The 5-5 Texas Longhorns take on the 6-5 UAB Blazers tonight at the Erwin Center in what promises to be an unbelievable matchup between two heavyweigh…uh…ahh, **** it.
In what has essentially boiled down to a season-long endeavor to build chemistry/reliability/some kind of semblance of cohesion between its players, Texas will further that attempt tonight as they look to bounce back from another in a string of disappointing losses (the most recent to Arkansas in Houston last Saturday). UAB is equally flawed, of course, but Texas has made a habit of executing right about the level of whomever they’re playing (for better or worse). So, the tossups are going to be there.
Interior defense/rebounding. UAB won’t wow you with their pressure defense or create a lot of steals, but they will challenge you in the paint and they do a good job of using their length and athleticism to clean up the defensive glass and protect the rim. Lee’s block numbers are phenomenal, but they get contributions from all over their lineup and aren’t afraid to pull down from anywhere for help as they have plus size at most positions. Texas has been better with their rebounding of late, but they’ll likely be the underdog in the glass in this one and UAB won’t let them have anything easy at the rim.
Getting to the foul line. It’s not the prettiest offense, but they make it work. Maybe the biggest piece of their offensive puzzle is their ability to create foul shots. On the season, almost 25% of UAB’s total points have come at the free throw line where they also shoot an outstanding 76% as a team. If Texas gets into early foul trouble in either half, you can expect the Blazers to look to take a big advantage of that because that might be their best offensive weapon.
The Blazers look to be led by 6’9 junior forward William Lee (11.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 3.1 blocks per game). Lee is the kind of athletic, skilled four man that makes defending in the college game so difficult. He’s explosive and deceptively strong. Texas will have their hands full and how well Allen/Cleare can execute against him will be a big part of Texas’ offensive production.
Turnovers. The similarities to Texas are there on the offensive end. Lavender’s solid enough off the bounce and does a good job of creating in the open floor, but they’re a team that needs playmaking from everywhere and they don’t value the ball like they need to. If Texas can be somewhere in the 12+ range for points in transition, that will make their half court issues that less troublesome.
Texas Keys: Offense
Bench production. The decision to bring Mack and Jones into the starting lineup has paid some obvious dividends as both players have seen their production and comfort levels increase. The negative (as there always in with decisions like this one) is that it has left very little offensive firepower on the bench. Young can shoot. Yancy can slash, Davis has a vast skillset, but all any of them have proven is that none of them are ready to produce at the kind of level Texas needs. That will have to change today (and certainly against Big 12 competition). If Texas can get 15+ points out of their bench, they should win. If not, this could be a rough contest against a fast, athletic UAB team.
Texas Keys: Defense
Live ball turnovers. Texas will take whatever turnovers they can get from UAB (and they’ll have to rebound, of course), but if they can take UAB’s propensity for struggling with taking care of the basketball and turn that directly into points, they’ll go a long ways towards making this a comfortable win.
Limit fouls. Just as UAB will look to restrict how often Texas can get out in transition, Texas will have to keep their fouling numbers in check. The magic number will probably be 20. Should UAB attempt 20 or more free throws, Texas will be in trouble. If they are under that number, Texas should be fine.
As the losses mount against better teams, it will be difficult to predict games against lesser ones. If you had a chance to listen to Shaka’s press conference this week, you’d have heard that even his seemingly endless supply of enthusiasm is wearing thin after this rough early season stretch.
Still, Texas is the more complete team and the starting five should have success with their ability to play passing angles and put pressure on UAB’s ball handlers.
Expect a decent amount of the 1-3-1 tonight and for Texas to find Jones in the open court whenever possible.
I think a close win is most likely.
Prediction: Texas 71 – UAB 66
Projected Starting Lineup
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