Texas started the game with a personnel group of James, Pittman, Mason, Bradley, and Brown.
Aside for the beastly inside presence of Dex, this group gives you 3 solid jump shooters, 3 ball handlers, and solid defensive and rebounding capability. Not optimal considering the talent we have, but solid.
Rice came out in a Bill Raftery styled MAN 2 MAN !!! the first possession of the ball game, only to witness a 4 out Longhorn look, a quick ball reversal, easy post entry, punctuated by a thundering Dexter Pittman dunk 20 seconds into the ballgame. For Texas that's textbook basketball nowadays. For Rice, the shit had just gotten real. Next possession, Texas starts in the same 4 out look, lifts Dexter off the block to the weakside clearing out an easy driving lane for J'Covan Brown who blows by a national merit scholar and draws a foul. Again, for Texas it's a garden variety set, for Rice, it's another reminder that, hey coach, maybe this manning up a bunch of MD's all Americans and future lottery picks isn't the way to go.
Well an interesting thing happens on the 3rd and 4th possession. We sub Balbay for Brown and are left with a personnel group light on the jumpshooting component and it shows in the way Rice starts to defend our 4 out look. Instead of jumping out on would-be shooters, Rice goes to a four man shell that invites jumpshots. When the ball is entered to Dex, Balbay's man, at one point, sprints diagonally to the box to double, and rotates back to Balbay when Dex passes out of the double team.
Preceding possession five, there's a foul on Dex and Texas subs Hamilton, Brown, and Wangmene for Bradley, Mason, and Pittman. We've now got one of our better shooting and penetrating groups and it shows. We come down, spread the floor, and find Hamilton for an open 3 which is in and out. Rice comes down, hurriedly I might add, and jacks a 3. Game is now somewhat up-tempo. Possession 6, we come down, spread the floor with Alexis on the weakside block, and the floor is so spread that Damion James is able to take one power dribble and blow by Rice's 4 man for an easy lay in.
And that was the ball game in a nut shell. When we had 3 ballhandlers and 3 shooters in the game, we looked pretty damn dynamic on offense. Our spacing looked good. Our tempo was faster. We had more motion and movement without the ball. And we were productive. When we had 3 or more non-shooters on the floor, we looked like 2008's squad. And Rice's soft man and zone defenses suddenly became effective.
All and all, a hard fought win against a scrappy Rice club that came to play on what everyone else considered a lazy Sunday afternoon. A good win for the kids.
On to the players.
Jordan Hamilton. Look, his talent is unquestioned, well for the most part, but I've got to admit the kid's a black hole on par with AJ Abrams. And that's not necessarily a bad thing since Jordan is much more talented. The heartening thing is that Barnes indicated in this ballgame that he's going to give Jordan some freedom to operate and get his shots. And you know what? That's the absolute right move. A player like Hamilton needs to know he has a long leash in the shot selection and frequency department, because as he sees his number of attempts don't correlate with being pulled, he'll actually start being more selective with his shooting knowing he's going to get minutes. If Hamilton thinks he's going to play in 3 or 4 minute spurts, you're going to see a ton of one pass and shoot possessions. It's part and parcel to recruiting at this talent level. Give them freedom, and then coach then coach the player situationally.
All of that typed, 9 shots in 19 minutes isn't bad for Jordan. He just needs to start taking better shots. He did have two in-and-out heartbreak 3's that would have improved on his 11 point total. Not a great showing from him, but an encouraging showing in how he's being coached.
Avery Bradley. Avery as a player is diametrically opposed to Jordan Hamilton. You almost have to threaten to punish Bradley for being too unselfish. With the loss of Ward and 26 minutes of playing time, 7 shot attempts for the McDonald's All American is ridiculous. Bradley needs double digit shot attempts for Texas to be most efficient. The 4 dimes and suffocating defense is a nice bonus, but Avery is way too good a scorer to be held to 8 points against Rice.
J'Covan Brown. J'Covan had a rough shooting night, especially from deep (1-5), but the kid has the uncanny knack for knowing when to create offense by drawing fouls when the offense is stagnant. Sometimes when the other team is making a run you just have to manufacture points by getting to the foul line. All the great guards have this knack and it's something you have to feel as a player. I was also very impressed with Brown putting the hard intentional foul behind him and not retaliating over the course of the game. Brown is showing a lot of leadership and maturity. He's certainly exorcised some demons here and that's good news long term for not only the player, but the team. I love that he's now wearing number 50 to honor Varez Ward. That says a bunch about the young man. Tip your cap to Brown.
Dexter Pittman. What a monster game for Big Dex netting 21 points in 26 minutes. The kid could shoot 80% from the field this year if things fall right. It's unreal how easy he's making it look. Credit his teammates for doing a great job entering the basketball. Other than the scoring, I loved to see Pitt passing out of double teams and hurting the Rice zone as presence in the middle. He also led the Horns with 9 boards which is a nice bounce back from the Iowa game.
Doge Balbay. The kid is such a weapon up and down the stat sheet. His 9 boards are evidence that Texas has one of the best rebounding backcourts in the nation to go along with Pittman and James on the glass. The assist category was down, but a lot of that has to do with the zone Rice played. It was also good to see the Doge get frisky and fire up a couple of jumpers. They didn't fall, but better to find out now than in conference. As always, as long as Balbay is flanked by shooters and scorers he's at his best.
Damion James. The trend for Damion is a bit troublesome considering this is the second game in a row in which the senior has hunted his own offense off the dribble. I'm fine with a power dribble move to the rim, but I don't like seeing him back down forwards for midrange jumpers. There are so many more appealing scoring options early in our shot clock. Make no mistake about it, his 2-9 shooting night is a function of his shot selection. Damion needs to dunk and shoot 3's on his way to 50% plus field goal percentages. 2-9 nights out of him are a recipe for disaster against the big boys who will be delighted to have Damion shoot it from 15 instead of defending Dex in the paint, Brown off the dribble, or Hamilton from deep.
Alexis Wangmene. Despite a couple of hard luck whistles I thought the kid filled his role on the team in this game which is to bring energy, defense, and physicality inside. Four boards in 8 minutes is exactly what we need out of this cat.
Justin Mason. His 4 assists in 16 minutes attests to the fact that he can be a productive creator when surrounded with the correct personnel. No Balbay and Mason out there at the same time anymore please.
Gary Johnson. I love his spastic energy on both ends. He was also able to manufacture some offense on the line going 5-8. He can do that when he's playing players that have comparable size. Good game from Gary.
Overall, I thought it was a solid effort on both ends considering the opponent and the fact it was a holiday weekend. It wasn't always pretty, but Texas went out there and overcame some whistles, overcame the lack of energy, and overcame tryptophan. I thought it was one of the best post entry games I've seen the Horns have in quite some time. We also got some solid work against the zone which is something we'll see a bunch of in conference play. Boiling it down, it was Rice. And we covered the spread.