Monday, February 1, 2010
Saddle Up: What's the matter with Texas?
By Eamonn Brennan
Saddle Up is our daily look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Monday night's rundown.
No. 10 Texas at Oklahoma State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Longhorns are in a Texas-sized tailspin. There's no other way to put it. A team that started 17-0 and went promptly to No. 1 has now lost three of its last four (and nearly four of its last five, given the Jan. 16 home overtime win over Texas A&M). The two most recent losses are especially egregious, as Connecticut keeps proving its relative mediocrity and Baylor, despite its rising trajectory, shouldn't be able to compete with the uber-talented Longhorns in Austin. It's enough to send anyone into a Thomas Frank-esque search for answers. What happened? The answer has to do with free throws -- the Longhorns are ranked No. 332 in free throw percentage and it continues to kill them in close games -- and a rotation that has gradually dwindled from 12 to seven or eight. The Longhorns were once one of the deepest teams in the country. That advantage is gone.
Still, though, there is no questioning Texas' talent. Any lineup that features an active Dexter Pittman, a player of the year candidate in Damion James, and the fresh brilliance of Avery Bradley is a lineup that ought to easily handle the Baylors of the world, especially at home. For reference, see Kansas' win over Baylor in Lawrence. That's how elite teams perform in their own building. Texas hasn't.
If the college basketball season is one long tourney proving ground, February is its summit. Tonight is Texas' start: Get a solid win in Stillwater -- no easy feat -- and begin rebuilding what was, just a few weeks ago, considered an elite team. This Texas team is too talented to quaver like this. The time to prove it is now.
Connecticut at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: There's always at least one game a season that looks awesome on the schedule before the season begins, and completely disappoints by the time game day actually rolls around. Ladies and gentlemen, 2009-10's winner: UConn and Louisville!
Both teams are talented, and both teams could have had better years, but Louisville has the bigger gripe: The Cardinals are a bad defensive team but not a particularly bad team all around, and Louisville's close, controversy-tinged losses to Seton Hall and West Virginia (the latter of which came on Saturday and will likely earn Rick Pitino a fine) are two games that, if reversed, would make its résumé much more attractive. (Which is not to mention the team's overtime loss at Pitt a few weeks ago; that's another one.) Louisville's record looks pretty mediocre; its efficiency stats, at least where offense is concerned, speak to something better.
Connecticut, on the other hand, has just been mediocre and inconsistent all year. The Huskies have been without coach Jim Calhoun, but UConn wasn't playing particularly well before Calhoun took his leave, and hung around the Top 25 until today for two reasons: 1) It says "UConn" on its uniforms and 2) UConn beat Texas at home last Saturday. That's it. UConn is No. 43 in Pomeroy's rankings, it's 13-8 and 3-5 in the Big East, and if it wasn't for their uncanny ability to block shots, the Huskies would be almost as bad on defense (where they're No. 33 in the country) as they are on offense (No. 72).
That doesn't mean tonight's game won't be entertaining. It will be. Both of these teams can play, and the Huskies' high-flying Stanley Robinson is particularly entertaining. But it won't mean as much as it should, and that fact, like both teams, is more than slightly disappointing.
Everywhere else: Big Monday dominates the slate tonight; the rest of the action is of the miscellaneous mid-major variety. Get the full download here.