I know it's fun to dump on Texas right now -- they're 3-5 since starting 17-0, and they had started to show some cracks even a couple of weeks earlier. But this is a ridiculously talented team with some significant matchup advantages over Mizzou, and you should overstate their weaknesses at your own peril. (That said, they're also a pretty young team that hasn't really played well on the road all season, so ... there's that.)
As always, put your Trifecta picks in the comments.
Texas: 20-5 (6-4)
|Points Per Minute
|Points Per Possession (PPP)
|Points Per Shot (PPS)
|True Shooting %||55.0%||47.1%|
|Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
|Expected Offensive Rebounds/Gm||13.8||14.8|
Ken Pomeroy Stats
|UT Offense vs MU Defense Ranks
|UT Offense||MU Defense||Advantage|
|Off. Reb. %||18||324||UT Big
|MU Offense vs UT Defense Ranks
|MU Offense||UT Defense||Advantage|
|Turnover %||44||147||MU Big
|Off. Reb. %||132||66||UT|
Get ready, Tiger fans ... this is one opponent that probably will not try to slow down the tempo as part of the typical adjustment against Mizzou. Texas has actually played a faster brand of basketball than Mizzou has -- they are 7th in Tempo, whereas Mizzou is only 21st -- and while that might show that they are well-conditioned to the speed with which Mizzou wants to play, it also shows that, if Mizzou is clicking, they could get Texas' young guards brains moving waaaaaay too quickly.
In all, Texas has a pretty well-utilized bench (74th in Bench Minutes), though part of that has to do with an unsettled and shuffled backcourt. Despite two senior leaders in Damion James and Dexter Pittman, they are just 210th in Experience, relying heavily on three freshmen, two in the backcourt. And while Pittman is ridiculously huge (6'10, 290...ish), they possess only average size beyond Pittman. Of course, that doesn't stop them from playing great defense (13th in 2PT% allowed, 33rd in 3PT% allowed, 21st in Blocks, 23rd in Assists Allowed Per Field Goal Made) and rebounding very well, while also playing a 2-point oriented offense (308th in 3PT Attempts Per Field Goal Attempt), all signs of a big team.
Where Tejas is strongest
They get after it on defense. The Horns' offense tends to run hot-and-cold, but the defense has been pretty consistently solid. Sure, they've had lapses at times, but everybody does. Texas' FG% defense is as good as Mizzou has seen this year outside of Kansas and Richmond, and obviously when you're rooting for a Mizzou team capable of shooting anywhere between 16% and 70% on a given night, that's not the most encouraging thing in the world.
They throw their weight around. No, they're not the biggest team in the world outside of Planet Pittman, but while Mizzou has sometimes faced big teams that don't always play big (A&M is a big team, but they ranked in the 100s in both offensive and defensive rebounding, and Mizzou broke even with them on the boards until the Worst 13 Minutes Ever™), Texas plays big. They have all the expected stats of a big team -- good 2PT%, great 2PT% allowed, good shot-blocking, good rebounding -- and that's obviously a problem for this Mizzou team.
Where they are weakest
They cannot shoot free throws. A couple of years ago, I rolled my eyes a bit at everybody going crazy about Memphis' poor free throw shooting. My rationale was this: yes, you can lose points throughout the game when your big men are absolutely atrocious from the line, but as long as you have guards who can make FTs with the game on the line, things could be a lot worse, and at the very least, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose were 70+% FT shooters. They weren't great from the line, but they weren't complete liabilities.
(This is why I have to pound my chest sometimes when I'm right ... because there are times when I'm horribly, terribly wrong ... like I was about Memphis.)
Anyway, when somebody calls Texas a terrible FT shooting team ... well, I don't roll my eyes very much. Yes, their bigs weigh down their overall percentages a bit -- Damion James (65.5%) and Jordan Hamilton (65.0%) are decent from the line, but Gary Johnson (54.6%) and Dexter Pittman (54.1%) are mediocre at best -- but aside from J'Covan Brown, Texas doesn't have a guard making over 70%. Jai Lucas (70.0% on 10 FTs) is their best non-Brown option, and it goes downhill quickly. Dogus Balbay: 50.0%. Avery Bradley: 48.1%. FORTY-EIGHT POINT ONE PERCENT. In other words, they have earned their 331st-place ranking in FT%.
