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Building Blocks

Big 12 notes FTC

Some more to take out of the Texas win over Kansas:

First of all, nobody saw that comeback coming. Not at KU, where Texas never had won, and KU had won 69 straight.

Texas happened to go through a game like that exactly 52 weeks ago, up 10 at UConn and losing by 14. Of course, there you're talking about blowing a lead on the road against a good team, and that happens a lot.

But as we know, last year's team was constructed on the Island of Misfit Toys, and this year's team pulls together like a zipper.

Moreover, they look like they've practiced for adversity. As Trips pointed out, they did just about everything right in winning time, even when they did things that seemed counter-intuitive. I'm writing specifically about the press break, in which J'Covan Brown twice chose not to inbound to Hamilton in order to get the ball to Cory Joseph when they both knew the double would come in the corner. Each time, not only did Joseph get the ball back to Brown under the basket, but Joseph specifically waited for the double team in order to make sure the return pass would be open. That speaks to really good scouting – knowing that a trap would occur in a normally risky place, and that a normally risky pass would be available – as well as good practice. It also speaks to Brown's confidence right now. He didn't throw the ball to Hamilton in part, I think, because he wanted to get it back and be fouled if there was going to be a foul. Last season, that was not always the case.

The surprising factor in the game was Doug Shows, who wore an official's jersey. Maybe I'm missing something, but it appeared to me that he called so many technicals, and made other odd calls, that he will have affected his professional reputation, even though he may have been within the rules. I thought he was wrong to have reviewed the offensive foul called on Jordan Hamilton late in the half, because he thought that Hamilton purposefully hit Tyrel Reed in the face. When he T'd up Hamilton, I thought he was unprofessional when he showed the T in Hamilton's face when Hamilton complained. Marcus Morris had no idea why he was T'd up, and the double T on Selby and Brown seemed to let Selby off the hook, as he grabbed Brown after Brown had called time out, and Brown raised his arm to get away. And then there was the over-the-line call that wiped out a KU free throw. Yeah, upon review, Morris was in the lane early, but I've never seen that called.

Maybe he was the only one that saw the game as spiraling out of control, but even though it was physical, I never got that impression.

FWIW, when I rewatched the game, I saw something that made me think precipitated Hamilton's outburst at Brady Morningstar that cost him the T. About a minute of game time before, Morningstar had been called for reaching in on Hamilton in the corner by the UT bench (by Shows, incidentally). After the whistle blew and play stopped, Morningstar reached over and knocked the ball out of Hamilton's hands. It was a grade-school play and Hamilton barked back. Shows stood between them. I got no idea exactly what Hamilton said after he scored on Morningstar, and I assume he deserved the T, but it didn't come from nowhere.

Fortunately for Texas, none of this mattered. They played some of their best ball of the season when they absolutely had to have it. And that brings me to the question of where this win stands among Texas basketball victories. I'm going to limit the evaluation to regular-season wins, and wins in the Barnes era. There are a couple of reasons for that. One, there just aren't that many historic victories pre-Barnes, even though I'm partial to the 75-69 win over Arkansas at the Erwin Center in 1978, which was the first great win there, and indicated to me that there was a chance that the program was going to be a player from that point.

But, as much as I loved Abe Lemons's style, it turned out that he was not building a great foundation. He won early with Leon Black's leftovers and second-tier guys, and signed only two great players – LaSalle Thompson and Mike Wacker. Wacker's brilliance was cut short by his near-disabling knee injury in 1982. When what turned out to be a fragile collection of talent fell apart, DeLoss Dodds took advantage of the disaster to fire Lemons, a known loose cannon. The result was that the win that I thought was a program-maker turned out to be just a blip in a relatively brief period of good ball.

Bob Weltlich, of course, burned down the village in order to save it, but couldn't save it. Tom Penders rebuilt it, but never really got past the Lemons level of recruiting. Penders' best players were second-level East Coast guys, junior college players who plugged holes, and in-state prospects whom Penders caught on the rebound when they were looking to come home. Penders made Texas a NCAA regular, but never got a top-four seed and only got out of the first weekend twice. So, yeah, beating Xavier in 1990 in the NCAA with a second-half rally like we saw Saturday was great, as was beating Purdue to get to that game... but 1) they're NCAA games and 2) it turned out to be not the start of something special.

