Another conference game against a top 40 opponent, another disappointing outcome. If the way this team is playing surprises you at this point after a 17-0 start, you need to start looking at it this way.
The 17-0 team was a get up in your jersey, play free and loose, wear you down, onions dangling kind of ball club.
The team that took the floor last night was never 17-0. In fact, they happen to be 3-6 in their last 9 games, and they've played exactly one solid game in the year 2010. If I was to summarize the team we've seen in 2010 I would say this.
It's an offensive squad that has had most of the confidence to score the ball coached out of them, left with virtually zero identity or structure on that end to fall back on. We run a ham handedly schemed offense comprised of loosely affiliated sets and an overall offensive philosophy called random screening. Random Screening? That's code terminology for I need Steve Nash, TJ Ford, or DJ Augustin to break down defenders at will and find guys for dunks and wide open 3's. You know, cutting edge shit.
On defense, it's a team that seems to be minimally interested in guarding teams and more interested in guarding individual players. Instead of disciplined ball-you-man off the ball defense, we're playing something called man-you-man loose correlation defense. Don't believe me? How many times has one of our off ball defenders stepped in to take a charge on penetration in the last two months. Hint, 90% of college basketball teams have taken more charges...in their last freakin' game. Yes, that's right, there are teams that take two or three charges per night. We haven't taken a single helpside charge in, I don't know, forever.
On the ball is even more of a headscratcher. We had players that used to be able to stay in front of any player with talent south of Maurice Cheeks. We used to force misses and turnovers on the defensive end with smothering on ball defense. Now we simply wait for turnovers and hope for misses.
On the glass we have precisely one guy that we can count on to go get the ball and he's surrounded by 4 guys that evidently haven't been taught to put a body on a player and then grab a board.
Foul shooting is an embarrassment. I refuse to get into it.
As for individual players, this is what I've got.
Damion James. After being saddled with foul trouble because we can't seem to protect the rim without fouling, Damion rallied to have a pretty nice 7-14, 18 point, and 11 rebound game. I've said it before but the kid's an all-timer as far as Longhorns go. No one plays harder and no one's as willing to bring it every night as he is.
Dexter Pittman. Hammerin' Hank rose up, nuts in the face, and yoked one tomahawk style with his piece on Dex's tentative play. I'm of the opinion that Dex has gone Mark Wohlers in the cabeza and while it's mostly his fault, the coaching staff has done him zero favors.
First off, they don't work the refs on his behalf in an effort to protect him. Instead, they went the better part of the season wasting 3 quarters of Dex's minutes with the lane clogging, self checks Balbay and Mason on the floor. Hell, it took Barnes 5 months to admit we were playing 3 on 5. Dex Pittman thanks you.
Even more disturbing, is that the coaching staff seems to have zero ability to design ways to get the big man the ball in spots he can be successful. Name a game or a time when we used a simple, albeit confounding for this staff, splitting the basketball atom type offensive tactic like reversing the basketball.
It's a simple concept, really. You swing the ball from one side of the court to the other in an effort to make Dex's post defender go from playing helpside, under the bucket defense, to having to fight around Dexter Pittman to a half front position before Dex can catch the ball and dunk. You can accomplish it with a skip pass, use it in conjunction with your ball screen game, hell just use it because it works.
Picture Jason Glynn reach blocking Tommie Harris in a 3 technique, but don't allow Jason Glynn to use his hands to do it. It takes roughly the same athletic manuever for the post defender.
You needn't read the Da Vinci code to acquire this Holy Grail of post offense. Just watch any one of the 300 Division I basketball teams that make ball reversal a core part of their offense. Only a handful of those teams have a player as big and talented as Dexter Pittman.
That typed. Dex played horrible, tentative, take my ball and go home basketball. You can't have him on the floor cutting off driving angles when he's playing that way.
Jordan Hamilton. Perhaps the biggest indictment of this coaching staff is the time it took to get Hamilton to play this type of basketball. Here's a kid with the talent to play four positions on the floor and our reason for not using him earlier was because the kid didn't understand what we wanted from him? I don't buy it.
All of a sudden the light comes on and the kid is playing confidently, within the flow of the offense. Maybe I'm just jaded by the staff, but I don't understand why it's taken so long for him to become a cog on this team, while bleed for the program kids like Balbay and Mason play like shells of their former selves for the last two months and steal minutes.
At this point and after watching Hamilton play well against one of the premier pressure teams in college basketball, I'm all for giving Hamilton the 1 spot or at least some point forward responsibilities. Flank him with Bradley and Brown for ball handling outlets if an opponent moves their best on ball defender to Hamilton. Protect these young guards with a zone if you're worried about defense.
If Jordan's drawing the second or third best defender he can do work on the perimeter provided he plays unselfishly. JH was getting to rim consistently against a 6-1 waterbug and he happens to be the teams 1 or 2 best finishers. Aside from being one of our better ballhandlers and passers, he's also our second best rebounder.
Avery Bradley. He looked a little out of his element handling the ball against the Mizzou pressure. Last night revealed the key to Avery taking the proverbial next step in his game. Point blank he needs a better handle to truly be elite. He needs to get that thing on a string to maximize his athletic ability and elite shooting touch. If he does it, the sky's the limit. Otherwise, he'll remain a nice complementary scorer that relies on other players or transition to get open looks.
Balbay. Worst game I've seen him play in a Longhorn uniform. He looked totally outmatched on both ends. Aside from his 4 turnovers, his inability to threaten any area outside of 3 feet with his offense is among the saddest and sometimes funniest things I've seen in division 1 college basketball. It's simply astounding to watch a major college division 1 guard pass up open 10 footers like they were 30 foot heat checks.
Gary Johnson. I was really disappointed with GJ's effort because this was a matchup size-wise that should have been right in his wheelhouse. He did very little as a defender and rebounder in his 27 minutes of action vs. frontcourt competition he should be killing.
J'Covan Brown. The point guard duties in this game weren't for the faint of heart, or head for that matter. Mizzou's pressure has a way of making virtually every dribble contested, and every pass you make a mental exercise akin to game-theory. If you add a lack of experience at the point to the mix, it's surprising that Brown played as well as he did. He had just 1 turnover and made a couple of solid drives to the goal. It's a productive performance Brown can build on.
Alexis Wangmane. I thought Lexi brought it in the short time he was in there. Kid played hard and competed with two big offensive boards and a couple drawn fouls. Maybe he needs some of Dex's minutes because at the very least he plays hard and plays above the rim.
Justin Mason and Clint Chapman. Meh. What else can you say that hasn't already been said about these two?
Overall, there's no guarantee this team makes the tournament. They need to win two of the remaining five games @Tech, OSU, @TAMU, OU and @Baylor. OU and @Tech would be the logical choices for those wins, but Lubbock is tough and OU is a rivalry game. I guess I'd feel better about things if I knew this team had an identiy it could fall back on. But it doesn't.