Coming at you live from the Robert Hughes court at the Wilkerson-Greiner Activity Center in Fort Worth, where Texas put more distance between those two losses to OU and OSU with a dominant 66-48 victory over TCU. The WGAC, which is being used this season while Amon Carter is undergoing renovation, is probably the only gym in the conference with less of a home-court advantage than the Erwin Center. In person, the game had the feel of a well-attended 4A or 5A district game on a neutral floor, except with much, much bigger players.
The big story of this game was two decisions - 1) Rick Barnes going zone and 2) Trent Johnson not going zone. TCU doesn't have a lot of outside shooters and they didn't seem very comfortable moving the ball and attacking the Texas zone in the half-court. It was a familiar result for Texas fans except this time we got to watch the shoe on the other foot, as an inability to stretch the floor suffocated the other team's offense. However, despite watching his guys struggle mightily with the zone, Johnson never tried the same tactic on the other end, playing man-to-man defense all game despite his players having a distinct disadvantage in terms of size and athleticism.
In other words, Barnes soundly out-coached his counterpart for most of the game. When that happens, Texas has a pretty good chance of winning.
After trying to hold the ball and play station-to-station basketball without Isaiah Taylor in non-conference, Barnes seems to have adapted to his personnel, full-court trapping the other team and trying to play uptempo as much as possible. Settling Taylor back into the rotation and getting everyone comfortable in their roles required a tough adjustment process, but we seem to have found an identity that will work.
I say seem because I'd still like to see what happens when this team faces a well-coached group who sits in a zone for most of the game, doesn't turn the ball over and dares Texas to beat them from the perimeter in the half-court. If they can execute and consistently knock down open 3-point shooters in that type of game against a high-level Big 12 team, then we'll know they are back on track when it comes to trying to live up to some of the pre-season expectations.
Johnson, on the other hand, just didn't seem to have his team very well prepared for this one. He let the game get out of hand in the first half by waiting a full 15 minutes to bring in his best three-point shooter (Hudson Price) and he didn't give nearly enough time to his best high-post big man (Amric Fields). Maybe he was worried about how they would hold up on defense, but in that case, why not try to hide them with a zone of your own? It was an underwhelming X and O performance from the Frogs head man, which is not something you will see much as Big 12 play continues.
On the whole, this was a solid win and Texas has clearly stabilized themselves after what could have been a disastrous start to the conference season. They have the rest of the week off before a huge home showdown with Kansas on Saturday in a game that should tell us a lot about whether we have a chance at getting back in the race for a conference title.
A few other stray observations:
- From an individual standpoint, the big story-line was that Isaiah Taylor looked GOOD. He had 13 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists on 12 shots and he pretty thoroughly outplayed a solid senior PG in Kyan Anderson. Most encouraging was how he looked shooting the ball - he went 1-2 from 3 and he knocked down several pull-up J's from mid-range. If he can consistently beat teams from the perimeter, it raises this team's ceiling considerably.
- The Javan Felix show is even more impressive in person than on TV. Pretty much every time he's attacking, you expect it to end in a TO or a missed shot (which it did many times on Monday), but every once in a while he knocks it in or draws the foul. There was a funny sequence in the first half when he was over-dribbling in lieu of throwing it inside to Turner and literally every single coach on the bench was yelling at him to pass the ball. There was another where he air-balled a 10-foot pull-up off an offensive rebound. All that said, he was also 2-5 from 3 and if he can maintain that percentage, we kind of need to have him out there.
- First time seeing Myles Turner in person since the McDonald's game. He has as much upside as just about every big man in the country with the exception of Karl Towns. He has only scratched the surface of his potential, which should make his NBA draft decision in the spring so intriguing.
Turner rushes a lot of possessions in the post. He's bigger than everyone - he can take his time, let the D clear out or accept the double.— Jonathan Tjarks (@JonathanTjarks) January 20, 2015
- I now feel comfortable saying that Cam Ridley is indeed alive, as he had his second strong performance in a row. We don't need him to be a star - 10 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks is just about perfect given his role on the team.
- Still nothing from Kendal Yancy and Jordan Barnett. Would be really nice to get some production from this spot in the rotation.
- Connor Lammert: 2-3 from 3. Mucho gusto.