I caught the Texas-South Alabama game last night on the LHN. The game was more interesting than I expected, with an undersized South Alabama draining 10 3's against our phlegmatic 2-3 zone in the first half, at one point leading the young Horns by 17 points. Texas surged back with a commitment to pushing the ball up the court, rebounding, attacking the paint, with Jonathan Holmes doing his best Glen Rice impersonation from the 3 point line. He finished with 23 points and 9 rebounds in only 26 minutes. He's our best player.
Texas outscored South Alabama 53-32 in the second half, securing a 84-77 win.
I have a few quick thoughts:
- Barnes is encouraging this team to run. I've wanted Texas to run for - oh, the last half decade or so - and we'll see if this trend peters out as it does every year Barnes promises to go up tempo. For now, we're pretty fun to watch and it's allowing young guys to play more instinctive basketball. It doesn't always play to the strength of our bigs, but we seem to be addressing that with a heavy rotation.
- Jonathan Holmes has become legitimately good. He has a nice stroke from 3, he's always been a good rebounder, and he can attack the basket. He also avoided dumb fouls - his historical bane. Pair him with Poppy and you'd have had a forward combo that makes almost every defensive match-up in college basketball the wrong answer. But it wasn't to be. Have to give a hat tip to Todd Wright here - Holmes is a markedly better athlete now than when he got here. Stronger, quicker, more conditioned, better balance, you name it.
- Freshman Isaiah Taylor is a classy little guard. Like him a lot. He can play 1 or 2. OK handle, competitive, attacks the rim, can stroke it a little, and plays with vision and a good sense of game flow. He looks genuinely happy to either score 20 or dish out 10 assists. I prefer him at PG long term.
- This team has a bunch of really nice role players and developmental pieces. If you were constructing a team to support a couple of star players for a Great Eight run, it might look a lot like this one. Except that we're lacking the star players. Oh. That's a problem. Imagine a well-constructed bridge that doesn't quite touch either end of the shore. It's just sitting there and you're thinking,"Why didn't they finish this thing?"
- Cameron Ridley drives me nuts. I understand big man development is an incremental thing, but he had a catalog of offenses last night. Five feet from the rim with a 6'5 guy on him and no help coming? Shoots a passive fading hook. Catches the ball in the lane on a nice entry pass with the defender pinned on his hip? Has to take a rhythm dribble with his head down so that a backside defender can pick him clean. 9 points and 5 boards in 20 minutes isn't bad, but how it happened was nails on a chalkboard to me. Is there a Big Man Developmental Bat Signal to summon Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olujawon from Houston?
- Connor Lammert is a really useful player. Lovely stroke and a better rebounder than his physique suggests. His box score was identical to Ridley's in the same exact number of minutes played. Taking 5 fewer shots. He should be at Butler doing Butlerish things.
- Prince Ibeh is a tremendous difference maker on defense. I want him to play more. One of the virtues of up tempo play is that his offensive issues don't cripple our flow because running and jumping is something he can already handle. His presence on defense is good for an extra 4-5 stops a game and helps to create easy offense the other way.
- Demarcus Holland plays really freaking hard. But his lack of skill is going to be a problem against better teams. Once again, another role player being asked to play 33 minutes. We want him as an energy guy - the third guy off of our bench. Not starting at SG.
- In a similar vein, Javan Felix still has a knack for getting to the rim and he's strong, but his lack of size and quickness hurts our zone. He hit a pull up 3 and that was encouraging, but I doubt he's better than a 30% shooter from 3 over the course of the season. I'd prefer Taylor at PG long term, but Felix is good for nursing him along. In an ideal world, Felix is my back-up point guard. This basketball team is not an ideal world.
I finished the game feeling a little wistful. We've got some pieces and the cupboard isn't bare for Rick's potential successor, but the ghosts of the shattered 2011 recruiting class were all over that court last night.