Rangers Opening Weekend

Writer: Aaron Hendon

Rangers strike out a lot on opening weekend, onto Oakland

April 3rd, 2018. Game 6

Rangers record 1-4

The major league season is underway and a full series is in the books. The Rangers are in Oakland to start a 4 game set, Bartolo Colon will take the ball for the good guys. Losing 3 of 4 to the defending World Series champs was not exactly the way the Rangers envisioned the start to the new season. They struggled on both sides of the game losing 22-11 combined in the 4 games.

MVP: Elvis Andrus

The Rangers shortstop is entering his 10th big league season and got off to the best start out of anyone else in the lineup, going 6 for 10 with 2 walks. Andrus also smacked a homer off Astros’ starter, Lance McCullers, Saturday afternoon.

With 158 more games left in the 2018 season, the Rangers have some issues that need some addressing sooner rather than later. For starters, they struck out 40 times in the series. OUCH. As a team, they were the 4th worst team last year in all of baseball, striking out nearly 1,500 times. Manager Jeff Banister made a conscious effort when making the lineup to space out the “strikeout” guys. It’s no good having them bunched together, since you are basically asking to kill any potential run-scoring inning. Bannister did just that, sliding Gallo up to the 2 spot and pushing Odor to the 8 hole. The team as a whole still struggled to put the ball in play.

On the pitching side, 3 newly acquired starting pitchers took the ball for the first time wearing the red, white, and blue. Doug Fister, Matt Moore, and Mike Minor combined threw 13.2 innings. They allowed 7 runs on 14 hits and 12 strikeouts. The starting pitching struggled to go deep into ball games which is a bit of a concern, but not as much as the whopping strikeout numbers. If this trend continues, it should take a toll on the bullpen as the season goes on. The bullpen held their own on a lot of opportunities due to the fact that the starters are not going deep in the games. In 2017, the bullpen struggled to hold onto inherited leads. Over the weekend as a group, they only took over 1 lead and they shut the door allowing 0 runs to grab the W.

Looking ahead to the Oakland series, the A’s dropped 3 of 4 just like the Rangers to start the year so one of the teams may fall to the last place in the AL West. Former Athletic Bartolo Colon will make his Ranger debut in Oakland facing righty sidearmer Andrew Triggs who is 3-0 with a 0.72 ERA against the Rangers. The first pitch is set for 8:05 CT.

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Looking at the Rangers

Writer: Aaron Hendon

Question One: The Bullpen

Spring training is underway and we are just days away from opening day baseball in Arlington against the defending World Series Champions Houston Astros. Jeff Bannister enters his 4th season with the club with a slightly different look to them. The team struggled mightily because of how inconsistent the bullpen was, adding a few guys to the competition, and slamming the door when a lead is given is the goal this year.

X Factor: Can the bullpen hold onto leads?

In 2017 the Rangers led the American League in losses when leading after the 6th inning. Something has to give, with an offense that excelled in hitting bombs and scoring runs in bunches, but often struggles on a night to night basis when it came to timely hitting or manufacturing runs in general. When the bats give the team a chance to win, and the games are lost by an inconsistent back end of the bullpen that cannot hold onto inherited leads, or often could not get the 3 outs in the 9th to closeout a win. The Rangers have not had a bullpen finish the year with a total ERA in the top 15 of the league since 2013, surprisingly enough over that span, they have found a way to make the playoffs 3 times.

Important matchups in later innings, during these situations often dictate the finish. Jeff Bannister has a set of guys that have the ability to hold onto leads they inherit and close out games. In 2017 they hit a bump in the road very early in the year as they watched Sam Dyson completely fall out of the closer role then later off the team. While struggling the next few weeks trying to find their identity they never seemed to find the rest of the season.

Now coming out of spring training they have plenty of options on who their closer can be. Keeping Matt Bush in the bullpen will add competition to the race. Keone Kela is a name people have wanted to hear in the 9th on a consistent bases for a while now. Kela has has great stuff, a live fastball with a good breaking 12-6 curveball but has been prone to injury only logging 72.2 innings over his last 2 seasons. Other potential options could be Jake Diekman, a shortened season last year making his first appearance in September tossing 10.2 innings with a 2.52 ERA.

Dark horse candidates could look towards newly signed Chris Martin or Tim Lincecum, both of which have just 2 major league saves combined between the 2 of them. Newly signed Kevin Jepsen has had a phenomenal spring with a 0.43 WHIP in 9 appearances. If the Rangers answer correctly on the bullpen X factor, the team should be in a good spot come late September.

