Vasherized did an outstanding job of covering The Big Things, so like Arundhati Roy, I will dedicate this Texas-Navy breakdown to the God Of Small Things.
Glad it's basketball season. Not just because football has disappointed, but because college basketball is awesome. And it's rewarding to watch a young team grow into its own. This is the very best time of the sports year.
The opponent is almost immaterial when you're holding a team to 30.2% shooting. Work is getting done on the defensive end. Guys rotated and had each other's backs, most notably J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton. This is one area where Dexter Pittman's loss is a gain - team defense. Cory Joseph is ahead of the curve as a freshman defender, but he still needs to learn how trivial fouls are collected and dispensed in big-boy basketball. Barnes believes this team can man up and I was extremely skeptical. Now seeing is believing. Yes, we will get crushed by a big, mature basketball team, but such is life. This can be a very capable and disruptive defensive team, though a half court grind of size mixed with shooters will be our soft heel.
If there was any doubt that Todd Wright is the best in the business, look at the transformation in athleticism in Hamilton, Brown, and even the Garden Gnome. A total functional remaking. Conditioning coaching matters - it's not just about having a glittering facility and doing some bench presses.
Hamilton's lateral quickness - previously non-existent - is now solid and he has a much more stable base on his midrange jump shots and garbage game. Shots that once found back rim as he floated and drifted are now swishing through as his improved base allows him a much steadier platform to explode from. Once a defensive semi-buffoon, he's now fully capable of playing passing lanes, tipping balls, and playing with effort without fear of fatigue. People think defense is just about Want-To, but at the highest levels of basketball, Want-To ain't enough. Jordan has Can now. Can is more important than Want-To.
J'Covan is the wiliest player on the court and now he has the athletic ability to actually act on his instincts without drawing a foul. This isn't just about the change in his body composition, but also his explosiveness. Evidenced in two parts last night when he burst out his stance to intercept a lazy wing pass and then finish with an easy dunk that he couldn't have done last year. J'Covan is a wildly improved player and I think his conditioning has actually made him smarter on the court. Sometimes his foolishness last year was a way to get off of the court for a blow.
Jai Lucas is still an extremely limited player because he lacks both size and quickness, but Wright has maximized formerly bad attributes into below average. That's as much an achievement as turning average into good.
Dogus Balbay should, by all rights, be a greatly diminished basketball player this year, but he appears to have lost only a half step and a little springiness. Wright rehab played a big role in that.
Overall team conditioning looked excellent. We blew out Navy because we wore them down and because J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton are skilled. That model can be duplicated against teams much better than Navy.
Barnes coaches hard. Get tough or die. Last year, our body language was terrible. Vacant eyes, stooped shoulders, weight-of-the-world sighs.
Hamilton and Brown have chosen to get tough and lose some of their inner diva. Barnes, to his credit, made hooks brief in nature and more instructional than punitive. These guys have learned that if they'll play defense, rebound, and not be assholes, Barnes will give them leeway on the offensive end to make mistakes. It's a fair bargain. And what Barnes has traditionally done here.
Tristan Thompson runs like a gazelle. His post game will be revealed as primitive against upper echelon competition and his free throws are an adventure, but he can absolutely murder people in transition, particularly if we continue to make up-tempo play a staple. He's going to play heavy minutes, particularly as he learns not to put the ball on the ground around the gnats.
Cory Joseph is way ahead of the game defensively compared to most freshmen guards and I didn't know D was something he really did. His skills are evident - he just needs to get used to the increased pace and size of major college basketball. He'll have some rocky times, but most of all, he just needs to get smarter about fouls. I'm not sure he's going to drop 12 dimes on anyone, but J'Covan and Jordan will pitch in as creators.
Last year's depth became almost a sort of weird burden when we refused to embrace our true identity, but the rotations on this team are already coming into focus. We'll play 9 and we seem intent on getting Clint Chapman a red shirt. Our front court is limited athletically and in terms of size so we're going to play a lot of guys and try to get by with energy paired with tempo.
In the backcourt, we can throw a lot of looks, but it's clear to me already that J'Covan and Jordan are going to be the key to all we accomplish on offense. Jordan is a pure scorer who has now learned to play within himself and J'Covan's court savvy is off of the charts. His stat line didn't accurately reflect his game impact.
Gary Johnson put down a quiet double-double, and he's a guy that almost operates out in his own parallel world of offense. He'll nail open jumpers and create effort baskets around the rim, but he can't create any team offense. That's no slight. That's just how it is, in my estimation. He can't catalyze.
Ultimately, our two sophomores will be the straws that stir our offensive drink.
What do you think?