Writer: Lucas Garza
Shaka Smart’s Longhorns went into Birmingham, Alabama coming off of a narrow win against Tennessee State. Matt Coleman’s floater with 10 seconds left in the game lifted the Horns over the Tigers 47-46. Going into the Alabama game, there were many questions surrounding the team’s offense and coaching, but Texas surprised just about everybody. Mo Bamba and Kerwin Roach played their best games of the year both offensively and defensively. Bamba played physically strong in the interior, and Snoop Roach hustled and had his shooting release in sync. Eric Davis Jr. returned to the court after sitting out two games with a minor wrist injury on his shooting hand, and he had his best game, making three 3’s. Even as Dylan Osetkowski had one of his worst games, Texas held the lead for the majority of the game, and was able to seperate late for a 66-50 win.
Texas’ best player, sophomore guard Andrew Jones suffered a hairline fracture in his right wrist after taking two falls within a minute in Richmond when the Horns beat Shaka Smart’s former VCU Rams. Drew Jones is the only playmaker on the team, and is by far the team’s only reliable shooter beyond the arc. Without Jones, Texas had struggled offensively, and it definitely showed in the games against Tennessee State and Michigan. Jones is expected to be back sometime in January, and there is a chance he may play against Kansas on December 29.
The offense has been the biggest and only problem for the Longhorns this season. Their defense is elite, and their full court press has proven to be tough for all their opponents. Shaka Smart has not found a way to score the ball with his athletic players. Shaka Smart is to blame for this poor shooting. He has only been telling his player to “follow through” on their shots, which is not going to fix anything. Jericho Sims is spinning the ball with his off-hand when he shoots. Eric Davis Jr. sets his feet at a different width and angle on every shot attempt, usually with his right foot well in front of his left. Jacob Young has a good release, but his far from square on his three point attempts. If Shaka would recognize these errors and make the necessary adjustments, Texas’ shooting woes would likely go away. Texas has also been having trouble getting the ball in the interior. Not surprisingly, the only way the do it effectively is when they miss long range shots and Mo Bamba or Jericho Sims get the offensive rebound. Bamba and Sims, both freshmen, have fundamentals they need to work on, especially when securing a rebound and not taking dribbles. Osetkowski has been playing steady, but his outside jumper is usually too strong, leaving his only as an interior below the rim scorer.
Mohamed Bamba has stepped up his defense ever since the mediocre Michigan guards embarrassed him. Bamba had been letting driver beat him, just so he could have a chance to block his shot from behind. This had worked occasionally, but Michigan was too quick and scored all over him. Thankfully, it seems that Shaka put an end to that strategy, and has had Bamba playing effective straight up defense in the paint. Bamba is averaging over four blocks per game. Snoop Roach has been keeping up with every guard on the court, and Sims and Osetkowski lead the press well.
So far, the Longhorns’ only losses are to Duke, Gonzaga, and Michigan, all teams who have played in the National Championship game in the past five years. Last season, Texas did not win a road game, and they have already beaten VCU and Alabama in packed arenas. Shaka has put an emphasis on road wins, having a student-manager hold up a ROAD sign in every practice. Texas leaves non-conference play (besides Ole Miss in late January for Big12/SEC Challenge) without any bad losses, but also without their best player. They open up Big12 play against Kansas at home, and then head to the Hilton Coliseum to face Iowa State, a team and place that has given Texas problems for years. The Big12 is the best conference is basketball, with nine of the ten teams receiving AP poll votes this week, and seven were ranked. Seth Greenberg has said that every Big12 team will make the tournament, which is a very bold statement, but a great indicator of how good the coaches, arenas, and players are. For Texas to make the Tournament, they will have to defend the Erwin Center for nearly every home game, get Andrew Jones back and healthy, not be the worst three-point shooting team in the country, continue to rebound and defend very well, and steal a few road wins with limited turnovers.