman got lucky when he was able to finish without being called for traveling or spraining his ankle when he stepped on the foot of a Providence player.
There were some significant breakdowns defensively for Texas early, once when an offensive rebound on a missed free throw resulted in an open three for David Duke, by far the best outsider shooter for Providence, and then again in transition when the Longhorns failed to run to the rim.
The start also provided the road real road challenge for freshman forward Kai Jones in relief of sophomore forward Gerald Liddell, who only played three minutes before picking up two fouls. Defensive rotations struggled as a result — junior forward Royce Hamm, Jr. helped on a big with a mismatch down low and Jones was slow to react, resulting in another dunk.
It was a running theme for a game in which the Friars had six dunks in all.
When Luwane Pipkins hit a three in transition to put Providence up 15-7 following a 7-0 run in only 1:16, Texas head coach Shaka Smart had to call a timeout at 13:38. The Longhorns hadn’t scored in nearly two and a half minutes and that run ultimately decided the game, as Texas never got closer than six points.
A put-back dunk by Coleman was a highlight for Texas before the under-12 timeout, but Providence continued to create separation — one notable exchange featured Andrew Jones missing an open three from the corner and Ramey struggling to find Duke in transition.
In fact, the Longhorns missed their first six attempts from beyond the arc despite getting good looks and generally focusing on attacking the basket as Providence went over ball screens aggressively.
Two open misses from junior guard Jase Febres stood out. One didn’t even catch the rim after Febres hit 7-of-10 shots from three-point range last weekend against Central Michigan.
Two other moments stood out from that stretch — junior forward Jericho Sims securing an offensive rebound at the rim, then dribbling and waiting for the defense to converge on him before trying to go up and finish. It didn’t work. Then, Sims and Ramey collided on a defensive rebound, causing Ramey to commit the cardinal sin of trying to save the ball under the opponent’s basket. He assisted on an immediate Providence layup.
Along with a second three from Pipkins, who entered the game shooting 28.8 percent from three, pushed the lead from five back to 10 for the Friars. Then he hit two more, converting on a four-point play when he was fouled by Coleman.
After getting open looks early and benefitting from those defensive breakdowns by the Longhorns, the Friars started feeling the type of confidence that the experienced team clearly hasn’t felt much during the first 12 games. The result was 7-of-14 shooting from three-point range in the first half, a 21-3 advantage in that category, and a 43-28 halftime lead.
With the new defensive philosophy installed by assistant coach Luke Yaklich in the offseason, that type of margin simply shouldn’t exist for a team that has plenty of shooters with experience playing on the road. It’s fundamentally a lack of execution, especially early in the game against an experienced team that desperately needed to regain some confidence.
The idea is to force opponents to play one-on-one basketball, not allow 11 assists on 16 made baskets in one half.
For Texas offensively, the Providence approach on defense didn’t look like previous strategies — the Friars wanted to make the Longhorns convert the same type of one-on-one plays that Yaklich’s defense normally forces. As a result, Texas had two assists on 11 made baskets in the first half, both by freshman center Will Baker. Missing shots had an impact on that stat, but that’s simply not a bottom-line recipe for success.
Nothing changed in an awful second half that featured the Longhorns shooting 28.6 percent and going the final 6:13 without scoring a basket.
The team went 3-of-21 shooting from beyond the arc, saw Liddell foul out with one point in 17 minutes, and had the three lead guards — Coleman, Ramey, and Febres — go -19, -23, and -22 in the plus-minus stat.
For a guard-driven team, that’s simply not good enough, especially when the freshmen showed they weren’t ready to contribute and Sims had more turnovers (three) than made baskets (two) on five shots.
The bottom line is that Texas clearly didn’t learn from the Providence game last season or the Georgetown game this season. Smart tried to emphasize what the Longhorns needed to do to at least make this game competitive and those efforts resulted in abject failure.
With Purdue struggling this season, Smart’s team will enter Big 12 play with a dearth of quality wins following a weak non-conference schedule that will come to a close next week with a game against High Point.
The lack of mental and physical toughness doesn’t bode well for the crucible of the Big 12 double-round robin schedule that only included one game in which KenPom.com gave Texas close to even odds of winning entering Saturday’s absolute debacle.
So the projected 8-10 record may be difficult to achieve and that likely won’t be good enough to make the NCAA Tournament given the results
There were still several weeks to improve before opening conference play on the road against an excellent Baylor team, but Saturday’s performance revealed that Texas still has a long way to go and may struggle to be as competitive in the Big 12 as the group that missed the tournament last season.