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Texas Longhorns at Kentucky Wildcats: Game Preview

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The Texas Longhorns make their very first trip to the Bluegrass and legendary Rupp Arena.

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Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Texas Longhorns to Rupp Arena for the first time in history. It may be difficult to believe for two programs who have enjoyed as much success as Kentucky and Texas, but this is only the second meeting ever between the two teams, and the last one was over 20 years ago.

Texas comes into this game ranked #6 in the AP Poll and #7 in the Coaches Poll, their highest ranking since the 2010-11 season. The ranking is deserved, as we shall see soon.

General

About Texas:

Location: Austin, Texas
Conference: Big 12
Head Coach: Rick Barnes (Since 1998)
NCAA Appearances: 31
Most recent NCAA appearance: 2014
Most recent NCAA win: 2014
Founded: 1883
Enrollment: 52,059
Last season’s record: 24-11, (11-7 conf.)
Source: Basketball State

Season so far for Texas:

Season record: 7-0, (0-0 conf.)

Up until this point, Texas has played a quality schedule, arguably a better one than Kentucky overall. The Longhorns have defeated 3 teams ranked 200 or higher in Kenpom’s rankings, one at 300+, but also the Iowa Hawkeyes and the California Golden Bears on a neutral court, and the Connecticut Huskies in Storrs, probably their most impressive win of the season despite it being on a last-second shot. Their most recent opponent, UT-Arlington, was also a Kentucky foe.

Series history

This is only the second time ever the Longhorns and Wildcats have met. The first time was in the Maui Classic back in 1993, when #5 Kentucky under Rick Pitino defeated the Longhorns 86-61, and Tom Penders was stalking the sidelines in Austin.

Stats

Texas Roster:

# NAME Status POS HT WT YR EXP HOMETOWN HIGH SCHOOL
2 Demarcus Holland S** G 6-2 190 Jr. 2L Garland, Texas Naaman Forest
3 Javan Felix S* G 5-11 195 Jr. 2L New Orleans, La. St. Augustine
10 Jonathan Holmes S** F 6-8 240 Sr. 3L San Antonio, Texas Antonian College Prep
21 Connor Lammert S* F 6-9 240 Jr. 2L San Antonio, Texas Churchill
55 Cameron Ridley S C 6-9 285 Jr. 2L Houston, Texas Bush
0 Kendal Yancy MR* G 6-3 200 So. 1L Richardson, Texas Berkner
52 Myles Turner MR F 6-11 240 Fr. HS Bedford, Texas Euless Trinity HS
44 Prince Ibeh R* C 6-10 260 Jr. 2L Garland, Texas Naaman Forest
33 Jordan Barnett R F 6-6 205 Fr. HS St. Louis, Mo. Christian Brothers College HS
5 Damarcus Croaker R* G 6-2 190 So. 1L Orlando, Fla. Jones
4 Danny Newsome R*@ F 6-9 190 So. 1L Houston, Texas Langham Creek
22 Brandon Allums R*@ F 6-4 241 Jr. 1L Plano, Texas Plano West
30 Ryan McClurg R+ F 6-5 225 So. SQ Katy, Texas Seven Lakes
32 Shaquille Cleare R- F 6-8 290 Jr. TR Andros, Bahamas The Village School [Texas]
40 Tarale Murry R*@ G 6-2 187 Sr. 1L San Antonio, Texas Lehman
1 Isaiah Taylor S**& G 6-1 170 So. 1L Hayward, Calif. The Village School [Texas]











Legend
S Starter
MR Major reserve
R Reserve
* Returning player
** Returning starter
+ Eligible redshirt/JUCO
- Ineligible this season
@ Walk on
& Injured-not avaliable

Source: University of Texas Athletics

Team Comparison

Stat UK Texas
Record 7-0 7-0
RPI 6 8
Home 6-0 4-0
Away 0-0 1-0
Neutral 1-0 2-0
Top 25 1-0 0-0
Sched. Strength 296 276
AP Rank 1 6
Coaches Rank 1 7
Kenpom.com 1 10

Four Factors

Texas-Kentucky pregame four factors

Texas Team Notes

  • Texas gets only 28% of their points from outside the arc, but they take a fair number of threes — 35% of their shots are from 3-point range, so it’s important for Kentucky to stay home on their shooters.
  • Texas is a good free throw shooting team, but an average ballhandling team.
  • Texas is not an aggressive man-to-man team, and does not force many turnovers. They are near the bottom of Division I in steals and turnovers by opponents.
  • Texas uses their size and try to avoid fouling. Their most foul-prone player only averages 2.5 fouls per game.
  • Texas may not be aggressive on defense, but they are very efficient at an adjusted 87.1 points per 100 possessions. That’s 4th best in the nation.

Texas Player notes

  • Isaiah Taylor, the starting point guard and team’s leading scorer, is out indefinitely
  • Freshman forward Miles Turner, the #9 high school player in the nation last year, is the most efficient scorer on the team, and he comes off the bench.
  • Jonathan Holmes is the best 3-point shooter on the team at 50%. He and Javan Felix are tied for the most attempts. He’s also the team’s leading rebounder, and a fine offensive rebounder as well.
  • Senior point guard Javan Felix leads the team in assists at 2.3 per game.
  • Texas plays a very tight seven-man rotation, very similar to how Kentucky has played for virtually every season but this one.

Injuries

Kentucky: No injuries known
Texas: Major injury to starting point guard Isaiah Taylor, who has a broken hand and is out indefinitely.

