March 21, 2014

Texas beat writer weighs in

Texas looked impressive in taking down Arizona State on Thursday night. A beat writer who watched them every step of the way gives his take on the Longhorns, their season, and how they might stack up with Michigan.

Brian Davis writes for the Austin American-Statesman. He made a point to Michigan head coach John Beilein about how the Longhorns really struggled the second time around against teams this year, and Beilein shot back a quip, thanking him for the scouting report.

Here's Davis…

On Texas' struggles down the stretch: "They're definitely a team that catches people off guard the first time around. That was very, very obvious in the Big 12 season. They went through the first half of Big 12 play and won seven in a row, and then the second half, if was completely different.

"Teams were ready for their length. They were ready for Cameron Ridley, and Prince Ibeh, and Jonathan Holmes, all inside. That was really evident against Iowa State, a team that really took it to them in Ames.

"That's the team they are comparing Michigan to, Iowa State. They see very good guards, very good three-point shooting, and that's what they're building their scouting report on. That said, I do see Michigan struggling initially.

"All 40 minutes, in this type of environment, is different. Texas hasn't been the aggressor in many games, and that's been one of their problems. To me, it's who gets out of the gate in the first four minutes, when we get to the under-16 timeout, who delivers that first punch and who knocks the other back on their heels."

On Michigan's unfamiliarity with Texas, and how that could impact the game: "I think it would be different if we could sit here and say, 'Oh man, Texas is not only big, but they're dirty and nasty. They're tough.

"But they're not. They're a group of unbelievably nice guys, almost to a fault. If you could line up a 6-8, 6-9 and 6-10 guy, and you knew they were like the Bad Boys from the Pistons days, that would be one thing, but that's not who these guys are.

"It will be real interesting to see. I thought Michigan did a great job against Wofford, when Jordan Morgan came out with that dunk in the very early play. That, to me, was Michigan's way of sending a message: 'Hey, we're going to stomp you.'

"I don't know that Texas has that in them, to do that type of thing."

On what Texas does well when it's at its best: "Easily, it's forcing turnovers and running. They want to get a lot of points in transition, because their set offense … if you get Texas into their half-court offense, it's a positive for you.

"[Texas coach] Rick Barnes actually said the other day, 'Our offense starts when the ball hits the glass.' Meaning, after the first miss, right? People forget, this is the second-worst shooting team in the Big 12. But they're excellent at getting offensive rebounds, second-chance points and points in the paint. They're very good at that.

"If Michigan can lure this team into a three-point game of H-O-R-S-E, that's very much to Michigan's advantage. They have lost those games this year."

On Texas' defense: "They've done pretty well. Their defensive stats are incredible, when you look at them across the board. Demarcus Holland is kind of their glue guy. He generally guards the other team's best offensive player.

"He shut down [Kansas'] Andrew Wiggins the first time they played. Not many people have done that this year. Javan Felix matched up against Nik [Stauskas] will be a tough battle. Isaiah Taylor has been very spotty, very streaky defensively. You can kind of lure him out off his game a little bit.

"The big men have done pretty well. They're averaging six blocks a game, which is second in the Big 12, just behind Kansas. Like I said, I think Michigan's best course of action is to sit on the perimeter, look for open threes. I just don't see them getting a lot of put-backs and gimmes at the rim."

On how Texas' deficiencies showed up: "Kansas State was a great example of that. Kansas State came to Austin and really started off slow. Texas got on them early, and it came down to the very end. Jon Holmes hit a three-pointer to win the game, right?

"A lot of people thought Kansas State was a better team than what they showed that day, so we went to Manhattan, and it was just a blitz, the first five minutes. It was just going to the rim, attacking the rim, and Texas just wasn't ready for that. They got blown out. The first five minutes, the game was over.

"Kansas, same thing. Kansas really overlooked Texas. Kansas thought they were going to come to Austin and just roll right over these guys. They missed a lot of bunnies that day, missed a lot of shots they normally make, and they lost and were peeved about it.

"We went to Lawrence, and they just steamrolled them. That's what I'm getting at. A lot of teams didn't think anything of Texas. They were picked to finish 8th in the Big 12 this preseason. No one thought they were going to be worth a durn.

"Here they came out and caught a lot of people off guard. They got some wins, got some confidence, and now they're in the third round of the NCAAs."

On how much of their struggles were due to a strong Big 12: "Oh, there's no question. It was strong this year. Their schedule, having to go to the north teams, all in the back half of the season, that didn't help.

"If Texas could have gotten some north teams at their place, that would have been better for them. Texas got just good enough so that people started hating them again, right?

"Last year, they had a losing record, and nobody cared. Everybody in the league loves to kick the Longhorns when they're riding high. That got a lot of people's attention, when they got back in the polls. They were a very legitimate threat to win the Big 12, until they kind of stumbled in the last part of February."

On a gut feeling about the Michigan game: "I think it's going to be closer than the experts think. From the very beginning, I picked Texas to beat Arizona State and then lose to Michigan. That was before I saw Michigan in person.

"I was really stunned at the lack of height, quite frankly. Then I look at the stat sheet and see their big guy, Jordan Morgan, only averages about six points a game. That really threw me off.

"Nik and Glenn Robinson better show up and have big games. I would have given Michigan more chance if Texas had just beaten Arizona State by 10. The fact that Texas won in the way they did? We just came out of the locker room. Those guys are pretty charged up.

"They see that Mercer has already beaten Duke. These guys know that an upset is possible. We'll see."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!