As Kabongo Goes, So Goes Texas?
Sometimes, when it comes to analysis, we can get a little too simplistic. And while there's little doubt that Texas is better with point guard Myck Kabongo — Texas had two Big 12 wins in 10 games without him (both home wins over the league's two worst teams), and has four Big 12 victories in seven games since getting him back (three over teams with winning records) — it does get a bit repetitive to simply hear other coaches talk about how Texas plays faster or has better leadership with him in the lineup.
Kabongo hasn't been perfect — look at his seven-point, seven-turnover effort against Oklahoma State and league's best point guard Marcus Smart as Exhibit A — but the interesting stat to me is just how good he's been in Texas's wins. Check out these averages in those four victories — 18.8 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game, 7.0 assists per game, 2.75 turnovers per game and 56.8 percent shooting from the field.
In Texas's three losses with Kabongo, he's scored more than four points less per game (14.7), and has grabbed slightly fewer rebounds (4.7). But the biggest differences have arguably come in assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting percentage. Kabongo actually has more turnovers than assists — 13 turnovers to 10 assists — in Texas's three losses (an average of 3.3 assists and 4.3 turnovers per game) and he is shooting 15 percent worse from the field (41.4 percent).
When he's at his best, Texas becomes an awfully tough team to beat. When Kabongo struggles, the Longhorns haven't been able to pick up the slack elsewhere.
Cameron Ridley, Game-Changer?
Texas coach Rick Barnes was quick to note that Monday's performance was Cameron Ridley's best effort — read: most aggressive — since a December stretch that had Ridley looking like he was ready to break out. While the stats weren't necessarily eye-popping, Ridley had eight points, five rebounds and two assists, and even added a steal and fast-break dunk at one point, one of several hustle plays that the burly center created.
The one-time five-star prospect has had trouble turning the corner and becoming a top player for the Longhorns, though he has shown tantalizing glimpses, like his 14-point, 10-rebound performance against UCLA at Reliant. And that inconsistency, along with a propensity to commit bad fouls (not unusual for young big men), has led to an accompanying inconsistency in playing time. The fact that Ridley shoots a garish 33.8 percent from the free throw line — that's not a typo — has also made him a liability whenever Texas gets into bonus situations, further cutting into his time.
But at 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, with a 7-4 wingspan, Ridley has the size to trouble just about anybody in the post when he's feeling aggressive, especially when you add in the fact that he has uncommonly quick feet and soft hands for a guy of that size.
And there are some encouraging signs. For one, Ridley's free throw form is looking better, even if the results haven't shown up in his percentages yet. He hit 4-of-10 free throws on Monday. If he can start hitting those free throws, his upside becomes enormous. Though his minutes aren't enough to earn him a place in the actual standings, his free throw rate of 74.8 percent (free throws attempted/field goals attempted) would put him 23rd nationally, second in the Big 12, No. 3 nationally among freshmen and No. 1 nationally among freshmen playing in major conferences.
Add that to Ridley's excellent block rate — 9.7 percent, or 37th nationally — and his respectable rebounding rates, and there's a lot of value in a guy who can create fouls on opposing big men while blocking shots and grabbing boards.
The key, as always with Ridley, is in his aggressiveness. And this offseason, that will determine which Ridley we get to see as a sophomore. Will it be the leaner version we saw in high school who attacked the boards with a rare tenacity that made him one of the best rebounders in his entire class? Will he be more aggressive in establishing the position that a guy with his strength and foot quickness should be able to get on a regular basis? And will he develop a go-to offensive move or two that would allow him to take advantage of that position when he gets it, like a baby hook toward the basket?
His tools, along with his rates from his freshman year, would indicate that there's a lot there for strength coach Todd Wright and the rest of the basketball staff to work with.
Offense Improving Dramatically
Every Longhorn who played, with the exception of DeMarcus Holland and Javan Felix, had an offensive rating of 105 or higher. And that helped Texas average an outstanding 1.23 points per possession. That's tied for the second-best performance of the season, behind Texas's 1.24 points per possession at TCU and equal to the Longhorns' rate against Oklahoma at home.
Just how good is that performance? If the Longhorns scored 1.23 points per possession over the season, it would make Texas the best offense in the country. Gonzaga is currently the top team nationally in raw (not adjusted for competition) PPP, with the Bulldogs averaging 1.186 points per possession. Texas has eclipsed that mark three times in the seven games since Kabongo's return.
In fact, since Kabongo has come back, the Longhorns have had four of their top five performances in PPP and five of their top seven. The Longhorns have averaged 1.06 points per possession per game for a raw Offensive Efficiency rating of 106.2. If that were maintained through the season, that would put the Longhorns at No. 72 in the nation, or better than in the top fourth of teams nationwide. It would also put Texas fifth in the Big 12 with an important caveat — the other teams had the benefit of buffing those stats against non-conference teams with Texas's seven-game "season" coming entirely against Big 12 teams, including two elite defenses (Kansas and Oklahoma State), and only one poor Big 12 team (TCU). TCU is the only team of those seven without a defense ranked in the nation's top half, and at No. 193 in raw PPP, the Horned Frogs aren't actually that far off.
In case you were curious, the top five performances with Kabongo were 1.24 at TCU, 1.23 against both Baylor and Oklahoma, 1.10 against Iowa State and 1.06 versus Kansas State. And only two performances without Kabongo were better than that 1.06 average — 1.14 versus Texas Tech and 1.08 against Mississippi State in the Maui Invitational.