Guys, we need this one. I'm not talking about seeding, hell I'm not even talking about the tournament. This team needs a win to avoid implosion. Lose this ballgame and you're likely to see a total collapse. The kids will lose more confidence, Barnes will coach angrier, and the vicious circle will continue unabated. It's high time that the upperclassmen leaders step up and take control of the situation or they'll look back at their final year at Texas as an unmitigated disaster. And they'll have no one to blame but themselves. On to the ballgame.
Ok. State runs a Pitino style 4/5 out offense that's looking to get easy looks in transition, before going to a penetration and kick style halfcourt offense. Think Jamal Mashburn surrounded by four 3 point shooters circa 1993. The good news is that the Cowboys don't have an inside outside difference maker like Mash. The bad news for Texas is that OSU will deploy 4 capable deep shooters who can all handle, penetrate, and create to some degree. Travis Ford's philosophy on offense is similar to that of his mentor. Probe for layups and open 3's and forego the midrange game unless you're going to play in the league. Texas will have to play superb perimeter defense if it wants to slow down the pokes.
On defense, the Cowboys lack of size helps make good looks available if teams can handle pressure and be patient. Post looks and offensive rebounds coming off of solid shooting attempts will be plentiful if the opposition doesn't get caught up in the fast tempo OSU is trying to sell. Does Texas have the talent and size to hurt the Cowboys? Sure. Will the Horns be patient and execute the offense to exploit this weakness? You tell me. On to the personnel.
The Cowboys play four of them at any given time, but Eaton differentiates himself from the other 3 because he'll run the show and look to distribute. When he's searching for his own offense he'll pull from deep if he's left alone, but what he really wants to do is put the ball on the deck and seek contact so he can get to the line. I like Balbay on him because Doge is big and athletic enough to bother Byron's no-elevation J without having to close out aggressively. More importantly, Balbay is quick enough to stay in front of Eaton, yet strong enough to not be discarded by Eaton's upper body strength on dribble penetration.
The other three guards are interchangeable parts. Harris, Muenelo, and Anderson all go about 6-5 and they're looking to score from deep or penetrate to the rim. Muenelo is a threat from deep and while Harris is a capable shooter, he's more accomplished putting the ball on the deck. Anderson is their best all around scorer, dynamic from deep and off the bounce. If I'm Texas I'm switching all exchanges and screens involving two of these 3. There is no value hedging and helping when size and skills are this comparable.
Marshall Moses is the only starting forward listed. He'll hang around the paint looking to finish dimes dropped by the 4 guards mentioned above and he's done a tremendous job the last two balls games going 16-29 from the field. If Texas can keep OSU guards out of the paint, Moses' impact will be minimized.
Nick Sidorakis is a gunner off the bench and ironically has a game very similar to Travis Ford's.
Keiton Page is a waterbug that comes in to spell Eaton and is a suprisingly capable scorer.
Keys to the ballgame
Defensively, is my better better than your better?
If Texas can protect their bigs, specifically Dexter Pittman, from OSU's swarm of 6-5 hybrid gurards penetrating, passing, and shooting, then Texas can enjoy its huge advantage in the paint on the offensive end. If OSU can protect a front line of 6-5 lilliputians from Texas' version of King Kong and Godzilla in Dexter Pittman and Gary Johnson, then the Cowboys will have the advantage.
Texas will more than likely try to hide Dex with an active zone that chases the Cowboys off of deep jumpers and invites uncomfortable pullups. Or the Horns might elect to go with a switching M2M that allows Dex to play a one man zone in the paint. If neither defenses work, it's a big victory for OSU if Texas is forced to go small and matchup with a lineup of Mason, Balbay/Ward, Abrams, Johnson, and James.
OSU is going to try to protect its lack of size the same way it has all year. Combine a fast tempo on offense, with swarming pressure that invites early shots defensively. Texas wins this battle if they can force the Cowboys into multiple rotations in the halfcourt while effectively slowing down transition on makes and misses. Whoever can hide their matchup warts the best will likely win the ball game.
Texas has it and the Cowboys don't. For Texas to exploit this advantage they have to do things that serve to wear down the Cowboys. Things like running offense with hard cutting and screening, taking good shots, and then pounding the offensive glass. Defensively, bring some slow trapping 3 quarter court pressure that makes Eaton have to work to get the Cowboys in their offense. When the Cowboys do get a shot, make sure it's a one and done and most possessions should be considering Texas' size advantage. If Texas zones, make sure it's an active zone with active feet and hands. Dont' be afraid to trap and gamble and force OSU penetrators to your shotblockers.
Get Out of Your Head and Play Basketball
Losing's no fun, and both of these teams have done plenty of losing in the last two weeks. The team that can relax, have fun, and play the game more loosely will likely win the ballgame. Barnes needs to loosen up this team and get them playing on instinct like they were early in the year. A practical joke right before tip wouldn't be out of order. Perhaps he can pull a Bobby Knight and hang a tampon in AJ Abram's locker. Or stuff Bill Little in a trash can before tossing a chair at Chris Plonsky. Anything to loosen the kids up would be welcomed at this point.