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Crystal Ballin' Part II. Scouting the 2009 Horns

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This article is a look at what should be a very bright 2009-2010 season for the Horns. Later, I'll address the latest version of Texas Hoops and how they fit into the overall landscape of college basketball in Crystal Ballin' Part III. But right now it's time to talk strategery. What can we expect the Horns to run on both ends of the floor? What kind of scheme on both ends suits the talented holdovers? What's the best way to maximize the skills of the talented newcomers? Hopefully this article will shed some light on what to expect next season.

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Bradley gives the Horns answers on both ends.

First, let's make some assumptions about who exactly those players will be. I'm going to assume that Damion James and Dexter Pittman make it back for our purposes here, and I'm doing so for several reasons, all of which are grounded in science and consecrated by my success in wild ass guessing. First reason DJ and Pitt stay is because Texas can legitimately sell these two on winning a national championship. Recent examples of this phenomenon are Noah, Lawson, Horford, and last year's Jayhawk squad.

Secondly, because both James and Pittman can signficantly help their draft stock. James has slipped all the way down to the late 1st early 2nd round range. No bien. Barnes' recruiting pitch should be that he'll surround DJ with elite perimeter playmakers, and turn the athletic senior wing into a solid double double guy with a high shooting percentage, which will entice an NBA GM enough to think he can make James a 3 improving Damion's draft position.

Pittman is an even better bet to improve NBA draft perception. Pitt has yet to be "the guy" for an entire season and there are still questions about his stamina. But give Pitt another year with Wright, surround him with playmakers and shooters, and watch him average 18 and 10 while shooting 60% from the floor. Presto. Lottery pick. Period. He'd be a fool not to come back.

Reason 3 has everthing to do with me spending the time to break down Pittman and James' games in Crystal Ballin' Part I, while also analyzing how they'll fit in. How's that for scientific? So, on that note, let's talk matchups and styles.

Offense

With Texas' personnel vs. any kind of M2M and even zone we're almost always going to run a 4 out 1 in look on offense. We'll run sets obviously and we'll run a little Dribble Drive Motion which is a 4 out concept with an open post (post action is almost exclusively from the weakside), but the goal at the end of the day should be to spread the floor with all the talented perimeter players and shooters and then run offense through the premiere big man in the nation, Dexter Pittman.

It's doubtful we'll see much of any 3-2 which implements cross screening and exchanging block to block, unless Texas chooses to go big with Chap and Pitt, or Alexis and Pitt, or some combination thereof. For anything other than extenuating circumstances it would be madness to do so because a congested lane hurts players like Balbay, Ward, Bradley, Hamilton, and James who all have games that thrive in the open floor. Given that the 4 out is the way to go, here's the personnel groups you can expect will get starter's minutes.

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Balbay's ability to guard the ball is a defensive option coaches covet.

Vs. Zone or Sagging M2M
Offensively, Texas is going to be able mix and match based on other teams defensive personnel for the most part, but run a sagging M2M or zone at the Horns, and you'll likely get a heavy dose of Jai Lucas (in January) at psuedo-point looking to pass and get the ball back for his jumper. You'll get a big helping of the 4 man Damion James in the short corner or baseline playing off of all the attention big Dex gets. James will float to the perimeter and pull help away from Pittman or catch the backside napping with oops and baseline dunks. Your playmaking 3 is Jordan Hamilton who's looking for deep strokes off of Bradley penetration or his own slashing ability that leads to layups, dishes, and kickouts to plus shooters. Bradley is the catalyst in this group and he'll be sharing ball handling duties with Jai as he's the best player off the bounce against a zone or soft m2m. For all intents and purposes, Bradley is the lead guard once the team gets in a half court and Jai is playing a shooting guard with some ball handling duties. This group gives the Horns 4 good ball handlers for their position, 3 elite athletes, 3 elite shooters, an elite shooting 4, and the best pivot man in the nation. Rebounding? You're getting 20 boards from your 4 and 5 here. If the other 3 can control long caroms, you're going to outrebound 99% of opponents.

As for specific offensive schemes, look for Texas to overload zones and iso soft m2m. Against a traditional 2-3, Texas will be trying to find gaps in the zone after overloading to a side. For an example of what this zone offense looks like, picture an overloaded strongside with Bradley on the wing, Damion James at the short corner behind the zone, Lucas at the point, Dex Pittman flashing into the middle of a vacated lane with that big body, and Hamilton on the weakside wing looking for a skip or kickout where he can then spot up to shoot or attack an overcontesting defender. Rinse repeat until the zone is so thoroughly collapsed and moved that there is no way to defend all of our playmakers much less pull a defensive rebound against our athletes without any blockout assignments.

Jai's in because he can stretch his defensive cover beyond the arc and he doesn't need to rely on defeating pressure off the dribble. Jai just needs to find gaps off the bounce or move to vacated areas for his J when he's off the ball. Insert Varez Ward for Lucas when the opposing team has great size and you need more defense and rebounding.

