Shaka Smart

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Texas’ woes continue with home loss to Kent State

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Texas has problems.

That’s not exactly new information, but the Longhorns’ issue were laid bare Tuesday as they lost at home to Kent State, 63-58, in yet another display of missed free throws, absent 3-point shooting, an inability to clean the glass and bad late-game execution for coach Shaka Smart’s squad.

Before the season, Texas looked as though it could potentially stake a claim as the league’s second-best team – behind Kansas, obviously – with incoming McDonald’s All-American freshman Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones providing a major infusion of talent to go along with returnees like Kerwin Roach, Tevin Mack, Eric Davis and Shaquille Cleare. The loss of Isaiah Taylor was going to hurt, sure, but in what was supposed to be a down year in the Big 12, it wasn’t far-fetched to see this team contend.

Instead, just two days ahead of league play, it isn’t hard to make the argument Texas is the worst team in the Big 12.

The Longhorns’ resume up to this point had some built-in mitigating factors. Northwestern looks like it might actually get to an NCAA tournament and Colorado has been solid, so losses on a neutral floor in November aren’t major red flags. Nobody is going to feel good to a loss at home to UT-Arlington, but the Mavericks have currently won nine straight, including a victory over St. Mary’s. Setbacks to Michigan and Arkansas don’t seem to be any great sin, either.

Individually, you can reason those losses away. Taken together, though, it paints a pretty unflattering non-conference portrait of Texas. The latest brushstroke, Tuesday’s home loss to the Golden Flashes, brings all that into stark relief.

All of the Longhorns’ troubles were on full display.

Terrible 3-point shooting? Check. Texas, ranked outside the top-300 in 3-point percentage nationally, was 2 of 18 from deep, going nearly 27 minutes between makes.

Awful from the line? You bet. The Longhorns were 14 of 24 (58.3 percent) from the stripe in an effort that will drag down their already poor team mark of 67.2 percent.

Questionable rebounding ability? Rearing its head again. Texas gave up 22 offensive rebounds (over 50 percent of the Flashes’ misses) to give Kent State, which shot 37.7 percent, the leeway to spray and pray.

Late game miscues? Present and accounted for. Down by just one with 1 minute, 17 seconds left, Texas gave up an offensive rebound that led to a layup, missed inside, gave up a dunk, allowed an offensive board on a free throw and surrendered another dunk.

Texas did what Texas has done throughout much of this year, just in maybe more extreme fashion than normal.

The Longhorns appear to be primed to fall far short of preseason expectations which spells potential disaster for them in a Big 12 that looks as though it will far exceed preseason expectations. In what was supposed to be a down year, Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia all appear to be potential top-10 teams while Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU have combined for just eight losses.

That would be a major problem for most coaches at a school as resource-rich as Texas, but in Austin, it might not produce more than a few grumbles from the dedicated few bona fide basketball fans. The rest of the fanbase will be too fixated in getting around-the-clock updates on what Tom Herman and the football program are up to.

At many schools, fan passion and interest is often a selling point for administrators trying to lure coaches to run their programs. At Texas, the opposite may be true. Basketball mediocrity can be tolerated long enough for a coach to find his footing while football garners the bulk of the interest and ire.

Smart’s success on the recruiting trail and his track record at VCU strongly suggest he’ll get Texas moving in the right direction, even if it take a more roundabout detour than most were expecting. The great thing about the Texas job is that many might not really take notice until those wins start arriving in a year or two.

Texas bolsters 2017 frontcourt

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Shaka Smart has added another four-star forward to his 2017 recruiting class.

Texas picked up a commitment Tuesday from 6-foot-8 Jericho Sims of Minnesota, according to multiple reports.

Sims, who visited Texas this past weekend, is ranked in the top-50 by Scout and in the top-75 by ESPN and 247Sports. He joins Royce Hamm, a top-100 forward from Houston, as members Smart’s second recruiting class at Texas.

“Jericho Sims is a late-blooming big man who has a lot of room to grow in terms of upside,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “A good athlete with a good frame to work with, Sims should help immediately on the glass and defensively but his offense will be a work in progress.

“Texas has a large recruiting class and targeted Sims later than many, so this is a nice commitment for the Longhorns.”

The commitment represents a significant get for the Longhorns, who beat out the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Ohio State, Connecticut and Sims’ hometown Gophers, whom his father played basketball for in the 1970s and his brother football more recently.

Sims and Hamm both are players that could help Smart and his staff transition more back to the Havoc style of play Smart employed at VCU as both have the length, speed and athleticism to help the Longhorns dial up the pressure and push tempo.

Texas lands five-star 2016 power forward Allen

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With Marques Bolden having committed to Duke, there was one elite front court prospect on the board in the Class of 2016 who had yet to make his college decision. 6-foot-10 power forward Jarrett Allen, ranked 15th in the class by Rivals.com, was down to Texas and Houston as possible destinations as of late April (Kansas was also viewed as a possibility earlier this spring).

Friday morning he made his decision in low-key fashion, simply signing a grant-in-aid agreement to join Shaka Smart’s program at Texas. News of Allen’s signing was first reported by Scout.com.

By keeping Allen, who attended St. Stephen’s Episcopal HS in Austin and was a McDonald’s All-American, in town the Longhorns have wrapped up one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Allen joins a freshman class that includes guards Andrew Jones and Jacob Young, and 6-foot-11 center James Banks.

