This Texas team must no doubt feel like they are living in their own personal Groundhog Day. It was another game that Texas should have lost, but could have won. Baylor carried a 9 point lead into halftime, and it was a lead that fluctuated between 5 to 10 points for most of the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half. I admit to getting distracted, as I didn't think the Horns had the horses to mount a credible comeback.
But down 8 at the U-12 timeout, Texas went on a 10-2 run to tie the game at 54, then closed the margin again at 66. Both ties were courtesy of J'Covan Brown, who hit two 3-pointers as part of his manly 32-point effort. A third comeback was not to be, as Brown's final 3 attempt to tie the game went long, clanged off the side of the rim, and went through a surprised Sheldon McClellan's hands and out of bounds. Futility, thy name is Texas end-game offensive sets.
For those fans that are nothing but despair and grief, take heed. Despite the mediocre 13-8 record, Texas is ranked #20 overall by Ken Pomeroy, #30 by Jeff Sagarin, and...well...#63 by RPI. But still, those first two are awesome!
Seriously, Texas is a good, if young and repeatedly defeated, team. The Longhorns still have a shot at the NCAAs, with a very manageable back 9 schedule. Pomeroy actually predicts that Texas will go on a 9-game win streak before falling in the season finale at Kansas. That said, at this point, Texas still has no signature win. On Saturday, Iowa State beat Kansas in Ames, and Oklahoma knocked off Kansas St. on the road. That was on the heels of Oklahoma State's home win against Missouri on Wednesday. It's a good year in the Big 12, and victories won't come easy unless you're playing Texas Tech.
For the Longhorns, it's put up or shut up time. The advanced metrics say Texas is good, but as Will Muschamp was fond of saying that one time, "stats are for losers." A win at home against Missouri on Big Monday is a need to have for this Texas team.
But back to assessing Baylor.
J'Covan Brown - I'm not sure how many more times I'll have to say this, but I'll say it again. J'Covan is a J'Player. Period. People writing off this season are missing one of the great Longhorns of our time. Dude is such a joy to watch on the court, it's hard to put into words. Brown shook off his 3-game slump in a big way. After a slow start, Brown ended up pouring in 32 points on 11-22 shooting with 5 assists to boot. To put those 22 shots into perspective, the other 4 players in the starting lineup had 22 shots--combined. It's not selfishness on Brown's part. He's (best Chris Traeger voice) litrally the best offensive option for Texas on any given possession. It's not just his scoring that keeps Texas going, either. He's incredible at reading and breaking down defenses, threading passes through traffic, and running into or away from out-of-position defenders.
Myck Kabongo's 2nd Half - It's a real shame that Kabongo was saddled with early foul trouble, because he played a fantastic 2nd half and looked prime and ready to abuse Pierre Jackson and AJ Walton. Kabongo had only one turnover, a questionable but (in my opinion) correct charging call that also doubled as his fourth foul. Other than that, Kabongo had 12 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 huge second-half 3-point buckets released with a buttery smooth stroke. Obviously, the 4-8 FT shooting hurt, particularly the last missed FT that would have brought Texas to within 1 instead of 2.
Texas' Passing - Say what you want about Rick Barnes' offensive coaching, but he sure knows how to push Scott Drew's buttons. The Longhorn passing attack was in full force on Saturday. Rotation passes, skip passes, elbow passes, entry passes, penetration passes...everything was in the arsenal for the Texas guards. Except for guys making the shots at the receiving end of the pass.
Julien Lewis' Floater - Lewis scored 4 of his 6 total points on two nifty in-lane floaters that probably reminded Texas fans of the Augustin/Abrams years. Other than that, Lewis was an offensive zero, but my, those floaters were nice. More, please.
Perry Jones III's Talent - There are times where Perry Jones just looks like God's gift to basketball, and he flashed multiple instances against Texas. He's got a smooth 12-foot jumper, an array of post moves, and a length that easily led to a game-high 14 rebounds. He flat out abused Clint Chapman, a guy 3 years older and 10 pounds heavier than him. Sometimes, you just shake your head watching Jones and say, "wow."