Likely matchups

Starters

  • Javan Felix vs. Andrew Harrison/Tyler Ulis — Felix is kind of the team mascot, a crowd favorite famous for his intense energy and fearlessness. He is not super athletic, but is more than athletic enough for the Andrew to struggle to chase. He’s not a great shooter, but he is extremely experienced and savvy. Andrew’s strength and size will be very difficult for Felix to deal with.

    When Tyler Ulis is in, he’s going to have to be very careful and be as disruptive as possible. Felix is not as skilled or dangerous a scorer as Taylor, but he is extremely smart, determined and relentless. He will take open shots if he gets them, though he doesn’t make a high percentage.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • DeMarcus Holland vs. Aaron Harrison/Devin Booker — Holland is a talented player who doesn’t do a great deal of shooting for an off-guard. He’s more of a slasher than a three-point shooter, and he finishes at a pretty good rate on 2-point shots. He shoots 50% from three, but he rarely takes them.

    Aaron Harrison should be able to handle Holland without much trouble defensively, but Holland has enough size to bother Harrison and is plenty athletic. I actually think that Devin Booker will be a bigger problem for Holland than Harrison because of his activity on defense.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Connor Lammert vs. Alex Poythress/Trey Lyles — Lammert is the starter, but Myles Turner will get almost as many minutes at the position. Lammert will be no problem offensively for either Poythress or Lyles, but he’s a good rebounder and positions himself well. He doesn’t take a lot of threes or shoot much at all, but he can make open shots and can’t be ignored.

    Offensively, Lammert cannot handle Poythress, and probably not Lyles either. Kentucky should be able to get 3-point looks out of the three position at will, because Lammert is going to have to avoid being blown by off the bounce.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Jonathan Holmes vs. Willie Cauley-Stein/Marcus Lee — Holmes is a skilled senior who can score, rebound, and defend. He can do it all. Both WCS and Lee will have to work hard to control this guy, he’s a next-level player who just keeps getting better with age. His 3-point shooting has improved every season and this year, he’s the best on the team.

    Defensively, the length of WCS and Lee will give him more trouble than he’s had all season. In fact, it’s likely that he’s going to have to spend more time as a decoy and hope that others can pick up the scoring load. WCS and Lee are long enough to badly affect his game defensively.

Advantage: Push

  • Cameron Ridley vs. Karl-Anthony Towns/Dakari Johnson — This is a tough matchup for Towns, because Ridley is much bigger and stronger, although not as tall and long. Hopefully, Towns facing Dakari Johnson will provide him with the kind of experience he needs to win the matchup, but Ridley is a junior and KAT is a freshman. Ridley is also the second-leading shot blocker on the team.

    Dakari Johnson is another matter altogether. Johnson and Ridley match up great against each other, they both have exactly the same kind of game, but Johnson is longer and taller.

Advantage: Push

Bench

Myles Turner will come off the bench early and often to spell any of the big guys. He’s versatile enough to play the 3, 4, and 5, and tall enough to get it done against Kentucky. What he isn’t is experienced, but his talent is as good as anyone on Kentucky’s team. He also leads the team in blocked shots and is as good as anyone on Kentucky’s team at blocking shots.  He is also a beast on the block, a fine rebounder and a good 3-point shooter with deep range.

Kendall Yancy will spell Holland at the 2 and Felix at the lead guard spot.  Yancy is a strong guard who can finish inside and make the three. He’s just a sophomore, but he may match up better than Holland with Kentucky’s guards.

Prince Ibeh may see some time in relief of one of the big guys. He’s a big rebounder with limited offensive potential.

Advantage: Kentucky

Analysis

This is a game where Kentucky, for the first time, faces the kind of size and talent that the Wildcats themselves possess. Looking at the Texas starting five, they have a big, strong front line with plenty of shot blocking, plenty of rebounding, and enough shooting to beat anybody including Kentucky.

Unfortunately, what Texas does not have is depth, and their size is much bulkier than that of UK, and rather less athletic. What Kentucky will try to do is keep the tempo as high as possible, get into the legs of the Texas big guys, and try to grind them down. Texas, like all teams, is going to have to work very hard to find good looks, even inside, because although the Longhorns are big, they are not as tall and long as the Wildcats.

Kentucky’s size in the back court is also a significant advantage which will give Texas trouble. Texas is not deep enough to do a lot of up-tempo stuff, so they’ll try to keep the pace deliberate and avoid running the floor. That could negate their advantage at guard, where they are likely to be quicker than Kentucky to some extent, and the Wildcats have struggled with transition defense more than anything.

This game is likely to be played at a slow, 60-64 possession pace. Texas has to ration energy much more than Kentucky, and will want to be sure of their looks before pulling the trigger. Kentucky has to stay at home on Texas’ shooters, and try to get their big people in foul trouble by attacking the rim. If Kentucky can get to the rim and get fouled, Texas will quickly get into trouble. They are only about eight deep, and there is a big drop-off between seven and eight.

Kentucky should press Texas as much as possible early, and try to speed them up as much as they can. Texas will turn the ball over, and the Wildcats have to turn those miscues into points. Texas will not pressure Kentucky, but rather try to use their size to affect the quality of their shots much in the same manner the Wildcats have done to others all year. The problem is, they are shorter, shallower, and less athletic than the Wildcats in the front court, and very thin in the back court with their starting point guard hurt.