Texas College Hoops Roundup: Texas Tech, Baylor still winless in Big 12 play while Texas A&M looks to build on perfect SEC start

Jan 4, 2023; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Texas A&M Aggies guard Wade Taylor IV (4) drives to the basket as Florida Gators forward CJ Felder (1) defends during the first half at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Texas College Hoops Roundup: Texas Tech, Baylor still winless in Big 12 play while Texas A&M looks to build on perfect SEC start

Each week, Gallery Sports will take a quick look at the week that was and the week that’s coming up for several of the premier NCAA men’s basketball programs in Texas. Andy Yanez covers the Houston Cougars for Gallery Sports, while this space is reserved for the Big 12 and SEC programs around the Lone Star State.

BAYLOR BEARS (11-5, 0-3 Big 12)

The week that was: Lost, 88-87 vs. No. 17 TCU; Lost, 97-95 (OT) vs. Kansas State

The first full week of 2023 did not go to plan for the Baylor Bears, who fell into an 0-3 hole in Big 12 play after heartbreaking losses to both No. 17 TCU and Kansas State. Baylor’s loss to TCU saw the Bears lead by as many as 17 points in the first half before a torrid second half by the Horned Frogs was too much to overcome. Baylor lost despite dominating the game in several statistical categories – the Bears pulled down seven more rebounds than TCU, made 3-pointers at a much higher rate, and made 28-of-33 free throws. But when it mattered most, the Frogs were better – and it didn’t help Baylor that it turned the ball over more than twice as often as TCU. Kansas State made it three losses in a row for the Bears in an overtime thriller, led by Markquis Nowell’s 32 points, including 12-of-13 free throws. Neither team led by more than eight, but Kansas State eventually edged the Bears in overtime after Ismael Massoud put the Wildcats ahead with his 3-pointer with 32 seconds left. Baylor out-rebounded K-State and only turned the basketball over 12 times, but the Wildcats’ 53% on field goals and 44% on 3-pointers were enough to turn the tide their way in another game that could have easily been a Baylor win.

The week to come: Wednesday, Jan. 11 at West Virginia; Saturday, Jan. 14 vs. Oklahoma State

After a difficult start to Big 12 play, Baylor turns its attention to West Virginia Wednesday night. The Mountaineers are one of only two teams other than Baylor to start Big 12 play 0-3, and do not yet have a win on their schedule over a team KenPom ranks higher than 57th. When West Virginia is playing well, they force turnovers at a high rate – a staple under head coach Bob Huggins that has earned his past teams the nickname “Press Virginia.” The Mountaineers are a veteran team that usually has at least three or four seniors on the court, and five different players average nine or more points per game. Baylor’s glaring weakness this season has been a surprising tendency to turn the ball over too often – their 19.9% turnover rate ranks 244th nationally per KenPom and could create major issues on the road in Morgantown.

The only team who struggles more with turnovers in the Big 12 than Baylor is Oklahoma State, who the Bears will host Saturday in Waco. Oklahoma State’s lack of reliable ballhandlers has resulted in a 22% turnover rate (330th), including defensive steals ending 11.4% of the Cowboys’ possessions (344th). The Cowboys are a team that struggles offensively on a consistent basis but stays in games with elite defense. Oklahoma State blocks shots at the fourth-highest rate in the country and allows the fourth-lowest opponents’ effective field goal percentage, each according to KenPom. Baylor’s best chance at topping Mike Boynton’s Cowboys is to use defensive pressure to create opportunities. If Baylor can force turnovers against Oklahoma State, it can neutralize the Cowboys’ ability to block shots by scoring in transition before the defense is set.

No. 17 TCU HORNED FROGS (13-2, 2-1 Big 12)

The week that was: Won, 88-87 at No. 19 Baylor; Lost, 69-67 vs. No. 25 Iowa State

The Big 12 is a meat grinder of a basketball conference, and nowhere is that more evident than on TCU’s early January schedule. The Horned Frogs battled two ranked opponents last week, coming from behind for a win at No. 19 Baylor before falling to No. 25 Iowa State in the final seconds Saturday. TCU’s win at Baylor was an incredibly impressive display of Jamie Dixon’s team’s grit, a 17-point comeback sparked by Mike Miles Jr.’s 33-point outburst. Chuck O’Bannon’s jumper with four seconds left would prove to be a game-winner for the Horned Frogs. After a game-winner lifted TCU to a win on Wednesday, the Frogs fell victim to a game-winner on Saturday. Iowa State guard Gabe Kalscheur’s 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left snapped the Frogs’ 11-game winning streak, but the final shot was hardly the only issue that plagued TCU in the loss. Jamie Dixon’s team was out-rebounded, turned the basketball over 18 times, and missed 12 free throws along the way.

