Coffee is for closers and Kansas regular season basketball. There's a reason why the Fightin' Bill Selfs (Selves?) have won 7 straight regular season Big 12 championships, and it's not because they're gunning for a set of steak knives.
Texas came ohsoclose to a victory. At various points in the ballgame, Texas was down by the following scores: 22-7, 40-27, 46-34, 52-43. Almost miraculously, the Horns battled back multiple times and found themselves up 64-60 with 3:24 left, then 66-65 with 1:53 left. You know how it turned out.
Being in a position to win is nice, but if Texas doesn't start winning some games, its postseason has "NIT" written all over it. For reference, here are some other Saturday outcomes: unranked Notre Dame beat #1 Syracuse, unranked Florida St. beat #4 Duke (at Cameron Indoor, no less), unranked Tennessee beat #11 UConn, and unranked Arkansas beat #19 Michigan. So it can be done!
Sheldon McClellan's First Half - When Texas went down 22-7, it looked like all hope was lost until Texas' freshman small forward stepped up in a big way. He started the rally with the following sequence: notching a dime on a Clint Chapman dunk, grabbing a defensive rebound, then burying a 3 to cut the lead to 10. That was the first of three treys that McClellan hit; the third cut KU's lead to 5. Somewhat surprisingly, McClellan didn't have a single shot attempt in the second half, and scored just two points on free throws. He is the Longhorns' second best offensive weapon, and why he wasn't more utilized would likely take a repeat viewing that I don't have the stomach to do.
Good Clint Chapman - PB at BON loves to talk about a good Chapman performance being followed up by a bad one, and Clint was nothing but the former against Kansas. His stat line read 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks, and a huge perfect night from the charity stripe (7 for 7). Chapman didn't back down from the taller Jeff Withey, and if Texas had won, Chappy likely gets the game ball. It's also worth noting that Texas bought very good minutes from its freshmen bigs, Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes. They combined for 10 points (5-9 shooting) and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes, mostly matched up against Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson.
J'Covan Brown's Juevos Grandes - Brown notched 20 of Texas' 39 second half points, including two dagger 3's late in the 2nd half that brought Texas to within 1 and up 4. After both 3's, Self jumped a mile in the air to call timeout and stem the momentum. Brown's FG% wasn't pretty, but 24 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals is a man's game. He came just short of a game-tying 3, knocked down all his free throws, and showed an inherent understanding of the game that most players never achieve. The biggest example how J'Covan drew two cheap fouls 25 feet from the basket after recognizing that Withey was over-committing on his hedges.
Defending Thomas Robinson - He had a quiet night by Robinson standards and still finished with 17 and 9. Rick Barnes did a really nice job rotating 3 different bodies on Robinson (Alexis Wangmene along with Holmes and Bond) and never letting Robinson get truly comfortable in the paint. If Texas was better at protecting the defensive glass, that stat line would have been even more mitigated (T-Rob had 6 gimme points on 5 offensive boards). I don't expect Robinson to be that quiet in Lawrence, so Texas will have to do a better job of shutting down...
...Tyshawn Taylor - If you've followed me since the March to March days, you'd know I'm not the world's biggest Tyshawn Taylor fan. But I grudgingly admit that he's putting together one heck of a season, and he was the best player on the court on Saturday. His 22 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists stat line didn't quite match up to Brown's, but Taylor was a model of efficiency. He hit 54% from the field, 50% from 3, and--most importantly--didn't turn the ball over once. I give. This year, he's an asset, not a liability.
Texas' Recruiting Weekend - The football team wasn't the only Texas faction making recruiting noise this past weekend. Texas basketball hosted two 5* recruits--2012 small forward Devonta Pollard and 2013 power forward Julius Randle. At the very least, the team gave both players a heck of a game to watch, and the crowd was mostly rocking (by Erwin Center standards, anyway). The opportunity must look appealing as well. For Pollard, he'd immediately become a top scoring option, rotating at the 3/4 with McClellan and Holmes (and hopefully with Brown and Kabongo getting him the rock). Randle would fit in any program, but he should be encouraged at seeing Chapman's development, Holmes'/Bond's potential, and Barnes' stubborn insistence that big men be involved with handling the ball.
