It has been a weird season for the Texas Longhorns, with both highs and lows. And in the last week it has taken yet another unexpected turn — the Texas offense has turned into a fiery ball of death. This is not something anyone saw coming.
The offensive growth of the Longhorns has been sneaking along in the background for a while now, unfortunately paralleled by slippage in defensive effectiveness. The Longhorns, who just months ago seemed totally inept at the offensive end of the floor, now have scored more points per possession in Big 12 games than any other team in the league.
Over the weekend, the Longhorns lit into and lit up Iowa State. Texas scored 1.419 points per possession in that game. The last time Texas came close to that mark against a major conference opponent came in 2011, when the Longhorns put up 1.414 PPP against Texas A&M. And the last time Texas beat this mark against such a team was in 2002 — TJ Ford’s freshman year — when the Longhorns put 1.595 PPP up on Texas Tech.
This is more than just a single game effect; the Longhorn offense has actually been running well for a while now. Shaka Smart’s team has gone a month since scoring below one point per possession in a game.
An attack that looked limited early in the year has become more diverse, as Courtney Ramey and Jase Febres have emerged as perimeter shooting threats. Ramey is more than that, but an extra outside shooter is the thing that Texas needed the most. Matt Coleman has settled down and is finding his way into the paint, and Dylan Osetkowski and the coaching staff have finally worked out something for the senior big man that takes advantage of his physical game and decision making ability. This has become evident as Osetkowski is attacking the basket more, posting up more, and is much more of a threat on the offensive glass now that he is spending more time near the basket.
That is all well and good, but this new offensive identity for the Texas Longhorns will be tested tonight in Lubbock. That is because the No. 8-ranked Red Raiders make nothing easy for opponents. Chris Beard’s squad ranked No. 1 in points per possession defense in the Big 12, and is by the kenpom.com metrics judged as the top defense in the nation.
The thing that the Texas offense wants most is the middle drive, where a player on the perimeter attacks with the dribble into the center of the defense, and gets into the paint. The thing the Texas Tech defense almost sells out (at times) to take away is this same middle drive. Red Raider perimeter defenders will take crazy positions on the floor just to make it so opponents cannot do this. And then well-conceived help rotations and an exceptional rim protector in Tariq Owens handle the rest.
On the offensive end of the floor, Jarrett Culver is having a monster season and may end up being Big 12 Player of the Year. His teammates are pretty good too — the Red Raiders have shot the ball pretty well as of late.
A lot is at stake for both teams. Texas Tech is two wins away from sealing at least a share of a Big 12 championship. For the Longhorns, a win would all but guarantee a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Red Raiders will be pretty heavily favored.
The game tips in Lubbock at 8 PM CST, and airs on ESPN.