Look, I'm probably going to get hammered for this, but I was encouraged by the win. Should we have run this team out of the gym by 20 at the half? Sure. Am I concerned that Texas has allowed back to back undermanned opponents to make it a 40 minute contest? A little bit. But humor me for a second and allow me to make a case for why this win was more encouraging than it was concerning.
First, let's place the schedule in context. Texas is coming off big wins vs. UCLA and Villanova on opposite coasts. They come back during finals week and play Texas State. It takes a cocktail of viagra and levitra to get up for that one. And of course, Texas wasn't up for the game and the Bobcats got every loose ball and nearly every 50/50 rebound. Texas State also took our less than energetic perimeter defense off the dribble relentlessly for easy buckets and boards. Fine. Certainly an effort that left much to be desired.
Next, Texas plays an 0-8 Southern team that hasn't played in a week. So, naturally Texas is somewhat flat and naturally TSU isn't. Texas struggle in route to a 16 point win in a game in which it trailed by seven late in the first half. A game that on its face is cause for most observers to wonder what the hell is wrong with what ostensibly is a top 5 team. What's encouraging about that, you ask? Well here goes...
Defensively, the Horns had little energy (read motivation) on this end of the floor and it showed on some help and recover situations, as well as some loose balls. But this phase wasn't nearly as bad as the Texas State game. Truth be told, TSU hit a ton of shots that most teams will struggle to hit vs. average competition. Hell, going 58% from the field vs. air on the perimeter is tough to do. And most of TSU's shots were of the tough perimeter variety. Boyles, Miller, and Henderson hit tough shot after tough shot. Miller looked like Allan f'n Iverson out there, and it wasn't because Mason and Ward played poorly on defense. Miller was just feeling it. As were 3 other Tigers players that won't shoot near as well the rest of the year. You just tip your cap to a team that was on. It wasn't like they were shooting 57% from the layup line.
Offensively, Texas did some things tonight that are very encouraging and should bode well down the road. Against TSU's man and sometimes matchup zone, Texas played inside-out offense about as well as I've seen them in any era. Granted, it's TSU, but the Horns showed tremendous discipline, namely Abrams, by going into the post to counter overaggressive baseline screen hedging vs. AJ. The result? A monster 7-9 for 19 from big Dex. A 4-4 perfect offensive rhythm night for Connor. And a 10-17 shot selection masterpiece from Abrams, who, by the way, has played 3 terrific shot selection games in a row. I really can't think of a bad shot he took the entire contest. And you know we hammer him here if he does.
Ward had an unbelievable night penetrating and probing gaps in the matchup zone to the tune of 12 points on efficient 4-7 shooting. His pullup midrange game is too good to be in a true freshman's repertoire. More importantly, his 7 dimes show that you don't have to be a Mark Price caliber shooter to effectively attack a zone. Varez's ability to get in gaps and collapse the zone to find open teammates make him a viable option if teams see the need to zone us because of our overwhelming frontcourt size or general lack of shooters on the floor minus AJ.
And I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that Mason continues to play flawlessly against pressure. Six assists to 0 turnovers against pressure virtually the whole night is super. Having to run the show is hurting other facets of his game as we predicted, but it's hard not to be impressed with how Mason continues to play lead guard at a high level.
Among my concerns, is that this team outside of Dex and Connor tonight, still miss too many point blank looks. James and Johnson really stood out tonight for their inability to finish. Foul shooting still needs to be over 70% for the team to be a legit top 5 squad. And then there's the quibble with energy, hustle, and getting after it. Texas gets a pass against Texas State and TSU in this department. If they fail to show up and play hard against Michigan State, then I'll worry.
And about Michigan State, it sure was nice to get a dry run against a motion offense a few days before the showdown in Houston. Guarding the constant cross screening and down screening of TSU's flex offense tonight should pay dividends against Izzo's motion on Saturday. I wonder if Barnes planned it that way.
Anyway, I thought the win was a good one. What did you think?
awiggo @ BON opines here.