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Getting to know Shaka Smart's surging Longhorns

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Texas head coach Shaka Smart, right, celebrates with Ryan McClurg, left, and Javan Felix, center, and Cameron Ridley, center rear, after beating North Carolina in an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Texas won 84-82. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

Texas head coach Shaka Smart, right, celebrates with Ryan McClurg, left, and Javan Felix, center, and Cameron Ridley, center rear, after beating North Carolina in an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Texas won 84-82. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

As the initial season for a new head coach often goes, Shaka Smart’s first few months leading Texas have featured some highs and lows.

UT began the season 2-3. A few weeks later, Smart’s Longhorns knocked off North Carolina.

Then Big 12 play got started and Texas dropped road games at Texas Tech and TCU.

But as the former VCU coach makes his inaugural trip to Allen Fieldhouse for Saturday’s game against No. 3 Kansas (1 p.m. tip-off, ESPN), Smart finally might have his team rolling in the right direction. Texas has won 3 in a row in the brutal Big 12, defeating Iowa State (in overtime), Oklahoma State and, most impressively, West Virginia on the road.

To give you an idea of the kind of guard play the Longhorns have enjoyed of late, Texas had more steals (5) than WVU (3) on the road earlier this week, when the ’Horns defeated the No. 6-ranked Mountaineers. UT only committed 5 turnovers against ISU and had 8 against both OSU and WVU, winning the turnover margin in all 3 victories.

A third of the way through the Big 12 schedule, Texas (12-6 overall, 4-2 Big 12) leads the league in scoring defense (67.7 points allowed), 3-point field-goal percentage defense (opponents have shot 28.3%) and turnover margin (+2.33 a game).

As KU (15-3, 4-2) looks to recover from another road loss, here are the Longhorns who the Jayhawks will have to keep in check.

TEXAS STARTERS

No. 1 — PG Isaiah Taylor | 6-3, jr.

Texas guard Isaiah Taylor (1) drives to the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against West Virginia, Wednesday, Jan, 20, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. Texas defeated West Virginia 56-49. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

Texas guard Isaiah Taylor (1) drives to the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against West Virginia, Wednesday, Jan, 20, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. Texas defeated West Virginia 56-49. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

  • Averaging 16.4 points and shooting 45.2% on the season, junior Isaiah Taylor’s game has improved since conference play began. Taylor averages 19.2 points in Big 12 games, a stretch in which he has made 45.8% of his 3-pointers.

  • Nine of Taylor’s 15 steals this season have come in Big 12 action.

  • Went coast to coast for a running, game-winner in UT’s December win at Stanford.

  • The reigning Big 12 Player of the Week averaged 23.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the Longhorns’ wins over Iowa State and OSU.

  • Scored a career-high 35 points, with 6 assists and 1 turnover at Texas Tech in a loss.

  • Third season as UT’s starting point guard and has started all 77 games of his career.

No. 3 — G Javan Felix | 5-11, sr.

None by Bevobeat

  • The Longhorns’ best 3-point weapon, senior Javan Felix is shooting 41.5% from long range and averaging 11.1 points a game.

  • However, while Felix’s points have increased in Big 12 play (13.2 a game), his 3-point accuracy has taken a dive (8 of 30, 26.7%).

  • Felix’s big night in Morgantown, W. Va., made UT’s upset victory possible. He scored 17 points, hit 2 of 3 from deep and went 7 of 8 at the free-throw line at WVU.

  • Hit the buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper from the baseline to defeat UNC (then ranked No. 3) in December.

  • Has 54 double-figure scoring games in his career, including 8 games of 20 points or more.

  • Tied for the team lead in steals (15), and in 4 games vs. top-25 opponents, averages 13.8 points, thanks in part to an 8-for-14 mark from 3-point range.

No. 21 — F Connor Lammert | 6-10, sr.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) puts up a shot over Texas forward Connor Lammert (21) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) puts up a shot over Texas forward Connor Lammert (21) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

  • Texas big man Connor Lammert (6.2 points, 7.0 rebounds in Big 12) enjoys stepping outside to take jumpers and 3-pointers. But Lammert has only made 8 of 30 (26.7%) from behind the arc in conference games, and is shooting 29.3% from the floor overall 6 games in.

  • In the 7 games Texas has played without injured big man Cameron Ridley, Lammert leads the team in rebounding (7.1 a game).

  • Enjoyed big rebounding outings against Connecticut (8 boards), Kansas State (9), TCU (11) and Oklahoma State (8).

No. 5 — G Kendal Yancy | 6-3, jr.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) goes hard to the bucket against Texas guard Kendal Yancy (0) and forward Myles Turner during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) goes hard to the bucket against Texas guard Kendal Yancy (0) and forward Myles Turner during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

  • More of a role player who doesn’t get starter’s minutes (10.8 a game in Big 12), junior Kendal Yancy averages 3.7 points and 2.0 rebounds in conference play.

  • So far, his shot selection against league opponents has proven wise: 9 of 16 from the floor (56.3%), 3 of 7 from 3-point range (42.9%), and Yancy has only committed 2 turnovers in 6 Big 12 games.

  • Tied his season high with 7 points at WVU, going 3 for 3 from the field.

  • Yancy has only attempted 13 shots from 3-point range this season, hitting 5. He’s had less success at the free-throw line: 6 of 17 (35.3%).

No. 44 — C Prince Ibeh | 6-11, sr.

