There wasn't much to cheer about in Texas' loss to North Carolina. The Longhorns quickly found themselves down 12-6 at the U-16 TV timeout, and never really recovered from there. It became evident pretty quickly that point guard Myck Kabongo was hampered by injury, ineffectiveness, or both. Without an A+ game from their floor general, Texas had no chance. Texas entered halftime in a 16-point hole, and a slow 2nd half start resulted in young Myck sitting the final 18 minutes in a "teaching lesson." After a J'Covan Brown 3 cut the lead to 14 with 14 minutes to go, Texas went into a 4 minute scoring drought, effectively ending their chances at a victory. The final 19-point differential, 82-63, became perfectly representational of the talent/experience chasm between the two teams.
The maturation of Jonathan Holmes - The hybrid forward scored Texas' first points, draining a 3, and ended up posting 16/6 with 3 blocks and 2 assists. One of his swats came on pretty sweet defense against John Henson, whom Barnes matched him against most of the night. Holmes acquitted himself pretty well against the All-American, pestering Henson just enough with his athleticism to mitigate the height mismatch. Because of Holmes' propensity to play from the perimeter, I had likened him to Damion James in an earlier post. He's nowhere near the rebounder James was, but Holmes is already a better ballhandler and likes to take his man off the dribble. Maybe a coordinated Gary Johnson is a more apt recent comparison.
The "Never Say Die" attitude of J'Covan Brown - I didn't quite know where to classify Brown. After hitting his first 3 to tie the game at 6, Brown missed 2 shots and had 2 turnovers. Unable to compensate for Kabongo's out of control point guard play, Brown effectively sunk Texas' chance to stay close early. His game devolved as he pressed in the 2nd half, and his final line of 6-18 FG, 4 TOs wasn't pretty. On the other hand, Brown and Holmes accounted for 18 of Texas' 23 first-half points, and with Kabongo sitting the entire 2nd half, Brown had no choice but to continually drive into the teeth of the defense in an effort to create shots. Obviously, he's had better games, but Brown was the buoy keeping the life raft afloat while most of the freshmen came in with wide eyes and slow feet.
Sheldon McClellan's 2nd half scoring - McCllelan came out firing in the 2nd half, scoring 8 of Texas' first 12 in a valiant but ultimately failed rally. After that, he settled for a couple of heat checks that were puzzling, but ended up with 14 points and 3 steals in the latter period. He'll need to do much better than a donut in the rebounding column.
Jaylen Bond's 9 rebounds - Bond posted 9 boards in 16 minutes. By comparison, Chapman and Wangmene combined for 6 in 38. Fingers crossed, Bond and future Horn Prince Ibeh will make a really nice rebounding/defense power forward combination next to the hulking mass of Cameron Ridley. If Bond is going to be Texas' only willing and able rebounder, he needs to play more. Simple as that.
Sterling Gibbs playing 18 minutes - Gibbs hit a couple of 3 pointers and accrued 2 assists, but the fact that he played 18 minutes total showed how early this game was lost. Right now, he's a catch-and-shoot guy, not a penetrator nor shot creator.
Interior presence - Listen, Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman are who we thought they were. They're warm bodies that are limited by height and hands, strength and skill. They try really hard, and did half decent jobs of pushing the pushable John Henson and Tyler Zeller out of their comfort zones. But there were way too many mistakes, a litany of which killed the team. Missed bunnies. Stone hands. Lack of boxing out. Lack of defensive help rotation. Not getting back in transition defense. It's not going to get better against similarly talented frontcourts.
Defensive awareness - At times, there seemed to be a fundamental lack of understanding on how to defend Carolina. Texas' guards would inexplicably close out on Kendall Marshall, easily giving him an opening to drive and dish. They left Harrison Barnes alone way too often, despite knowing he gets hot via catch-and-shoot. The transition defense was absolutely atrocious. Getting 15 offensive boards is nice, but too often it led to easy transition jumpers and flushes on the other end. Basically, the Horns played right into Carolina's hands.
Getting Posterized - Twice. It sucks. Let's move on.
