Every morning that the stock market trades, CNBC hits us with the concept of "fair value." A company purports to determine for the network at what numbers the markets should have closed the previous day, in order to more accurately judge the early direction of trading based on futures action.
The fact that this "fair value" becomes irrelevant at 9:31 ET each morning hopefully will not make it irrelevant to my use of it here, in regard to Texas's 81-80 overtime loss to Connecticut on Saturday afternoon.
Let's put it this way. If just about any of Rick Barnes's teams in the last decade had blown this game the way Texas did Saturday, I'd probably still be in mourning over it. Worthy or not, I secretly harbored Final Four dreams for many of these combinations, and I'd be mentally hand wringing over the potential loss of seed and more important realization that the team really wasn't as good as I hoped. Again. I've managed to see at least four of these kinds of losses at the Drum since the FF season.
But I don't put Saturday's loss into that category. Coming off of last year's implosion, and looking at the somewhat mismatched roster of young, talented players and older guys now proven to be role players, I'm actually encouraged by what I have seen. We can argue whether rankings are accurate, but the Longhorns have beaten Illinois, UNC and MSU and lost to Pitt and Connecticut. So somewhere in the 11-15 range right now is probably reasonable; that is, fair value. That's a lot better than I hoped for by the end of the season, much less now.
Now, I predicted elsewhere that UT would be in trouble if the Huskies dominated the boards like I feared they could. They did. They got 16 more shots, most of them within 3 feet of the hoop. Texas played the entire first half like there was a force field in that area. Gary Johnson made of couple of buckets inside, but that was it.
But Texas forced its way inside offensively in the second half, and still played fiercely on defense – despite all those shots from close range, UConn still only shot 38 percent from the field, and a couple of their makes were really lucky/shouldn't have counted. If Barnes brings a double team to get the ball out of Kemba Walker's hands on his last shot, maybe Texas gets the W. But I digress.
This team is gonna struggle against teams that have multiple bigs who know their way around the hoop (KU, K-State, maybe Baylor). But there's a lot to like. Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph and J'Covan Brown will be tough to guard in a zone. Brown was the best player on the floor Saturday and probably should have gotten the last shot of overtime. I think he's the best shot creator they have. And he showed remarkable guts in taking a rebound away from Okwandu under the basket and fouling him out, inside a minute to play. If his judgment and his skill continue to progress, he has a shot at All Big 12. He's that talented and can play that hard.
Tristan Thompson is up and down, but every game seems to help. This was a downer, but I always look for little things, and for him, I thought it was important for him to have played several minutes (including all of overtime) with four fouls. Same with Cory Joseph, who handled it well but shot it poorly and possibly defended worse, although it's no crime not to be able to keep up with Walker. And it's nice to have seniors such as Johnson and Balbay, and even Matt Hill, who understand their roles regardless of how they perform. That's why I'm not worried about them having lost, because they've just confirmed to me instead that they belong where they are, and everybody gets a piece of that credit.
So it's Tech tonight in the Hub to start conference play. I know nothing about Tech, so check out Tortilla Retort for some nice recaps. There's a little despair over there, because there are a lot of familiar faces who have struggled against a pretty weak schedule (no wins over a KenPom top 100, all but one win over 236 or worse). What I do know is that Texas losing, even at Tech, will give this board a shot of that same despair. I've been through enough seasons with Rick Barnes to know to plan on at least one booted game per year. If they really are what I think they are, this can't be the one.