In sports, the term perfect storm is often misused because these "storms" can often be avoided. There’s nothing perfect about something you can prevent. So when I hear talking heads carp about a barrage of tough shots, missed free throws, poor defense, tired legs and a perfect storm of various other factors coming together that caused a Longhorn second half collapse against the Buffs, I can only shake my head. And a review of the game-tape a few times this morning only confirms my suspicions.
My answer to the meteorology metaphor is guard better, run your offense, but more importantly, play at a tempo that allows you to take advantage of your matchups—call the last item, the Nebraska element. If we do any of those three, especially the tempo piece, we win this ball game going away, just as we would have against Nebraska. The damnable misery of it all is that the responsibility of dictating tempo falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff, especially if that staff has better guard play and better players overall. I’ll wait for you to peruse the respective rosters of Colorado and Nebraska to see what I’m talking about.
Going into the Nebraska game, our staff knew a game played at a fifties or early sixties type pace would be the only way we’d get beat. I’m not talking about final score here where frantic fouling and 3-point shooting push the game towards the 70’s, I’m talking about a halfcourt grinder with Nebraska running 30 second possessions and pounding the interior. Had we pushed tempo by extending our defense forcing Almeida and Diaz to play away from the pivot area, we win. Instead, Texas accepted Nebraska’s invitation to play in their comfort zone and we paid the price.
Fast forward to Saturday and apply the same tempo criteria but this time spot the Horns a 19 point lead early in the second half. Considering CU’s personnel, which tempo best allows the Horns to take advantage of mismatches? If you guessed an up and down, one pass and jack type of game, then congratulations, you too have a competency for blowing huge leads against teams that have zero size, and a propensity to not guard anyone.
At halftime of the CU game, the message needed to be at least one paint catch before anyone looked to shoot and preferably two paint catches for every possession. A little Norman Dale, four passes before every shot would have worked nicely. Individually, there was an excellent growth opportunity for J’Covan Brown had we simply handed him the ball to start the second half and asked him to implement this fancy "run-your-stuff" strategy. Ownership and responsibility are just what a kid like Brown needs coming off the most complete half of basketball the young man has played in a Texas uniform. Sure J’Covan shot it well, but he guarded with passion and played an unselfish brand of basketball worthy of more minutes as a lead guard at a top 5 school. As it turns out, it was an opportunity missed because Brown was inserted just after the "perfect storm" commenced leaving the Port Arthur star in "get buckets" mode—the exact opposite of what is warranted tempo-wise against a team like Colorado.
To the grades…
Jordan Hamilton C. Want to shut down Alec Burks? Run him off flex cut screens fifty times while chasing Jordan Hamilton and see how well he shoots from the bench riddled with foul trouble. Think that would create some pin down post looks for Thompson—in turn creating some foul trouble for CU’s bigs, which in turn gives weakside glass looks for GJ, necessitating more size from CU’s bench, leading to a less affective 5-out offense for the Buffaloes. So why the hell is Hamilton shooting 13 shots from beyond the arc and about 27 "not in the flow of the offense" type of field goal attempts in the game overall? If just 10 of those looks were off of flex cuts and curls, Texas wins this game. Again, it’s maddening, but I’m not going to totally fault Hamilton because I don’t think anyone was deployed correctly.
J’Covan Brown A-. He played the best half of basketball I’ve seen him play and I’m not really talking about his shooting when I say that. He was in complete control and command of the game, looking like a lead guard should look on both ends of the floor. He penetrated and flattened out the defense for an exquisite dime to Johnson, had a great look ahead to Joseph after ripping Higgins, and then looked for offense appropriately. His shooting credibility alone accounted for open looks for a number of Longhorns during that explosive first half. Again, when he’s playing at that type of level, there’s not a team in America we can’t beat.
Unfortunately he was misused in the second half and inserted at a point in the game where we needed manufactured offense by running our stuff instead of instant offense on the bench. There was a growth opportunity there for the taking had we allowed Brown to start the second half, but the coaching dogma of starting the 2nd half with your starters cost us in a big way. Balbay is mature enough to handle the situation, so why not build on Brown’s early success and give your team the best chance to win? It may seem like a small thing, but I thought the away from the ball offensive foul called on Brown took the young man out of the game mentally because after the call Brown chatted with the official from one end of the floor to the other. After that, it was same old J’Covan. Oh well.
