So AJ Abrams comes out from under the bus and shoots the Horns back into a game they had no business winning. That's the good news. The bad news is AJ Abrams won't get to play a team quite as unathletic as the Cyclones the rest of the year, and certainly won't go 7-10 from downtown. The Iowa State game, while certainly huge because it's a road win, is fool's gold. Rely on it and you sneak into the tourney only to go one and done.
There was, however, a glimmer of hope that came out of the game and that was the play of Gary Johnson, and how he was deployed on the offensive end. Early in the second half, Texas went to a 4 out 1 in offense for a few possessions. The idea is to swing the ball around the perimeter off a variety of down screens and guard exchanges allowing the interior player to take advantage of the poor angles his defensive counterpart is forced into from ball movement. Really simple stuff. You put 4 good shooters on the floor, add some ball movement, and some screen and show by your big man and bam, you have easy interior looks and free throws. The results were 2 or 3 easy crips for GJ and a handful of foul shots. Oh, and it put Hubalek into some foul trouble. If we go to it early in the first half we foul out Hubalek, their best player, and don't have to worry about overtime. Really fun stuff to watch until we went away from it when DJ went Curly Neal. But I digress. On to the grades.
DJ Augustin. D.For as much crap as Abrams gets, I thought DJ did more to bog down the offense in this game, than AJ has done with his poor shot selection at any time this year. Augustin's inability to get other players involved in spots they can be successful continues to be a big reason for Texas' stagnant half court offense. I would argue that DJ's inability to get everyone involved has led to the poor shot selection and lack of interior presence that has plagued the team. Hell, why wouldn't it? The kid dribbles the ball around for half of every possession, which leaves only a couple of passes to find a decent shot. And that's when he's not throwing up some wild ass contested look after penetrating. Get us in a fucking offense, or penetrate with a purpose to draw and dish, or get the hell out of the way. If I was Steve Nash's lawyer I'd write a cease and desist letter to every announcer that mentions Steve's camp while doing an Augustin telecast. Only reason he doesn't get the F is because of his clutch jumper in OT and 6-6 from the foul line.
Damion James. B. Damion continues to rebound like a warrior grabbing 14 big boards while defending bigger interior players. The reason he continues to struggle offensively has a lot to do with how he's deployed as well as Augustin's inability to find him in comfortable offensive spots on floor. James is at his best when he's on the move toward the basket or he's catching the ball on the perimeter with a defender recovering to him. I'd love to see some high post work from this talented wing player to take advantage of his ability to take the ball to the rim and hit the little 15 footer.
Connor Atchley. B. What can you say about the kid? He plays solid position defense, hits the occasional 3 or half hook, and plays his heart out. It's good, however, that some of his minutes are going to Johnson and the younger posts, since Connor just doesn't give us anything but a spot up shooter in a half court setting.
AJ Abrams. A+. Game of the year for AJ. To go along with his sizzling shooting, he grabbed 5 boards, had two steals, and had 3 assists. 7-10 from 3 and making approximately a third of all of Texas' field goals is huge. The kid stepped up Saturday in a big way. Hope he can keep it going tonight.
Justin Mason. C.Two steps forward, one step back. Justin had seemed to have found some offensive rhythm prior to this game but regressed back to the timid 1-5 showing we had become accustomed to early in the year. One board against one of the least athletic teams we'll face all year is inexcusable. He did play good defense on ISU's best perimeter player, Wesley Johnson, and that gets him the C.
Gary Johnson. A-.Another great game for Gary, and it seems he's starting to emerge as Texas' third offensive option and its only interior threat. It was nice seeing him be the beneficiary of Barnes' 4 out 1 in low post scheme in the second half. He played confidently and took some good shots. He added 9 rebounds and 5 big offensive boards to a very solid night. He missed a couple bunnies that would have padded his stats, and it's the only reason he misses the A+.
Wangmene. D. I'm still waiting for Alex to utilize his tremendous athletic ability and make a case for getting more minutes. As it stands now, the kid gives this team very little offensively, and continues to find himself out of position defensively. I understand why Barnes gives him minutes, because his potential is there for everyone to see, but right now he seems out of sorts on both ends of the floor. Kansas might be the best thing to happen for Alex, because there will be plenty of opportunities to rebound, run the floor, and get easy baskets. His talents should show this evening. He still gets a D for the one offensive rebound.
Clint Chapman. Incomplete. Four minutes, no touches. The kid needs some opportunities, and a point guard that distributes would be just what the doctor ordered.