But Rick Barnes is different. He has won more than 300 games at UT. He's won more than 50 games against ranked teams, when all of Texas basketball before him didn't manage 25. He's won a slew of NCAA games, more than all but a handful of teams over the last 10 years. He's gone to the Final Four. What I'm getting at is that the big wins we look at are, in fact, big wins, because they are building blocks to greater things.

I've singled out about a half-dozen of these building blocks, and they're not really that hard to figure out, except for the first one.

January 2, 1999 – Texas 73, Colorado 68. This was Barnes's first B12 game. It came in the wake of a 3-8 start, in which he was attempting to boil away all the bad habits formed in the Penders years. I remember watching this game with amazement as the Longhorns worked the ball around the perimeter without jacking open threes (of which there could have been many). UT was not favored and yet controlled the game with the “new” style. Barnes took that team from that horrible start to a 13-3 B12 record and an outright championship by two games. They played poorly and lost to Purdue in the NCAAs, but this first league game showed me that there was organization and a plan.

November 27, 1999 – No. 20 Texas 81, No. 3 Michigan State 74. There are darn few tournament championship victories in the Barnes ledger, but this is one. I know, I know, Mateen Cleaves didn't play that day, but Chris Mihm sure did. It was another indication that Barnes had a winning plan in place, and he didn't even have the foundation recruiting class on hand yet.

February 10, 2003 and March 8, 2003 – No. 6 Texas 67, No. 5 Oklahoma 61; No. 4 Texas 76, No. 5 Oklahoma 71. Maybe this is unfair to the latter game, which until Saturday probably was the most memorable UT comeback I've seen. It could have been the deciding factor in TJ Ford winning the NPOY. But that first one was a huge win. It ended an eight-game losing streak to OU, at a time when barely any player could remember beating the Sooners, and was the key to starting an 8-1 run that pushed them into a No. 1 seed. Kelvin Sampson was not able to beat Texas regularly again. It's telling, in my opinion, that Barnes has been able to keep UT playing at a high level, while OU has fallen off dramatically.

January 2, 2006 – No. 15 Texas 69, No. 4 Memphis 58. To that point, the highest-team Texas had taken down on the road, as well as ending a long home-win streak of the Tigers. Texas had been stomped by Duke in December; this win sent them back into the top 10, where they stayed for the rest of the season. Tied for the B12 championship with KU and lost in overtime to LSU in the Elite Eight.

December 2, 2007 – No. 8 Texas 63, No. 2 UCLA 61. Great atmosphere, great performance... just a huge victory. Even though UT was undefeated and ranked in the top 10, they were taking on a FF team from the year before without Kevin Durant. It was a springboard to another B12 co-championship and EE. This game and season shows what just a little more experience can mean to a college team.

January 22, 2011 – No. 10 Texas 74, No. 2 Kansas 63. We've been over the details. Terrible start, great comeback, display of outstanding individual talent along with tremendous team defense. We'll see where it goes from here.

Just so I can say they are Big 12 notes, I’m going to point out that it was rough day on Saturday for the North. Only one North team, Missouri, won on Saturday, and it played Iowa State. Colorado losing at Oklahoma, Nebraska losing at Tech and Iowa State getting smashed by Missouri shows that the road to respectability often is rocky.

CU had a bad week, also losing at Nebraska, turning a snappy 3-0 start into 3-2 slide toward mediocrity (which, it must be said, is better than most people thought they would manage). But thoughts of this being a darkhorse NCAA team will have to be reviewed.

Same for Nebraska, which is driving people crazy with tempo but still lost to Tech for the first time in five years. And not a decent Tech team, but one that was starting to bring visions of Melvin Watkins and 0-16.

That leaves us with Iowa State, which got steamrolled in Columbia to drop to 14-6, 1-4. Turns out that Ken Pomeroy rates Fred Hoiberg’s first n-c schedule at No. 336 out of 345. But, it should be noted that all three of these squads played n-c schedules ranked 300 or worse. Nebraska, in fact, was ranked 338th. All three of them, and Baylor (325) will have some figurative splainin to do when the selection committee meets, assuming they're still in the conversation.

Big Monday tonight: Baylor at K-State... Baylor, at 3-2, could use the game; K-State, at 1-4, absolutely has to have it. I think the Wildcats will get it.