Perhaps it took back to back defensive pantsings for me to truly get it.
Maybe it was the opponent's style of play offensively that served as the eye opener. After all, most of UConn's offense is predicated on weakside screening and cutting. All of Texas Tech's offense is. The good news is that one of this season's great mysteries has been solved. The bad news is that it was right in front of our very eyes and we couldn't figure it out. The worse news is that it's unlikely to get significantly better this season.
The mystery is why Balbay and Mason see so much floor time togehter. The answer is our defense, I'm talking "team" defense, sucks out loud. Specifically Jordan Hamilton and J'Covan Brown. They have absolutely zero concept of how to defend when they're not guarding the basketball.
Barnes plays two nonshooters together because he would rather attack packed paint than give up layups and open jumpers to elementary offensive moves like simple cuts, down screens, and curls on the other end. He's trading offense for defense and after watching the last two games, I understand why. So for that, I owe coach Barnes an apology. I get it now.
As for this game, thank goodness Justin Mason has Brandon Healy-ed his way back into the picture. If he can bring some spark offensively, maybe we can turn this thing around. At least Justin understands simple ball-you-man defensive principles, because evidently the
Amarillo SandiesPalo Duro Dons teach better defense than the AAU circuit. On to the players.
Damion James. Where would this team be if DJ hadn't come back? This cat is simply playing better basketball than any wing in the nation with a guaranteed double double every night. He saved our bacon this game, along with Barnes' ingenious tweak to go to a 3-2 double low post look on offense designed to get Damion posted up on Tech's weak frontcourt. Many of James' point blank post looks were off of a block to block cross screens from Dexter Pittman that led to a 12-20, 28 point explosion. Throw in 13 boards for good measure. Damion continues to lead this team and I'd like to see us continue to run offense through him.
Dexter Pittman. I'm actually not concerned with Dexter's play because it's not his fault we can't surround him with shooters and open the floor. His boxscore wasn't great, but Dex did have 7 rebounds in 18 minutes and set a dozen or so screens that freed up Mason and James for their offense. If you've got a left tackle on the floor, it makes sense to screen with him.
Justin Mason. I'm not sure if this performance is fool's gold given Tech's lack of size, but Justin's offense is sorely needed on this club because he seems to be the only other wing on the roster that understands what needs to be done on defense. Good for him for sticking with things and being ready to answer the bell when it was his turn. I don't expect 8-12 from the field every night, but I hope Mase can continue to play with the same confidence on offense.
Dogus Balbay. His on the ball defense has served to cover up a ton of warts away from the ball this season, and it took a couple teams that really attack the weakside to expose the Horns. That's a testament to how truly dominant an on ball defender Balbay really is. Loved the two midrange jumpers off the ball screens combined with his aggression going to the rim. If we're going to go away from the freshmen, Balbay is going to need to find ways to score. It was definitely the best offensive game he's had all year, and we'll need more of it as the season wears on.
Avery Bradley. Quietly, Avery had a really strong game. I thought all ten of his shots were good shots, especially the 6 threes he attempted. With Avery's athletic ability, I'd still like to see him attack the rim more. On defense, he struggled a bit away from the ball, but he's not the lost cause that some of our other players look like.
Gary Johnson. It was a weird game for Gary in that he only had 2 field goal attempts, but I think part of that was the emphasis of establishing Damion James on the low block. Defensively, Gary looked like he had some tired legs because he really struggled to stay in front of the Tech forwards on the dribble. I'm not worried about him because he'll be back to his role as energizer with some rest.
J'Covan Brown. The kid is in a weird place mentally right now and I don't pretend to know why. Is it his role? Hitting the freshman wall? I don't know. I do know that he struggles to stay in front of dribblers and for a guard, he may be the worst off the ball defender I've seen in the Barnes' era. On offense, he has talent, but one indication his head isn't right was a situation late in the game when he had a nice driving left hand layup, and instead of turning and running to get back on defense, J'Covan jogged over to our bench glaring into the stands. I seriously thought he was going to rip his shirt off and throw it into the crowd And 1 style.
Jordan Hamilton. If Brown's the worst off the ball defender, Hamilton is a close second. Other than that, he played the same game he's played for a month now. Come in and jack as many shots as you can in your time on the floor. I thought he turned the corner vs. UConn with some all around improvement in his floor game, but he took two step back last night. Hey Jordan, mix in a two handed chest pass.
Jai Lucas. Jai's performance will be judged on how well he shoots the ball. He needs to come in and light it up or he needs to sit.
Alexis Wangmene. I thought he came in and played with great energy. I also wouldn't mind seeing him get more than 5 minutes a game because we're going to need him and his athetic size down the road.
Overall, it may be time to start ratcheting down expectations for this club. As Bartoncreek so aptly put it last night in the open thread, it seems like we've traded Avery Bradley for AJ Abrams and that's the only difference between 2009 and 2010. I'm starting to agree.