Shaka Smart’s Hot Seat

Writer: Lucas Garza

Shaka Smart’s coaching job became much less secure after the Longhorns’ basketball team had an awful week, losing to a home game to Kansas State and on the road against TCU.

After the Longhorns had a dramatic win last Saturday against Oklahoma, the team did not show up with energy on Wednesday against Kansas State. The horns had a slight lead for the majority of the game, but found themselves down by five late in the game and they could not recover.

Texas then traveled to Fort Worth to have a rematch against TCU, who they beat in double overtime one month earlier. TCU would take the lead early, scoring from the perimeter and making Dylan Osetkowski and Jericho Sims look clueless down low. Mo Bamba had a great game offensively, scoring over 23 points that showcased many different moves. Defense was the problem all game for the Longhorns, giving up 48 points in the first half has been the most under Shaka Smart. Bamba only had one block, and Kerwin Roach lost his man on three different occasions.

The week’s two losses currently take Texas out of the NCAA tournament picture, and they will probably need to win at least four more games to make their way back in. Suddenly, they find themselves on game out of last place in the Big 12. Of the six remaining teams Texas has left on their schedule, they have already suffered losses to five of them, making the road ahead much tougher.

At the beginning of the season, it was widely speculated that if Texas missed the NCAA tournament for a second straight year, and for only the third time this century, Shaka Smart would be fired. Although a few have rescinded this statement due to the illness of Andrew Jones, Shaka should still be held accountable for his team’s performance, energy, and play calling on the court. Shaka’s inability to run an offensive play late in the clock or recognize weaknesses in defenses will end up costing him his job if Texas misses the tournament again.

Chris Del Conte, the new Athletic Coordinator, must already be generating a list of names for the job. While at TCU, he was able to bring former Pittsburgh coach, Jamie Dixon, back to his alma mater, and the Horned Frogs’ basketball program has never been better. Del Conte will most likely look at some big name coaches, and try to bring them to Texas. The best option would be Villanova’s Jay Wright, but it would be very difficult to get him to leave Philadelphia. Some bold coaching candidates for the Longhorns’ to explore would be T.J. Ford and John Lucas II. It is no secret that former Longhorns and 2003 National Player of the Year, T.J. Ford, has been spending more time with the team recently, but he has no head coaching experience with the team recently. John Lucas II has been around the game and young men for all his life, and he is currently thriving as an assistant coach for the Houston Rockets. His son, Jai, played at Texas and is currently an assistant for Smart.

Texas won’t have to grow throughout the job searching process if Shaka can turn this team around heading into the last three weeks before the postseason. Every Longhorn basketball fan would love to see the team win games down the stretch of the season and compete hard at the Big 12 Tournament. The Longhorns’ have never won the Big 12 tournament. They have been to the championship game on four different occasions, but have lost to Kansas each time.

Big 12 SEC Challenge

Written By: Lucas Garza

The SEC shocked the Big 12 in this weekend’s Big 12/SEC Challenge. Since the beginning of the season, the Big 12 has been referred to as the best conference in the country, but after losing six of the conference’s ten games this weekend, some are questioning if any Big 12 teams will go deep into the tournament.

The day began with an expected Baylor loss to Florida, and Texas Tech was able to sneak past South Carolina on the road, who appeared in last year’s Final Four. Then, Texas and Kansas State handled their opponents well at home, as Oklahoma and Trae Young were trying to climb from behind the entire game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Young’s 17 points and 8 assists were not enough for the Sooners.

Rick Barnes, the former Longhorns’ coach and multiple Big 12 Coach of the Year winner would lead his Tennessee team over Iowa State as predicted, and the Kansas guards would have another good showing in Allen Fieldhouse against the big men from Texas A&M. Oklahoma State and Arkansas battled it out in Fayetteville, and Arkansas was able to win the physical battle by one point.

The big surprises of the day came in Morgantown and Nashville. West Virginia led Kentucky by 15 at the half, and saw their lead quickly disappear in the second half. The experience and press from West Virginia was a task that the young guards from Kentucky were able conquer.

TCU went to play Vanderbilt in their oddly structured Memorial Gymnasium. TCU was able to climb back from a double digit deficit in the second half, but was not able to close at the end or get up a good last second shot. TCU began conference play with no losses, but have lost six games since. This loss to a Vanderbilt team who only had seven wins at the time will not look good on TCU’s resume as they look forward into March.

