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Hoops vs. Tulane: Five things to watch for

The Balbay Effect. When you're the only true point guard on the roster, it stands to reason that you'll be the focal point on any given team, especially when that team has the array of talented scorers and finishers that Texas has. My contention is that for Texas to be its most efficient on both ends of the floor, Dogus has to step up and provide the team with legit lead guard play, which gets Justin Mason off the ball so he can truly be the jack of all trades he needs to be. See my preview here.

But keep in mind we're likely to see some rust out of Dogus tonight, and the discerning eye should give him the benefit of the doubt here. If he dribbles it off his leg or makes a couple errant passes, don't worry about it. We're thinking big picture here. What I want to see are some blow by's indicating his ability to make plays for others. I want to see him break pressure on his own. I'd like to see some good decision making when he gets to the rim, since his ability to finish or dish is what makes him dangerous. And last, but not least, I need to see how he handles zone on the micro level. Since he's not an outstanding shooter he'll likely see a bunch of zone this year. Can he collapse it and create for shooters vs. a 2-3? Which is the type of zone we're most likely to see. Or is he adept at entering the basketball or skipping it vs. a 3-2, to take advantage or our frontcourt talent? All in all he needs to show effectiveness against zone, outside of just raising up and bombing from deep. Although it would be nice if he hit a 3 ball or two.

chris paul
Point guards are born, not made.

Where does that leave, AJ? Dunno. He can be a matchup specialist and provide serious long range heat when needed. To me the kid's been Peter Principled for the last two years now. Which leads me to the next "what to watch for".

AJ's Newfound Ballhandling. We've heard it all offseason. AJ has worked on his handles so he can play in the League. I'm highly skeptical and early season returns support my skepticism. Look, if you've been 5'10" since junior high and you can't handle the ball very well when you're 20 years old, you're not going to handle it much better when you're 21. I'm sure AJ can bring it up the court without pressure, but I need to see more from him in terms of ball handling before I call him a 1 guard.

I need to see him split a trap in the open court. I need to see him break man pressure without being turned half a dozen times. I need to see some blow by's and a drive and kick or a drive and dish. Let's be realistic, Tulane probably won't turn him over when he's on the ball (if they do the experiment should be over), but for the transition to lead guard to be legit, AJ should treat ball pressure like an afterthought. If we lose 10 seconds off the shot clock before we're in our offense, he's not a point guard.

Damion James from Star to Superstar. Damion's transition from a back to the basket 4 his freshman year to a slashing/deep shooting hybrid forward last year was a monumental success. As for continued improvement in his game, I'm a believer. Hell I expect it. To take the next step, though, James needs to show a better ability to create shots for himself and teammates. All the great wings can. I'd like to see some triple threat, shot fake, one dribble rock the rim when guarded by a slower forward. Give me some back to the basket work down low when teams are guarding with their third guard. Just be the nightmarish matchup he can be, which would be a step up from the occasional spot up or slashing forward James was last year. In addition to that, if he shows some handle and some shake on the perimeter to free up shots for himself or teammates, he's arrived as a Naismith candidate.

Texas Dream Team Frontcourt. It's no secret that I like Dexter Pittman as much as R Kelley likes sales at Aeropostale. I'd love to see big Dex at the 5, Connor the 4, James 3, Mason 2, and Dogus at the 1. Run some "4 out 1 in" looking to just pound teams with Dex for four or five possessions. James and Atchley can exchange and attack the baseline searching for overzealous interior help on Dex which should create open 3's or driving opportunities. Mason and Dogus are both good entry passers and still have the ability to drive and create out top. And the group is still relatively zone proof in that it keeps three good to great deep shooters on the floor.

Defensively, this group gives you ideal interior size and great length and quickness on the perimeter to defend most teams. In terms of rebounding, I'm not sure we can put a better squad on the floor to close out defensive possessions with 1 and done boards.

A load inside.

Pressure. For the first time in years, Barnes has the depth at his disposal to really get out and force tempo with fullcourt, 3 quarter court, or halfcourt pressure. Even if it's just in spurts to try to wear teams down and find some easy buckets in transition. Pressure the ball with Varez Ward, put Mason and James on the wings for denial, Wangmene at the 4 to defend the bucket and get in passing lanes, with Chapman or Atchley at the 5 for some offensive punch. Without Connor in the game, halfcourt offense will have to run through James and the team may be susceptible to zone. But hell, the idea is to out run teams for easy baskets. Even if it's just in a few minutes a game when you catch a team going to their backup PG, or going to plodding frontcourt personnel like Iowa State or OU last year.

Should be a fun game to watch tonight. Check back afterwards and we'll compare notes.