The week to come: Wednesday, Jan. 11 at No. 10 Texas; Saturday, Jan. 14 vs. No. 11 Kansas State

TCU continues its rigorous run of ranked opponents with a trip to Austin Wednesday night to battle the 10th-ranked Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns are one of the most talented and experienced teams in college basketball, and the Moody Center in Austin is already considered a much tougher venue for opponents than the Erwin Center was in previous years. Texas is a top-20 team in KenPom’s rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency and operates with very few weaknesses. If there is any advantage for the Frogs, it is on the offensive glass – Texas ranks just 108th nationally at protecting their own backboard per KenPom.

The Horned Frogs will then host No. 11 Kansas State Saturday afternoon at home as their extremely difficult schedule rages onward. Kansas State just topped Texas on the road while scoring 116 last week before also winning at Baylor in overtime. Head coach Jerome Tang’s rebuild in Manhattan is way ahead of schedule, as K-State is 14-1 and one of only three teams to start 3-0 in the Big 12. The Wildcats’ current win streak sits at eight games, the eighth-longest active streak in the country. Tang has the Wildcats playing up-tempo and scoring the basketball well, especially of late. K-State is averaging an absurd 98.3 points per game in conference play but does have a tendency to turn the basketball over. If the Horned Frogs can force turnovers at the excellent 24.2% rate they have all season, perhaps some panic could set in on the road for Kansas State.

No. 10 TEXAS LONGHORNS (13-2, 2-1 Big 12)

The week that was: Lost, 116-103 vs. Kansas State; Won, 56-46 at Oklahoma State

Texas experienced an up-and-down week in the Big 12 in more ways than one, falling 116-103 to Kansas State in a track meet before topping Oklahoma State 56-46 in more of a walkathon. The Longhorns never led against Kansas State, who shot an absurd 60% from the floor while maintaining a double-digit lead that ballooned to as large as 20. Markquis Nowell led the Wildcats with an efficient 36 points on just 15 field goal attempts. Kansas State made 13-of-24 3-pointers and 31-of-33 free throws in one of the best shooting performances anywhere in college hoops this season. While the Longhorns were far from perfect, it would feel disingenuous to chalk this loss up to anything more than an outlier shooting night for K-State. Texas fended off a spirited late rally from Oklahoma State in Saturday’s 56-46 win, a game that hardly looked like the same sport the Longhorns played against Kansas State. The Longhorns took advantage of the turnover-prone Cowboys, taking the basketball away 18 times and creating easy buckets in a game where points were hard to come by. Marcus Carr led Texas in scoring with just 12 points.

The week to come: Wednesday, Jan. 11 vs. No. 17 TCU; Saturday, Jan. 14 vs. Texas Tech

The Longhorns will welcome No. 17 TCU into the Moody Center for what should be a tough test Wednesday night. The Horned Frogs had won 11 in a row before Saturday’s last-second loss to No. 25 Iowa State and are tied with Texas at 2-1 in Big 12 play. Mike Miles Jr. has been red-hot for TCU, scoring 18 or more points in five straight games, including a 33-point performance at No. 19 Baylor last week. As a whole, the Horned Frogs shoot 3-pointers poorly (29.7%) – so if the Longhorns can keep Miles Jr. in check and force TCU out of the paint, they’ll have a great chance to win.

Texas then hosts Texas Tech on Saturday in Austin, the Longhorns’ final home game before a week on the road. The Red Raiders are 0-3 in Big 12 play but haven’t lost a game in conference play by more than six points. Both of Tech’s losses last week came down to the wire, including a near-upset of No. 3 Kansas. Excellent defense is a given under Mark Adams at Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders have struggled with turnovers on offense. If the Longhorns are to defeat Texas Tech for the first time since the 2019-2020 season, pressuring the ball will likely be an important part of the winning formula.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES (10-5, 2-0 SEC)

