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Takeaways from Texas’ championship run in Asheville this week

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Is it ever nice to have a senior point guard...

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Nashville Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

For the first time since 1999, the Texas Longhorns basketball program has won three games in three consecutive days.

No. 17 Texas picked up three NCAA Tournament-caliber wins against Davidson, Indiana, and No. 14 North Carolina to improve to 4-0 on the 2020-21 season.

Shots weren’t falling down the stretch in the championship game and whistles were in favor of North Carolina late, but Texas managed to weather the storm and found a way to win. Overall, a strong collective effort from the Longhorns in Asheville this week.

Takeaways

Senior year Matt Coleman can be special

College basketball teams are typically as good as the play of their point guards. It’s evident that this team will go as far as the play of their senior point guard. And so far, Matt Coleman has been terrific through four games.

After capturing the program’s first ever Maui Invitational championship with a game-winning isolation step-back jumper from just beyond the free-throw line, Coleman’s post-game words spoke volumes on how much this win means for himself, his head coach, and the rest of the team going forward in a season where nothing is a guarantee.

Coleman: “I’m really winning for coach, man. He takes a lot of heat. Myself and a lot of our guys, we want to play for coach Smart. He’ll sacrifice anything for us so we want to do the same.”

Get used to him being the go-to player in clutch moments when the game on the line. This is a player that’s been recruited or coached by Shaka Smart for nearly half of his life.

Coleman: “Before I went to the timeout with a little smirk on my face, because I was thinking in my head I was made for times like this. I wanted to win.

A shot like this deserved a full arena.

Coleman has looked smooth isolating defenders off the dribble, creating space to shoot and more opportunities for teammates. That step-back jumper of his has never looked better. His on-ball defense has been impressive, too — he stays in the grill of opposing guards.

16.3 points, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 52.2 field-goal percentage, 40.9 three-point percentage, 80.0 free-throw percentage.

These number averages are near an All-American level of play. If he keeps this up, watch out opposing Big 12 point guards. He’s coming for a first-team all-Big 12 honor.

Kai Jones’ freshman —> sophomore leap

No player on this roster has improved more since last season than Kai Jones. The contributions he made throughout this week’s tournament were key. He impacted today’s championship game in a big way off the bench.

While Jones only averaged 17.7 minutes per game, his per-40 minute tournament numbers were at 15.1 points and 7.8 rebounds. He’s 15-for-16 (93.8 percent) from the floor thus far this season.

There’s no telling how high his ceiling is because he impacts the game in several ways. His length makes him a dangerous defender and effective rebounder and he has emerged as a reliable outlet option for Texas’ guards on the fast break. Jones’ minutes are only going to increase from here.

As Kai Jones said best following Wednesday’s season opener, “In my mind, running the floor opens up the floor for everyone else, the shooters and the drivers.”

Like much of this Longhorns team, Jones is more effective playing in transition compared to when he plays in the half-court offensively, but he’s bought into his role as a player who most impacts the game around the rim. As the shooting numbers suggest, the shot selection from Jones has been remarkable — he hit a jab-step three against North Carolina, but drew a key foul late in the game when he passed up an open three, attacked a closeout, and got to the free-throw line.

Brock Cunningham and Royce Hamm’s roles off the bench

It’s such a luxury having depth when your No. 7 and No. 8 men contribute like Cunningham did yesterday and Hamm did today. Whenever Jericho Sims went out with foul trouble, Cunningham and Hamm would replace him as enforcers on defense.

Even though they’re undersized, they’re able to hold their own in the post against stronger forwards. They play physical and with lots of energy — noticeably doing the little things.

Their presence has led to more hustle plays and second chance points, whether it’s fighting for a loose ball, doubling a defender or going after a rebound. It goes to show how anyone in this rotation can earn legitimate minutes by outworking opponents on both ends of the floor.

Smart made the right timely substitutions in both the Davidson and North Carolina games by inserting Kai Jones, Cunningham, and Hamm back into the game for their defense.

Defense

Luke Yaklich may not be coaching at Texas anymore, but the defensive blueprint he implemented on this group is still paying dividends today.

The rotational help defense has been great, forced turnovers are leading to more points in transition, and this team isn’t giving up free buckets at the rim. Despite constant foul trouble from Greg Brown and Sims, the defense has been elite through four games.

Indiana and North Carolina combined to shoot 3-for-19 (15.8 percent) from beyond the arc.

Texas is currently rated No. 2 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings.

Dominance over North Carolina in basketball

Five in a row. Nine of the last 10. There’s parallels between the Longhorns dominance over North Carolina in basketball and Nebraska in football. No one owns Roy Williams quite like Texas basketball does. His 1-8 record is the worst record against any program as the Tar Heels head coach.


The most encouraging takeaway from this week’s three games?

Texas proved themselves in a tournament environment — a preview of what playing in March is like. Plus, there’s a ton of room for improvement, as Smart pointed out after the win, “We have a lot to learn from the 120 minutes of video from the last three days. The exciting thing is that there’s not a guy on our team that can’t play better.”

By beating Davidson, Indiana, and North Carolina, this week’s performance should lift Texas into the AP Top 10 for the first time ever under Smart. He remains undefeated with a fro.

Next up? The Longhorns will play host to another blue-blood program — the No. 12 Villanova Wildcats come to Austin on Sunday — tip is at 12:00 Central on ESPN. The Big 12 opener is at Baylor the following Sunday. We’ll find out just how legit this team is over the next week and a half.

Kenpom.com currently has Baylor ranked No. 2, Villanova at No. 3, and Texas at No. 4 in his metrics.