If you can deny Brown the ball with the game on the line, then they've got no choice but to go to the line with somebody who makes no better than 65% of his free throws, and their two best ball-handlers are making 50% or worse! That is horrendous. (Meanwhile, Brown is a freshman, and freshman aren't exactly guaranteed to make key FTs in a super-loud road environment.) With their athleticism and streakiness, no lead against them is safe until the buzzer sounds ... but with their free throw shooting, no lead for them is safe either.
They're young at key positions. James and Pittman are battle-tested players who seem like they've been around forever. Meanwhile, their backcourt is frighteningly talented but inexperienced. Dogus Balbay played two minutes against Mizzou last year, and the two Texas guards ahead of him on the Minutes Per Game list are freshmen. Both Avery Bradley and J'Covan Brown are clearly limitless in terms of potential, but Mizzou has had very good luck with blitzing freshmen over the past two years, and with Texas playing a fast brand of basketball as is, one hopes that Mizzou can get them going too fast at times and get the turnover machine rolling.
UT's Season to Date
Wins vs KenPom's Top 200
#23 Michigan State (79-68)
vs #28 Pittsburgh (78-62)
#35 Texas A&M (72-67, OT)
at #53 Oklahoma State (72-60)
vs #58 North Carolina (103-90)
#62 USC (69-50)
#79 Texas Tech (95-83)
at #80 Iowa State (90-83)
#87 Colorado (103-86)
#92 Nebraska (91-51)
at #93 Arkansas (96-85)
#141 Long Beach State (107-74)
vs #143 Iowa (85-60)
#163 Texas A&M-CC (76-70)
#170 Western Carolina (73-41)
#1 Kansas (68-80)
at #11 Kansas State (62-71)
#15 Baylor (77-80, OT)
at #46 UConn (74-88)
at #94 Oklahoma (71-80)
Texas has played seven official road games:
@ Rice (W, 77-59)
@ Arkansas (W, 96-85)
@ Iowa State (W, 90-83)
@ Kansas State (L, 62-71)
@ UConn (L, 74-88)
@ Oklahoma State (W, 72-60)
@ Oklahoma (L, 71-80)
That's three unimpressive wins, one impressive win (OSU), a respectable loss (KSU), a baffling blowout loss (UConn), and an uninspired loss to a rival (OU). That gives them 1-2 decent showings (OSU, KSU) in seven road trips. The win in Gallagher-Iba shows they can play well, but if Good Mizzou shows up for a full 40 minutes (or close to it), Texas has not shown that they will definitely show up the same.
Beyond the road struggles, this list is a good reminder that, while we want to jump on Texas and overstate their current struggles (well ... we did before they went out and beat Nebraska by 40 on Saturday, anyway), this is a pretty well-accomplished team. Yes, they're 0-3 versus Ken Pomeroy's Top 20 (obviously encouraging, since Mizzou currently sits at #13), but they're also 20-2 against everybody else, and they're coming off a scary weekend performance.
UT Player Stats
|Damion James (6'7, 225, Sr.)||18.7||0.64||29.4 MPG, 17.8 PPG (50.3% FG), 10.8 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 2.3 TOPG|
|Dexter Pittman (6'10, 290, Sr.)||12.2||0.62||19.6 MPG, 10.8 PPG (66.5% FG), 6.1 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 1.8 TOPG|
|Avery Bradley (6'2, 180, Fr.)||11.0||0.40||27.9 MPG, 12.6 PPG (47.5% FG), 2.8 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.5 TOPG|
|Gary Johnson (6'6, 238, Jr.)||8.9||0.41||21.6 MPG, 8.5 PPG (54.9% FG), 5.2 RPG|
|Jordan Hamilton (6'7, 226, Fr.)||7.5||0.42||17.9 MPG, 9.2 PPG (39.0% FG), 3.3 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 TOPG|
|J'Covan Brown (6'1, 185, Fr.)||7.1||0.31||22.6 MPG, 10.3 PPG (35.5% FG), 2.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2.4 TOPG|
|Dogus Balbay (6'1, 175, Jr.)||6.8||0.31||22.0 MPG, 4.0 PPG (46.1% FG), 4.1 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.5 TOPG|
|Justin Mason (6'2, 195, Sr.)||4.1||0.25||16.7 MPG, 3.6 PPG (46.4% FG), 2.0 RPG, 1.5 APG|
|Jai Lucas (5'10, 150, Jr.)||2.8||0.24||11.4 MPG, 3.5 PPG (43.2% FG), 1.7 APG|
|Alexis Wangmene (6'7, 241, So.)||2.3||0.26||8.6 MPG, 2.4 PPG (47.7% FG), 2.0 RPG|
|Clint Chapman (6'10, 239, Jr.)||1.5||0.29||5.2 MPG, 1.9 PPG (63.2% FG), 1.5 RPG|
|Shawn Williams (6'6, 215, Fr.)||1.3||0.24||39 Minutes|
|Matt Hill (6'10, 240, Jr.)||0.6||0.14||4.0 MPG, 0.6 PPG (33.3% FG), 1.0 RPG|
|Andrew Dick (6'2, 180, Fr.)||0.0||0.00||10 Minutes|
|Dean Melchionni (6'4, 185, Fr.)||-1.0||-0.32||9 Minutes|
* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.
