At 1:00 Texas draws another road test that will test the freshmen road defense in Lubbock. On the last occasion the Raider motion offense tested the younger Texas players' off-ball defense. I've noticed in particular that Texas has been late getting back to protect the rim. Pittman can't stay on the floor while main replacement Wangmene is an athletic player with a lot of weak-side shot-blocking potential that will be unrealized until he can slide into place without committing a foul.
As unbelievable as it may sound the Texas offense has actually improved in efficiency on offense moving up to 26th in the nation in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Let me head off objections now and say that I think 26th in the nation is a pretty inefficient offense for the talent here but that ranking has been worse this season. Defensive efficiency is holding at 11th in the country.
We've noted that when the younger players are in the perimeter defense is lacking and it exposes the interior guys to fouls. A team that fouls frequently will always suffer from inefficiency because allowing 1 point in a possession (against a lousy 50% FT team) is as bad as allowing a team to shoot 50% on the same number of possessions. Maybe that was obvious but the overall point is this, a defense that fouls a lot is a weak defense even if the depth allows this to happen without hurting player availability. Fouls are killing this team right now, Wangmene isn't giving effective relief of Pittman if he keeps fouling at his current rate.
Trips Right has an interesting writeup on Marchtomarch about how Syracuse handled Georgetown in their recent contest with the staple Boeheim 2-3 zone.. He's been doing some good work over there covering major college games you might want to check out, particularly if this team shows any inclinations of making some noise in the tournament.
I recall back to 2006 when Barnes made heavy use of the 2-3 he had begun to rely on after everyone went down to injury or academics the year before. LaMarcus Aldridge patrolled the middle with Tucker and Buckman on the wings while Paulino and Gibson took the top. The team was bombed by Redick's Dukies and the Volunteers giving up 90+ points in both games due to 12 made 3 pointers from each team (Duke shot 54% from 3, Tennessee shot 50%).
Eventually the team learned to close out more aggressively (facilitated by Aldridge inside) and defeated a loaded Villanova team in a 58-55 struggle where the Wildcats settled for 30 3-pointers and only made 7 (23%).
I wonder if the 2-3 zone could pay off for the Horns using the younger lineup. I know that it wastes on-the-ball talent like Balbay and Bradley but it takes advantage of Texas' length on the wings and makes it easier to collapse inside on penetration. I wonder if Pittman would be able to play longer stretches in a 2-3 zone.
The main reason Texas hasn't used it recently was that the lineups were short with 5-10 Abrams frequently covering 6-3+ athletes and then the current roster made M2M more appealing. I think it could be useful in stretches though, so long as everyone closes out hard on shooters. Playing a more sagging M2M has already been an adjustment made by Barnes and the zone follows the same wisdom. If you have long guys like Hamilton, James and Johnson closing out on guys it makes the corner 3 a less viable weapon.
In lieu of that Peter Bean has a theory on the ailments of Texas basketball this year that basically amounts to the suggestion that Barnes has struggled with the season's potential and pressed too hard trying to build up what clearly had the potential to be a championship team. His metaphor of Mack in the early 00s is a pretty good demonstration of this as Mack had to learn to deal with the expectations in a calm manner.
ESPN classic gifted me another freshman TJ Ford game this time forecasting the Tech road game with a 3 point Texas victory earned by Ford's clutch FT shooting and some power-moves down low by James Thomas down the stretch. I'm not sure if I'll ever enjoy a Texas team like that group over those 2 years.
I think this team is still on the upswing though and is just struggling to apply the lessons flooding through their minds on the road. If so, the game in Lubbock should be a problem with a solution.
Texas kicked off the season with a 6-2 victory over Los Lobos of New Mexico. Jungmann gave 7 solid innings with 2 runs on 7 hits and 8 Ks. He admits the 7 hits is high but the season has started off about as strongly as you would like.
I'll be at the game saturday and come back with some first hand thoughts later.