The Frogs return to the hardwood tomorrow looking to pick up their first Big 12 win of the season. TCU will get that chance against a Texas Longhorns team facing a "big" injury problem. We met up with Cody Daniel of Burnt Orange Nation to get the scoop on the current state of UT Basketball.
1. Arguably the biggest storyline surrounding Texas Basketball right now is the loss of Cameron Ridley to a broken foot. The dropped their first two contests without the dominant big man before rebounding to defeat Kansas State on Tuesday. How is the team going to adapt without Ridley's presence in the paint?
How Texas will adapt in Ridley's absence is still the $1 million question. It's been clear that Texas is devoid of the offensive identity it had seemingly established on the six game win streak before Ridley's injury. Through three games and two losses, it seems the direction Texas is going it trying to place a substantial load on Isaiah Taylor's shoulders and hoping a supporting cast of veteran wings and freshmen potential can make up the difference. To this point, the results have been the Longhorns hitting only 21-74 threes and having no real desire to get Prince Ibeh and Shaquille Cleare involved offensively.
2. Building off that point, the Longhorns have relied heavily on deep shooting this season, averaging over 22 three-point shot attempts per game. Nearly 40% of Texas' total shots this season have been from behind the arc. Why do you think this is the case? And will the loss of Ridley cause UT to rely on the three-point shot even more?
I think Texas heaving so many threes stems from a few factors. Shaka Smart's coaching style has famously focused on pressure defenses and getting shots up in a hurry; often from deep. And the Longhorns roster makeup tapers towards shooting threes, with a perimeter-centric offense, which includes stretch-forward, Connor Lammert, and two sharpshooting freshmen in Eric Davis Jr. and Tevin Mack. With Ridley now out of the picture, I think the trend will become even more noticeable. To win against the Big 12's powers, you have to be able to score in bunches, and with no inside presence, it's likely that Texas will continue relying heavily on the perimeter.
3. Texas is in a rare position of adapting to a new head coach. Shaka Smart has guided UT to a 9-5 record so far in his first season on the 40 Acres. How would you assess Smart's first couple of months on the job?
Through his first eight months or so on campus, I think Shaka Smart has done a tremendous job with the program. While it's still too early to tell how he may fit long-term, it's been evident thus far that there's a newfound energy and excitement surrounding Texas basketball, both from the players and fans. Sure, the 9-5 record could be a bit better, but I also think it would be a different story minus Ridley's injury, where I feel Texas would be 11-3 and on a nine-game win streak. But to me, the most impressive feat of Smart's young stint in Austin has been his ability to recruit, despite having not yet proved his worth in a power five conference, and arguably the most talented conference in the country. To that end, he's already brought a four-star commit with him from VCU, and has three 2016 commits, including five-star guard Andrew Jones.
4. Moving to tomorrow night's contest, the Longhorns have dominated TCU pretty much since the mid-1980's. The Frogs haven't defeated UT since 1995 and are currently riding an 11-game losing streak to their in-state rivals. What does Texas need to do to keep their winning ways alive?
For Texas to beat TCU, I think everything has to begin with Isaiah Taylor. As noted, Cam Ridley's absence elevates Taylor's responsibilities tremendously; not only as a scorer, but finding ways to get his teammates involved, too. If Taylor can get going early, it will open opportunities up for Javan Felix, Tevin Mack, Eric Davis Jr., and Connor Lammert. And while Texas has a small army of capable perimeter threats, they haven't consistently capitalized and established themselves as a legitimate three-point shooting team.
5. Finally, give us a prediction for how tomorrow's game shakes out. Can TCU take advantage of a depleted Texas frontcourt, or will the Longhorns pick up their first road conference win of the season?
I think the difference in the game will be how well Texas shoots from deep, and how effectively Ibeh, Cleare, and Lammert can contain Vladimir Brodziansky and Karviar Shepherd's collective 22 points and 12.4 boards per night. Brodziansky has been a handful down low this season, but hasn't fared well thus far in Big 12 play. I think Ibeh's rim protection could continue that trend, if and only if, he can stay out of foul trouble. If not, TCU's bigs could have a field day. But ultimately, I think Texas' guard play will be the difference, with Felix and Taylor carrying Texas over TCU 75-69.
I'd like to extend a big thank you to Cody Daniel, Wescott Eberts, and the entire team over at Burnt Orange Nation. Be sure to check out their site for a different perspective of this weekend's contest!