The Texas Longhorns enter the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament on a skid, losing four of their last five games, and generally looking uninspired and tired. After plenty of time to rest, the Longhorns face a rugged, but long team in the Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday night in Milwaukee in an second-round game of the Midwest Regional.
Where Texas has had a relative size and length advantage throughout non-conference play and Big XII Conference play this season, they do not in this match-up. Arizona State senior center Jordan Bachynski is an imposing presence in the paint at 7’2″ and 250 pounds, and averages 11.1 points, 8.3 boards and a whopping 4.1 blocks per game for the Sun Devils.
It’s reasonable to assume Herb Sendek’s squad will be happy to sit back in a 2-3 zone and force Texas to beat them from the perimeter — especially given the Longhorns’ iffy long-range shooting this season (32.4% from three). Regardless, the impetus will be on Texas big men Cam Ridley, Connor Lammert, and Prince Ibeh to establish their presence in the interior and be at least adequate offensively to force Arizona State to pull out of the zone and into man-to-man defense, even if this is as a mix of possessions.
The Sun Devils will stick with the zone in this one unless their hands are absolutely forced to the contrary.
If Arizona State controls the interior, it has a greater effect on the other side of the ball. Speedy Sun Devils point guard Jahii Carson can be explosive in the open court and has a constant green light when the ball is in his hands. Carson averages 18.6 points per game and shoots around 44% from the field, and is known for being streaky.
Carson is most effective when given the opportunity to create in the open floor, shoot some pull-up jumpers, or drive and kick to create open looks for his fellow guards on the secondary break. All of these things are rather easy to do if you’re allowed as a team to sit back in a sagging 2-3 zone which always leads to long rebounds and quick outlet passes.
In short, if Arizona State can play as they wish on the defensive end, both sides of the ball could become a nightmare for Texas. If there was ever a time for Cam Ridley to shine, this is absolutely it.
It may sound over-simplified, but if the Longhorns can control the paint, they have a great shot at moving on to a probable second round match-up with the Michigan Wolverines.
If not, it’s one-and-done and back to the Forty Acres with more disappointment.
It doesn’t always have to be complicated.
Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer and the Hiring Manager for Rant Sports.