College Gameday will be headed to Austin, Texas for the first time in nine years when Texas hosts Oklahoma and Trae Young. The Gameday crew will likely discuss Andrew Jones’ leukemia diagnosis, Shaka Smart’s hot seat, and the outstanding play of the freshmen Mo Bamba and Trae Young. Last time College Gameday was in Austin, Jeff Capel brought his No. 2 ranked OU team led by Blake Griffin into Austin. Griffin would miss most of the game due to a concussion caused by Texas guard Dogus Balbay. A.J. had one of the great performances in Erwin Center history as he scored 16 straight points late in the game to rally against OU. The past two Red River Rivalry games in Austin have been great. Texas’ 25-3 run against Buddy Hield’s No. 3 ranked Sooners’ electrified the crowd in 2016, and Andrew Jones hit a buzzer beater to beat OU last season.

The Dallas Mavericks’ Extremely Strange Year

Writer: Caleb Akpan

No one expected the Dallas Mavericks to have a good record going into this season, and no one’s surprised that they’re currently 16-32, good for 14th in the Western Conference heading into February. What might be shocking is that if you give a little bit deeper into the numbers, this record becomes a bit confusing.

For starters, the team’s offensive rating sits at 107.0 points per 100 possessions, good for 16th in the league and above teams like San Antonio or Boston. It’s not great by any means, but it’s completely passable and would usually be enough to generate some additional wins, at least more than the third least in the league, and they have a lineup to back that up.

At one point, Dallas’ 5-man rotation of JJ Barea, Yogi Ferrell, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwight Powell had a better offensive rating than Golden State’s starters. That’s right, the same Golden State Warriors currently going through arguably the greatest dynasty in NBA history was being outplayed by a three-guard lineup featuring two of the shortest players in the league, a 39 year-old, and a player some NBA fans probably haven’t even heard of. Even now, that Mavericks’ lineup currently sits just a point below the Warriors’ famous “Death Lineup” featuring Andre Iguodala.

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Dallas Sports Fanatic

The player names might not ring the same bells as in the Bay, but it’s clear Dallas’ offense isn’t a major issue with shooters like Wes Matthews and Dirk Nowitzki and a young playmaker in Dennis Smith Jr. beginning to take charge. There has to be something going wrong if their record is so poor though, and that problem may lie in the defense…..except when you check the numbers, it’s the same results as with the offense: simply average. At 108.8 points per possession, they sit at 17th in the league, higher than teams like Minnesota, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Cleveland, all four firmly in the playoff race while Dallas prepares for the lottery once again.

Statistics say the Mavericks should be around .500 instead of below 20 wins. They’re average on both ends of the floor when it comes to the typical rating system, commit turnovers at the lowest rate in the league (12.5 per game), are top ten in fewest fouls, and shoot well at the line when they get there themselves. There’s no statistic that says the Mavericks should be as bad as they are, at least until you look at how the team has performed in the clutch.

The good thing is that the Mavericks have played in the most “clutch” contests in the league at 31, competing game in and game out. The bad thing is that they’re only 7-24 in those games, an abysmal .225 win rate. In comparison, the Miami Heat have also played in 31 clutch games, but are 20-11, winning about 65% of those games. If the Mavericks could play to that level, they’d be 29-19, good enough for fifth in the West, though the standings would probably be a bit shaken up from where they are now if the Mavs were winning more.

Dallas’s struggles are strange to say the least, but they really emphasize the difference between a team building and a team ready for greater heights. The Mavericks are competitive, but they lack the players needed to close games. For some players like Dirk Nowitzki, the time to take games over in the fourth quarter has passed, while others like Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes are clearly still learning, at times showing flashes and at times showing nothing. Dallas seems to be on the right track, with encouraging play up until the last seconds of most games, they just need time to develop and grow. That clutch record can’t stay so low forever and they seem to be just on the cusp of getting it flipped around, don’t be shocked if they’re back to their old ways as soon as next season.

The Longhorns playing for Andrew Jones

Writer: Lucas Garza

Texas Longhorns basketball supporters knew something was wrong when Shaka Smart almost broke down talking about the health of Andrew Jones after the game against Baylor on Saturday afternoon. Jones did not make the trip to Waco because of an illness, but fans were wondering what was wrong. During Smart’s press conference on Tuesday he almost broke down again discussing Jones’ health. On Wednesday morning, the Jones’ family released a statement that he had been diagnosed with Leukemia. The sophomore guard had been the team’s leading scorer and best player over the past two seasons before he broke his wrist in early December. He returned to the court, but only played limited minutes in games against Kansas and Iowa St. because of fatigue. Jones was undergoing tests when Kevin Durant came to Austin to celebrate his $3 million donation, and sadly the diagnosis was very serious.

