The evolution of the 2009-2010 basketball team started in earnest last night with an explosive offensive win against a decent Long Beach State club. By far, this was the best offensive showing to date, but that doesn't tell the entire story. Hell, the 107 point outburst on its face is fine, but it's hardly the most encouraging component to the performance. It's how the Horns topped the century mark that's important. Teams can press their way, or shoot their way, or mismatch their way to a 59% shooting night. It happens all the time.
But when an up to this point mish-mashed group of talented players hits 107 on 59% shooting and does it with a season high 23 team assists, it's reason for ear-to-ear grins.
So what happened? What's evolving? What changed? Well, in a word, trust. The coaching staff showed trust in its players last night. No one was yanked prematurely for a bad shot or boneheaded turnover. For the most part, the younger players were allowed a larger margin for error. These players then reciprocated the trust by taking better shots, looked to find teammates with extra passes, and played hard on both ends the entire night. The result was a performance worthy of this team's preseason hype. Finally. To the players...
Dexter's foul trouble gave the staff an excuse to give the younger players more minutes, but when the big fella did play, he provided an uber-efficient 1 point per minute performance on his way to 11 points on 5 for 6 shooting. Had we needed Dex, we could have played him 20 minutes and been guaranteed a 20 and 10 gem of a ballgame. He was that dominant last night. The most exciting thing I saw out of Dex's game last night was a willingness to pass out of double teams. He kicked to a wide open Jordan Hamilton for a 3 and he hit a cutting Avery Bradley out of two double teams. This is next level stuff for Dex.
For Damion, it was about as close to a perfect performance as you can get. He took one bad shot, and the rest were putbacks, dime finishes, and spot up 3's. He continues to be a monster on the glass, but I was impressed with his defense both on the ball and helpside. We'll need these two components to his game in the coming weeks when Texas faces teams with elite big forwards.
It was one of the best games Dogus has had as a Longhorn. He was in complete control of the floor and he did a masterful job of getting everyone involved. His 11 assists are a function of being able to get anywhere on the floor with the dribble as long as we keep helpside defenders out of the equation with the threat of perimeter playmakers. When we had Mason in the game, we immediately saw the zone or soft man. When we flank Balbay with the freshmen, he blows by at will, even if his man plays with two feet in the paint. The tempo was also tailor made for DB's game and I thought we did a good job of dictating the faster tempo with some token fullcourt pressure, and Long Beach State was willing participant of the fullcourt party. Consider this tempo a minipreview of the UNC game as they won't be able to help themselves. The Heels have to play fast. Michigan State on the other hand will test Doge's ability to control tempo. All and all, 11 assists in 24 floor minutes tells the tale.
As far as trust goes, Jordan was the biggest beneficiary and it helped him have his best performance as a Longhorn. Hamilton was a terrific 6-12 from the field, but more importantly, he was looking for teammates all night. The statistician shorted him a couple assists, he finished with 3, but Jordan's willingness to make the extra pass tonight was a direct result of knowing he wasn't going to be pulled. Credit Barnes for pushing that button.
As for Jordan going forward, he's your X factor when we play UNC and Michigan State. Jordan has to be in ballgames to rebound the weakside glass after any kind of penetration that leads to Pittman or Damion James helpside. If we have a third guard like Mason that has to drop down and board against the bigs from either of these two schools, we're going to get hammered on the glass. Jordan's size as a true 3 will be key in getting a win or at least a stalemate on the boards.
As for comparing Jordan's game to other players, I know Paul Pierce has been floated, but Hamilton's not near the athlete Pierce is in my opinion. Instead, Jordan's uncanny shot making reminds me of Syracuse scoring phenom Lawrence Moten. Of course, Moten was 6-4 on a good day and Jordan's 6-7, but both players have/had a knack for scoring unconventionally around the goal. Don't get me wrong, Jordan's the better shooter and player, it's just an observation.
The best form shooter on the club is starting to look aggressively for his offense which is a terrific sign. When Avery is shooting 13 shots a game, hitting 3's, and looking to score this team goes from being a very good defensive team to being dynamic on both ends. When he finds his comfort zone, we're golden. 7-13 with two 3's is just what the doctor ordered for the young man's confidence.
J'Covan struggled with trying to make plays that weren't there and his 6 turnovers attest to his poor decision making on the night. Still, his ability to score the basketball is undeniable. The 3-6 from deep is an encouraging sign that he's coming out of his semi-shooting slump. His ability to shoot the 3 will be sorely needed when teams decide that a zone is the perfect tonic to our depth and explosiveness.
Par for the course, Gary comes in and provides instant offense and energy on defense. I'd love to see him continue to be involved in our uptempo/pressure packages because he's going to leave it all on the floor defensively and he excels when given the proper spacing offensively. As always the question mark is his ability to provide productive minutes against bigger teams.
Lexi played his best game of the young season. He was physical away from the ball, but last night he showed good hands and touch around the basket finishing dimes off of dribble penetration. His pick and roll stuff with Balbay looked like Johnson and McHale type stuff. We'll need Lexi's size and strength in the coming weeks.
Quiet game for JM as he gave way to some of the younger players. He's still a valuable glue guy that can come in and give max effort on defense and handle the ball in certain situations.
Showed great tenacity and ability to play in the front court. The next great pick and pop Longhorn.
He's not redshirting, allegedly. Good to see him get some quality minutes. If the light comes on, watch out.
He'll need to tighten up the laces in the next few games. We'll need his size and the 5 fouls that come with them.
Great job by the staff to continue to build the foundation of what should be a special season. Last night was a huge step offensively for this club. It was a terrific offensive performance built on trust and unselfishness, that should serve us well down the road. When your freshman superstar small forward from LA is passing up open court layups to get Matt Hill in the box score, it's definitely a great sign. Next step? Vanquishing a ranked opponent.