Well much like everyone thought, the ballgame between the fifth ranked Texas Longhorns and the Kansas State Wildcats was decided by defensive effort and more specifically how Texas could handle the best player in the nation Michael Beasley. Texas defended him well enough, making him work for his 30 points on 10-21 shooting, but it was the Texas effort to limit his touches and force other players to beat them that won it in the end.
If you read my Defending Michael Beasley piece, the one defensive strategy I proposed that Texas did very well tonight was the following:
Keep ‘em guessing.
Since KSU is a young team without particulary strong backcourt play, you can confuse them by using different defensive looks to sap shot clocks and keep them out of dictating a bunch of help and rotation. Aside from our staple man-to-man, I would run some token full court pressure and drop into a zone. I would change defenses in the middle of possessions when KSU is forced to reset. Man up out of a zone or fall back into a zone out of man. I would even run some junk defenses for a few possessions. A diamond and 1 or box and 1 with Mason following Beasley wherever he goes. KSU isn’t the biggest team we’ve faced so we should be able to rebound the zone effectively. Whatever you can do to keep this young team guessing, however, should pay dividends. We’re winning battles when it takes them 10-15 seconds to decide how to attack our defense by getting into the correct offense.
Texas employed a variety of defenses from tough pressure man, to zone, and even a junk box and one with Mason following Beasley wherever he roamed. Beasley got his and then some, but the other star player Bill Walker was frustrated and confused by the length, athleticism, and different defenses Texas showed tonight. So much so that he went an atrocious 0-14 from the floor and ended up with one more point than you and I. The rest of the team wasn't much better finishing 12 of 30 and overall KSU shot just 33%. That is straight-up guard your ass basketball against an opponent that enjoys a tremendous home court advantage. That's Championship basketball.
On offense it was really a tale of one player. With AJ Abrams in the game, there was room galore for Texas guards and wings to get to the rim or get wide open looks. With AJ on the bench saddled with 2 fouls, KSU went to a soft man-to-man and then to zone, which absolutely smothered driving lanes, and stifled the high screen and roll. Yes Connor Atchley had an unbelievable night on both ends, DJ ran the show like usual hitting tough shot after tough shot, but it was a different offensive team with AJ on the floor. On to the grades.
DJ Augustin. B+.The all-american lead guard continues to be instant offense posting 24 magnificent points on 9-19 shooting. His on the ball defense was suffocating at times, taking a mediocre stable of KSU guards out of any rhythm on offense. DJ dropped 5 dimes but turned the ball over at an alarming rate giving up the rock 5 times. His foul shooting continues to be a headscratcher missing 3 foul shots and the front end of a one and one during winning time. Can't have that in a close game. But let's be realistic, we lose this ball game if he doesn't play well.
Damion James. B-. Damion had a tough night offensively and I think a lot of it stems from the fact that he fell in love with his jump shot and missed some opportunities to get to the hole on slower players. The 3-11 with several bad looks really hurt Texas offensively especially in the first half. On the glass, I thought James played very tentative and seemed to be intimidated by Beasley's size. The bright spot in his game was his defense on Bill Walker which was stellar.
Connor Atchley. A+. The kid is just an amazing story on the defensive end. Rinse. Repeat. Night in and night out, it doesn't matter who you throw at him, he's going to guard you and he's probably going to swat your shit a time or two. He competed on the boards with a very good rebounding team and his effort on the glass out of the zone allowed Barnes to stay in that particular defense. Offensively, when he hits a high percentage of his patented 6 or 7 attempts, Texas is a very dynamic offense. Love the sweeping layup driving the lane to go along with a put back and a couple threes. 6-6 from the field. Are you kidding me?
AJ Abrams. A-. Not an unbelievable shooting night from AJ, but he made some critical shots to stop runs and create runs. He's also playing at a very high level defending the basketball which gives us a pretty good defensive guard tandem. All that's fine, but most striking to me was just how much of a difference him simply being on the floor made for the Texas offense. He opened up driving lanes and open looks all night when he was on the floor just based on the respect given to his deep threat. Our high screen and roll was dogshit without him in the game.
Justin Mason. B+.Nice to see Mason back to stuffing the stat sheet. Played some terrific point getting to the rim and creating offense. Had 7 man size rebounds, a couple blocks and steals, and generally played sticky on defense. Our box and one featuring Mason on Beasley led to several empty possessions for KSU early in the second half and was a big factor in the game. Have to do better than 1-5 shooting to get the A, though. But a great game for JM.
Gary Johnson. A+.I've had a front tooth knocked out from taking a 'bow and needless to say it makes you a little gun shy. If GJ didn't tally one rebound or one point, I'd still give him an A+ for competing with a broken beak and having it hit time and time again. His two strong finishes, 5 boards, and great defense are pretty ballsy considering what he's going through. Great game.
Wangmene. A. Make that 3 good games in a row for Wangmene. You can tell the game is starting to slow down for him. He's not over thinking things at this point, he's just letting his natural athletic ability do its thing. He had a tough finish in traffic, a put back on big board, and was robbed of a bucket on a bs traveling call that was set up by a nice high to low post pass. He also had five tough boards. Defensively his size and wingspan bothered KSU's front court. Great game for Alexis.
Clint Chapman. B. Clint came in and gave us 5 hard minutes that resulted in a board. He didn't have any post opportunities but I thought he defended hard. Need to see more from him, but based on KSU's personnel this wasn't his game.
Pittman.B.I thought Dexter looked a little lost out there, but his size did bother KSU some. Dex finished with 2 boards (1 offensive), but we had a hard time moving and reversing the ball to get him a post entry. Would have loved to have seen him in the game with AJ to see how he could have attacked Beasley isolating down low.
Coaching. A+. I could just cut and paste the same section for the last 8 games. What a transformation this team has made since playing TAMU in College Station. Texas is probably playing the best defensive basketball of any team in the top 5 with the exception of maybe UCLA. Offensively I think we can be a dangerous team when pieces of the puzzle like Connor, AJ, and James are taking good shots, or in Connor's case, taking more shots. We'll still go as far as DJ takes us, but we've proven we can beat top 5 teams when he has a 1-13 shooting night.
As for this game in particular, kudos to Barnes for getting out of his comfort zone and running some zone and some box and 1. It really confounded the Wildcats' attack in the second half. With that type of defensive effort and a little better foul shooting, we end up winning this game by 20. And that says a lot because nobody has won a game in that building in Big 12 play period. Until now. If it walks like a 1 seed and talks like a 1 seed. It's a 1 seed.
Thoughts are appreciated.