In the Five Things to Watch For piece we discussed some aspects of the game that ended up having a huge impact on last night's contest. Some good, some concerning.
In the pleasantly surprising column, we'll start with AJ Abrams and his attempt to add a little playmaking lead guard to his game. Keep in mind the Tulane backcourt is mediocre at best, but AJ Abrams showed some credible playmaking skills and flashed some ability to run the show. I'm not ready to mention him in the same breath as Chris Paul or even Chris Corchiani at this point, but the senior guard did show improvement in the ball handling department that this Texas team can lean on at times. The true test, however, will come against a team with a backcourt that can pressure the basketball and handle Texas' pressure. I thought Texas' pressure created an environment that made it easier for the guards because it opened up the floor and made the decision making rather simple at times. Which leads me to the next item we covered in What to Watch For.
Pressure. You could see it coming a mile away. With the depth this team has, and the lack of a true lead guard, it makes sense to turn the game into a helter-skelter battle of athletes when the opportunity presents itself. That opportunity was available all game long last night mainly because of Tulane's inept ability to handle any sort of pressure. I think we'll see a lot more pressure from Barnes this year, but he'll have to pick his spots against teams with competent guard play. Spots vs. backup point guards or personnel groups with a dearth of ballhandlers. Against motion teams, look for token pressure to keep those teams from getting into an offense early in the shot clock. We have the depth now to press effectively.
The Dream Team Frontcourt. Early in the second half I thought Texas made a concerted effort to pound Pittman down low. And it worked, although the big fella left two or three more buckets on the floor. He endep up with 8 points in that stretch, but it should have been 12. Needs to hit that baby hook when playing against men with better size. His play in this stretch with the personnel group of Atchley, James, Mason, and Abrams was about what I expected. Effective.
Damion James The up and down style showcased his slashing, attack the rim style. I want to see him do it in some half court against a quality defender before I'm ready to proclaim he's taken the proverbial next step. But he looked fantastic last night.
The lone disappointing observation from the game as it relates to the preview:
Dogus Balbay. I was expecting more shake and better court awareness. Now I understand why practice reports had him struggling against Mason and Ward head-up. Balbay needs to get stronger. Mason and Ward are physical, athletic guards, and they're just the type of defensive player that will give Balbay fits, especially considering Dogus' inability to consistently pull and hit from deep. Balbay doesn't have the elite quickness to discard physical defenders, and instead he has to rely on change of direction to shake them. In other words, he needs a bunch of development physically and with the jumper before he's ready to run this team. I was really disappointed with is inability to finish at the rim. Let's hope it's just some serious rust.
Overall, it was a predictable win in that Texas' athletic ability just outclassed Tulane's. When you add a dose of helter skelter pressure, the outclassing occured much sooner in this game than it would have last year when Texas wasn't implementing all that much pressure. The Horns tapped the breaks midway through the second half, and it's the only reason the game didn't end up in a 40 point blowout. Barnes saw what he needed to see, in my opinion. He saw some things in his pressure defense he can use down the road. But the end of the game also afforded him some coaching "talking points" for this week in practice. There are still questions about what player can run the show against quality competition, but we'll find out more about that next week.