So we've arrived at the next "biggest game of the season", this time against the team that was supposed to be our biggest challenger this year. That still may be the case, but we really have absolutely no idea with how jumbled up the conference is right now. To get a better sense of what to expect, I reached out to Bitterwhiteguy over at Barking Carnival, one of two SBNation sites covering the Texas Longhorns.
RCT: So coming into the 2013-2014 season, Rick Barnes looked to be one mediocre season away from being thrown out of town, which is kind of surprising since no one in Texas really cares about basketball anyway. Instead, the squad had a huge turnaround after losing what appeared to be their 4 best players from the year before. So the real question is, how did Rick get such a great turnaround from the prior year? Does he regret selling his soul to the devil?
BC: The serious answer is that Rick ditched the locker room cancers(Papi being the main exception and my erstwhile man crush) and filled the roster with kids that play with the focus on defense & rebounding he so desperately loves. Getting rid of Sheldon McClellan - who, according to multiple reports, told Julius Randle not to come to Austin while he was here on his f***ing official visit - along with a couple other players who were more worried about their NBA future than their NCAA present changed the team chemistry noticeably...which is probably for the best because nearly all of us thought Barnes was a dead man walking. (No, Texas fans don't care about basketball, but they care about losing in anything.) Demarcus Holland will probably leave the 40 Acres as one of Barnes' 5 most favorite players; the kid is Royal Ivey 2.0 and soaks up instruction. He's also a maturing offensive player and is likely going to be a breakout player for the team next season. I'm of the opinion that the team as presently constituted is the balance of 4-year players & NBA-ready talent Barnes strived for during most of his UT tenure, and that the period between 2009-2012 the mixture was off. He was getting too many elite kids(I swear that's an actual problem for some coaches) and not enough lunch pail types. For all the TJ Ford types Barnes desires, he doesn't make the deep runs without guys like James Thomas & Brian Boddicker alongside him. This is why all 9 of us Texas basketball fans were so excited about this year, it's basically the formula we all wanted. This team is - and I'm speaking very loosely here - basically what would've happened if Kevin Durant had come back for his sophomore season. The sky's the limit for this squad if they can peak in March.
The fun answer is that Rick Barnes retired 2 years ago and Texas is currently being coached by Shaka Smart operating a Rick Barnes hologram. Having an AD that's willing to spend cash on the basketball program means we're doing some 22nd century shit in Austin. We might even find one of the Malaysian jets in our off-time, because DOLLA DOLLA BILLS Y'ALL.
RCT: So that Myles Turner guy, he's been kind of good this year. Was he worth the wads of cash that I'm guessing (aka probably imagining) found their way under his hotel room door during his recruiting visit (ours must have gotten lost in the mail)?
BC: I refuse to believe a guy that wears glasses is capable of corruption, Hollywood has taught me that friendly guys in glasses are above reproach. Speaking of which, RICK PERRY 2016.
Really though, I want people to watch Myles shoot free throws. He's hitting almost 89% of his free throws and they're beautiful to watch. I know free throws aren't a sexy part of the game, but you could run entire shooting camps just replaying Vines of Turner at the line over and over again. 6'10" teenagers shouldn't be able to do that. I'm going to miss him when he goes pro.
RCT: This Texas team slipped hard in the beginning part of the conference schedule. What went so wrong against Oklahoma, and how did they turn it around so spectacularly against West Virginia? Did they find where the Wheaties were hidden?
BC: I'm chalking that Oklahoma game up to the Big 12 being a merciless conference; we're essentially 9 guys standing in a circle, repeatedly punching each other in the dick. (Texas Tech is off in the corner punching itself in the dick. Or maybe Tubby wrecked his chopper on their dick, who knows.) OU beat Texas by 21 who beat WVU by 27 who beat OU by 21. By the transitive property, I think that means OU is a Moebius Strip. I mean, you saw them firsthand this week, they're capable of taking anyone down on a given night. So is Texas. So is Iowa State. You get the idea. Also, I don't think it can be overstated what effect losing Isaiah Taylor for 10 games had on team chemistry & offensive flow. Texas had a definitive identity for 3 games, had to change up their team approach on the fly for 10 games, and now are 5 games into the 2nd Zay Epoch. Zay looks like he's rounding into form finally; the TCU game was the first game since the injury where he was making the aggressive moves towards the basket that make him so hard to guard. I hesitate to say he's 100%, but the tape on his wrist is gone and the floater's starting to fall again so he's getting there.
As for West Virginia, their high risk/high reward press defense bit them in the ass. Texas had obviously spent the week off working on ways to beat the full court press because they were unleashing set plays left & right to push the ball down the court. Cameron Ridley was a human highlight reel for the first time since, uhm, you guys came to Austin. That's basically the bet Huggybear's made this year; he's going to live by the press and die by the press. If a team preps for it and doesn't panic, the Mountaineers get torched. West Virginia is still better than last year, but Huggins is pressing to keep his team out of a half-court defense.
RCT: Turnovers seem to be an issue for both of these teams, both in not being able to force them and committing them way too frequently. Essentially, it's like two opposing forces pushing a highly moveable object on a skating rink. Should we be ready to cue Yakety Sax, or will one of these teams find a way to get it under control? Will this be the biggest factor in the game, or is there something else we can look to as an indicator for this game?
BC: Texas' lack of ability to force turnovers(via steals or otherwise) isn't really a lack of ability so much as a strategic choice. Whereas a team like Kentucky chooses to play the passing lanes aggressively, Texas seems to prefer to funnel opponents into the lane where the law firm of Turner, Ridley, Ibeh, & Holmes are throwing a 24/7 block party. You guys remember last year in Austin when Texas blocked 12 shots? Yes you do, don't lie. Well, all of those guys are back and they added the Big 12's leading blocker in Myles Turner to the mix. So basically Texas is sending out invites to come visit them in the lane and are offering a free return ticket for all your carry-on luggage. They're like Spirit Airlines, but cheaper.
As for the turnovers Texas commits, that's settling down a bit with the return of Taylor. Texas isn't going to be elite at holding onto the ball this year, but they're getting better in the way a dumpster fire eventually turns into a smoking crater that's technically not on fire any more. I would expect somewhere in the 12-14 TO department in an average Texas game going forward.
RCT: Finally, what is your prediction for the game? Does the Big Bad Jayhawk come knocking to huff and puff and blown the Erwin Center down? Or do the Longhorns get a fire going and cook the 'Hawks before they know what hit them?
BC: My gut says Texas splits the season series with Kansas, winning the game in Austin and losing in Lawrence. I'm hesitant to put too much into that prediction though, as I'm not sure which Kansas team is showing up. Both of these teams have had stunning performances this year, and I mean that in both the positive & negatives sense. Give me Texas 70-63.
RCT: Bonus - Sonic the Hedgehog or Link from The Legend of Zelda? Explain using whatever criteria you choose.
BC: My girlfriend says I'm a lot more like Sonic; I'm pretending that's because of the back hair and not because levels are usually finished in 75 seconds. I'm partial to Link on account of the original Zelda game being the first video game I ever binged on back in the halcyon Nintendo days. If only I had known then what I know now, I never would've gotten into those overly-long RPG/adventure games because only losers play that shit, am I right? Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to the testosteron-laden killfest known as Dragon Age: Inquisition.
So for the record, I'm considering that to be a vote for Sonic, because we all know that the women in our lives are always right. That makes the current score 5-1.
Thanks again to Bitterwhiteguy for joining us for some good-natured fun today. Don't forget to check out my responses to his equally snarky questions over on Barking Carnival.