Vs. Pressure...Wing Denial M2M's or Halfcourt Trapping Zones

Your starting five against defenses like Duke, Missouri, or the Kansases of the world should go something like this because these 3 teams can't help themselves when it comes to pressuring the basketball and the perimeter. It's who they are. In this spot, I'm giving the nod at point to Dogus Balbay over Lucas, because if I don't then the opposing team's best on ball defender is going to pressure Avery Bradley forcing Lucas to become THE distributor, which will hurt the ability of my finishers. Now if Balbay remains a shooting liability to the point where even the most hellish pressure man teams are playing one man zones with their heels in the paint, then I might play Ward instead because he guarantees I get the opposing team's third best on ball defender and he can work those type of cats. But let's assume we get the Kansas version of Balbay and he benefits from the fanned out wings guarding two legit scoring threats in Hamilton and Bradley. Dex is my 5 and James is the 4.

What we'll most likely see out of this group is more of a spread the floor two pronged attack. When teams have zero answer for Dex and need to double him after he crosses halfcourt, we'll game sets that spread the floor and get the senior to the low block with minimal helpside available. When teams counter with overhelping to Dex or if a team has a decent option to put on Dex, we'll put Dex on the weakside block and use variations of the DDM to attack the strongside off the bounce using ball screens, exchanges, and dribble handoffs to free up dribble penetration. When frontcourt helpside comes to cut off one of our incredibly gifted penetrators, a simple ball reversal or skip to the weakside coupled with an easy seal by Dex should lead to drop step dunks and fouls. If you're a football guy, think blocking down in a counter trey.

If you want to really pressure and man up against teams on the other end, replace Pittman with Wangmene or Chapman and really extend your defensive pressure and increase your quickness and athleticism. Chapman's and to some extend Alexis' ability to operate away from the bucket allows Texas to lift the post to a five out look leaving huge driving lanes for the slashers.

Jordan Hamilton gives Texas to ultimate pressure outlet because he's a 3 that can handle like a 1. How many small forwards can guard a talented ball handler much less a superstar like Jordan?

This offense compared to last year will feel like we've taken the batting practice donut off of the Louisville Slugger.

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Louisville's length gives Pitino defensive options.

Defense
While Texas enjoys plenty of options on the offensive end, this Longhorn team might have even more ability to mix and match defensively in scheme and matchups considering the newcomers' defensive ability and emergence of a guy like Varez Ward as a legit offensive option. Throw in the fact that Balbay is one of the best on ball defenders in the country and you can answer the bell defensively against virtually any team in the nation.

Texas now has big athletic wings that can get into passing lanes and block or aggressively contest jumpshots. We have a strong on ball defensive guard that can be the tip of the spear to any pressure you might want to implement. Add a big bodied center that can bang with anyone. A long athletic forward in Wangmene that can be an eraser and bother posts from his helpside. And don't forget Justin Mason who can still be a stopper. That's fire power that Tom Izzo would be jealous of. So how do we employ the firepower?

Guard Centric Teams: Villanova, Okie State, Marquette etc.

These teams want to collapse your defense with dribble penetration, then kick out to wide open shooters. Overcontest, and the second or third iteration of the penetration offense finds you so out of position that you give up a layup or your big gives a cheap foul. So, when playing these teams our goal is to choke off penetration and contest smaller players with our length. We're softer on mediocre shooters, ie Eaton or Dominic James, which provides even more ability to conserve precious help resources.

When playing these type teams, look for Texas to put Balbay on the ball simply asking him to stay in front. We'll put two athletic wings on the shooters like Anderson or Muenelo. Two of Bradley, Hamilton, and Ward have the quickness to stay in front of these wings and the size to really get into their shot and contest. James is on the biggest wing and Pittman is in for offense. Bring in Wangmene for athletic frontcourt depth and erase whatever gets to the hole. Mason provides on the ball depth. This squad can effectively take away penetration and make most teams shoot over the top of our length. Remember our Memphis game in the Elite 8 game? Against this length and athleticism, jumpshooting is no easy task.

Pressuring Weak Guards
When Texas matches up with teams without true point guards look for the pressure to be ratcheted up. Think what could have been in the Duke game. You put Balbay or Ward on Scheyer to get right in his jock. Deny the wings with the praying mantis' Hamilton and Bradley who guard Williams and Henderson respectively. James is on Singler and I pull Pittman for Wangmene because he's much more adept at hedging and covering around the arc. This squad would tax ball reversal with four or five passing lane steals, they could blitz and trap ball screens with their size, strength, and quickness, and wear down a thin team like Duke with athletic depth. Rebounding with that squad is so easy a caveman can do.

Extend this pressure to full court by bringing in waves of players like Gary Johnson, Mason, Lucas, and Chapman.

Zone
Gerry Hamilton at BOB has pointed this fact out before, but I'll reiterate it here. Texas has never really had the backcourt/wing size and athleticism to be an effective zone team. It's the sole reason teams like Louisville and to an extent Syracuse have been solid zone teams over the years. They have long athletes that make ball movement and shooting against the zone tenuous at best. Look for Texas to protect Pittman with some zone this year or as a change up to compliment pressure. Texas can also trap and pressure out of this zone when teams load up their five with shooters and limited ball handlers. Versatility thy name is the 2009-2010 Horns.

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Ending a 44 year wait?

Overall, Texas has all the requisite parts to field an astounding defense. Great on ball defenders, long athletic wings, erasers, bangers, and athletes. But the number one reason the Horns will be stellar on defense is pride. Guys like Ward, Mason, Balbay, Hamilton, and Bradley all take tremendous pride in their ability to guard.

So, sorry for the length, I'm just really excited about this team. As always, thoughts are appreciated.

Hook 'Em