Before the advent of the Shot Clock and the 3 point arc, conferences like the Big East were flush with 6-10 big men that would carve out space in the key and dominate 56-52 wrestling matches. Terms like pivot, paint, and key were the focal point of five positions that weren't referenced by numbers. There was no 3 man. There was a shooting forward or small forward. There was no 4. He was called a power forward or big forward. 1' and 2's? Nope. Point guards and shooting guards. 5's? No sir, that's a center. A pivot man. An aircraft carrier if you were a fan of Al McGuire. The game has changed in the last 30 years and is now a battle of skilled players making back to the basket power basketball more of a novelty than a style. And for the Longhorn hoops squad, the flirtation with Big East basketball circa 1982 is over. Perhaps for good. And that's a good thing considering the skillset of the talent that will be on the 40 acres in the next couple years. But for now, I think it's a philosophy step in the right direction for this year's squad.
This afternoon in Lubbock, Texas' interior space eater played less than a minute while Barnes elected to go with a starting lineup that emphasized floor spacing with 4 perimeter oriented players plus Gary Johnson inside. And Gary's hardly a plodding low block to low block back to the basket guy. The resulting space led to dribble drive lanes for guys like Balbay, Mason, and James, room to operate for Gary Johnson fifteen feet in, and opportunities for AJ Abrams to weave and cut his way to open looks. In a nutshell, it looked like Texas' offense was freed from the shackles of traditional pass and pick away ball reversal basketball. Gone are the days of ball reversal to the entry pass to the drop step and dunk.
Instead Texas found abundant opportunities for dribble penetration that led to foul shots, kick outs for open looks, and easy layups. In other games against decent competition, Texas seemed to be fighting its identity, but in this game, offensive motion looked natural and sometimes effortless. Was it all a function of a shift in Texas' offensive philosophy? Doubtful, since Tech's defense is about as stifiling as that of its coed's. But the shift was/is definitely a step in the right direction. On to the players...
Anytime AJ takes a supporting role in the offense I'll call it a good game. Even if he shoots just 30% from the field. AJ is not a scorer by any stretch of the imagination. He's a jumpshooter pure and simple and when he's relegated to that role, Texas is at its best. Kudos for only taking 10 shots AJ.
One of the main beneficiaries of Texas' emphasis spreading the floor was DJ's dribble drive game. Going to the smaller personnel also ensured Damion was going against a slow-footed 4 instead of a 3. Credit to James for being aggressive in trying to get to the rack. His jumpshooting was terrific as well hitting a couple timely 3's.
If you can have a good game without scoring a point, Connor had it. He played great help defense blocking a couple shots, and had 3 nice assists from his 4 spot. His rumored ability to shoot it from deep is still paying dividends by opening the floor up which is key if Texas continues its spread the floor philosophy. Eventually, he's going to need to knock some of them down, however. I highly recommend a hog hunting slump buster to cure what ails Connor. May I recommend Dallas Night Club or the bar formerly known as Dance Across Texas.
When you get Justin Mason off the ball playing his jack-of-all trades role, he's a different basketball player. When was the last time he had six offensive boards? A double double from your hybrid two guard is huge against any opponent. Welcome back Mase.
I think Barnes finally became wise to the fact that GJ is our most dynamic offensive player. When I mentioned toughness in my Hamilton/Jordan post, GJ is precisely what I'm talking about. It's the difference between Damion James being a lottery pick or a first round reach.
There should be no bigger fan of the paradigm shift than Doge. Any 4 out 1 in or 3-2 motion game that focusses on post play is an absolute deal breaker for Balbay. With his lack of shooting ability, he can't be in the game as a source of rotation help and 1 man zones. If you spread the floor and your only interior player can play 15 feet away from the bucket, you're in business and it showed tonight with Balbay. He has an elite ability to blow by and get to the rim even when defenders give him two foot cushions. He has unquestioned on-ball defensive skills and he really locked down the tip of the spear for Tech's offense John Roberson. Great game for Dogus.
Dog house time for Varez. When you can't dribble from here to there without losing your handle, you're not going to play for Barnes. His 1 turnover was the death knell today.
Active, active, active, is what Matt gives you. Whether it's helpside defense or screening on offense, Hill's a high energy guy that comes to play. His 6 points are gravy. There are more talented bigs on Texas' squad, but noone plays harder.
It takes a pretty strong person to switch offensive philosophies two games into conference play. You have to give credit to Rick for realizing things were getting bogged down after trying to lead his horse to drink entry passes and involve the post to no avail. Barnes realizes he has 3 dynamic perimeter players coming into the fold this time next year, so why bang your head against the wall with a system that will be out of vogue in a few short months. With multi-skilled perimeter players like Bradley, Hamilton, and Lucas coming to hoop on the 40, it just makes sense to switch gears. The game's easier when you have players that can shoot, penetrate, and create. It's the main reason I'm absolutely mystified by fans that don't think Jai Lucas would be a huge asset to this club right now and in the future. I don't care if you're 5-2, either you can play or you can't. If you can play, come on with it.