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Defense will determine if this Texas season is a success

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AMES, Ia. — It’s the kind of cold that socks you right in the chest, takes your breath away and leaves you disoriented.

There’s no shaking it. There’s no escaping. The kind of cold that hit central Iowa on Monday, with temperatures as low as minus-20 and wind chills dipping below minus-30, is something that makes simply being borderline unbearable.

In a way, it’s the role model for what Texas wants its defense to be.

“Our team is trying to build a constant mindset of every single day,” junior Dylan Osetkowski said, “that we want to be the best defensive team in the nation.”

There were hints of that Monday when the Longhorns found respite from the frigid temperatures inside Hilton Coliseum, where they sent Iowa State shooting percentages plummeting as low as the mercury in a 74-70 overtime victory featuring little in the way of offensive beauty but plenty of defensive mettle.

“It just shows our fight,” point guard Matt Coleman said.“Just keep fighting. Stuff won’t go your way early, just find a way to win.”

It was a return to form for the Longhorns after Kansas gouged them for 92 points – 1.26 points-per-possession – last week in which the Jayhawks connected on 17 of 35 (48.6 percent) of their 3-pointers.

“I thought we were a step off,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said.

Texas’ defense was in lock-step against the Cyclones. Iowa State was never comfortable, never in rhythm and never productive for anything but spurts. The Longhorns held them to 36.8 percent shooting overall and 25.9 percent from 3-point range. These Cyclones don’t possess the high-octane offense of years past, but to keep them to .959 points per possession in their home gym – where Texas hadn’t won in 8 years – is no small feat.

“Did a really good job embracing our ego,” freshman center Mohamed Bamba said. “We knew how tough it was going to be to play here we haven’t won one year since 2010.

“We dominated the process going into it. The outcome is what we got.”

Bamba, a projected top-10 pick in June’s NBA draft, is as integral to Texas’ defensive stalwartness as anything. Even on a night where he struggled to contain Iowa State’s bigs and his coach said “he looked a little sluggish out there at time,” Bamba made an impact defensively, blocking four shots. His eight-foot wingspan has propelled him to a 16.8 block percentage, fifth-best in the nation.

The Longhorns now rank sixth nationally in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com. Opponents are converting at just a 30.3 percent clip from 3-point range and 42.7 percent inside the arc. The defensive effective field goal percentage of 43.7 is 15th-best in the country.

Every little bit counts defensively for Texas. Largely because the offense is, well, not very good. It’s hard to have an effective and modern offense in 2018 when you’re shooting 29.2 percent from 3-point range as a team, as the Longhorns are. That’s a big reason they’re outside the top-100 in adjusted offense. Osetkowski abused Iowa State’s troubled pick-and-roll defense Monday to hit 7 of 13 from distance which inched his season shooting percentage from 3 just above 30, joining Andrew Jones (46.3) as the only Longhorn members of that club.

Winning ugly is as big a cliche as it is a reality for Texas as long as that shooting percentage stays low. The Longhorns, though, appear built to win games with shooting percentages only marginally less chilly than an Iowa winter.

“To come back and fight and battle after being down a few different times and then overtime, I thought we really followed the process,” Smart said. “We really systematic about following the plan of what we wanted to do. It wasn’t perfect. It’s usually not going to be. There some stuff left on the table that we want to get better at but I thought our guys did a good job down the stretch.

“The guys earned one. Road wins are hard to come by in this league especially when you’re playing in front of a raucous crowd like this this is a very very hard place to come in and win.”

Texas did it with defense, not much in the way of Havoc that ultimately got Smart the job in Austin, but something more conventional, though the Longhorns continue to create more turnovers each year under Smart. They’re probably not a contender to win the Big 12 and end Kansas’ 13-year run atop the conference this season, but Texas’ defense makes them an interesting follow the next few months. Especially if can continue to improve and keep offenses in a deep freeze into the spring.

“On about 60, 70 percent of the plays we were back to defending with the level of aggressiveness and urgency we needed,” Smart said Monday, “and then there was a third or a quarter where we weren’t aggressive enough.

“Obviously you don’t want to be at 60 or 70 percent. You want to be at 100 percent.”

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?