We've been talking about it on this site for the better part of a month.
Maybe it's time to temper expectations about this team. Yep, I get that we are 18-3. I get that we are still in January and Barnes' best work is done in March. I'll even grant that this ain't college football and every now and again average teams will jump up and bite an elite team in the ass. South Carolina anyone?
But that's not the point. It's not the opponent. It's us.
Game in and game out this basketball team continues to make the same sorts of mistakes on both ends of the floor. We continue to roll out the same mismatched, ham-handed substitution patterns. We continue to miss foul shots at a rate that would make junior high players blush. We don't play sound team defense and our halfcourt offensive game has no flow, no rhyme, no reason. Hell, the fact that we've won most of these games really doesn't matter a whole bunch if you're focused on the tournament because we've been fortunate up until now. So instead of making excuses and rationalizing the poor play, maybe we should, I don't know, refocus our expectation level.
I hear this question or at least a form of this question all the time. What's changed? What happened? What's different?
Well there isn't a whole lot that has changed.
We beat up on a schedule that wasn't nearly as strong as the one we thought we'd be playing before the season started. UNC and Pitt are shells of their normal selves and we caught Michigan State at home when we still had some semblance of confidence in our own abilities. The component that did change is something we've talked about on this site for a few months now and that is the fact that coaches watch film. After a few games it became apparent on how to attack this team. It was just a matter of time before we started running into teams with athletes that could make these obvious weaknesses count.
Which leads me to the next question I hear all the time.
Well, this one's pretty easy and I've alluded to it pretty much for the last month.
This team is horrible in its halfcourt offense when Balbay and Mason play together. Just really easy to guard. We were sagged to death by KSU and UConn, and zoned to death vs. Baylor. I mean 60 points at the end of regulation vs. Baylor at home would have been disgraceful for last year's anemic offense.
So why not play Brown or Hamilton for offensive punch? Because on the other end, you'd have a hard time finding a worse off the ball defensive duo anywhere in college basketball. They have no concept of team man-to-man defense. Just none. Don't believe me? Watch the second half of the UConn game and the first half of Tech. It's the main reason Mason has played so much.
Compounding the Problem
Take all of that and add in two troubling ingredients that may or may not be intertwined.
First, there is such a dearth of confidence in this team it is bordering on astounding. McDonald's all-American Jai Lucas makes Freddie Williams look like Curly Neal. McDonald's all-American Jordan Hamilton looks absolutely lost on the floor. There were folks comparing him to Paul Pierce for fucksake. Now he plays like Paul Giamatti. Potential lottery pick Dexter Pittman was tea bagged by Josh Lomers today and has probably cost himself $20 million by coming back to school. Avery Bradley, who was ostensibly our go-to guy two weeks ago, took 11 shots in 40 minutes of floor action. He made 3. Oh yeah, he was rated the best player in America over John Wall his senior year in high school. You'd think Tweety Carter would be a light snack for him.
J'Covan Brown up until this game looked lost, but I'm actually kind of heartened by his play today. It's amazing what getting thrown into the fire as the last resort can do for your psyche, knowing you're not coming out of the game. Alexis Wangmene plays basketball like a soccer player. Clint Chapman, who many folks thought could be better than Nick Collison or Raef Lafrenz, is now so afraid to make a mistake, that he's gotten less minutes this year than Ian Moody played last season.
The common denominator in all of these players is regression. For some reason, they've all gotten worse over the course of their time on the 40 acres. I'll leave it to the reader to draw his own conclusions.
Further compounding the team's woes is our utter incompetency at the foul line. We suck as much as Nick Anderson, Derrick Coleman, and the 1981 Houston Cougars all rolled into one. We take every foul shot like there's an NBA Championship or a National Championship on the line. We're 35 for 60 in our last two games as a team, and a lot of you would consider that a success based on what you've seen all year. That's pathetic. Ridiculous.
Again, I'll leave it to the reader to make up his mind about the source of this problem.
As far as this game goes, I thought the kids played hard and left everything on the floor.
But the elephant in the room is that this is a team that doesn't look like it's having fun. It's a team that collectively needs to get out of its head and just get back to playing basketball. Did you notice how good this team looked when it started pressing? Notice how much better we moved the ball and attacked once we were down by a significant amount? The reason is that pressing and playing with nothing to lose gets you out of your head and back to just playing on instinct. Now it's the coaches' job to figure out a way to foster this feeling and salvage what little confidence this team has left.
If it takes pressing the whole game and limiting your rotation to just seven or eight players so be it. Time is getting short especially considering virtually every team left on the schedule has the horses and the blueprint to beat the Longhorns.
Yes, I get that we're 18-3, but we're playing like a team that's on the bubble. And if we don't do something fast, we may well end up there.