The real season begins tonight for the Texas Men’s Basketball team.
In the first game of the Big 12 Conference campaign, the Longhorns (8-4) head to out of town to play Kansas State (10-2) on the road in a clash that could show a lot about where both teams stand so far this season.
The difference in offensive flow and tempo has been obvious the past few games for Texas, even with the narrow loss to Providence back on Dec. 21. Texas scored 72 and 98 points in wins over Purdue and Grand Canyon, respectively, and got back on track with a 76-56 victory over visiting UT Arlington Dec. 28.
After sitting out last year due to transfer rules, point guard Elijah Mitrou-Long has come on strong of late, and said he feels much more comfortable in the flow of the offense currently.
He’s put up double-digit points in three of the previous four games and is averaging 11.5 ppg during that stretch.
“I feel like the first few games I played this year were kinda fast for me, but now I’m realizing it’s pretty slow, it’s slowing down, and I think I have a lot of experience now,” Mitrou-Long said.
With the Longhorns increased depth this year, sophomore guard Jase Febres, who led the team in scoring in the win over UT Arlington with 12 points, believes that is going to be an increasing strength for Texas as they go through the rugged Big 12 Conference schedule and on into March.
“For sure, especially other teams that don’t have as much depth (as us),” Febres said. “The season is very long, legs start getting tired, people get fatigued, just knowing you can fall back on any individual and they’ll come in and contribute is a big part of why we think that well be a championship level team.”
Watching the ‘Horns play last season, and focusing in on top point guards — such as Oklahoma graduate Trae Young, who now plays for the Atlanta Hawks — gave Mitrou-Long a different perspective on how to run an offense.
“Being able to see what kind of tempo they play at, all the time how hard they work on the court when it’s game time — that’s one thing I really picked up and learned,” he said, “That if you want to be a great guard, you have to have a different type of engine. Especially in this league that we play in (the Big 12). I think it transitioned and it’s helping me now this year.”
How Texas shoots the ball and is able to put points on the board could be a big difference, as the Longhorns have put up more than 80 points per game in their wins.
On the flip side, Texas has barely scored more than 61 points per game in its four losses this year. That might seem obvious, that they score more when they win, but the tempo and offensive flow within the game has been crucial to Texas’ success this season.
That was the case in Texas’ win over UT Arlington, as five different Longhorns scored in double digits.
Febres led the way with 12 points, while Mitrou-Long and Kerwin Roach II — who missed the game against Providence — each added 11. Royce Hamm and Courtney Ramey both pitched in with 10 points each.
“I think the biggest thing with us is our pace during the game, a lot more ball movement, less stagnant on the floor,” Febres said.
Also coming on of late is freshman forward Jaxson Hayes, as he gets in close to the hoop and is finishing strong. Hayes hasn’t missed much lately, making his last 18 straight shots and holds the team lead in field goal percentage at 75.4. Hayes made his first career start in the win over UT Arlington.
The ‘Horns haven’t been able to get within range of the Top 25 since falling out of the rankings in Week 5, going from No. 17 to unranked ever since.
Yet a win over the Wildcats could put Texas back on the radar, as Kansas State was on the cusp of making the Top 25 this week, with the second-most votes of a team not ranked (Arizona State had 116, K-State had 61 as the proverbial 26th and 27th teams).