The Texas Longhorns’ trek through the Big 12 gauntlet continues on Wednesday night as head coach Shaka Smart’s team welcomes the No. 16 TCU Horned Frogs. Jamie Dixon’s squad enters the game 13-2, but just 1-2 in the Big 12.
Texas’ best chance to win against the Horned Frogs would include having sophomore guard Andrew Jones on the floor. However, Jones remains out with Smart giving few details citing family privacy.
“It’s a tough situation that, again, out of respect for the family, I’m not able to provide any information right now other than to say he won’t be playing,” Smart said. “We’re hopeful to be able to communicate more moving forward, but again, out of respect for the family that’s all I can say.”
Smart was asked point-blank if he had an athlete in the hospital, but once again repeated he could not answer that question. He was also asked if they expect Jones back at some point this season, but responded with “that’s not even what we’re focused on right now, we’re focused on the young man.”
With Jones out, more responsibilities fall to freshman point guard Matt Coleman. Coleman has gone through various hot and cold streaks during his first year in Austin. He began the season with an outrageous assist-to-turnover ratio, came back down to earth, and even had games where he struggled to keep possession.
Coleman has started every game this year, and through three games of Big 12 play, has averaged 11.7 points, 5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, while turning it over 2.6 times per game.
Smart has a relationship approaching half a decade with Coleman, and knows what the Virginia freshman’s demeanor needs to be in order for him to play his best basketball.
“I said, to boil it all down, ‘Matt, you and I need to be connected,’” Smart said. “’We need to get you to play with a level of joy on the floor.’ Because over the years when I’ve watched him play, when he’s playing with, that’s the best word I can use, with a joy and excitement out there he’s always been really good.”
There has been good and bad with Coleman in three games of conference play. He’s hit 40 percent of his shots and all his free throws. It’s what he does for others that Smart finds just as pivotal.
“I think for him as a point guard, particularly when a team doesn’t necessarily have all your guys, all the more so it’s important for you to help your team be organized on the court,” Smart said. “That’s much more important in college and much more complicated in college than it is in high school. I think he’s, for the most part this year, done a really good job with that.”
The Longhorns lost that organization in the second half of the Baylor game, scoring just 20 points after the Bears, known for their zone defense, adjusted and played man-to-man.
At times, it appeared as if Texas was too rigid in its offense. Smart mentioned a specific occasion where junior forward Dylan Osetkowski was open for a mid-range jump shot, but chose to pass instead of put the ball up.
“You want them to play with freedom to go shoot,” Smart said. “You can’t be a robot.”
One player took that to heart in Waco, at least in the first half. Freshman guard Jase Febres scored 18 points after Baylor struggled to keep tabs on him on the perimeter.
For Febres, especially now that he will be pressed into more minutes, the experience will go a long way for him according to his head coach.
“Any guy in his first start playing that well early on, that says a lot,” Smart said. “As you said, after halftime, they made an adjustment and made it tougher on him. They played more man-to-man and were a little stickier on him. It’s all about finding other ways to help your team.”
Smart noted that players like Febres take time to develop. Prior to his coming-out party in Waco, Febres was just 5-of-25 from distance and 7-of-33 from the field for the season.
It showed his shooting potential, which Smart said could be one of the best he’s seen.
“He’s a guy, since his first day on campus, he’s the best shooter on our team,” Smart said. “He’s probably the second-best shooter potential-wise, in terms of how good he can be, that I’ve ever coached at lease since I’ve been a head coach.”
Coleman, Febres and the rest of the Longhorns will have to play with joy and shoot accurately from the field if they want to defeat one of the Big 12’s tougher teams in TCU.
Smart mentioned three specific Frogs in Desmond Bane, Kenrich Williams and Vlad Brodziansky as players the Longhorns will have to key on in this match up.
Those three are part of five TCU players who are averaging double-figures this season.
“They’re older and a year better, a year more experienced,” Smart said. “They’ve added some good pieces, but they’re core of guys that won that NIT Championship is back, and all those guys are a year older and better.”
Texas and TCU tip off at 8 p.m. on ESPNU.