Before the Sun Devils take the court Thursday night to face the Texas, we wanted to get the inside scoop on the Longhorns. Like Arizona State, Texas comes into the NCAA Tournament in a slide, losing five of its final eight games.
We turned to our Texas SB Nation site Barking Carnival for some answers about why Texas is so dominant on the boards and where the Sun Devils will have the advantage on Thursday.
Barking Carnival's Jonathan Tjarks was kind enough to answer some questions surrounding the game.
Coming off a disappointing 2012-2013, what was expected out of this Texas team at the beginning of the season and how has it performed based on those expectations?
There were pretty much no expectations for Texas after last season, which was by far the worst in Rick Barnes' long tenure in Austin and had many (including me) questioning his job security. The Longhorns finished below .500 and then lost their top four scorers, all of whom left with eligibility remaining. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, with Texas picked to finish in the bottom of the Big 12. As it turns out, there may have been some addition by subtraction with the guys who left, the guys who stayed all came back as much better players and the freshman class exceeded its recruiting rankings.
Describe the strengths and weaknesses of this Texas team.
Like most Rick Barnes teams, Texas prides itself on its physical toughness and its half-court defense and tends to struggle with offensive execution in the half-court. When Rick is recruiting, he tends to identify the most athletic players he can find and figures he can develop their skill-set once they get on campus. When the Longhorns are at their best, they are getting stops in the half-court and then going from defense to offense. At their worst, they get bogged down in the half-court, where their lack of outside shooting allows the other team to pack the lane and then push the ball back at them in transition.
Texas ranks fourth in the nation in rebounding, what makes the Longhorns so good on the boards?
Size and athleticism, particularly upfront. Against most of the Big 12, Texas started the game with a huge advantage on the interior - starting Cameron Ridley (6'9, 255) and Jonathan Holmes (6'8, 240) and then bringing Connor Lammert (6'9, 235) and Prince Ibeh (6'10, 250). There's just not many college teams who can play two legitimate big men, much less bring 2 more off the bench.
Texas comes into the tournament just 3-5 in its final eight games (much like ASU is 2-5 in its final seven), what is the mindset of this team heading into the tournament?
It's hard to say - they ended the season on a downswing, but I would argue that had more to do with the way their schedule was set up (with a lot of road games in the last month) than anything they were doing. That said, there's no question their offensive woes have started to wear on them and Barnes is well known for his penchant for getting in young guards' heads and making them extremely tentative on offense. The looser and more free they play, the better off they probably will be, but that hasn't really happened over the last five years in the Tourney, where Texas teams far more talented than this one were knocked out early.
Where do you feel Texas has the biggest advantage over Arizona State and where do you feel ASU has the biggest advantage over Texas?
Looking at the rosters, I like the Longhorns chances of attacking Arizona State in the paint, particularly with Holmes, their oldest and most consistent player. They can throw waves of big men at Bachynski and if they get him in foul trouble, they might be able to overwhelm the Sun Devils at the rim.
From the ASU perspective, I don't think Texas has anyone who can go bucket-for-bucket with Carson at the end of a close game. If this game comes down to the final minutes, and they usually do, Herb Sendek can just clear out for Carson and have him create a shot, a luxury the Longhorns don't really have, unless freshman PG Isaiah Taylor can get out of his end-of-season slump.
Where do you feel this game will be won or lost for Texas?
Their young guards ability to take care of the ball. An advantage inside doesn't do too much good if you can't run good offense and get the ball to where it needs to go. Texas is an incredibly young team that starts one freshman and two sophomores on the perimeter and has only freshmen behind them. How they handle the bright lights and a matchup with a talent like Carson will go a long way in determining whether they pull it out.
What is the feeling in Austin about this matchup against ASU and how far this team can go in the NCAA Tournament?
After the way the season ended and their recent run of Tournament disappointments, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of excitement surrounding this year's team, which may have peaked too early. However, I like Texas' size upfront against both ASU and Michigan and I wouldn't be surprised to see them make the second weekend. At the same time, I wouldn't really be surprised if they lost in the first round either.
Want more Texas info? Barking Carnival would be a great place to start.