Texas also made some additions on the transfer front, with former Tulane forward Dylan Osetkowski having to sit out the 2016-17 season and former Little Rock forward Mareik Isom being eligible to play immediately.

Given the amount of production lost in the front court, Texas needed one more addition to join Banks and holdover Shaquille Cleare. And in Allen, the Longhorns add a talented prospect whose length and athleticism make him a good fit for what Texas will look to do moving forward when it comes to front court prospects.

Texas guard Taylor hires agent, will remain in NBA Draft

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Texas became considerably less experienced at the point guard position Thursday, as junior Isaiah Taylor announced that he has decided to hire an agent and remain in the 2016 NBA Draft pool. This past season Taylor averaged 15.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game in his lone season playing for head coach Shaka Smart.

The Longhorns also lost senior Javan Felix from their perimeter rotation, but there is some young talent at Smart’s disposal as he looks to build on this season’s trip to the NCAA tournament.

Kendal Yancy will be a senior next season, with Kerwin Roach, Tevin Mack and Eric Davis Jr. all being sophomore. And in addition to that quartet of returnees the Longhorns add freshmen Andrew Jones and Jacob Young. Texas will have to account for the experience lost due to Taylor’s departure, but the cupboard isn’t bare either.

Taylor put together his best season under Smart, with his averages increasing as did his percentages from the field (42.0 percent) and from three (31.1 percent). DraftExpress.com has Taylor ranked 13th amongst college juniors, and he was projected to be a second round pick in next year’s draft.

No. 22 Baylor beats No. 23 Texas 75-61 in Big 12 tournament

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Scott Drew thought his team was playing well entering the Big 12 tournament, but the conference was so challenging this year that Baylor kept coming out on the losing end.

The Bears finally got rewarded for their solid play Thursday.

Taurean Prince had 24 points and 13 rebounds, Rico Gathers added 13 points and No. 22 Baylor’s baffling zone defense shut down No. 23 Texas in a 75-61 victory in the tournament quarterfinals.

“That’s the tough thing in the Big 12. When you’re playing great teams, you can be playing good basketball and not get the win,” Drew said. “I think we were playing decent. We just weren’t winning.”

They picked a fine time to change that narrative.

The fifth-seeded Bears (22-10) opened a 15-point lead in the first half, then used Drew’s trademark defense to keep the fourth-seeded Longhorns (20-12) from coming back. The reward is a date in the semifinals against top-ranked Kansas or Kansas State on Friday night.

“We just wanted to come out with energy, flying around, give good ball pressure,” said Al Freeman, who scored 12 for the Bears. “We wanted to limit them on second-chance points as much as possible.”

They did that by out-rebounding the Longhorns 46-27.

Connor Lammert had 15 points, Kerwin Roach had 13 and Shaquille Cleare had 12 for Texas, but the bigger story was who got shut down: All-Big 12 guard Isaiah Taylor scored just eight, all in the second half.

“We always come out sluggish, come out slowly, and we have to battle back,” said Taylor, who did have nine assists. “We weren’t able to battle back.”

The Longhorns have lost four straight to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament.

Texas was hoping to get a boost from the return of big man Cameron Ridley, who had been out since late December with a broken foot. He was cleared to practice this week and checked in with about 6 minutes to go in the first half, then immediately got fouled and contributed two free throws.

Ridley wound up playing just 2 minutes, though.

“The doctor and trainer gave me a restriction on how many minutes he could play,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “At halftime he was feeling a little pain so that was that. He wasn’t going to play anymore.”

The Bears opened a 31-16 lead late in the first half, slicing right through a Texas defense that held Oklahoma State to 50 points its last time out. And when the Longhorns made a small run to trim their deficit to single digits, Jake Lindsey hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Baylor a 38-27 lead at the break.

The Bears pushed their advantage to 59-40 on Johnathan Motley’s breakaway dunk midway through the second half, and the small contingent of Longhorns fans – with the Jayhawks and Wildcats waiting in the wings, there wasn’t much Baylor flavor either – continued to sit on their hands.

Smart’s bunch finally gave them a reason to cheer.

Taylor’s first basket of the game with 10:36 to go started a 10-0 run, and Prince Ibeh capped it with a rim-rattling dunk over Gathers to make it 59-50 with about 7 minutes to go.

The Longhorns kept the Bears uncomfortable the rest of the way, but they were unable to make the stops they needed to complete their comeback. Prince combined with Al Freeman and Lester Medford to make enough free throws down the stretch to put the game away.

“They were the more aggressive team for the majority of the game,” said Smart, who got his first taste of the Big 12 tournament. “That’s what allowed them to win.”

RICO’S HEALTH

Gathers dealt with an illness late in the season, but said he’s close to being in shape. He played 22 minutes against the Longhorns. “Trying to get myself back into the groove of things,” he said.

TIP-INS

Baylor: Ish Wainwright had eight boards. … The Bears are 22-2 when leading at the half. … Baylor is 11-7 against Texas since snapping a 24-game losing streak in the rivalry.

Texas: Taylor also contributed three rebounds. … The Longhorns had won three of their last four, with their lone loss to Kansas. … Texas lost to Baylor in the Big 12 semifinals two years ago.

UP NEXT

Baylor faces the Jayhawks or Wildcats in Friday night’s semifinals.

Texas awaits its NCAA Tournament seeding on Sunday.

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons. Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.