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Texas Basketball: Youthful Concerns

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Shooters? Check. Ball handlers? Check. Scorers? Check. Size, length, athleticism? You betcha. Experienced backcourt? Eh, not so much. Sure, I'm picking nits here, but in the context of a national championship run, nits can bite you in the ass.

Case in point can be found in the 1994 National Title game. With a minute or so to go and the Duke Blue Devils nursing a two point lead, freshman point guard Jeff Capel picks up a loose ball and has a two on one with Grant Hill on the wing for an easy bucket and a commanding two possession cushion with under a minute to go. Ballgame right? Wrong. Instead of making the easy play, Capel airmails a behind the back pass six rows up. The Hogs come down and Scottie Thurman hits a rainbow 3 over the outstretched arm of Antonio Lang to put the Razorbacks up 1. And the rest, as they say, is history.

My point? Well, my point is that Duke had everything Texas has today, including a lack of experience in the backcourt. Now Duke mitigated that inexperience much of the year by playing senior Grant Hill as a point forward, but eventually their youthful backcourt caught up with them, and unfortunately for freshman guard Jeff Capel, it happened on the biggest stage at the worst possible time.

As for Texas, there really isn't an experienced playmaking option outside of Balbay and Lucas. And since there are only so many minutes in a ballgame, playing these two comes at the expense of costing your more talented guards minutes and opportunities to produce. I'm not saying it's a given that Brown and Bradley should get the bulk of the minutes by default, especially if they prove they're not more productive than their more experienced counterparts. But if preseason observations and reports are accurate, the younger cats like Brown, Bradley, and Hamilton need to get the preponderance of the minutes in order for Texas to be at its best. And the downside to that includes freshman mistakes like bad shots, ill advised passes, lack of understanding of time/place/score and game situations.

Hence, youthful concerns.

Overcoming Issues of Youth

Coaching. Well, no shit, you say, but bear with me a moment. Sure, 90% of coaching is eliminating correctable mistakes and with this kind of youth, there will be a bunch of things that need to be corrected. Rest assured that Rick Barnes understands the youth issue on his team and he will adjust his practices accordingly. These kids have been playing ball year round and have largely done so in mostly an undisciplined environment. Pickup games, AAU games, and tournaments don't require a heightened awareness of time and score or game situation recognition. It's pretty much get buckets and don't give them up, lest your home boys clown you. If my club is up 4 with a minute to play, I'm not worried about running clock and finding a good shot, especially if I can cross this sucker over and rise up over him for a feathery J with John Calipari looking on. And that's the mentality that Barnes will have to guard against and coach to. Look for Rick to spend larger portions in practice on game situations on both ends of the floor. Rick's scrimmages will be interrupted by many more coaching whistles than at any other point in his tenure at Texas. Bank on it. Barnes has the unenviable task of teaching scorers to be combo guards and teaching combo guards to be floor leaders.

Sets. Sure, Barnes' claim to fame is a Phoenix Sun style random screen game that puts the onus on players to make plays, and that's fine for most ballgames. But there will be times during a contest when Rick will need to put a governor on the race car's engine and he'll likely do this with sets. Sets designed to stop runs, milk clock, get two for ones, or get certain players involved. Sets offer a great way to take pressure off inexperienced point guards while controlling offense from the bench. And if your sets break down, you iso your best scorer to go one on one and find offense. There's almost zero downside to them when you have the talent Texas has.

Situational Substitutions. Don't be surprised to see Balbay and Lucas in at crucial points in ballgames. Points when game situation awareness is at a premium. Need a fourth foul on the other team's big, Balbay and Lucas may be more likely to get Pittman involved. Need to run clock on offense or slow the pace down, Balbay may be your man instead of Brown. Need to close a game with smart play and good foul shooting, look for Lucas to get the nod.

Experience Advantage
One final thought on the fatal flaw that an inexperienced backcourt can be on a program. I take Texas' talent and depth over any team in the nation. We've talked about how the Horns are just sick with ballers at every position. I would even go as far as to say Kentucky is right up there from a talent standpoint. But make no mistake about it, upper echelon teams like Villanova, Michigan State, and Kansas have an advantage over younger teams like Texas and Kentucky because they have experienced floor leaders. Collins, Lucas, and Reynolds are guards that have been tested by hundreds of collegiate game situations.

These players, without question, know the correct play to make in the important context of time and score. It's an advantage that basketball fans shouldn't discount when prognosticating the upcoming season. I can assure you this aspect of the game isn't lost on the Longhorn coaching staff. If Texas can get these young ones to do some growing up in a hurry through practice, scrimmaging, coaching, and pull the right strings with experienced players at critical points in the ballgame, Texas can minimize the youth factor and get to where they want to get.

And remember, when you find yourself leading a two on one break, just make an easy bounce pass and win the national championship.