I don’t want to overhype them, but I’m talking Final Four with this Texas club. ~Brent Musberger.
And I tend to agree there, Brent. Perhaps Vegas does too after losing their collective asses on the Longhorns over the last 17 games where the University has gone a ridiculous 14-3 against the spread. Yes, Texas is that good. Hell, they’re basically a Kemba Walker step back pull-up and some made free throws against Pitt from being a one loss club and the number 2 team in the nation.
In this ballgame, the Horns were supposed to run into a Reed Arena buzzsaw, but if you read BarkingCarnival you’d know better. The Aggies’ guard play is horrid and their frontcourt is not much better. What we didn’t know is that Khris Middleton would score as many points as a dead man courtesy of—wait for it—Jordan Hamilton. Yes, the same Jordan Hamilton who in 2009 thought ball-you-man defense was as hip as peach baskets and James Naismith set shots. No more of that for the talented wing from Compton, he straight up guarded Khris Middleton’s ass from tip to horn in dominating fashion. He also poured in 20 points on excellent shot selection. That’s leadership folks. That’s Player of the Year caliber stuff.
As for the rest of the team, they played about as well in terms of team basketball as you can play on both ends of the floor. Now wrap you head around this for a second. In the first half as Texas was building an insurmountable 25 point lead, 95% of the first stanza saw Texas play Matt Hill/Alexis Wangmene on the floor along with Dogus Balbay, which is a far cry from the dream-wagon offensive lineup you’d think they’d need in a hostile environment like Reed Arena. How’d they pull it off? They ran their stuff and found good shot after good shot on spots on the floor that took advantage of the players’ strengths.
Balbay took it to the rack in transition for offense, but he screened Hamilton open off the ball in the halfcourt. Cory Joseph was his heady self, while Tristan Thompson faced up Loubeau mercilessly. Brown found offense in transition, and Lucas entered the ball to Thompson and Hamilton for easy looks. Hell, Matt Hill dominated the offensive backboards and even hit a 15 foot jumper off of a driving find by Hamilton. On one set, Wangmene set a ball screen for Joseph as Hamilton was getting a double screen on the other side. As the entire helpside flow went toward Hamilton, Joseph dropped a nice dime back to Wangmene on the roll for an easy And-1. Just a brilliantly designed set by Barnes for an easy 3 that has been a microcosm of the whole season thus far. It was team basketball that’s worthy of comparison to Indiana circa 1986 in deference to the game’s color commentator.
Defensively, it was vintage Barnes. On the ball defense was suffocating and the helpside rotations were exquisite. But Hamilton, oh Hamilton, his defensive performance came out of left field and should be considered a hallmark of his newfound maturity. Again, he’s your alpha dog and we’re in good hands as a result. On to the grades…
Jordan Hamilton. A+. Sure he had his run of the mill 7-14 shooting performance, creating offense when mere mortals would pick up their dribble to pass out of pressure, but I’m literally astounded by the job he did on Middleton. Pop in a tape, dude looks like he’s channeling Stacy Augmon or Gary Payton with the pride and effort he takes in locking down the Aggies' best player. Hamilton also stuffed the stat sheet with 6 boards, 3 assists, and 2 blocks to go along with 20 points. But the defense, my lord. He couldn’t stay in front of me last year and now he’s a lockdown defender. Just a huge turnaround for the young man. He needs to get Player of the Year candidate talk right now.
Tristan Thompson. B. It was a tough stat game for the young post, but when you consider how he dominates the paint in terms of altered shots and drawn fouls, it was another dominating performance. The foul shots need to get corrected, and fast, but everything else is right where you want it.
Cory Joseph. A. He’s the most skilled glue guy on the planet. He can put up an efficient offensive performance with the best of them as his 5-10 from the field will attest, but Cory does so much more for this Texas squad. He locks down the opposition on defense, he makes an impact on the glass from the guard position, and he’s unflappable when it comes to handling the ball. I think the 10 attempts is perfect for Cory, especially when he’s dropping 3 dimes a game and not turning the ball over.
Dogus Balbay. A. The kid is playing at a high level despite the fact that some teams like TAMU refuse to play him on defense. As we posited in the preview, Turgeon refused to guard Balbay for stretches in the game, and even put Middleton on Balbay in a one-man zone to muck up offense in the paint. No worries, Coach Barnes deployed Balbay on the baseline to screen for scorers like Thompson and Hamilton knowing no hedge help was forthcoming. Balbay did affect the game on offense by getting some transition buckets, but once again he locked down his cover whether it be Harris or Middleton.
Matt Hill. A. Matt fucking Hill. Wow, he dominated Loubeau on the defensive end and gave us a credible offensive threat on the other. The 4 offensive boards and 8 boards all told are just huge for this team especially when Tristan Thompson is playing opposite of you. Hill is the wildcard that every championship team needs to have emerge down the stretch. If he keeps this type of play going, he gives the Horns a big element they didn’t have going into this season.
J’Covan Brown. B. Takes good shots, check. Steals? Yep. Assists and creating on offense, you betcha. It’s all good and we all know he’s our best closer in terms of closing out games. But I’m sorry, I have a problem with the drama especially when the team is enjoying yet another huge game-changing win. It’s a nice story that his teammates are pulling him into the huddle after he was yanked for a horrible behind the back pass, but take some coaching, dude. You messed up, it happens. Move on and help this team get to where it wants to go. The pouting is getting old.
Alexis Wangmene. A-. Put the Aggies in front of Alexis and he’s going to have a coming out party. He played huge on the boards and finished all of his bunnies. The two blocks were also huge, but you have to catch the ball better if you want to take it to the next level. Still, if we can get this kind of production from another big it adds a different dimension to this club.
Gary Johnson. B-. With Texas A&M choosing to turn this thing ugly inside, Rick Barnes wisely went to a bigger lineup to take heat off of Thompson so GJ got limited minutes. In his 18 minutes of play, Johnson was limited to just 2 boards and just 1-3 from the floor and 1-2 on the foul line. Going forward we’ll need more production and mismatch scenarios out of Gary, but tonight his services weren’t all that vital thanks to WangHill.
Jai Lucas. B-. I thought he made a couple nice entry passes but he also made some poor floor decisions dribbling into traps and taking some quick shots. At some point he’s got to hit a 3, right?
Coaching. A+. Look, this wasn’t a game the Horns were supposed to win. Coach Barnes deserves all the credit in the world for pushing the right buttons and getting us ready to play. The ability to manufacture offense with defensive personnel in the game is rivaled only by the invention of the assembly line, the cotton gin, and Bob Knight’s motion offense. The job Barnesy has done in that respect this year is sick really, especially when you consider where we’ve come from.
Psychologically, he had his kids believing they’d embarrass the Aggies and they did exactly that. Case in point was Jordan Hamilton putting his thumb and pinky to his ear towards the TAMU student section early in the game to say, "Call me," after a nice drive to the goal. As for the rest of the lads, who on the squad didn’t look ready to play? Who looked scared? If you answered no one, you win a BC fanny pack. If we get to San Antonio as a 1 seed, you may win a Texas Longhorn Final Four appearance.