All good — and unexpected — things must come to an end, apparently.
After a shocking five-game win streak, Texas seemed primed to secure an NCAA Tournament berth. All that needed to happen was for the Longhorns to beat the lowly Oklahoma State Cowboys, 11th place in the Big 12, on Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center.
Texas ended up losing 81-59 to the Cowboys in what was a disastrous showing. Oklahoma State shot 66% overall and made eight of its 13 3-pointers. The Longhorns were just 35.2% from the field and 5-for-29 from three.
A performance such as this one might confuse fans: Which version of the team is real? Is Texas a good team that just had an awful game, or was that win streak just a hot streak that isn’t realistic to repeat?
With junior forward Jericho Sims still out and junior forward Royce Hamm Jr. playing just 10 minutes, spacing and shooting should have been much easier for Texas. The Longhorns had five players willing to shoot threes on the floor. For a team that is so dependent on outside shooting — 12–0 overall when they shoot better than 40% from deep and have lost nine of 10 games when they shoot 30% or worse from deep — Texas can create better looks for itself by attacking the heart of the defense and then kicking out to the open shooters when the defense collapses.
The problem is that so many of the Longhorns’ threes come without the ball ever going near the paint. This is a major issue as it reduces the amount of movement opposing defenses have to do.
Texas had just eight assists against the Cowboys, making it over a month since it’s totaled double-digit assists. It seems that head coach Shaka Smart has decided to double down on his offensive strategy of running pick and rolls with minimal off ball movement, not realizing that the pick and roll itself is the issue. Sure, if you have multiple ball handlers playing well like redshirt sophomore guard Andrew Jones, junior guard Matt Coleman III and sophomore guard Courtney Ramey then it works. But it is risky to put all your eggs in that basket. When the guards are struggling to create out of that set, it feels like the Longhorns are just stubbornly sticking to the same script, hoping the repetition will change the outcome. In games such as Saturday’s, Texas needs to try something else.
The idea of a full-court press after the score ballooned to 27-7 isn’t bad. The Longhorns scored five points almost instantly, forcing Oklahoma State to call a timeout. But Texas stopped as quickly as they got into it. Sure, part of it was that the Longhorns stopped making shots for a decent stretch of time, but why keep doing the one thing working at the time.
Matt Coleman’s struggles
While Coleman scored 18 points on Saturday, he was 1-for-6 from behind the arc and turned the ball over four times, matching the amount of turnovers he had during the win streak. Not only did he have some careless mishaps with the ball, but his decision-making as a whole was not up to par.
At times, Coleman is Texas’ best option to drive the ball into the paint. At other times, he finds himself lost in midair with no other options than to toss a shot at the rim.
If it wasn’t clear, Texas needs change aplenty to get back to playing like it was in its hot streak. It shot better than 50% from the field and 40% from three in four of those five wins, Oklahoma being the exception, and with season averages of 43% and 33%, respectively, it is not fair to expect that level of shooting improvement, especially if Texas continues to take the same looks from three. Furthermore, winning teams move the ball, and Texas needs to start doing more of that. Finally, the Longhorns need consistent and efficient guard play. If they are able to do most or all of these things, they could get back to their winning ways in the Big 12 Tournament.