We've mentioned ad nauseam that the Big 12 is a slaughterhouse this season, but we're going to say it again: the Big 12 is a slaughterhouse this season. Two top 20 teams are tied for 7th in the conference, both teams one win under .500 in conference. That's absurd.
As Baylor seeks to even up that record once again and defend their home court, we reached out to Burnt Orange Nation to get their insights on this UT team. Jeff Haley was generous enough to provide them. You can check out their questions and dfank_BU's answers right on over here.
PC: I’ve noticed Isaiah Taylor has been getting a lot more media attention this season than last. Do you think that’s deserving? How important is he to the UT offense?
JF: When you consider that coming into last season, Taylor was a mostly unknown recruit playing for a team that not much was expected from, and coming into this year was one of the key players on a preseason Top 10 team, it is not surprising that Taylor is getting more attention.
So is it deserved? I think so. Taylor hasn't had much of a chance to show what he can do yet, after missing ten games with a broken wrist and starting slowly after returning to the lineup, but he is Texas' most important offensive player. Taylor immediately fixes one of the biggest problems that the Texas offense has had during his absence, which is turnovers -- when Taylor plays Texas' turnover percentage is respectable, while when he sits it gets pretty ugly.
During the course of the season, Texas' offense has aspired to be an inside-out arrangement, playing through the big men, which hasn't always gone well. This was perhaps a necessity during Taylor's absence.
But now he is back, and Texas can realize its full potential as a team that occasionally spreads the floor, allowing Taylor to use a ball screen and create. This offensive approach played a critical role to Texas' comeback after being down big on the road at Iowa State last Monday (Texas ended up losing by three).
PC: Has Myles Turner had the impact Longhorn fans were hoping for? Statistically, he seems to be a big contributor on this team. Is he as much of a game changer on the floor as his reputation and stats indicate?
JF: So this is a question about expectations, which is always sort of tricky. I have a hard time speaking for others, so I will only speak for myself -- Myles Turner has more than met my expectations for him.
What Turner gives Texas is pretty straightforward. He is the Longhorns best interior defender and rim protector on a team that has no shortage there. The Longhorns are damn hard to score on in the paint, and Turner is one of the big reasons why. He also can shoot the hell out of the basketball. (Can I say "damn" and "hell" on a blog that focuses on a religiously affiliated school? I guess I just did.)
Myles Turner is an 89 percent free throw shooter on the season, has connected on 13-37 threes, and can just shoot the ball. His shot is a work of art; his free throws rarely touch the rim, and his approach to shooting is compact and wonderful. His low post game is still developing, but right now his basic way to attack the offense from the block is to quickly pivot and shoot. He will pivot either direction with either foot, keeps the ball high, and shoots over the defender before he knows what has hit him.
Normally, as an analytics guy, I am not a big proponent of this sort of offense. Jump shots from the post usually aren't that efficient. But Turner shoots the ball so well that he makes this game mostly work for him.
There is not much a defender can do to Turner after he catches the ball, other than hoping he misses. The key to guarding Turner is what you do to him before he catches the ball. Turner's greatest weakness is... weakness. He is young, and will benefit from both time in the weight room and time for his body to catch up with itself. He can be moved off of his spot on the block, and won't very often be able to establish deep position in the paint.
PC: Texas has a giant front court. Has Rick Barnes found a consistent, effective way to rotate Turner, Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh, and Jonathan Holmes?
JF: You can make an argument that Barnes hasn't used his big guys as effectively as he could, but finding minutes for everyone in a way that makes sense hasn't been an issue.
Texas typically starts Ridley, Connor Lammert, and Holmes. Holmes has spent most of his time in the wing this season, but will still post up (frequently on smaller perimeter defenders who can't really deal with his strength) and will occasionally play as one of two big men on the court. Usually at around the first media timeout, Turner will enter the game for either Lammert or Ridley -- while he doesn't start, he basically plays starter's minutes. Ibeh typically sees around ten minutes per game.
The effect of this is that Texas frequently plays with three guys who are 6-8 or taller on the floor, all of whom block shots and rebound. Shots at the rim against Texas are highly contested affairs. Even breakaway layups frequently are run down from behind by Turner and Holmes, who seems to run down at least one breakaway layup every other game.
PC: In the preseason and a fair bit of the regular season, Texas was getting legitimate buzz as a threat to take the conference title from Kansas. Do you think that dream is over? How deep of a Tournament run do you think this team makes?
JF: That dream has died, or if it is not yet dead it is at least up on the roof and refusing to come down. Texas seems to have fallen pretty far back in the standings, and because of two home losses will have to make up the ground on the road. That is pretty tough.
As for March: I like to think of the college basketball season in four mini-seasons.
First, you have the non-conference season, which lasts about six weeks. During that period, you get to see the team in its early stages against a wide range of competition. You also get to learn a little geography, playing against teams that come from unusual places.
The second stage is the conference season, which goes for a little more than two months. A lot of stuff can change and happen over this season. Right now, things look sort of grim for Texas, but there is a lot of basketball left, and a lot of time to work things out (and Texas definitely needs to work a few things out).
The third season is short: the conference tournament. For major conferences, this is almost like an amusing exhibition, but in one bid leagues it is life or death.
Then the fourth season is the NCAA tournament.
I answer in this long-winded way because we are a long way away from that fourth season. As a Baylor guy, you should know how different things can seem in January and March -- you lived it last year.
That is what Texas fans are hoping for, as the last few weeks of play have pushed us into something that is best described as an existential crisis.
For Texas, the key to success in March (and in January and February) will be getting some of its mojo back on defense -- the Longhorns were among the best defensive units in the non-conference period, but haven't defended that well in the last week or so. Additionally, Texas is going to have to figure out a few more ways to score. I think spreading the floor (as I mentioned earlier) might be one new wrinkle that we will see.
PC: What’s your prediction for Saturday’s game? Where do you think this game hinges?
JF: I guess I will be interested to see how things go on the glass. Baylor gets a lot of its offense on the glass, and usually needs to rebound well on offense to score a lot of points. Texas has rebounded well all season long.
On the other end of the floor, Texas is nearly as good at offensive rebounding as Baylor, but defensive rebounding is not one of the Bears' strengths, although to be fair this team has rebounded much better than Scott Drew's teams usually do.
Texas can have trouble protecting the rock, and shooting doesn't always come easy. To steal a win on the road, at least one of those things will probably need to be better for the Longhorns.
Thanks again to our pals over at BON. Let's hope for a great game Saturday.