Maybe Holmes did not see the right hook Cincinatti’s Gates laid on Xavier’s Kenny Frease in their brawl back in December. Of course neither did the unsuspecting Frease. The point is Gates has some fight in his game. And Texas has to be more than a punching bag. The No. 11 seed Longhorns (20-13) have to throw a few haymakers of their own as they match up with the No. 6 seed Cincinnati (24-10) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Nashville Friday.
To make sure Texas has at least a puncher’s chance here are three keys to the game:
Hit the boards: Cincinnati, because it plays four guards and one big man, Gates, is not a great rebounding team. The Bearcats have only out-rebounded its opponents by .2 rebounds on the season -- 36.2 to 36.
If Texas can get active on the offensive glass not only will it give them second-chance opportunities but also could force some cheap fouls on Gates as he tries to stop offensive putbacks.
Additionally, Cincinnati does not shoot the ball well -- 42 percent on the year -- so there should be plenty of rebound opportunities. If Texas grabs those, it can limit the Bearcats’ possessions.
Find another scorer: J'Covan Brown is going to get his points. But Texas needs to find another viable threat on offense so that Brown can get even more. The Bearcats know how to lock down on defense and will commit their best defender plus a shadow player to Brown. If Sheldon McClellan can get hot from the corner, that would loosen things up for the Texas offense, meaning Brown is more apt to get the ball in a position where he can drive or take the quick shot.
Play with poise: Texas will start with three freshmen on the floor and play six freshmen total. While those players have been through 33 games already, none have played in this type of environment. So settling down quickly and staying within the offense is paramount to success.
The player who has to make sure Texas does just that is freshman Myck Kabongo. Kabongo has a tendency to neglect to get Texas into the offense and then either drive or take an ill-advised shot as the clock is running down. Against, Cincinnati, with the pressure being as high as it will be, Kabongo needs to make sure that the ball is moved from side to side on the offense to create seems where Texas can get to the basket. Those baskets going to the rim early can get Texas to the line where it can get easy points and quell the nerves.
If the offense becomes stagnant, Cincinnati, a very good defensive team, will turn up the pressure and Texas will be forced into a one-on-one game. Texas cannot win that type of game.