(CBSDFW.com)- While the Big Ten is home to four of the nation’s Top 10 teams and considered to be the top conference in college basketball this season, the Big 12 has a case in its own right. Home to three Top 10 squads and five Top 25 teams overall, it’s been an obstacle course for teams to get through all season. Saturday on CBS, two of the Top 25 teams in the conference, Texas and Texas Tech, will square off in Lubbock.
For the 14th ranked Longhorns, the conference season has been a bit of a roller coaster. After jumping out to a 5-1 start in Big 12 play, Shaka Smart’s group has gone just 3-4 since. For CBS Sports Network analyst Pete Gillen, the recent rough patch is a combination of the sheer difficulty of the Big 12 and Texas’ talented team pushing just a bit too much at times.
“It’s a great conference. The Big Ten is the best conference in the country but it’s almost 1 and 1A, the Big 12 is not far behind. They’re playing great competition. Texas has tons of talent, sometimes it’s hard to harness all of that. Greg Brown comes in, a Top 10 recruit, mixing him with everybody. I think it’s a combination of great competition and Texas has a lot of talent and getting that talent harnessed,” said Gillen. “With Texas, they’re so talented, the kids have so much confidence that I think they try to do too much on their own. They try to put the team on their back and go one-on-one and take some bad shots. I’d like to see them, instead of live and die with the three, go inside a little bit more, drive to the basket.”
The three ball has been a big part of the Longhorns’ game this season, averaging 25.1 attempts per game (50th nationally) but they’ve connected on just 34.3 percent of those (149th nationally). There have been plenty of games when they are red-hot from deep, their recent loss to West Virginia saw them hit 14 of 26 attempts. But, in their overtime win over Kansas, they were just 5 for 26 (19.2%).
That propensity for taking threes will be tested by the 18th ranked Red Raiders who allow opponents just 19.5 attempts and 6.7 makes per game from deep. The Red Raiders rank 23rd in Ken Pom’s Adjusted Defensive efficiency metric and they play at one of the slowest tempos in the country. That style of play, as Gillen points out, can frustrate the Red Raiders opponents into forcing up bad shots.
“This team, their DNA is toughness, grit and defense. That’s what they do. They have very good talent but they win with their toughness, their grit, their defensive culture. They’re really feisty. That’s how they beat you, they make you uncomfortable,” said Gillen. “They’re like Virginia, they play a deliberate style. You get bored and frustrated and they lull you to sleep. They get teams frustrated with their methodical offense. I think teams get frustrated a little bit with Texas Tech’s, physical, aggressive, feisty defense. Taking charges, diving on the floor, clean but physical.”
It’s been a tough stretch lately with three straight losses for Chris Beard’s group. But, they already have a win over these Longhorns in hand this season, 79-77 back on January 13. Longhorns forward Greg Brown was limited to just nine points in 22 minutes of action in that game. This time around, Gillen wants to see what Brown can do.
“Greg Brown, he’s a guy that can dominate any game in my opinion. Now, is he going to settle for shooting threes? He’s streaky from there. The Greg Brown matchup will be one to watch. That matchup intrigues me,” said Gillen.
Tune in Saturday at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time as #14 Texas meets #18 Texas Tech in Lubbock, only on CBS.