Vasherized: "Ho hum, another sloppy 30 point win with 21 turnovers and continued charades from the free throw line."
Trips Right: "Meh. Get back to me when we beat Michigan State by 20."
See what he did there? That's his way of saying this team is really damn good. I think. I don't drink and do syllogisms at the same time very well and his clipped El Paso diction can lead to multiple interpretations. Better off texting. Or as HenryJames practices it, sexting.
Anyway, just two games into the season we are seeing some trends develop:
They lock down the perimeter, cut off passing lanes, and at one point last night forced the PG to literally hand the ball off to the shooting guard like he was a running back. One of the biggest liabilities of last year's team was our lack of defensive options due to having small guards. The presence of Avery Bradley changes all of that, and he also happens to brings a Ray Allen jumper to the table on offense. Avery got hit with two tacky fouls early and rode the pine the rest of the first half before taking out his frustration on some poor Western Carolina scrub with a nasty dunk from an ill advised location eight feet from the basket. Along with his brethren Earl Thomas and Aaron Williams, physics doesn't apply to witches. Then the crowd of 3,800 rose to their feet and screamed for five whole seconds before they stopped the action so some guy from Boerne could attempt a field goal from a recliner in mid court. Gotta love gameday at The Sponge! Through two games, the high scorer on the opposing team finished with all of 10 points. If we can make it to April with that stat, Huckleberry likes our chances.
Hockey-style Line Changes
Barnes is really playing around with matchups early on to see what combinations thrive and which ones cause Trips to start bar fights in Milwaulkee. The starting lineup of Brown, Ward, Mason, James, and Pittman actually might be one of our weakest. Mason and Ward are basically the same player. One of them on the court is fine but playing them together minimizes your options on offense because neither is a great passer or scorer. Bradley's minutes will continue to climb at the combined expense of these two. It's a good problem to have. In the second half of both games Barnes has subbed in five for five. A glance at the box score minutes reads as follows: 22, 21, 21, 22, 17, 19, 22, 14, 19. That's depth, folks. It sends a message that we can win in a lot of different ways and no one person on this team has to be on the court for us to win. That wasn't true of the T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kevin Durant days. At one point in the UC-Irvine game we went on a 10-0 run with four freshmen and Gary Johnson in the game. One of the benefits of having guys like T.J. and K.D. on campus all summer is that our freshmen don't play like freshmen. Mike Williams they ain't.
Say it in a Bill Walton voice for profundity. The first game was all Dex and Damion with steady double digit contributions from our stud trio of freshmen. Against WCU, Damion again led all scorers with Varez Ward and Gary Johnson earning their minutes (10 pts each). 10/11 guys saw double digit minutes with the lone offender being Shawn Williams who only logged four. (Let the Interweb alarms sound in the direction of ipowers.) One thing you don't like to see is Justin Mason go scoreless in 23 minutes. One thing you do like to see is 4-5 guys hit double digit points every game and you'll see that all year. Hamilton and Bradley need more minutes. It will pay dividends when we get our first real test. In March! (Just seeing what it's like to be a Kansas fan...)
Cleaning the Glass
Again, we've played two heavily outmatched opponents but we knew heading into the season that this would be the best rebounding team of the Barnes era and we're seeing that with a +17 rebound margin through two games. The biggest battle on the glass so far has been Damion fighting Dexter for who gets the stat. Another good problem to have and James is the best rebounding forward in the country. We're scooping up loose balls at a high clip and those turn into more offensive possessions for a team that collectively understands the motto: Feed The Beast. In the half court set, Barnes has made it known the first look is always to get it to Dex in the paint. Why wouldn't you when he converts 80% of his shots and picks up free throws along the way? J'Covan, Bradley, Hamilton, and Damion have green lights to take open 3's. With that arsenal we could average
4% 45% behind the arc for the season and you take that all day long. For the last three seasons we average 42%, 39%, and 39%. But our guys know this is an inside-out offense and it starts with Dex and Damion inside. On turnovers and fast breaks this team gets upcourt faster than it takes Scipio to braid his ponytail while driving to work and that's fucking fast. I think we're about 4/12 on alley oops but it's worth a few misses when the payoff is Damion James taking flight.
A pissed off and dangerous 0-2 Iowa is next up on Monday in Kansas City. They've already lost to Duquesne by a deuce and UTSA by a dozen. Ouch. Take Texas and the under, Iowa might not score 40. A matchup with Pitt looms in the finals ...
Trips Right: "Meh. Get back to me when we win by 30."