Burnt Orange Nation

Texas still had a game to play against TCU the day Jones’ diagnosis was released. The Longhorns knew that they would need even more help in the backcourt without Jones and Kerwin Roach, who has a fractured left hand. Playing with “AJ1” patches on their jerseys, Texas played in front of an energized crowd at the Erwin Center and they played for Andrew Jones. Texas got off to one of their best starts of the season, but couldn’t separate too far from TCU due to the Frogs’ three point shooting. After multiple emphatic dunks from Jericho Sims, Texas took a 10 point lead into halftime. TCU was able to take advantage of a tired Texas team, who had Matt Coleman, Eric Davis, and Dylan Osetkowski play the majority of the minutes in the game. TCU took the lead late in the second half, and both teams traded leads for while. Texas had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Coleman lost the ball and had to toss up a prayer that was no good. The game would go into overtime tied at 77.

Both Matt Coleman and Mohamed Bamba had four fouls going into overtime, so TCU PG Jaylen Fisher was able to use their careful play to his advantage. Dylan Osetkowski made big free throws to keep Texas in the game, and then knocked down a corner three to put Texas up two points with just under 10 seconds left. TCU was able to find Vladimir Brodziansky for a short jumper to hit the buzzer beater, sending the game into a second overtime period tied at 88. Bamba fouled out early in the second overtime, leaving the game with 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Brodziansky led the way for TCU in this period, but Jericho Sims’ rebound with 6 seconds left with a foul sent him to the free throw line with the game tied. Sims was just 39% from the line all season, but he knocked down one out of two to put Texas up one point. After a TCU timeout, Jaylen Fisher drove all the way to the rime only to miss the potential game winning layup, giving Texas the 99-98 2OT win.

This win improve Texas’ record to 11-5 and 2-2 in conference. The Longhorns have been shooting the ball from distance much better in conference play, and Eric Davis Jr. has been playing engaged and with confidence. Without Jones, Texas will have to rely on Davis, Coleman, and need bench help from Febres and Young until Roach returns. Texas has been resorting to a lineup with their three big men over the past two games, and it pays off on the rebounding and dunking categories. The Big 12 has been off to a crazy start, with West Virginia leading the conference at 4-0. At the moment, the Longhorns are probably on the bubble when it comes to the NCAA tournament, but if they finish the season in the top six in the Big 12, they should have no problem getting in automatic bid.

Texas Bowl Recap

Writer: Lucas Garza

The Texas Longhorns defeat the Missouri Tigers 33-16 to win the Academy Sports and Outdoors Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston Texas. Texas punter, Michael Dickson, was named MVP of the game after placed 8/11 punts inside the 10 yard line. The game was entirely dominated by Texas because they won the field position battle. The majority of the Longhorns’ drives started near midfield, while Mizzou’s possessions started close to their own endzones. If Texas had a dominant offense, the game would have been a blowout, but Texas had to punt multiple times from good field positions.

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USA Today

Texas was without many players who stood out in the regular season because of suspensions, injuries, transfers, and players not wanting to get hurt before the draft. Michael Dickson, who already declared for the draft and will forgo his senior season, still played in the bowl game and clearly had the time of his life. His draft stock only went up, and so could have the stocks of the players who sat out if they would have played. DeShon Elliott would have looked great with the rest of his defense the way they played, and so would have Holton Hill, if we would have been allowed to play (he had been suspended).

There were many sceptics who questioned how well Texas would play without so many of their top players, but it was clear that Tom Herman and his coaching staff had the team well-prepared for the bowl game. The players had the next man up mentality, and it clearly showed that they were ready and excited to play in the game. The defense was much more outstanding than the offense, led by Poona Ford, Gary Johnson, and Davante Davis. Mizzou was unable to throw the ball over the midfield as they had been during the second half of their season.

The Longhorns’ offense struggled as they had all season. Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger alternated at the quarterback position at the beginning of the game, until Buechele suffered a minor injury that kept Ehlinger in the game for the its remainder. Armanti Foreman saw a lot of playing time as Lil’Jordan Humphrey was suspended, and Collin Johnson had his best receiving game since the game against Southern California. Danny Young led the way at running back for most of the game, and had a couple big receptions as well. The Texas sideline was electric after Texas scored its final touchdown of the game with Sam EHlinger blocking for Armanti Foreman. Tom Herman joined in on the fun of mocking Mizzou’s backpack celebration.

Texas finished with a winning record for the first time since 2013, Mack Brown’s final season. The Texas fanbase seems to feel that the program is moving in the right direction, but they are also hoping for a new Offensive Coordinator. Texas currently has one of the top recruiting classes in the country, but that means nothing if the coaches cannot do their job. The Longhorn’s should have a big NFL Draft class this year, and will hopefully have more for years to come.