Me, 5 minutes into the game:
Me, 15 minutes into the game:
Me, at halftime:
Me - as embodied by the walk-on on the bench - during the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half:
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I spent most of the second half clicking links from Gerry Hamilton & thinking of the ways to describe the emotion of watching a team that's simultaneously great & terrible, simultaneously athletic & flat-footed, simultaneously cohesive & uncoordinated. The end result is a team that's just....tight. They're tight. They're not relaxed, they're not playing with a swagger; they look like a team under duress. They look like a team that's thinking too much & not playing instinctively. They're playing stilted basketball.
This and a half-dozen other notes is what I had written when Texas was down 21.
Then it happened. The comeback started. It felt uneasy & a bit like watching an angry drunk try to find his car keys, but it started. A team that was dead in a ditch and well on its way to being blown out by a rampaging Iowa State squad came to life. Isaiah Taylor started driving the ball, Javan Felix morphed into Javan Mother-Effing Felix, and Jonathan Holmes woke out of his slumber. Balls were getting deflected, layups were getting blocked, Texas 3s were sinking, and Iowa State was doing its part from the free throw line to keep Texas' faint hopes alive. Slowly but surely, they fought and clawed their way back into the game. Texas showed the kind of fight that only comes from teams that give a damn, ending the game on a 38-20 run against a top-15 squad on the road. Yes, Texas lost. Yes, it stings. But the way that game ended was a far cry from where it was at the 30 minute mark.
- Javan Felix was an assassin tonight. Credit where credit's due, he had his best game of the year and was the main reason Texas even had a chance at the upset. 7/8 from the floor, 4/4 from behind the arc, EIGHT assists to one turnover, Javan was great tonight.
- Myles Turner's first ~10 minutes were excellent as well, showcasing the touch & skills that will be making him millions in the NBA. Iowa State didn't have an answer for him in the paint, they adjusted their whole defense to deny him the ball near the basket(Jameel McKay was excellent on Turner) which is why he was mostly quiet the rest of the game.
- Texas scored 61 points in the second half. That's more than they scored in 5 games this year.
- All of Texas' big men(Turner, Cameron Ridley & Jonathan Holmes especially) deserve a mention for really working hard to get position in the paint tonight. They knew the gameplan was to give them touches and they put in work down low.
The Rick Barnes Memorial(™) Mixed Bag Category
I'm renaming it for a night. Felix deserves that at the very least.
- Rick Barnes was Rick Barnesing all over this game, which is as positive and as negative as you think. Finally getting the ball to the bigs regularly: GOOD. Focusing so much on getting the ball to the bigs that it becomes easily defensible: BAD. Extending the 2-3 zone out to meet Iowa State's perimeter shooters: GOOD. Letting Iowa State's best passers setup shop at the top of the key to pick the back line apart: BAD. Moving to man defense in the 2nd half: GOOD. Getting your taint kicked in by Hoiberg's adjustments for 20 minutes: BAD. Running the closest thing to a successful press Iowa State has seen this year: GOOD. Allowing Iowa State to get up so far that you have to resort to pressing a team that passes that well: BAD. It was that kind of night for Barnes.
(This list was much longer at around 9pm Central)
- Demarcus Holland had a bad night all-around. His defense was subpar(for him) and his drives to the basket - which I'm loathe to speak of negatively lest he stop shooting again - were out of control. There's a fine line between the sort of organized chaos Taylor possesses and the haphazard drives Holland was running down the pipe. I want Holland to keep driving the lane, we just need him to do it at about 90% of the energy/momentum he's using right now. His eye level when he's driving tends to drop a bit too much at times, so he's prone to getting called for some charges against quality defenders. Oh, and he managed the rare feat of throwing an alley-oop 8 feet over Prince Ibeh's hands. Not his best night.
- If you're not going to drive the lane, Prince Ibeh's value on the floor subsides substantially. He's half a foot taller than most of ISU and has a vertical of approximately 128 inches, utilize it.
- The guard play in the first half was abysmal once the Cyclones adjusted to the post feeds. They sat at predetermined spots, passed the ball around the arc, and watched Cam/Myles/Prince/Holmes jockey for position before reversing the ball around the arc again. I mean, I should be happy they were passing the ball, but it was like they forgot they had feet & could move with the ball. It got better later, but good god it was bad for most of the first half. It's like their pregame prep was watching scenes from 'Hoosiers'.
So, what does Texas do with this game? What lessons do they take from it, what do they shelve for the rest of the year, what's the team's emotional state? Here's what I hope they do:
- Forget about the Big 12 regular season title. It's a faint whisper of a dream at this point; focus on each individual game and try to win the game in front of them. Don't look more than 2 games ahead, leave that to the coaching staff. Start by kicking Baylor's 1-3-1 zone in the teeth on Saturday and go from there. If they get back in the race - which they're not that far out of, but have tiebreaker issues aplenty - great, but for now just work on improving each game.
- Take the lesson that one and only one tactic doesn't work against good teams and apply it going forward. Mix up your post feeds with more drives to the basket by Taylor & Holland, opening up perimeter shots for your guards & rebounding opportunities for your big man. If they get a good mix of the two, they become a lot more intimidating to the rest of the conference.
- Let Zay be Zay. He's the one guy on this team that can play and win iso matchups, so let him do it from time to time. They're doing this some, they need to do it more. I'm not saying run the kid 1 on 5 like he's Iverson, but he can beat 90% of the guards in this conference off the dribble so let him drive it more. Most of the outcomes from that are going to be positive.
- Understand that you're still a dangerous team when sufficiently motivated. Show the team the film for the last 10 minutes of the 2nd half and encourage the aggressiveness on the offensive end.
- The team has a lot of heart. Encourage them to beat their chest, to be a little mean. This shouldn't be a tough sell to most of them(especially Holmes).
I don't know that Texas playing at their best would've beaten Iowa State tonight, as they were hitting crazy low-percentage shots from all over. They were the same shots that weren't falling against Texas Tech, but they fell tonight. Iowa State playing like this on the offensive end is a terrifying prospect for the whole country, and not many teams can take them out when they're shooting like this. Texas did plenty to help, but when ISU is hitting 30-foot 3s you're in for a long night regardless of who you are. Next up: Baylor in Waco at 5pm Central on ESPN2.