Texas Longhorns Roundball Roundup: CBE Classic and Thanksgiving Hope

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Could we actually be...good?

After losing in the first round of the CBE Classic to BYU, the natural thing for this young Texas Longhorns basketball team to do is drop a game against not-very-good DePaul. In 2011, Texas followed up an opening round Legends Classic loss to Oregon St. by capitulating to North Carolina St. Then in 2012, the Longhorns got embarrassed by Division 2 school Chaminade in the Maui Invitational, only to drop an overtime loss to USC the next day.

Instead, this year's iteration decided to buck tradition. The Longhorns meat-cleavered the DePaul Blue Demons, going into halftime with a 14 point lead. Texas kept a double-digit margin throughout the second half, finishing the game with a 77-59 victory. In addition to the encouraging signs from the BYU loss, I saw a few other things I liked.

  • Continued dominance from Cameron Ridley. It would have been easy for Ridley to follow up a good game with a listless one (see: Ibeh, Prince). Instead, he wrecked shop and narrowly missed out on a second consecutive double-double. 19 and 9, with a career high in points, is nothing to sneeze at. Keep up the trend, big fella.
  • Rick Barnes did a nice job mixing up his defenses by effectively utilizing his afoletes. Texas switched to 2-3 zones at times, and also deployed a half-court/three-quarters press. I thought I saw a 3-2 at one point (paging Scott Drew!) but it might have just been a transient alignment coming out of the press.
  • What I really like about this team is how smart they play. I talked about Isaiah Taylor as a true point guard in the BYU post. His basketball IQ is off the charts. Once his shot and his on the fly decisions catch up, his ceiling is pretty high. Texas did a mostly excellent job of breaking DePaul's press and handling some junk defenses, something I never would have expected out of this young bunch.
  • The announcers mentioned this in passing, but Texas really is deep this year. Javan Felix starred in game one, but he struggled last night. No matter; Kendal Yancy picked up the slack. Prince Ibeh was a non-factor against DePaul, but instead Connor Lammert chipped in valuable minutes. Proper depth has been a pain point in recent years. Yet despite having only ten scholarship players, this year's team looks like a 9-deep roster (and 10-deep if Martez Walker can turn the light on offensively).

All Things Burnt Orange:

BYU 86, Texas 82 (Mon) | Texas 77, DePaul 59 (Tues) | Weekly Record 1-1 | Overall Record 5-1

I'm getting to be a really big fan of this year's team. I'd venture that the NCAAs are still out of reach, but we shouldn't be hogging the futon in the Big 12 basement, either. Here's what I like about this squad:

  • Athleticism and length: This team completely outhustled and overwhelmed both BYU and DePaul. If it wasn't for some amazing shooting by the Cougars, Texas would have walked away with that game. Ibeh's incredible shot-blocking and dunking prowess is just one aspect. I watched Holland closely on defense during the DePaul game, and he's an absolute pest. Jonathan Holmes diving on the floor during the last minute of the game was also impressive. I counted a handful of "wow" plays in both games, where Texas would make a statement on the basis of athleticism alone. That's a cool feeling.
  • Mix of the right parts: Let's start in the backcourt, where Taylor and Felix form a nice one-two punch at point guard. Both players are great probers. They're quick enough to get into the paint and create opportunities. I particularly like Taylor's moves to the basket. He's looking to get points, whether that be of his own volition or by setting up easy buckets from his teammates. It's something I haven't really seen since the D.J. Augustin days. Holland, Croaker, and Yancy are all excellent slashers. I also believe Barnes is already more keen to trust them with ball-handling than he was with Julien Lewis at any point during Lewis' career. The frontcourt is also a nice four-deep, with both Ridley/Ibeh and Holmes/Lammert capable substitutes.
  • High basketball IQ: This was a critical ingredient missing from the past two seasons of Longhorn basketball. We often complimented J'Covan Brown's innate passing ability, but too often his teammates had no idea what to do and when to cut. Myck Kabongo was a mess meshing with his teammates. McClellan and Lewis induced more head-shakes than I could count. This year, Taylor has brought stability to the point, and it's flowing down the food chain. I really, really like this freshman class, and it's not on ability alone. They know how to play the game, and they'll be fun to watch once experience flows through their veins.
  • Paint as a Plus: I mentioned in the first bullet how easily Taylor and Felix get into the paint. We'll see if it lasts against better opposition, but I'm bullish. Beyond them, Holmes and Lammert function really well in the high post, and Ridley is getting very comfortable operating on the block. I also saw the guards crashing in to fight for rebounds, a refreshing reminder of teams past.

