I've seen the chatter on the intertubes and the hand-wringing needs to be put to rest.
The most puzzling consternation to me is the "We don't have a true point guard, or we don't have any shooters" nonsense floating around the various Longhorn sites that discuss basketball. So let's squash that right here and right now like a crips and bloods summit.
Point guard is not a problem. Do we have a Magic Johnson, a John Stockton, or in College parlance, a Chris Corchiani? No. Why? Well, we don't need one because we have three. Texas will deploy three very capable ballhandlers at three positions for virtually every minute of every game. It's a luxury akin to having two vacation homes. If you have a cat that can smother my point guard, Balbay, Lucas, or Brown, no problem, Bradley is my ball handler. If you happen to be in the top 5% of college basketball and have two lock down on-ball defenders in your backcourt, sorry, I have a point forward in Jordan Hamilton. If you have 3 lock down defenders on the perimeter, you're either lying or have an NBA franchise. Ball handling and distribution are not a problem on this squad so forget about that crap right now. Mock your friends if they bring it up. Think Texas Tech. It doesn't matter how good your 2 cover corners are, because you better have at least 3 or 4.
As Pure a Shooter as You'll Find
As for shooters. Pffff. We have them in spades. Are they one dimensional bombers from deep? No. They're midrange wizards like Avery Bradley and J'Covan Brown, spot up marksmen like Jai Lucas, and "point-game shooters" like Jordan Hamilton who can fill it up from anywhere on the floor. I hope other teams zone us because they'll give up so many possessions with their inability to clean the glass it'll be sick.
Our worst shooting lineup will likely include Balbay, Ward, Hamilton, James, and Pittman. How will teams rebound against these five out of a zone without block out assignments and responsibilities? And I'm talking upper echelon squads. MSU won't zone, 'Nova can't compete on the glass, and Kentucky is too undisciplined. Kansas and UNC are the only clubs that possess the athletes to turn us into a jump-shooting team while still having a fighting chance to rebound out of a zone. And I'm talking about Texas' B team to make it fair. Sick.
So again, if you're in between pick-up games and you're arguing with your buddy about Texas basketball after calling "next", mock him for going to the Texas can't handle and Texas can't shoot bit. Then flay him for calling 3 seconds or taking a charge a la Scipio when the action starts. Texas will be fine on these fronts. If you want to worry, fret about how Barnes will go about mixing and matching all of this talent. Worry about identity.
Hungry for Buckets
Offensively, Barnes is who he is and luckily that style fits this team like a glowstick in HenryJames' mouth. Barnes will run his random screen game with a side of screen/roll. Rick will throw in some situational sets based on time and score or to just get certain players involved. From an identity standpoint a team with this kind of talent has the perfect coach, outside of Paul Westhead.
What's to like
Barnes will allow the players with NBA talent to make NBA plays and this freedom he grants to the players will be based on a meritocracy and not the rigid rules of traditionalist basketball. If you can go get buckets, go get buckets. If you can't, stop shooting the f'n ball. There's no time for nurturing on this club and Barnes is not a nurturer. Players will play. Role players will have a short leash regardless of classification.
A motion offense task master like Bob Knight or Tom Izzo would hamstring this group. Coaching purists like Dean Smith or Ben Howland would keep Bradley and Hamilton from being double digit guys in order to get Mason and Ward more run. The good news is our personnel and offensive philosophy are happily married. Coach Barnes finally has the personnel chips he can go all in with and not worry about hurting anyone's feelings.
Really, I've got one and I alluded to it when I mentioned using set plays to get certain players involved. My main concern is heaping point guard responsibilities on a true freshman who has little experience with a) being a distributor and b) being a team leader. Because the two go hand in hand. Texas' most talented lineup includes J'Covan Brown running the show at the 1 and thankfully Brown has shown the ability and more importantly the willingness to be a big time distributor of the rock. If open runs with NBA players are any indication, J'Covan can blow by and dime with the best of 'em. My main worry is about his cabeza and how his point guard play will shape this team's offensive identity.
The Key to a National Championship?
Stats are misleading and in the case of a point guard, not all assists are created equal. My question is, how will J'Covan handle the stress of distributing the ball to a team with so much talent that it will almost always seem like there's a shortage of shots to go around? Will he make a concerted effort to get Pittman involved so Texas can establish its interior dominance? How will Brown handle criticism from players that may be in a contract year and therefore need 10-15 looks a game? And how will the fiery frosh balance these issues with getting his own looks? It's certainly concerning but at least Texas has fallback options like Balbay and Lucas to get Brown off the ball and simplify the game for the young man. While Texas has indeed found its point guard, it'll be interesting to see how Brown handles the nuances of the position.
Texas has the requisite talent, and ability to rebound, to run any number of defensive looks at virtually any point of any game vs. any opponent. Traditional man or zone, zone trapping, full and half-court pressure. You name it, Texas has the perfect personnel and depth to execute.
What's to like
Texas can play solid, garden variety, ball-you-man defense which should stifle offenses and create turnovers. They have elite on ball defenders to suffocate the dribble and athletic length on the wings to deny one pass away cutting off half the court and bogging down motion offenses. Ill advised passes likely turn into steals and dunks by Texas' collection of praying mantises.
If you want to rest or protect players in foul trouble, or just counter bad shooting personnel, Texas has the ability to zone. The Length Texas can deploy can harass ball movement and stagnate offense. Texas' athleticism allows the Horns to rebound and close out possessions without block-out assignments when zoning teams. The zone is certainly an arrow in Barnes quiver and he should use it strategically.
If Texas wants to press and run to force pace and create extra possessions, they certainly can considering their depth. Pitino's Kentucky teams excelled at throwing waves of bodies at you until you wore down. Richardson did the same at Arkansas with his 40 minutes of hell or as I like to call it, having a Margarita with Vasherized. Balbay, Bradley, James, and Hamilton are perfectly suited for this style. Add in some zone trapping pressure and you get the idea. Texas has a wealth of options on defense.
Why to worry
Really this thing can turn into a calf scramble if Barnes is not careful. If we're pressing some, zoning some, and manning some in November and December. Fine. If we're not playing simple solid man for the preponderance of games after January 1, it may cause a problem for a few reasons. First, this team is young, and I'd much rather them focus on being really good at one thing. Kentucky had their pressure, Vegas had the amoeba, Michigan State played solid man, and Syracuse zoned. That's what they did and who they were. And these were experienced teams.
Secondly, I'd hate to see the Horns sap valuable energy from offensive stalwarts like Bradley or Hamilton by pressing for long stretches. Let's press out of a time out or off a made free throw to steal a possession, but unless we're bringing in waves off the bench to pressure, I'd just as soon see Hamilton and Bradley use energy defending the halfcourt.
Third, I don't like zoning at all other than to steal minutes for Pittman. I think it bails out opponents with suspect ball-handlers or even good ball-handlers. It also is going to take away from Texas' aggressiveness when Barnes should be stoking it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting the Horns could be the basketball version of Sybil, I'm really just picking nits because this team is special. I think if Barnes can keep it simple the 2010 Horns won't have a thing to worry about including identity. Plus we're playing Colorado this week, and our basketball team is special enough to remain in the foreground.