Pittman. B. He gets a B for the drop step dunk that was nullified by the traveling call. There are about 5 kids in America that can make that move and it's an utter f'n shame that he doesn't get more opportunities. He could be a double double guy if we ran some offense for him and let him pick up some fouls along the way. Again, I'm not buying the out of shape BS. There's is no excuse for him only getting 2 minutes against Iowa State. It's stupid.
Lewis. A.3 minutes 1 rebound, 1 assist, according to the box. The fact that he got 1 more minute than Dexter Pittman makes me want to electrocute a chihuahua.
Coaching. C. Any road win in the Big 12 is a good win. But let's not get carried a way, this was Iowa State, a team that was beaten at home by Northern Iowa, and got all it wanted at home vs. Centenary. Yes, Centenary, the Centenary Gentlemen. Or Fightin' Gentlemen if you prefer. Kudos to the staff for devising a way to get some interior production. Kudos to them for getting DJ off the ball when it was apparent that his domination of the shot clock killed any opportunity to get into an offense. But the same problems persist for this basketball team, and they'll continue to show as long as the coaching staff allows them to. Augustin needs to be held accountable and coached to get everyone involved. The coaching staff should also continue to push and prod for some semblance of an interior attack, even if that means limiting Atchley's minutes and Augustin's shots. It seems like the team is at a crossroads considering DJ had his worst game of the year, and Texas' interior attack played its best. Ironically, with Kansas coming up neither of the aforementioned competing factors should matter because Texas needs DJ to dominate the basketball and this won't be a half court game. Which leads me to some thoughts on tonight's game.
Keys to win if you're Texas
Transition defense. It all starts with shot selection. The better the shot, the easier it is to get back in transition. The worst thing that can happen to Texas is for DJ to penetrate and take a wild shot leaving only the smallish Abrams to rotate back quickly. This will lead to run outs and layups all night. Texas needs to take rhythm shots with good court balance within the confines of their offense. I would almost always designate Mason with the responsibility of getting back and stopping the basketball on any misses unless he's shooting. The other guard Abrams or DJ needs to run to protect the basket, and be the first to rotate to a 3 point shooter on the secondary break.
Halfcourt defense. In order to facilitate getting back in transition and finding players, I would run alot of zone if I were Texas. It makes it easier for big men and guards alike to get back in good shape defensively if you're running to spots instead of players. The zone will also mitigate Kansas' quickness advantage and size advantage.
Recognize Shooters. Not all shooters are created equally and Kansas is no exception. In zone or man, it's important to know who you need to close out on aggressively and who you are enticing to shoot. Sharon Collins and Russell Robinson want to slash and attack the basket, so when you help and recover to them, you do so respecting a shot fake and go by building in a buffer as you're recovering. If these two hit a couple bombs then, yes, you recover more aggressively. But my scouting report tells me to make them shoot the basketball.
When recovering or closing out to Chalmers or Rush in either man or zone, I'm attacking their shooting hand in an effort to make them put the ball on the floor and get them off the jumper at all costs. It's gravy if I can make them catch and hold, but under no circumstances are they to get an uncontested jumper. If they blow by on a shot fake, I'll take my chances with my help forcing a midrange jumper. Again, this is why I prefer zone because shot fake to penetration is less punitive.
Transition Offense. Kansas gives up a bunch of easy looks if you can take care of the basketball. Run when you can but don't get caught up in running for the sake of running. If we can get a wide open look in transition, take it, if not, pull it out and run some offense. Again, Kansas won't lock you down in a half court setting, so there is no harm in longer possessions if the transition numbers aren't there. DJ will be key in this aspect of the game. He'll have decide when to run and when to run some offense. If he can do this effectively, Texas can shoot a high percentage in this game.
Turnovers. Value the basketball, even if the game turns into a track meet. Kansas does a great job of getting up and down the floor, yet only averages 13 turnovers a game. The teams that have played Kansas close G. Tech, Missouri, and USC, were even or won the turover battle. In their only loss, Kansas turned the ball over 3 more times than KSU. If Texas can play the Jayhawks even in this category, they have an excellent chance to win.
Shot selectionJust to reiterate. Bad shots lead to 4 point swings. I'm talking to you DJ and you AJ Abrams. Good open looks that don't fall are almost like punts. They aren't going to win you ball games but they won't get you beat. A good shot with proper court balance gives you a chance at an offensive rebound but also allows everyone to get back and find their man. Any shot by a post inside the paint is a good shot for these very reasons. We need to make it a priority to get Johnson, Pittman, and James the ball inside when we can, and hope that our perimeter players aren't settling on 30 foot heat checks.