Texas Basketball: 5 things to watch for vs. Houston Christian

Tyrese Hunter, Texas Basketball Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Tyrese Hunter, Texas Basketball Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /

On Monday, Chris Beard and the Texas basketball program opened up the Moody Center with a 72-57 victory over the UTEP Miners. Although the Longhorns struggled out of the gate, they were able to find their groove and ultimately hold on for a comfortable 15-point win.

Cohesion was undoubtedly a question coming into the season and something Texas struggled with at times against the Miners. This, however, is expected as Coach Beard attempts to blend a rotation of five returners and four newcomers into a National Championship caliber group.

Texas welcomes the Houston Christian Huskies into the Moody Center on Thursday night for an 8:00 PM tip on the Longhorn network. The Huskies lost their season opener Monday night in Miami against Florida International 77-66.

The Longhorns will cruise to a victory in this contest, but there are always crucial things to watch for as a new team tries to find its footing.

Let’s look at the five things Texas fans should keep their eye on Thursday night.

Storylines to watch for Texas basketball vs. HCU

1. Can the Longhorns push the pace?

For anyone who has followed Chris Beard-led teams, you know they have struggled to push the pace on the offensive end. This was no different in Beard’s first season in Austin, as the Longhorns finished 336th nationally in adjusted tempo last season. According to KenPom, Texa s averaged 63.8 possessions per 40 minutes last season. For context, St. John’s led the country with 73.6 possessions per 40 minutes.

Although it may have been coach speak., Beard noted multiple times during the offseason that he wanted the 2022-23 team to play much more up-tempo basketball. Much to the chagrin of Texas fans, this was not the case in their season opener against UTEP. Texas mustered just 66 total possessions, currently ranking No. 338 in the nation in that category.

Look for the Horns to get out in transition early and often on Thursday night. Timmy Allen is adept at grabbing a rebound and pushing the tempo himself, something I would like to see more of against Houston Christian. The transition game is also where the athleticism of freshmen Dillon Mitchell and Arterio Morris can be fully displayed.

2. Texas must clean up their turnovers

The Longhorns Monday night encounter with UTEP started poorly, to say the least.

In the first 7:28 of the game, Texas mustered just five points on 13 possessions. They had four turnovers over that period. Although the offense eventually found its rhythm, 15-team turnovers are not where Coach Beard wants his team, especially during a home game against a nonconference foe like UTEP.

The starting backcourt of Tyrese Hunter and Marcus Carr combined for seven of those 15 turnovers. At times Hunter and Carr were not on the same page as their big men, missing cutters and forcing the ball into traffic. This is something that must improve as Texas goes through nonconference play.

Ideally, the Longhorns stay in the single digits in the turnover column against Houston Christian.

3. Can Texas slow down Brycen Long?

Junior guard Brycen Long is the name to know on this Houston Christian Huskies team. Long went for 31 points on 11-14 shooting, including a 9-12 mark from deep, in the Huskies’ Monday night loss to Florida International.

Houston Christian does a solid job of running Long through a maze of off-ball screens, putting him in a prime catch-and-shoot position when he gets the ball. He has a high and quick release making it paramount that his primary defender is attached at the hip.

Whoever guards Long on Thursday night should try and run him off the three-point line and turn him into a downhill offensive player. I will take Texas’ chances if Long tries to attack the rim against Christian Bishop, Dylan Disu, and Dillon Mitchell.

4. How will the three-point shot evolve in the Beard offense?

In their win against UTEP, the Longhorns knocked down four of their 14 attempted three-point field goals. Those numbers won’t hurt you against UTEP or Houston Christian, but they must rise if Coach Beard and Texas want to put out an offense that can compete with the best teams in the country.

For context, Texas attempted 20.0 threes per game last season, making 6.6 (33.0 percent) of them. They ranked 258th in attempts per game and 232nd in percentage. The three-point shot was an Achilles heel in many of their losses and ultimately capped last year’s teams’ offensive ceiling.

That said, Texas should not force up threes just to hit a quota. There is no reason to try and fit a square peg in a round hole because, if we are being honest, Timmy Allen, Marcus Carr, and Tyrese Hunter are much more comfortable in the mid-range.

Coach Beard should, however, do what he can to get this Texas offense in positions where a shooter comes open on the wing or in the corner. Guys like Jabari Rice and Arterio Morris have shown they can knock down an open three and should have more offensive sets designed for them to do so.

5. Can Texas play inside-out on offense?

When looking at this Houston Christian roster, they typically run four-guard sets with a center locked in the paint. Their rotation is made up of just three players taller than 6-foot-5. One of Bonke Maring and Zach Iyeyemi will be on the court at all times, but other than that, this Huskies team is very susceptible down low.

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On the offense end, I would love to see Texas try and get the ball into Chrisitan Bishop and Dylan Disu. Not only can they both use their quickness to score on whichever big-bodied center the Huskies throw out there, but I also expect many opportunities for kick outs to open shooters. This goes back to the last point of Texas trying to manufacture open threes.

Bishop and Disu must gain some offensive confidence before playing Gonzaga next week, and Thursday night against HCU offers the perfect opportunity to do so.