- Not that we need to go into detail about 2010-11 right now, while we're kinda sorta in the middle of the 2009-10 stretch run, but Texas is going to take on a COMPLETELY different identity next year, losing James, Pittman and Mason and handing the reins to Brown, Hamilton, Lucas, Tristan Thompson, and maybe Bradley, who at 6'2, 180, isn't the physical marvel that a lot of one-and-dones are, but who has been considered a likely one-and-done guy since before he enrolled for his freshman year (his game has shown enough cracks that a second year in Austin isn't out of the realm of possibility, however).
- Texas has a wider variety of forwards than you'll see on most teams. Pittman is obviously huge, James is a ridiculous athlete, Johnson is the Barkley-esque figure, and Hamilton is something of a combination of Johnson and James. James and Hamilton both take quite a few outside shots, while Pittman and Johnson are almost basket-oriented. All four of them are capable of throwing Mizzou's skinny bigs around, but ... Safford, Ramsey and Bowers are more than capable of following James and Hamilton around on the perimeter, and Mizzou began to thrive last year once Pittman wore out. Take Pittman out of the equation, and the bigs become more manageable.
- Looking at the per-minute stats, Texas really does start to seem like a two-man team. They almost always get a major contribution from a third guy -- Bradley against Nebraska, Hamilton against Oklahoma State, Brown against Kansas -- but as tends to happen when you rely on youth, they never really seem to know who that third guy is going to be. If it's Hamilton tomorrow night, Mizzou might still have a chance if they victimize the young guards. If it's Bradley or Brown tomorrow night, Mizzou could be in serious trouble.
(That almost sounds counter-intuitive -- "If Texas has a third big man going off, Mizzou might still have a chance" -- but I think you know what I mean, and I'm standing by the point.)
Keys to the Game
The three-knockdown rule is in effect. Anybody who has read Rock M during basketball season probably knows by now how much I enjoy a good boxing analogy. One of the fun (for me) things to do during a game is keep track of each 4-minute TV timeout segment like it is one round in a 10-round boxing match. It's a fun (for me) exercise in seeing how a given game flows. Well the boxing analogy goes further in this fight, as both of these teams are knockout artists. Mizzou's goal is to wear you out with speed, then finish you off around Round 8. Texas' goal is just to land the big shot that ends the fight. Against K-State, Texas outscored the Wildcats 18-7 in the first 8 minutes of the second half (it would have gone down as a sixth-round knockdown) ... and was outscored 64-44 the rest of the game. Against Oklahoma State, the Horns were down 27-16 early, but a fifth-round knockdown got them to within 4 at half, and an eighth-round knockdown took them from up 1 to up 10. Against Texas Tech, another eighth-round knockdown took Texas from up 3 to up 11. They are not a tremendously consistent team, but when they get rolling for 3-6 minutes at a time, they look like the best team in the country.
Mizzou is exactly the same way. The oddity of the Baylor game aside*, Mizzou has played in quite a few multi-knockdown games over the past couple of years. When they're hot, they're unstoppable; when they're cold ... well, they can lose to Oral Roberts. ATM meltdown aside, they have actually done a better job of avoiding knockdowns this year as compared to last year (strangely enough), but they also haven't been as good at landing the knockout blow themselves. If they can avoid the Texas uppercuts, then the Horns become a lot like Video Game Mike Tyson -- punchless and pretty easy to beat. But avoiding the uppercuts is harder than it seems.
