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Previewing Vanderbilt at Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge with Burnt Orange Nation

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Vanderbilt needs a big win on Saturday to roll back to the happy side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

That moment a sniper got Isaiah Taylor
That moment a sniper got Isaiah Taylor
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt earned their first quality win of the season when they beat Florida at home. Can they keep that momentum rolling by upsetting Texas in Austin on Saturday?

The Commodores will take a break from conference play for the Big 12/SEC Challenge, which pits them up against the Longhorns for the second time in three seasons. Vandy lost their last game against UT, falling 70-64 despite a comeback that left them down by a single point with 34 seconds left to play. This season, they'll bring a roster whose talent is light years ahead of that 2013 squad, but their postseason hopes aren't appreciably better.

The 13-7 Longhorns will present another key opportunity for a resume-building win. Texas is ranked No. 21 in the CBS RPI and currently projected to be a six-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Beating them on Saturday would be a huge accomplishment for a team that's struggled in 2015-16, but it won't be easy.

We brought in an expert to help break down the Longhorns' strengths and weaknesses. Cody Daniel is an author over at Burnt Orange Nation, the internet's premier Texas Longhorns site. He was kind enough to sit down and answer my questions about this weekend's matchup. Here's what he had to say about the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

1. Let's get right down to it; opposing teams beat Vanderbilt by dominating the rebound battle and forcing turnovers. Do the Longhorns have the talent to exploit those weaknesses on Saturday?

Cody DanielRebounding? No. Forcing turnovers? Yes. Prince Ibeh has been effective on the boards lately, and Connor Lammert has always been an exceptional rebounder, but Texas lack of interior depth is an issue. The Longhorns don’t have any one guy that stands out as capable of dominating the boards, and collectively, they’ve lost the rebounding battle in four of the last five games. This will likely be the case again Saturday with Shaka being forced to run smaller lineups at times. As far as the turnovers go, it’s a battle that will likely favor Texas, but this doesn’t mean that the Longhorns will force very many. They’ve won the turnover battle in four of the last five, with the one exception being the Kansas game, where they tied with eight a piece. But Texas has been tremendous in taking care of the ball lately, averaging 8.8 over the last five, and the press they often resort to certainly can cause a fair share of problems.

2. The Longhorns will be without big bodied center Cameron Ridley, who was averaging a double-double and a Luke Kornet-ian 3.4 blocks per game this season. Texas is only 5-4 since losing him - but his departure also coincided with the beginning of conference play. What has Shaka Smart done to overcome the loss of his potent big man?

CDInitially, Cameron Ridley’s absence was monumentally noticeable. Texas had absolutely 0 inside presence, and didn’t have any desire getting the ball down low, either. But over the past few games – since Texas has started playing much better – Shaquille Cleare has become a somewhat reliable option down low, and Ibeh has found ways to get involved and is coming off a career-high 17 points. The rest has just been finding ways to get guys other than Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix involved offensively, such as Eric Davis Jr., Tevin Mack, Kerwin Roach Jr., and Lammert. But it’s really become a different story and an unsung hero every game, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the difference has been.

3. Follow-up to #2. With your most effective paint defender out, who will earn the duties of defending Kornet and Damian Jones near the rim? Can we expect the Longhorns to play much zone defense?

CDThe rim-protecting duties have been passed down to Ibeh, and he’s been an absolute monster recently. He’s a he frame down low at 6-10, 270 pounds, and since taking on added minutes with Ridley out beginning with the UConn game, he’s rejected 29 shots (3.2 per game), including 12 over the past two games. But there’s very little rim protection beyond Ibeh, who is known to be foul prone.

4. Texas has actually attempted more three-pointers this season than Vandy (438 to 409), but UT only has one regular player who is shooting better than 35% from long range this season (the 'Dores have five such players). A) why do the Longhorns shoot such a high concentration of threes and B) who is the streaky shooter that the Commodores need to prevent from creating a scoring run of his own?

CD I think Texas shoots so many threes for a multitude of reasons: Shaka Smart runs a guard heavy offense, that at times, can feature five capable shooters on the court at one time. There’s several times all three freshman wings (Davis, Roach, and Mack) are on the court with someone like Javan Felix, and between the inexperience of young players finding more comfort in heaving threes than working the ball around and attacking the defense, along with Texas being devoid a true interior scoring presence, the ball tends to stick on the outside far too often. Felix and Davis are the two guys that can catch fire from deep and stuff the stat sheet in a hurry. But Felix is unquestionably the guy who could get hot and carry Texas to a win, as he did with 25 points against No. 3 North Carolina, and 17 points in Texas’ road upset over No. 6 West Virginia.

5. We typically preview Vandy games by breaking down their opponent's worst loss, so I've got to ask - how did Texas provide TCU with their only Big 12 win of the season?

CD: I think TCU caught Texas at a time where Shaka Smart’s team was still trying to figure out who they were without Cameron Ridley. And naturally, teams play down to competition, and Texas seemed to have entered the game with a mentality that they would win by simply showing up. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and it didn’t help that Taylor and Felix scored 29 points, while the rest of the team added only 28, largely due to a horrid 3-21 shooting performance from deep.

6. What kind of home crowd can we expect on Saturday morning?

CDMy guess would be somewhere in the 10,000-12,000 range, but it being a morning game may see that number closer to 10,000. Texas basketball usually doesn’t have the most overwhelming support, and games can often look fairly empty, but that’s also do to the Frank Erwin Center being one of the larger venues in college basketball. But who knows? Maybe fans will flock to see an SEC team and get a nice change of pace from the usual Big 12 teams they see every year.

7. Finally, what's your prediction for the game?

CDTexas has been playing some really improved basketball lately, and is 10-1 at home this season. I expect that to continue with a 74-69 Longhorns win, but I expect this game to come down to the last few possessions before it finally gets decided.