When the news of the this game broke back in May, many — including myself — assumed it would feature two top 40 teams with at-large bid resumes. For various reasons that scenario did not pan out, but it’s not to discount these team’s ability or personnel.
Texas and UAB have never met on the hardwood, but current Longhorn coach Shaka Smart is quite familiar with the Blazers. While Smart was at the helm at VCU, the Rams and the Blazes played a home-and-home series during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
UAB shocked the Rams in Birmingham 68-65 in 2010 in a game that the Blazers were down by more than 15 points in the second half. Months later VCU would make a run from the First Four to the Final Four catapulting Shaka Smart into many power team head coach vacancy conversations for years to come.
(Photo via AL.com)
VCU returned the favor the next season in Richmond thrashing the Blazers 68-49 in what would be Mike Davis’ final season in Birmingham.
As I mentioned earlier, the two teams we’ll see in Austin, Texas Wednesday night have taken paths that weren’t exactly predicted or projected in the non-conference portion of their seasons.
Texas came out of the gate slow beating in state Incarnate Word 78-73 for their first win of the season. The Longhorn’s prized recruit, 6-foot-11 center Jarrett Allen (Top center prospect Jarrett Allen picks Texas), made a splash in his debut notching a 16 point and 13 rebound double-double.
The following week yielded blowout home wins over La-Monroe and Eastern Washington, which had Texas sitting pretty at 3-0 before the schedule would quickly get tougher.
During the 3-game home stand another of Texas’ newcomers, 6-foot-3 guard Andrew Jones, had 36 combined points and was the KenPom.com MVP twice. Going into the Arkansas game Saturday the freshman had just 36 points over his last six games before scoring 17 in the loss in Houston.
Texas has palatable losses against top 60 teams Northwestern, Colorado, Michigan, and Arkansas. Their loss at home to UT-Arlington may seem odd to the casual observer but the Mavericks have proven to be one of the best mid-majors in the country following up their win in Austin with a win against Saint Mary’s in Moraga.
Scouting The Longhorns
Texas will be one of the most talented interior teams UAB plays all season — if not the most. The Blazers statistically rank among the best in the nation at protecting shots close to the basket, but have struggled against NBA level players like Saint Mary’s Jock Landale and Memphis’ Dedric Lawson.
The Longhorns’ two-headed monster of freshman Jarrett Allen and 6-foot-8, 275 lbs senior Shaquille Cleare are as visually intimidating as any you’ll see in college basketball. They don’t just look the part, they play the part. Chris Cokley is going to have his work cut out of for him.
For comparison, UAB’s interior defense ranks 21st nationally in near-proximity shooting percentage, while Texas is ranked 27th. Both teams have faced solid front-courts this season and have proven to be tough to score on close to the basket.
The soft spot for each of these teams is the 3-point shot. For UAB it has been both shooting and defending from the perimeter. Texas has defended the 3-point shot well this season, but has struggled with their players shooting it consistently.
For the Blazers, just two players have hit double-digit 3-point shots this season. William Lee is 13-of-35 — good for 37 percent, and Dirk Williams is 19-of-55 — good for 34 percent.
For the Longhorns, 6-foot-7 sophomore guard Tevin Mack leads the team with 23-of-53 made threes — good for 43 percent. A pair of players have the next most on the team with nine each. Mack is without a doubt their go-to from the perimeter, but like UAB, the Longhorns have many capable shooters who just haven’t been as consistent as they can be.
3 Things To Watch For
- Press Defense – I suspect you’re going to see full-court pressure from both teams at certain points in this game. UAB exposed Stephen F. Austin’s press and found many open shots. Arkansas came hard with their 40 Minutes of Hell and for the most part Texas held their ground turning it over only 12 times.
- Dirk Williams – The senior was 5-of-10 from behind the arc in the win over Southern. He’ll need to have his best offensive and defensive game of the season for the Blazers to win.
- Tevin Mack – A team as talented as Texas isn’t beaten by stopping one player. However, controlling Mack has to be a priority. If the perimeter opens up and the Longhorns start hitting shots, you’re toast. Beating Texas starts with making them one dimensional. A dog fight in the paint gives UAB a fighting chance. A shoot-out does not.