Well, I rewatched the game and it's a bad news good news deal, which is surprising because I thought yesterday was an unmitigated disaster before I rewound the tape.
Make no mistake about it, this was one of the most disappointing halves of basketball Texas has played in quite some time, but I'm not ready to give up the National Championship ghost just yet. Let's start with the bad news which might sound an awful like post mortems past. Check out Sailor's post here.
First, it wouldn't be post mortem without talking about our starting lineup, but in his limited minutes on the floor, Dexter Pittman needs to be surrounded by shooters. His game is porked for nearly 20% of his floor time when we roll out Balbay and Mason together. It's settled science at this point. This lineup has single handedly sapped the big fella of all his confidence and it's no coincidence he's been in foul trouble early and often in 2010.
The General makes some great points about the 4 out look to give Dex some room inside. I second that motion, and I would add that we need to start to move Balbay around the perimeter to dictate where help is coming from and get him out of the mix as it relates to getting Dexter the ball. One way you can do this is by using guard to big screens with Balbay. This forces Balbay's man to play defense by showing, hedging or bumping the cutter, instead of just sagging to take away entry pass angles. Watch how Uconn uses their guards as screeners to free Robinson for easy looks.
Second, and the along the lines of point number one, we really need to reevaluate how we teach our kids the screen game because we screen for shit.
Sorry, but we do.
Our cutters don't set up screens well and our screeners don't seek contact for the most part. We're in such a damn hurry to find the ball that we aren't making ourselves hard to guard. For contrast, watch the Huskies and their screen game and particularly how Dyson uses screens. On at least two of Dyson's buckets, there were no less than 4 solid screens where the screener made solid contact with Bradley. The open looks Dyson got weren't surprising.
To counter Texas started over hedging and showing, and then Uconn was able to find the screeners inside for layups and drawn fouls. Texas on the other hand randomly screens and our players are largely easy to guard unless they're making individual plays. Our lack of a coherent screening strategy is also preventing us from establishing Pittman consistently.
Third, off the ball, we don't guard very well. On three interior cross screens in the second half, just a simple block to block exchanges, not only did our kids fail to bump the cutter to knock him off his route to the block, but the defenders in question didn't even show to allow their teammate to recover. The culprits were Hamilton, Brown, and Mason and the results were layups. This facet of team defense is usually a staple of Rick Barnes coached clubs so I'm assuming it gets fixed. But yesterday, it was dog shit.
Finally, basketball players need a comfort zone. It's hard enough to run a "random" offense and know who needs to get the ball and when. You also need a comfort zone to shoot foul shots, after all, if you've followed basketball for a I while, a big part of the offensive side of the equation is doing things to DRAW fouls.
You also need a comfort zone to be able to recognize what a good shot is and what bad shot is. What constitutes a good shot when you're getting a solid 30 minutes a game can be entirely different thing if you know you're only getting 20 minutes. I'm pretty sure Cole Aldrich knows when, where, and how many touches he'll get in a given game. John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, and Demarcus Cousins aren't worried about getting pulled. Do you think they're in a comfort zone? They just curb stomped Arkansas by 30 so allegedly, the Wildcats are pretty comfortable in their basketball skin.
The point is, it might be high time that Barnes foster some comfort level for the kids by regimenting playing time, shortening the bench, and simplifying his substitution patterns.
On the flip side, there is some good news to take away from this obviously disappointing performance.
First of all Damion James and Gary Johnson are playing the best basketball of their respective careers. Damion is a legitimate POY candidate and as The General stated in his post, the Horns can and should be running offense through him. As for Johnson, if we had the inclination, we could turn him into a bonafide stud in the high post with his game vs. zone and man to man defense alike to compliment Dexter Pittman's low block work. Overall, GJ gives us a terrific frontcourt option going forward.
Second, the light for Jordan Hamilton is starting to flicker. The shots he took in this ballgame were exactly what the team needed after Uconn had made its run. We just need to find a way to protect the kid on the other end because he is a horrible off the ball, helpside defender. But as the team's only true 3 Jordan is a valuable weapon in every other aspect of the game. He's an elite scorer, an elite shooter, and his length allows him to compete on the glass with the best frontcourts in the nation which is huge because he's doing that from the 3 spot. Also, the two magnificent dimes he had were special, special stuff. He needs to be given some more freedom and more minutes.
Overall, even after two straight losses, this team still has all of its goals out in front of them. KSU's loss might end up being huge as the conference race shakes out and Kansas has to come to Austin. If we can right the ship and take care of business by winning the conference we still have shot at a 1 seed and a path to the final four through Houston. I'll chalk up this bump in the road to a typical Rick Barnes January swoon which will be fixed come tourney time. But if we lose to Tech or Baylor this week I might be doing some reassessing.