Julien Lewis' Offensive Numbers - Lewis drained an open 3 on his first shot, a positive sign. He then proceeded to miss his other 5 shots and ended up with a typical Lewis stat-line: 1-6 FG%, 1-3 3-Pt%. He plays nice defense and definitely hustles (5 rebounds), but he's an offensive black hole of inefficiency. At this point, Barnes' continued insistence to give Lewis a starting role and majority minutes is conduct detrimental to the team.
The One-Man J'Covan Show - Both early on and late in game, Texas' offensive sets looked eerily similar to the second half travesty in last year's NCAA tournament loss to Arizona. It's an offensive philosophy that basically equates to: stand around and let J'Covan do his thing. When Kabongo is struggling, Texas has no other option to create offensively, and smart coaches like Self know it. And as much as I love to see J'Covan bullrush a crowd of three opposing jerseys and hoist the rock up, those circus shots rim out more often than they go in.
Jayhawk Life After T-Rob and Taylor - Beyond its two All-Big 12 players, Kansas doesn't look all that scary. Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford are nice defenders, but neither screams offensive threat. Jeff Withey looks about as good as Clint Chapman. the Jayhawks' best freshman, Ben McLemore, is academically ineligible this year, and the second best, Naadir Thorpe, doesn't play because his numbers have been flat-out terrible. I know, I know: Kansas doesn't rebuild, it reloads. But the precipitous fall I've been banging my drum about may actually come into fruition next year. Yes, next year, Kansas will fall all the way to...second place in the Big 12! You read it here first.
Myck Kabongo - Texas' enigmatic point guard followed up stellar performances against Missouri and Kansas State by laying an absolute egg at home against Kansas. Now it's important to note that Kabongo wasn't going up against Phil Pressey or Angel Rodriguez, two sub-6' underclassmen that struggled to keep up with Kabongo's length and foot speed on the perimeter. Far from it: Kansas' three-headed hydra (Taylor, Releford, Johnson) is the best defensive backcourt in the Big 12. They harassed Kabongo and Brown all day long, giving them zero room to catch a pass, let alone penetrate or shoot cleanly. That said, Kabongo simply didn't come ready to play. Barnes sat him for most of the last 10 min in the first half (when Texas went on its McClellan-fueled run) and the first 10 in the second (when Texas fell back into a double-digit deficit). It wasn't by accident or due to foul trouble. Barnes channeled one of his trademarked "Teaching Lessons by Sitting your Tail on the Bench". And while Kabongo came back to hit one big 3, it was truly a futile afternoon for the freshman point. He finished with 3 points, 4 assists, 1 rebound, 3 turnovers, and 5 fouls. Ouch.
12-7 (2-4) - That's Texas' overall and conference play records. They're in a four-way tie for 6th place in the Big 12, along with world-beaters Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., and Texas A&M. Fellow Southie Texas Tech brings up the rear at 0-6, and I'm pretty sure the Horns can beat the Billy Gillispie-led Red Raiders in the home-and-home. Other than that, there are no more gimmes for the Longhorns.
If Texas wants to find itself on the right side of the Tournament bubble, 10 conference wins is the goal. With 2 wins in its pocket and 12 games remaining, the Longhorns need to go 8-4 the rest of the way.
Texas hosts Iowa State tomorrow in as close to a must-win game as one can get in January, followed by Baylor on the road and Missouri at home. The Bears are beatable at home (the Bears just lost to Missouri on Saturday), and the Tigers are beatable on the road (they dropped a stinkbomb to Kansas State), but for Texas fans it's going to be "I'll believe it when I see it." Time to show us something, Longhorns; time is running out.