Why is Texas So Tough?

For pretty much everyone outside of the locker room at Cooley Pavilion, the 2010-2011 Texas basketball team has been a surprising success. Just what is it that has allowed the Longhorns to exceed early expectations, and what will allow them to continue their run? Read more below.

1) These Longhorns get down and defend

Looking at Texas through a conventional lens, it's easy to see why the Longhorns are successful defensively. Dogus Balbay is among the country's top defensive guards. Cory Joseph is long and athletic enough to bother opposing two-guards. Gary Johnson is athletic enough to defend outside-in power forwards that have become all the rage and Tristan Thompson represents a nasty shot-blocker on the back-line. Jordan Hamilton ranks as a surprisingly good defensive rebounder, and the Longhorns have two big men off the bench to throw at teams.

Looking at Texas through Ken Pomeroy's lens isn't any less impressive. Texas ranks fifth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and first in the country in effective field goal percentage. The scrappy Longhorns don't block shots or steal the ball at an especially high rate, but by forcing tough shots — opponents are shooting just 39.8 percent from two-point range (third best) and a paltry 28.0 percent from three-point range (seventh) —and gobbling up almost 70 percent of the available defensive rebounds, the Longhorns are able to close teams out the old fashioned way.

2) Balanced scoring

Every scorer has an off night. That's why it's so important for teams to have balanced scoring. By almost any metric, that's exactly what Texas has. Four players — Hamilton, Thompson, Johnson and Joseph — average double-digit scoring outings.

But the balance doesn't just stop there. Five players — the above four, plus J'Covan Brown — have scored at least 17 points in a game this year, while seven — the above five, plus Balbay and Jai Lucas — have scored at least 13 points in a game this season.

That scoring has also largely come at a high efficiency rate. KenPom only lists one player, Hamilton, as a major contributor, meaning that he utilizes between 24-28 percent of Texas's possessions. But Hamilton also boasts the team's highest offensive rating at 117.3. In fact, out of the nine players listed by KenPom on the Texas roster, only two players — Lucas and Alexis Wangmene — have offensive ratings below 100. Three Longhorns are in KenPom's top 315 players in offensive rating.

But to put it more conventionally, the fact that the Longhorns have seven players capable of going for 13-plus points on a given night makes Texas all the more difficult to prepare for.

3) They're battle-tested

The Longhorns — ranked No. 9 in KenPom's rankings — have already played five games, or more than one-fourth of their schedule, against teams ranked in the KenPom top 30. More impressively, they've won three of those five games, defeating No. 20 Illinois, No. 23 Michigan State and No. 30 North Carolina, with all three of those wins away from Austin.

The two games Texas lost out of those five — to No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 24 Connecticut — came by a total of three points, with the Connecticut defeat coming in overtime.

The lone statistical outlier comes from Texas's third loss, a 73-56 bashing at No. 53 USC. But the Trojans have shown that they're capable of playing up to quality competition themselves, beating four of the seven teams they faced in the KenPom top-64. Two of those losses — at No. 3 Kansas and at No. 36 Nebraska — were by two points on the road. The third loss, to No. 6 Washington, came in overtime.

So the Longhorns should be well-prepared for the Big 12 gauntlet.

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