Tag and bag another victim of the Longhorn brand of Chinese water torture basketball. Death from a thousand paper cuts or a thousand missed free throws, it's all the same. If you watched this game without looking at the scoreboard you'd have thought the Horns would have eeked out a victory by a bucket or so.
That's the sort of feel a game is going to have when the prohibitive favorite shoots 40% from the field, is 2 for 11 on 3's, and misses 15 out of 34 free throws. I'm sure USC felt the same way until they looked up at the scoreboard with 3 minutes left only to realize they were about to bleed death from the combination of a thousand handchecks, physical rebounds, and smothering defense in general. It's the same game Texas has played all year, and we won't know if it's a successful identity until we play a team with a top 50 RPI. An ugly win is an ugly win, but as fans of a top 5 program, we wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't pick at the paper cut sized scabs.
On to the players...
When Damion James is taking nearly a quarter of this team's field goal attempts we have a problem. It's a problem we can overcome against thin teams without much talent, but if Damion is putting up 25% of our shots when we play MSU and UNC, and they aren't dunks and within the flow 3's, we're porked. When Damion's channeling Glen Robinson, UNC will pull the board, outlet to one of their greyhounds, and then posterize one of our guards. MSU will do the same, but it might take them 2 or 3 more passes. Sure, Damion was 6-14, but if he sticks to our axiom of dunks/layups off of dimes/putbacks and wide open 3's, Damion goes from 6-14 to 6-10. Which gives J'Covan Brown four more opportunities to jack up 3's. On the boards, Damion was Damion pulling 9 above the rim caroms. On the glass, he's one of the best power forwards in the nation.
If you watched the game, you'd have thought Dex played poorly as he missed 3 bunnies and had a couple of miscues handling entry passes. Then you look at the boxscore and he's a solid 5-8 for 13. Problem is, I watched the game, and Pittman looked like a shell of the normally physical, dominating beast of a player he's been the first four games of the season. He didn't guard well, didn't compete hard on the glass, and seemed to shy away from contact going to the goal. Tired legs maybe?
In my opinion, this game was a bit of a step back for Brown in terms of his maturation into a lead or at least combo guard. I thought his shot selection was atrocious and his self awareness as a player this game rivaled Clipper Cooper's. Brown jacked 3 after unsucessful 3 and it was midway through the second half before he realized he was off and needed to either get to the rim for offense or involve other players. The fact that Balbay has taken over point guard duties seems to have crept into J'Covan's psyche in that he's not looking to create as much. If I'm Barnes, I make it known to Brown that there's nothing wrong with having two point guards on the floor.
On the plus side, Brown is our most important player at the under five minute mark in close ball games. He's the only guard we have that can handle the ball and has confidence at the foul line. Until Lucas gets in the mix, Brown's a must to close games out.
He's starting to tap the potential he showed when playing overseas and in pickup games here in the States. The kid can get to the hole on virtually any honest defender and he's athletic enough to finish at the rim around and over bigs. That typed, it's an absolute travesty to surround Balbay with non-shooters and non-playmakers. When he's surrounded by James, Wangmane, Mason, and Bradley, Doge has nowhere to go with the dribble. Hell, he's just as likely to see some type of zone or soft man which totally neutralizes his ability to penetrate. This personnel group is the sole reason USC went to their matchup zone and forced a handful of empty possessions. Put Dogus on the floor with playmakers and the guy's play improves exponentially. Pair him with Mason, and you turn him into Freddie Williams.
Speaking of Freddie Williams, Balbay's perimeter defense makes Freddie Williams look like Kiki Vandeweigh as a defender. Doge is a defensive witch on par with anyone in the nation.
The stats won't bear this out, but I thought Bradley's play was encouraging. He finally hunted his offense and eventhough he was a lowly 2-10, the fact that he's more aggressive on that end is a good sign. He's much too good of a player to stay down for long offensively. He just needs to find his comfort zone.
On defense, you pair him with Doge, and the opposition better have a third guard that can handle or it's rip city.
Another subtle but good sign for the Horns is the play of Hamilton. Dude put his shot selection hat on and will powered his way to just 3 shots in 15 minutes. All 3 looks were good ones. Now, if you want to maximize this tiny step forward as a coach, you do two things. First, you give him the carrot of more minutes with the proviso that 3 shots he took last night are precisely the kinds of shots this team needs. Second, play him with Balbay. Their respective games are like peanut butter and jelly. Or Vasherized and popped collars. They'll feed off one another.
Other than shot selection, you have to be pleased with his 5 boards in limited floor time. Hamilton will take a ton of pressure off of James and Pittman on the weakside glass, especially when we play double post teams like UNC. He and his size at the 3 spot are a must against these type opponents.
As the teams get bigger and more physical his numbers will wane. Still, his energy off the bench is going to be needed against deeper teams.
Another guy that will be a huge factor vs. the double post teams. His strength and length will be important on the glass and defending bigger teams. Any offense we get from Lexi is gravy, but the potential is there once he gets some confidence. Solid game last night.
Not a bad game for the senior, especially from a boxscore perspective. My qualm comes when you pair Mason with Bradley and the oppsoing defense all of a sudden constricts the court and turns us into the Georgetown Hoyas circa 1985. If we're going to play these two together, let's press and run and try to open the floor. It's unfair to Justin, it's unfair to Doge, and it's hard on my liver.
I get that Barnes is tinkering with some stuff right now and we really don't know anything substantive about the team until we play some big dogs. That typed, there are some things that are still maddening about watching this club night in and night out. I've addressed most of the maddening stuff above, but my final nitpick comes in the form of the personnel group we rolled out the last 5 minutes last night. It was everybody's no-brainer lineup going into the season. Brown, Bradley, Hamilton, Pittman, and James.
Last night is the first time I can remember this group being on the floor together. My question is, why?
Why so late? Why not roll these guys out for 5 minutes per in the previous 4 games? No comprende. But we're 5-0 and ranked second in the country. Chinese water torture I tell you. Some would say the Chinaman is not the issue. Winning is.