Texas vs. Michigan State: A gritty loss

USA TODAY Sports

A scrappy young team keeps getting better without Myck Kabongo, but this could be a game they end up regretting in March.

  • After Texas went into the half with a 33-29 lead, Michigan State wasted little time taking control of the game in the second. They never lost the lead again, but the Longhorns kept it interesting all the way until the end before ultimately losing 67-56. A win would have been huge for the resume, but there's no reason for Texas to hang their heads about an 11-point loss to a Tom Izzo coached team in East Lansing. Herm Edwards would remind us that you play to win the game, but he'd also agree that we can build on this.
  • The most encouraging sign was the play of Javan Felix. I don't care if he shoots 2-8 from the field from the rest of the year if he can keep dishing out 11 assists on 4 turnovers. This is a true freshman who had to play 39 minutes with the ball in his hands the entire time on the road against a Top 25 team that prides itself on its defense. Given the situation, you really can't say enough of what he was able to do. That being said, Rick Barnes is going to have to figure out a way to get him some rest as the year goes on. It's too much to ask.
  • If you want to see the best case scenario for Cameron Ridley/Prince Ibeh, look at the Derrick Nix/Adreian Payne duo for Michigan State. That was really the big difference: the Spartans centers are upperclassmen who know how to play in a big game while the Horns freshmen are pretty much operating on instinct right now. Michigan State got 38/18 from their two-headed center combo today; imagine getting that 2-3 years from now.
  • Payne is really a guy Ibeh should model himself on -- a hyper-athletic 6'10+ center who has steadily developed into an efficient offensive player in his time in college. There are a lot of athletic big men who can't play; Payne is going to be a very rich man one day because he shoots 92% from the free throw line and averages as many blocks (1.4) as personal fouls (1.4).
  • Ibeh certainly has the tools: those two blocks he had in 1-on-1 match-ups in the post with Nix in the second are enough to put him on the radar of NBA scouts. He's still got a long way to go of course. He was lucky he didn't get T'd up when he stepped over Nix and started flexing on him after one of the blocks. You don't want to do stuff like that on the road; it really fires up the crowd. You can go ahead and let your play do the talking. For one thing, plays like that are why Nix will probably end up overseas.
  • Texas was better off without their centers today, which is definitely something to watch. I really like the Lammert/Papi duo up-front. When can play a 6'10 and a 6'8 guy who can pass like those two, it does wonders for your half-court execution. They combined for a beautiful dunk off a pick-and-roll in the first which is pretty much the opposite of what Texas basketball has been about for the last decade. Lammert "only" had 2 assists, but he did a great job hitting cutters from the high post in the second half.
  • Barnes, right now, is still trying to figure out his rotation, which you saw in the second half when he went with three bigs -- Holmes, Lammert and Papi -- and kept McClellan on the bench. That's what makes the Kabongo situation so frustrating: just when all these freshmen and sophomores get comfortable with their roles, Barnes is going to have blow the whole thing up and start all over again.
  • An all-around excellent game for Julien Lewis today: 16 points, 4 rebounds on 6-12 shooting. Texas has to get consistent offense from him for them to be competitive in games like this. He's not a great shot-creator, so he has to continue working off the ball to get open shots.
  • That's really the key for Texas going forward: getting easy baskets outside of their half-court offense. That means pushing the ball whenever possible and knocking down 3's. If a team can keep the Horns out of the open court and their jumpers aren't falling, you can get a repeat of the Georgetown game pretty easily.
  • The Big Picture:
  • Texas has one more non-conference game against Rice next week before the start of Big 12 play. With the hole they've dug themselves in the first two months, they'll need to protect home court in conference if they're going to play themselves into the NCAA Tournament bubble. Without Kabongo, this team has very little margin for error, but the formula is there: play great defense, don't turn the ball over, knock down open 3's and run as much as possible. Basketball really isn't all that complicated a game when you get down to it.
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