On Saturday evening, the No. 3-seeded Texas Longhorns will seek their first NCAA Tournament victory under sixth-year head coach Shaka Smart’s direction, and though they’ll enter as an 8.5-point favorite over the No. 14-seeded Abilene Christian Wildcats, the Horns will have their hands full in hopes of surviving and advancing.
Where the Wildcats will pose the biggest issues is on the defensive end. It’s fair to label them as a borderline elite defensive unit, with ACU ranking incredibly well nearly across the board. They’re No. 32 in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric, No. 1 in opponent turnover percentage (26.7%), No. 4 in steal percentage (13.1%), No. 24 in field goal percentage (40%), No. 13 in three-point field goal defense (29.1%), and No. 7 in scoring defense (60.5 PPG).
A disciplined and sound team defensively, the Wildcats look to smother opponents on that end of the floor, making them work for nearly every pass and preventing clean looks from the perimeter. Fortunately for Texas, the Longhorns feature a veteran guard trio headlined by Matt Coleman III, who’s proven plenty capable beating opponents off the dribble or utilizing a constant flow of screens to create space.
Of course, it would certainly help the Horns if Courtney Ramey returned to form to help alleviate that pressure and provide a scoring spark after scoring only three points on 1-of-14 from the field and 0-of-7 from deep in the Big 12 Tournament.
Beyond the ideal need for Coleman and Jericho Sims to continue their recent surges offensively, a key for Texas will be whether or not forwards Kai Jones and more specifically, Greg Brown III, who was essentially rendered ineffective in the Big 12 Tournament and scored only two points in 19 minutes, can play with control when the ball is in their hands.
Offensively, ACU is average, ranking No. 155 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metric. However, any team that can hit its shots can be incredibly dangerous, especially in March, and that’s where the Wildcats excel with nine guys who have hit at least 10 threes this season.
“We’ve got to do a good job on a variety of guys on their team,” Smart said. “Again, from what I know about them, they’ve got a bunch of guys that are very, very dangerous that don’t necessarily average like eye-popping numbers in terms of scoring. They shoot the ball really, really well.”
Not to mention, ACU thrives at getting to the charity stripe, ranking No. 20 in free throw attempts, so it will be essential that key contributors — Sims in particular — can avoid early foul trouble.
All in all, this is a challenging first round matchup for Texas, despite the notable talent and athleticism gap. Bolstered by its stout defense, ACU enters the Big Dance at 23-4 overall after winning 12 of their last 13, including Southland Conference title.
Texas has been in dogfights all season long and it’s probably sage to expect another one tonight. A full game preview can be found here.
Here’s how you can watch Texas take on Abilene Christian:
When: Saturday, March 20, 2021
Time: 8:50 p.m. CT
Venue: Lucas Oil Stadium
TV: TruTV, TNT.
Live streaming: March Madness app
Prediction: Texas - 64, ACU - 59
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