After a week of tough road games, Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns host the 9-10 TCU Horned Frogs in Austin. When these two squads met a little more than two weeks ago, the Horned Frogs squeaked out a 58-57 win that remains their only victory of the conference season. Now Texas gets the chance to even things at home.
Last time these two teams played, we took a look at some of the Frogs' key players. So rather than simply rehashing that, let's look at how things went down in Fort Worth, and contemplate what might play out differently this time around.
A miserable night shooting the ball
Any reasonable discussion of Texas' loss to TCU earlier in the season has to start with a single fact --Texas went 3-of-21 from three-point range in that game. When we add in the fact that Smart's men also only earned 11 trips to the free-throw line and didn't really hit the offensive glass, it is easy to understand why Texas had so much trouble scoring. It was Texas' worst offensive performance since the season-opening game in China, as the Horns only managed a meager 0.86 points per possession -- and still only lost the game by one point.
With the current Texas roster, the Longhorns are just going to struggle to win in games where they do not shoot the ball well from the outside and do not find their way to the free-throw line. But the good news here is that there is no real reason to expect Texas to shoot so poorly in this game. And it is really hard to imagine the Longhorns only attempting 11 free throws at home.
Texas' pressure defense against TCU's shaky back court
For the most part, the Longhorn full-court press hasn't generated a lot of turnovers this season. But one of the teams that Texas did turn over was TCU. The Frogs turned the ball over 14 times, which is a lot for what was a very low possession game. The 14 turnovers meant Coach Trent Johnson's team coughed up the ball in 21 percent of their possessions.
This wasn't just a one-game problem for TCU. The Horned Frogs are in the bottom 50 nationally in turnover rate, and have been in the bottom half of the Big 12 during conference play.
Although things have recently been a little better for the Frogs in the ball security department. In three of its last four games, TCU's turnover percentage has been less than 17 percent. It may not be a coincidence that these three low turnover games took place when shaky sophomore lead guard Malique Trent sat out after violating team rules. That put the ball in the care of junior Michael Williams and sophomore Chauncey Collins, and TCU was more protective of the basketball. Of course when Trent returned last Saturday against Iowa State, the turnovers came back with him.
This would be a good game for Texas to go after Johnson's men with the press. The TCU front court of Karviar Shepherd, Chris Washburn, and Vladimir Brodziansky is quite good. TCU's back court is the weakest one in the league.
The importance of this game
No game is ever a "must-win" game. It turns out that Shaka Smart agrees with me.
Shaka Smart on "must-win" games: "What does that mean? Does it mean if we don't win, we're all going to be taken out back and executed?"— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) January 25, 2016
But while this game isn't "must win," it is rather important that the Longhorns win the games that they are supposed to win -- and a home match up against the last place team in the league surely qualifies. Texas' path to the NCAA tournament will just be much easier if it avoids hiccups at home.
The good news for both Shaka Smart and Texas fans is that the Longhorns have been playing pretty good basketball as of late.
Texas and TCU tip off shortly after 7 PM CST in the Erwin Center. The game will be broadcast on the Longhorn Network.