Dejounte Murray of the Washington Huskies tries to throw past Prince Ibeh of the Texas Longhorns during a match at the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai, China, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. The University of Texas and University of Washington played the first-ever regular-season college men's basketball game in China at Shanghai's Mercedes Benz Arena, organized by the Pac-12 conference in partnership with Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Dejounte Murray of the Washington Huskies tries to throw past Prince Ibeh of the Texas Longhorns during a match at the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai, China, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. The University of Texas and University of Washington played the first-ever regular-season college men's basketball game in China at Shanghai's Mercedes Benz Arena, organized by the Pac-12 conference in partnership with Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

  • Given the issues Kansas sometimes has with finishing around the rim, senior Prince Ibeh could wreak havoc in the paint. While the Longhorns would be even more dangerous with center Ridley (injured) inside, Ibeh has blocked 26 shots this season — 12 in Big 12 play.

  • Ibeh (3.5 points, 6.3 rebounds in league) also has proven to be UT’s most active offensive rebounder, with 16 in the past 6 games. Of his 72 total boards, 30 have come on offense.

  • Ranks 5th all-time at Texas with 174 career blocks (Ridley is 3rd, with 220).

  • Blocked 4 shots and grabbed 3 offensive rebounds in UT’s win over Iowa State.

  • Swatted 5 shots in just 18 minutes vs. UConn.

TEXAS BENCH

No. 0 — G/F Tevin Mack | 6-6, fr.

None by Peter Bean

  • Freshman Tevin Mack hasn’t started a game for UT, but he comes off the bench ready to fire. Mack (6.2 points) just hasn’t shot the ball that well on the season, though. He’s shooting 29.6% from the field, and his 3-point tries — 22 of 72 (30.6%) — aren’t helping his numbers.

  • Ranked No. 48 in the Class of 2015 by ESPN, Mack delivered his biggest game to date in burnt orange when he scored 14 points and made 3 of his 8 3-point attempts, with 2 assists and 0 turnovers as Texas defeated Iowa State.

No. 10 — G Eric Davis Jr. | 6-2, fr.

Texas guard Eric Davis Jr. (10) and teammate Connor Lammert (21) celebrate after Davis hit a three-point shot against the Texas Arlington during overtime of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Texas won 80-75. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas guard Eric Davis Jr. (10) and teammate Connor Lammert (21) celebrate after Davis hit a three-point shot against the Texas Arlington during overtime of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Texas won 80-75. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • Essentially a smaller, more consistently effective version of Mack at this point, fellow freshman Eric Davis Jr. (8.1 points) also steps onto the court looking to score.

  • Davis ranks 2nd on UT in 3-pointers made (26), hitting 35.6% from deep. He has connected on 41.2% of his 2-point tries.

  • Twice named the Big 12’s Newcomer of The Week, Davis already has produced double-digit points on 7 occasions.

  • Versus top-25 teams, Davis is averaging 13.0 points a game and hitting 56.3% of his shots — including a mark of 11-for-19 from 3-point range (57.9%).

  • Put up 16 points (4-for-5 from 3-point land) against UNC.

  • Scored season-high 19 points (4 of 7 on 3-pointers) vs. Texas A&M, which is now ranked No. 10 in the nation.

No. 32 — F Shaquille Cleare | 6-8, jr.

None by The Daily Texan

  • Junior big man Shaquille Cleare’s responsibilities have increased with the absence of Ridley. Cleare averages 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 15.0 minutes through 6 Big 12 games.

  • Cleare isn’t the shot-blocker that Ridley is. The junior has 0 swats in 90 minutes of league action. But he has converted well inside: 58.8% on field goal attempts.

  • A transfer from Maryland, Cleare sat out the 2014-15 season.

No. 12 — G Kerwin Roach Jr. | 6-4, fr.

  • A freakishly good athlete who is more of a defensive pest than anything else at this stage of his career, freshman Kerwin Roach Jr. averages 3.8 points in Big 12 games. Still, Roach is capable of dunking on almost anyone’s head (see above clip).

  • Ranked the No. 34 prospect in his prep class by Rivals.com, Roach averages 5.6 points on the year.

  • Scored 11 points, with 3 boards and 2 steals in UT win over OSU.

Comments

Kent Richardson 3 years, 3 months ago

Nice FT % for Yancy.

Better athletes in the guards and Prince Ibeh may very well create havoc. Frank and DeVonte with floaters if they can drive at all. Perry with the spin move and along with Carlton in the mid range could be key.

Taylor and Felix should be able to get open looks all night so an answer from Greene would be nice. Hope we have a rim presence in Cheick and Hunter as insurance from our matadors.

Cram it inside and get some fouls. If we shoot 50 FT's we can surely make 25. 15 three pointers is 45 + 25 and 70 would be pretty good for us. Don't you think. Lol.

Kent Richardson 3 years, 3 months ago

Benton, I know I am not the only one who reads your stuff. I think it is so thorough that we all say. Okay, that's that. Lol.

Bj Cassady 3 years, 3 months ago

Smart was smart...the way he played W Virginia. Attack the press, when you slow down on offense you play into their hands aka KU. Also, press W Virginia when they have the ball, it takes away from their energy and they are not a good offensive team. Good coaching job, I hope we watched the tapes. SS is a great coach.

Kent Richardson 3 years, 3 months ago

I was disappointing that we delayed getting the ball inbounds giving them time to set up.

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