Texas Longhorns' Blueprint for a Deep Run in the 2015 NCAA Tournament
Although it was not a certainty, the Texas Longhorns have earned a bid to the NCAA tournament. The question now is how far can the team go this March.
Despite a disappointing regular season, the talent and depth of the roster makes this a team no one wants to face. If the squad can play to its ability, a deep run in the NCAA tournament is not out of the question.
Texas entered the year in the preseason Top 10 for a reason, and now that everyone is seemingly healthy, the sky is the limit.
In order to reach their potential, however, the Longhorns will have to improve in a few areas. Here is a look at the keys to success for the next few games and possibly beyond.
Take Advantage of Size Offensively
Texas has one of the best frontcourts in the nation with size, talent and depth. Myles Turner could be a lottery pick in the NBA draft, while Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert and others all make positive impacts down low.
Somehow the Longhorns seem to forget about this overwhelming advantage they have over most opponents.
Against Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, Texas showed what it can do when it pounds the ball inside. The big bodies up front used their physicality to get easy shots, and even when they missed, they ended up bringing down 17 offensive rebounds.
This is a blue-collar roster that too often plays like part of the wine-and-cheese crowd. In the NCAA tournament, the Longhorns have to use their physicality in the paint to create open looks at the basket all day long.
Don't Settle for Threes
Similar to the previous slide, but this mindset has to be for everyone on the court. Texas is simply better when it is attacking the basket.
The squad has some quality shooters in Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland. Unfortunately, these aren't the only players taking long shots as the team shoots just 33.9 percent from three-point range. Isaiah Taylor and Turner each shoot less than 30 percent.
Taylor has thankfully limited his outside shooting lately, which highlights his real skill of getting to the basket. Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore said it best during the Iowa State game, tweeting, "Isaiah Taylor wants to attack the paint. You know he wants to attack the paint. And there's really not much you can do about it."
That has to be the thought process for more players. If they attack the basket, they will not only get more layups but also more fouls. With the way this team can shoot free throws, getting to the line will be an easy source of points throughout the postseason.
Aggressively Defend the Perimeter
According to KenPom.com, Texas ranks first in the nation in block percentage, which contributes to also ranking first in two-point defense.
The problem is the team is below average at defending the perimeter. Opponents shoot 34.8 percent from three-point range, which escalated to 37.3 percent in Big 12 play. Head coach Rick Barnes likes to use a conservative defensive mindset to avoid fouls, but improvements can be made.
One of the biggest issues has been the inability to close out on open shooters. The rotations are slow, and it leads to easy shots from deep, which Iowa State took advantage of in the final minutes of the Big 12 quarterfinals.
If the players are able to close the gap quicker, however, it will lead to tougher shots and more misses. In the event of a pump fake and drive, Turner or Ridley will still be there to keep things difficult in the paint.
Having shot-blockers works as a safety net for those on the perimeter, so they have to take advantage of it by being more aggressive around the arc.
Utilize Jonathan Holmes in Mismatches
After leading the team with 12.8 points per game last season, Holmes has generally been a disappointment this year.
The senior has been shifted around the lineup to different positions in the frontcourt, but he has struggled to be the same type of offensive force he was at times a year ago. He heads into the NCAA tournament averaging 10.2 points per game while failing to reach double figures in seven of his last eight games in the regular season.
Still, Holmes showed in his last game against Iowa State he can still be a difference-maker on the court. He finished with 15 points and nine rebounds on 5-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-7 from behind the arc. He was simply too strong for the undersized Cyclones but then made them pay from deep when matched up against a bigger defender.
His versatility can be a real weapon in the NCAA tournament, and he needs to become a bigger part of the offense if this team is going to be successful. If he is relegated to being a role player, the Longhorns will suffer.
This can sum up Texas' season. The squad has been close in most of its losses but struggles to close it out when it gets a chance.
The Longhorns are just 3-6 in games decided by five points or less as they continually make poor decisions and bad mistakes when it matters most. None of the defeats were more devastating than Thursday's loss to Iowa State, which saw Texas blow a 10-point lead in the final four minutes before Monte Morris won the game with a buzzer-beater.
"It’s tough losing the way we did because just the turnovers in the last four minutes, really,” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said after the game, via Evan Berkowitz of The Daily Texan. “We made a few careless plays at the wrong time."
The coach acknowledged that it wasn't bad luck, but it was performance. Unlike most cases like this, it's not a problem with free-throw shooting or anything else physical—just mental errors holding the team back.
Texas has to figure out ways to play with more control and focus in the final minutes of close games to ensure a great effort for 36 minutes isn't undone by immaturity late.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter. If it's March, I'm talking about pretty much nothing but college basketball.