* Of all the times I've done the "scoring the 10 rounds" exercise in live threads, I've never come across a game like BU-MU. Basically, Baylor won the first two rounds pretty definitively, Missouri won the third round ... and the next seven rounds were almost a dead-even draw. If this had been a real boxing match, two hometown judges would have scored the bout a 99-91 decision for Baylor, while another judge would have scored it 98-92 for Mizzou, giving Baylor a split decision, leading Max Kellerman (is he still alive?) to talk really loud and fast, and prompting Bill Simmons to publicly give up on boxing for the 19th time.
Wear Dexter Pittman out. If we had +/- stats from last year's Missouri-Texas game, I'm pretty sure it would have been about +20 for Texas when he was in, -24 for Texas when he was out. That's a slight exaggeration ... but only a slight one. Pittman scored 25 points and grabbed 5 offensive rebounds in his 23 minutes in that game, but thanks to foul trouble and fatigue, he wasn't able to play more than that. Because of his offensive skill (and the fact that he averages twice as many offensive rebounds per minute as any Texas regular not named Damion James), he is an even bigger matchup nightmare for Mizzou than Ekpe Udoh was, and if Mizzou has extra incentive for making this an 80-possession game, that's it. He is a destructive force for Texas, but he only plays 20 minutes per game. Every minute over 20 that they get from him equals about a 5% improvement on Texas' odds of winning. Wear his ass out.
It's Jesus Tyrannosaurus' time. J.T. Tiller is coming off of what was unquestionably his best offensive week of the season. He scored 23 points on 7-for-13 shooting, went 2-for-4 from beyond the 3-point arc, shot 7-for-9 from the free throw line, and even added six assists. If he can offer Mizzou 10 points on 40+% shooting tomorrow night, I will be thrilled ... but he has a much bigger role to play on the defensive side of the court. Mizzou holds a size (both height and weight) advantage over Texas in the backcourt, with 6'3 Tiller, 6'4 Zaire Taylor, and 6'3 Marcus Denmon facing off against 6'2 Bradley, 6'2 Mason, 6'1 Brown, 6'1 Balbay, and 5'10 Lucas, and they must utilize that advantage every bit as much as Texas utilizes its size advantage on the inside. And that starts with Tiller. He hasn't been nearly as impressive in the steals department this year, but he is still Mizzou's best perimeter defender, and if he can reliably take either Brown or Bradley out of their shooting rhythm, that will help Mizzou a ton. Texas does not attempt a lot of 3's (though they might if Mizzou is double-teaming post-men and offering up more open looks), and they don't generate just a ton of assists, which suggests to me that their guards often rely on beating their guys off the dribble to get shots. If Tiller (and everybody else) can make those shots as difficult as possible, then they could throw up quite a few bricks (from which they will grab quite a few offensive boards as long as Pittman is in the game ... so again ... WEAR HIM OUT).
If UT wins ... Mizzou went cold just enough at times, Texas dominated the boards, Bradley and Brown combined for 20+ points with <7 turnovers, Pittman played over 20 minutes, and Texas broke open a close game with a couple of quick 8-0 or 10-3 runs to score a 79-70 victory.
If Mizzou wins ... they answered Texas' knockdowns with some of their own, wore Pittman down, forced just enough turnovers to create some easy opportunities, won the free throw battle down the stretch, and made the key buckets, just like they did in the wins over Kansas State and Iowa State. I see a Mizzou victory somewhere in the 78-71 range. (In other words, no matter who wins, the most likely scenario is a close-but-comfortable margin.)
Texas doesn't necessarily respond well to knockdowns of their own, and Mizzou is more than capable of bothering young guards in a hostile environment ... and a sold-out Mizzou Arena should be plenty hostile tomorrow night. I do not like this matchup, especially with Pittman in the game, but I'm relying on Mizzou Arena and Texas' road uncertainty to do the damage. This should be a fun one ... well, a fast one. I could see a game with an up-and-down pace and a LOT of missed shots. Don't care how many Mizzou misses ... just that they make more than Texas. Mizzou 78, Texas 71.