The rest of Baylor's frontcourt - Even after all that praise about Jones, I still favor Quincy Acy as my favorite Bear. When he first started at Baylor, Acy was an athlete of the highest order--the Bear version of Dion Dowell. Acy could jump out of a building and throw down thunderous dunks, but that was about it. Four years later, and Acy is a basketball player. He's got a sweet-looking jumper and amazing body control that he uses to spin and finger-roll in the lane or send defenders flying on a strong box-out rebound. Meanwhile, freshman Quincy Miller is a scoring machine and just raw enough at the other parts of his game that he may come back for a second year. Combined, these guys are a matchup nightmare, and seeing Texas start with Chapman on Jones and Lewis on Miller was flat-out comical. Backup Anthony Jones hardly played, and he would start at the 4 for Texas.
Foul Trouble - Overall, I thought the officials were pretty atrocious both ways. They over-called some ticky-tack fouls, and then let some blatant body contact go. I did think the Acy screen on Kabongo was legit, and that's on Wangmene for not calling it out. From the Texas perspective, Chapman and Kabongo did their team no favors by picking up two early fouls on plays they really could have let go. Chapman's was on the interior in help D, while Kabongo's were 25 feet from the basket. Both players' infraction woes continued in the second half, and Holmes' early contributions were stunted by 5 fouls of his own. Texas doesn't have the depth to play a war of attrition, particularly against a Baylor squad that goes 10 deep without a steep drop-off in the second string.
Texas Frontcourt Defense - Yes, the Jones-Acy-Miller triumvirate is ridiculously talented, but Texas did itself no favors in "defending" them. Baylor forwards were repeatedly left unguarded on the perimeter, despite proving time and again all of them can hit the open jumper. As I previously mentioned, Perry Jones was too quick for the slower Chapman, and Miller too tall for Texas' preferred 3 guard sets. At all three positions, the Bears ate up defenders on the interior and on the glass. The Texas frontcourt combined for 13 rebounds total; Perry Jones had 14 rebounds by himself.
Baylor's Backcourt - On the flipside, Baylor's guards did little to impress. Pierre Jackson racks up assists because everyone on his flank can score, but he just doesn't look like a true distributor on the court and was frazzled into five turnovers. Brady Heslip is a catch and shoot player, and when he goes 1-5 from distance, he's a liability, not an asset. AJ Walton hasn't improved one iota in three years. At the beginning of the year, I posited that if Scott Drew could coax some production out of his guards, Baylor is a potential Final Four team. Well, the Bear guards will have to play better than they did Saturday to make it there.
Perry Jones' demeanor - Jones' draft stock has been falling this year, and the common complaints are that he's too passive and doesn't dominate games like he should. And even when putting together a dominant performance against Texas, his facial expression never changed once during the game. Seriously, Jones makes Jim Caldwell look like a ball of excitement. Let's just say I would be less than shocked if I found out Jones didn't love playing basketball.
First Half Shooting - At the U-12 timeout, Texas led 17-16 and looked like they were firmly in the thick of things. 12 minutes later, the Longhorns added just 12 more points and went into the half with just 29. Shooting woes were the culprit. Texas shot 1-12 from long distance in the first half, and consistently missed open shots without getting offensive rebounds. The only make wasn't even by a Texas guard; it was by Jonathan Holmes. Brown and Kabongo redeemed the overall numbers by hitting 6 treys in the 2nd half, but Lewis ended up 0-6 and McClellan 0-3.
Sheldon McClellan - Speaking of McClellan, he was flat out awful. He scored just 2 points (on free throws) and hardly involved himself in the offense. He wasn't any better on defense, and his most egregious error was allowing Brady Heslip (!) to blow by him and get an And-1 bucket. The foul was Holmes' third and pretty much knocked Holmes out of his rhythm for the rest of the game. Barnes was so infuriated with McClellan that he yanked him out of the game and sat him for most of the second half.
Baylor's Neon Out - Someone in Baylor AD's marketing department needs to be reprimanded because those neon greenish shirts were a crime against humanity, teen rave parties, the color green, and anyone watching that game on television.
Texas needs a win. Big Monday, the Knighterator, Mizzou. Get 'er done.