Defending Harrison Barnes - In the primer, I posited that an interesting way to check Barnes would be to sic Jonathan Holmes on him. Instead, Rick Barnes inexplicably started the game with the 6'3" Julien Lewis guarding Harrison. In response, Barnes started the game by swatting away a Lewis shot attempt and then hitting a jumper over Lewis on the other end. I actually thought Barnes had a pedestrian first half. He scored 7 points but was just typical catch-and-shoot. Barnes went shot creation beastmode in the 2nd half, though. The 26 points were legit, but Texas' attempts to use a smaller man to chase around Barnes (including J'Covan Brown for a bit) were of the "resistance is futile if less than 1 ohm" variety. The insane height advantage also allowed Barnes to snag 10 rebounds.
0 points from Julien Lewis - There are games when getting strong defense from your 6'3" guard is an asset; this wasn't one of them. Lewis had 3 steals and 4 rebounds, but 0-6 from the field severely crippled the Horns. Going up against taller, stronger players like Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock, Lewis' 21 minutes were not properly allocated.
Myck Kabongo's Mysterious "Injury" - Prior to the game, Kabongo posted a since deleted Tweet: "Not feeling good at all. 50/50 for tonight." The rumored story was that Kabongo suffered an injury in practice, seemingly confirmed by Kabongo sitting out most of the 2nd half. But if my starting point guard had 1 point, 1 assist and 4 turnovers in 15 minutes, I'd be inclined to sit him too. Like Marquis Teague earlier this year, Kabongo suffered from a case of freshman-itis, trying to do too much while not playing within himself. His inability to create killed any offensive rhythm Texas hoped to accomplish. Instead, fans were treated to a lot of one-on-one play with little movement, similar to the Arizona season-ending loss last year.
Rick Barnes' puzzling postgame presser - Earlier this season, Barnes poured forth full wrath on J'Covan Brown, telling him he needed to "grow up." Last night, Barnes turned his attention onto Kabongo. Via the Statesman:
"The very first play of the game, we talked about for two days what we wanted to run, and we don't run it. The very first play of the game. It happened last game. That's discipline. Four guys know it - one guy doesn't. [...] I told him, 'We're going to get guys out there who will play.' There's too many guys on our team who want to play."
Kabongo took the blame in stride, stating: "My team needed me to perform, and I didn't perform." Still, it was a curious decision by Barnes to call out his floor leader and not give him a chance to gain valuable experience via 2nd half minutes. It wasn't the only questionable decision by Barnes, and if you've read this far, you surely have seen those call outs. Starting Lewis over McClellan. Not preaching transition D. Puzzling match-ups on Harrison Barnes. Stagnant offensive sets.
I think Barnes saw some fool's gold in crashing the offensive boards and clamping down on Zeller and Henson. While Texas was mildly effective in the paint, the Longhorns disregarded too many of North Carolina's strengths and ultimately paid the price.
After watching the first 10 minutes, I basically threw out all hope for a win and started focusing on development points. Overall, Texas should be disappointed with its performance but hopeful for its future.
In Big 12 play, Baylor looks like two surefire losses. Their frontline of Anthony Jones, Perry Jones, and Quincy Miller mirrors Carolina's, only Baylor's unwieldy athleticism won't be pushed around like Henson, Zeller, and Barnes can be. Likewise, Kansas puts forth two towers in Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson, but doesn't have nearly as scary a team at the other positions. To counter those strengths, Rick Barnes absolutely has to give Jaylen Bond more run. Right now, he's their best rebounder and offensive finisher. Getting him some time at power forward would also allow Holmes and/or McCllelan to play the 3 at regular size, which would be a boon for this size-deficient ballclub.
I'd rather see Sheldon McClellan draw the starting nod over Lewis, but both are incomplete players right now--McClellan better at O, Lewis at D. I expect both to improve by leaps and bounds by year-end. Jonathan Holmes is already Texas' 2nd best player. He's been the most developed freshman on the team thus far. Those three combined adds up to wing that matches up well with other perimeter-oriented schools like Missouri and Kansas St. Both are talented teams, but don't pose the same matchup size problems that Baylor and Kansas do. I'm from Missouri on Texas A&M with the recent return of Khris Middleton.
Clearly though, this team will go as far as J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo will take them. Brown's offensive game is dynamic, but he can't do it alone. Help us, Myck Kabongo. You're not our only hope, but you're a ridiculously important one.