Now for some troubling things:

  • Lack of Experience: Obviously. This is a young team, and it's important to remember that. Whether it's Taylor picking up two quick fouls to go to the bench, or defenders continually losing their man on a basket cut, or a big man not quickly and properly passing out of a double team, mistakes can and will happen. As Nate Silver might say, don't lose the signals in the noise compiled in the losses.
  • Abysmal Shooting: The difference between BYU's marksmen and Texas' chuckers was as stark as the honored guests of death at a red wedding. It's always refreshing to see Barnes sacrifice offense for defense. I like Demarcus Holland's D as much as the next guy, but at this point I'd rather see Dogus Balbay shooting free throws than Holland as an offensive threat. A zone-breaker like Phil Forte would look great in Texas' three-guard set. Alas...
  • No true superstars: If Texas were landing a guy like Emmanuel Mudiay or Justise Winslow in next year's class, I could see it being a real good time. With a team like this, Barnes is basically hoping or praying a guy like Taylor turns out to be a superstar and a big man like Ridley rounds into his potential. Kansas St.'s Jacob Pullen-Curtis Kelly teams are a comparable ceiling. If you're not bringing in All-Americans, you damn sure better be able to develop one. Barnes hasn't proven capable of doing that on the 40.

Big 12 Power Rankings:

1. Kansas Jayhawks (4-0)

Locked in to top dog status until back-to-back away games at Colorado and Florida in early December.

2. Oklahoma St. Cowboys (5-0)

Nice Marcus Smart pub piece on Grantland today.

3. Iowa St. Cyclones (5-0)

Huge true road win at BYU that could have easily been a let-down game following the Michigan win. Hope they're not peaking early, as a deep run for the Cyclones could really get Hoiberg that DA role in Gotham City.

4. Baylor Bears (6-0)

Beat Chaminade in Maui. At least now we know it's possible.

5. Oklahoma Sooners (4-1)

No shame dropping a close one to Michigan St. at the house that Jay-Z built.

6. Texas Longhorns (5-1)

No shame falling to a very good BYU team in a hostile neutral environment, either.

7. West Virginia Mountaineers (4-1)

Moves up a spot based on wins. Don't expect that to happen against Wisconsin tonight.

8. Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-2)

Lost to Pitt, which moved into Ken Pomeroy's top 10. Still unwise to bet on Pitt in the NCAAs.

9. Kansas St. Wildcats (3-3)

Like the football version, this year's purple cats are not good.

10. TCU Horned Frogs (2-2)

Pass.

Sports-Related Things to be Thankful For:

  • Intelligence, wit, and insight from the Barking Carnival crew and its readership.
  • Coaching rumors leading to all sorts of possibilities. Like this one, from the incomparable Mr. Cocksman.

  • Florida football's dumpster fire being far worse than ours.
  • The best SB Nation longform of the year.
  • More greatness on SBNation: Breaking Madden. Read it now. All of them.
  • The Celtics and Lakers both sucking. Very refreshing.
  • Lance Stephenson. Makin' it rain.
  • Julius Randle. Jabari Parker. Andrew Wiggins. Aaron Gordon. My goodness.
  • Days of Future Past. Not sports-related, I know. Still going to be awesome.

  • Also not sports-related. But WANT. (The game is the game.)
  • Kirk Goldsberry's layman graphics for the analytical sports nerd.
  • Speaking of analytics, Burnt Orange Nation writer Jeff Haley's excellent hoop-math.com site, which I haven't spent enough time perusing.
  • And Ken Pomeroy. Still the definitive guide to college basketball analysis.
  • Waiver wire running backs. I'm looking at you, Zac Stacy, Rashad Jennings and Bobby Rainey.
  • The one-and-a-half weeks Case Keenum mattered for the Texans.
  • Can we mandate that the Texans draft Johnny Manziel and sign Vince Young to be his backup? That should be a rule. Hey if you didn't click on my Breaking Madden link, maybe this will change your mind.
  • This tweet:

On that note, yum. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Until next week.

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