The week that was: Won, 66-63 at Florida; Won, 69-56 vs. LSU

After an unspectacular run through its nonconference schedule, Texas A&M began SEC play with two impressive wins over Florida and LSU. The Aggies started their game at Florida down 1-0 after leaving their jerseys at their hotel and being assessed a delay-of-game penalty but built an 11-point lead by halftime anyway. The Gators battled back in the second half, but Texas A&M held Florida scoreless over the game’s final 66 seconds to preserve the 66-63 win. Three different Aggies finished with 17 points as Texas A&M won despite making just 2-of-16 three-pointers. Aggies’ forward Julius Marble scored 17 points for a second straight time in A&M’s 69-56 win Saturday versus LSU. Texas A&M had lost 10 consecutive games to the Tigers before Saturday’s win, a streak the Aggies snapped emphatically. LSU never pulled closer than within nine points of the Aggies in the second half, who led by as many as 17 despite continued struggles from behind the 3-point arc. Through its first two SEC contests, Texas A&M is just 6-for-32 (18.8%) on 3-pointers. 

The week to come: Wednesday, Jan. 11 vs. No. 20 Missouri; Saturday, Jan. 14 at South Carolina

Texas A&M will face its toughest test to date when No. 20 Missouri comes to Reed Arena in College Station Wednesday night. Mizzou already has wins under its belt against Illinois and Kentucky and is scoring more than 87 points per game this season. The Tigers are one of the most offensively gifted teams in the nation, ranking No. 3 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency metric and No. 2 in KenPom’s effective field goal percentage metric. Missouri also plays at the second-fastest tempo in the SEC and forces turnovers at the sixth-highest rate in the country. If the Tigers have a weakness Texas A&M can exploit, it is on the glass – Missouri ranks outside KenPom’s top 150 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates.

The Aggies will head back on the road Saturday, this time to take on South Carolina. The Gamecocks are a rebuilding program, 0-2 in SEC play and just 7-8 on the season, with only one win over a KenPom top-150 team. South Carolina held its own in a close loss to Vanderbilt but was embarrassed at home over the weekend by Tennessee, 85-42. Winning on the road in the SEC is never easy, but this will be the most winnable road game on the Aggies’ schedule all season.

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (10-5, 0-3 Big 12)

The week that was: Lost, 75-72 vs. No. 3 Kansas; Lost, 68-63 (OT) vs. Oklahoma

Texas Tech’s week was full of heartbreak as the Red Raiders dipped to 0-3 in conference play following two close losses. Tech played well early and late in its close home loss to the No. 3 Jayhawks but struggled to keep pace as Kansas built a solid lead heading into and immediately after halftime. Kansas led by as many as 12 in the second half, catalyzed by Dajuan Harris Jr.’s 5-for-5 night from 3-point range. The Red Raiders cut the Jayhawks’ deficit down to just one in the final seconds but turned the ball over on a potential go-ahead possession in the game’s final seconds. Texas Tech lost Saturday’s game versus Oklahoma as well, who outscored the Red Raiders 12-7 in overtime to steal a win in Lubbock. Tech battled back from down 13 to force overtime, but could not ultimately overcome their 2-for-18 showing from beyond the 3-point arc.

The week to come: Tuesday, Jan. 10 at No. 14 Iowa State; Saturday, Jan. 14 at No. 10 Texas

While it is no secret to Big 12 basketball fans that Texas Tech is better than its 0-3 record in league play, losing games at home makes crawling out of an early hole more difficult to do. The Red Raiders are facing that harsh reality this week as they take on two ranked conference foes away from Lubbock. First, Tech will take on No. 14 Iowa State. The Cyclones are one of three teams sitting 3-0 in conference play, a feat they’ve accomplished despite playing twice already away from home. Playing Iowa State is an unpleasant proposition for any opponent given their defensive pressure. The Cyclones force more turnovers than any other team in the country – so far this season, opponents are coughing the basketball up against Iowa State’s pressure on 29.9% of possessions. For a team that struggles to move the ball as Texas Tech does in its halfcourt sets, Iowa State’s pressure could combine with the noise at Hilton Coliseum to create major problems.

After dealing with the Cyclones’ defensive pressure in Ames, Texas Tech will travel to Austin for a date with No. 10 Texas. The Longhorns are efficient on both sides of the ball, a team that Tech will need to play close to perfect against to defeat on the road. Mark Adams’ Red Raiders were known a year ago for their ability to force opponents out of the paint and out to the 3-point line. Against a Texas team that ranks just 155th in 3-point shooting per KenPom, it would behoove Tech to return to its 2021-2022 defensive identity to whatever extent possible.

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