Gary Johnson B+. Oh what could have been for the senior post. Colorado’s personnel is a sweet spot for Johnson especially when you consider all of the attention Hamilton and Thompson should have been getting had we simply been patient while running offense. I like my chances when Levi Knudson is dropping down to battle Gary Johnson for a weakside board when Thompson or Hamilton are shooting five footers, so much so that I suspect the CU coaching staff would have hated it enough to get out of their four guard offense at some point in favor of more size. Hell, probably a point before CU came all the way back from 19 down. As it stands, Gary played great with 17 points on 5 for 11 shooting with 15 foul shots. Gary also defended well, especially considering he was guarding a perimeter player for much of the game. The grade is an A if he hits 3 more free throws.
Tristan Thompson A. For Tristan Thompson not to have 25 and 10 against the likes of CU is galactically stupid. Going into this game you have to draw up a game plan designed to get TT 20 shots minimum, if not more. At halftime in a game you’re up 15 vs. a squad that needs to play 4 guards and a wing to get back into the contest, the game plan has to be centered around post touches.
The fact that CU only played their one true post for just half of this game and Thompson still only got 11 looks is crazy. Again, I don’t fault the kid because the deployment was just stupid. A 5 for 11, 16 point game with 8 boards should have been much more based on who we were playing, and that’s on the staff.
Cory Joseph A. At first blush I thought Cory disappeared but after reviewing the tape I thought he played a really efficient game offensively, and could have had a great game had we run offense. Cory wasn’t selfish one bit in this game, so that explains why he only got 8 attempts in a 90 point contest. Had we played honest to goodness offense in the second half, I suspect Joseph would have had 16-18 points on just 4 more attempts. He finished 5 for 8 for 12 points with 5 assists and 1 turnover.
Doge Balbay B. Again, I get that we need bodies and defenders against CU’s perimeter depth, but I thought Brown should have been given the reins a bit more in this game. Still Doge played well against Burks on the defensive end getting the short end of the stick on a couple of questionable calls. Offensively, he played a typical Doge game with one bucket and 4 assists and zero turnovers.
Coaching F. For as good as Barnes has been at pushing all the right buttons this season, he was equally as bad in the second half of this contest. Texas could have flex cut and pinned the smallish Buffalos into submission five minutes into the second half of this game had the message been delivered vehemently enough in the lockerroom. Our coach was duped into relying on a fool’s gold type of first half and he should know better. From the opening tip, the Horns could have used their size advantage on offense to help counter Colorado’s open post, five out offense by simply bludgeoning the smaller CU squad until they were forced to sub for defensive purposes. Instead, we played at a pace that inhibited our size advantage which allowed the Buff’s to keep five perimeter guys on the floor to kill us on the other end.
Basic strategy means there’s simply no excuse to allow one pass possessions to become the norm in a game where you have better guards, better players, and a double digit lead against a team like CU. We could have flex cut with Hamilton and then pinned with Thompson to our heart’s content yesterday and we would have had all the layups we could eat. Any misses and CU would have zero chance against Gary Johnson on the offensive glass. Instead we took difficult shot after difficult shot bailing out the smaller Buffs from having to defend or from worrying about foul trouble in a tightly called ball game. It’s so mind numbingly stupid that I have a hard time faulting the kids. Add the context of how and why we lost to Nebraska, and I wonder if it’s our coaching staff that has tired legs heads.
This one stings because now we need to win out against two formidable opponents just to tie for the conference crown. Kansas State is going to come to Austin and guard our ass, especially if we continue to be stagnant on offense. They’ll also get a stalemate on the glass if not better, so we won’t be able to steal possessions to make up for a poor shooting night. Then, it’s off to Baylor to play a talented team with their backs against the wall. It wasn’t a perfect storm that got us here, it was two disastrously coached games with respect to tempo. For now, let’s hold off on calling FEMA, but perhaps dial Bob Knight or Jerry Sloan’s phone number instead.