March 15, 2012

Do or die time for the Longhorns

Win or go home. The Horns are officially in, but can they win? Texas would like to hang out for a while in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament, and it all begins with a matchup against the No. 6 seed Cincinnati. You may be surprised how close this one is on paper, and Orangebloods.com breaks down where the Bearcats can hurt the Horns as well as how the Longhorns can win this game.

TEXAS NEEDS TO SLOW DOWN…

Well, the first player that jumps out at you - not just because he's one of those "first to get off the bus" guys - is senior Yancy Gates. The big fella is an imposing physical presence in the paint, and someone that Texas will certainly have to keep in check. However, the player the Longhorns need to worry about slowing down the most is Sean Kilpatrick. The sophomore guard will literally shoot it from anywhere on the floor, leads the team in points per game, leads the team in field goals attempted, and has hit on 84-of-228 three-point attempts. Kilpatrick shoots just 42 percent from the floor, but if he gets hot, he will carry an offense.

In addition to Kilpatrick and Yates, the Bearcats get balanced scoring from Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, and Jaquon Parker as well. The trio of guards combines to average just over 33 points a night, and the ball is normally in Wright's hands most of the offensive possessions. Cincinnati really doesn't get a ton of bench scoring, and it depends on the five starters to do most of the damage.

Projected starters

Cincinnati
G - Cashmere Wright (6-0 junior, 10.9 ppg / 4.6 apg)
G - Dion Dixon (6-3 senior, 13.1 ppg / 3.5 rpg)
G - Jaquon Parker (6-3 junior, 9.2 ppg / 5.4 rpg)
G - Sean Kilpatrick (6-4 sophomore, 14.3 / 4.6 rpg)
F - Yancy Gates (6-9 senior, 12.4 ppg / 9.2 rpg)

Texas
PG - Myck Kabongo (6-1 freshman, 9.8 ppg / 5.3 apg)
SG - J'Covan Brown (6-1 junior, 20.1 ppg / 3.8 apg)
SF - Julien Lewis (6-3 freshman, 7.5 ppg / 3.6 rpg)
PF - Jonathan Holmes (6-7 freshman, 7.2 ppg / 4.8 rpg)
C - Clint Chapman (6-10 senior, 7.3 ppg / 5.5 rpg)

DEFEND THE PERIMETER

The Bearcats are a bit streaky from beyond the arc, especially Kilpatrick, but it's an area it gets a lot of its points from. Of all the points Cincinnati has scored this season, 31.3 percent of them have come via the three-ball, which is 86th most nationally, and just 16.4 percent of the Bearcats' points come at the free throw line. Basically, the Bearcats do like to shoot jumpers, and don't get to the free throw line as often as they would if they attacked the rim.

Defensively, the Longhorns rank 210th nationally, per kenpom.com, at three-point percentage defense, so it can be an issue for UT at times. However, Texas normally puts a lot of teams at the free throw line a lot, but Cincinnati's reluctance to really attack the rim all the time - the Bearcats rank 321st at free throws attempted per field goals taken - helps Texas soften the blow in that department.

Come tournament time, the two best ways to gain a lot of momentum are by knocking down three-pointers, and getting easy transition buckets. Texas needs to keep Cincinnati from getting hot from the outside so that it isn't trying to constantly score with the Bearcats and seize momentum.

FOUR-GUARD LINEUP, GET ON THE GLASS WHEN YOU CAN

One of the good things about this matchup for the Longhorns is that it appears like the Bearcats will likely go with four guards in the starting lineup, and that should help soften the blow of not having Alexis Wangmene on the floor. Like Texas, Cincinnati is a great at grabbing offensive rebounds, but is not good at all at preventing them. One of the more intriguing matchups will be who can win the battle of the boards, because it looks like the numbers are pretty even.

Another very intriguing matchup will be what Texas does with its lineup. Since the Bearcats are likely to start four guards, will Texas go with a four-guard lineup, something that's brought it a lot of success recently, against Cincinnati? On paper, it looks like Holmes would have a tough time guarding one of the Bearcats' guards, and obviously he'd be able to use his size on the other end.

The coaching matchup regarding the use of big and small lineups will be very interesting to follow and so will the battle for the boards.

HANDLE THE ENVIRONMENT AND TAKE CARE OF THE BASKETBALL
After finally not having to deal with the word "bubble" for the first time in a long time, who knows for sure how the Longhorns will take the floor. Will they be tight? Will they play loose now that the pressure of not knowing their tournament fate is not hanging over them? We'll see. But the Horns will have to do a good job of executing in the half-court, and not turning over the basketball.

According to kenpom.com's advanced statistics, Cincinnati ranks 15th in the nation at steal percentage on defense, which means they grab them at a high rate, and the Bearcats are pretty good at forcing turnovers as well. Against a team that will try to run away with threes, Texas can't afford the turnovers and must come out locked in from the opening tip.

PREDICTION
This actually has the appearance of a coin flip game when you look at the rosters and the numbers. Can a young Longhorn team handle the environment and defend the perimeter? We'll see. With some time to prepare you can bet Rick Barnes has stressed the importance of getting hands in shooters' faces.

Cincinnati's small lineup, or at least the one that is projected, should force Texas to go with four guards at some point, which is not a bad thing for the Horns. It also allows fresher bodies to go after Gates in the paint.

Since this is basically an even matchup, it might come down to free throws. Texas gets to the line as well as any team in the country, and generally shoots it very well when it gets there. Cincinnati gets to the line at a very bad rate, and shoots free throws as poor as anyone in the country. That likely gives UT the slightest edge in this matchup.

Chances Texas wins - 51 percent

Texas 68 Cincinnati 66

Tip-off is scheduled for 11:15 AM CT on Friday and will be televised on CBS.

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