The first home game of the Shaka Smart Era was a much-needed victory as the Texas Longhorns beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 67-56. The...uh, Green Wave? Manatees? *checks notes* Wait, the Islanders, that can't be right. Seriously? Their campus isn't even on the island part of Corpus Christi. Oh well, whatever. Texas managed to hit some shots that were missed in China and that was the primary reason the team looked better all around. As I mentioned on the radio using the shake-voice most of my first dates know all too well, the key to Shaka Smart's system isn't the defense, it's the offense. When Texas makes shots, they can setup their defense however they like. Basketball isn't that complicated a game.
As much as this team is focusing on transition opportunities - and to their credit, they outscored TAMU-CC 25-8 on the break - I feel like they could optimize the speed they get into the break by pushing their big men to look for the outlet pass more quickly than they already do. There's an opportunity to get out on the break a touch faster if the bigs make the outlet pass a step sooner after rebounding a missed shot. It's not as if the bigs are slow at getting the ball to the guards, but they could be quicker.
On a positive note, it was nice to see the team pounce on the 'obvious' plays towards the end of the game. In football terms, if a team gets behind you know they're more likely to pass the ball late and a good team calibrates their defense to match the situation. In basketball, if a team gets behind late this means the opponent is going to have to put up quicker shots(and take shots more often from beyond the arc). Texas did a good job in the last couple minutes of the game not waiting for pump fakes that never came or defending against unlikely shots, they defended the 3 and defended at the rim when the opponent attacked. It sounds intuitive, but it indicates a situational awareness that is promising.
The 2015 Barking Carnival Basketball Mantra
"The gamble with a press(particularly of the trapping variety) is that your team will create more good outcomes than bad and distort the game in your favor, but this means as a Texas fan you're going to need to increase your tolerance for bad outcomes as well."
Texas tried the SHART© system against TAMU-CC to limited effect as TAMU-CC seemed well prepared to pass out of the traps. In fact, you could make a reasonable argument that TAMU-CC - somehow their acronym is nearly as big a pain in the ass to type as the full school name - was the better full-court trapping team in Club Erwin tonight. I don't know if TAMU-CC does a lot of pressing - you'll be surprised to hear there's not a lot of video of a low-level D1 team when their only other game was against a NAIA team that sounds like they made up their name in a George Carlin skit - Texas committed 16 turnovers to 11 for TAMU-CC, and a plurality of those were due to the Green Island Manatee Wave's ability to put Texas' guards in uncomfortable positions on the wrong side of the half-court line. I shouldn't be surprised, I guess; regardless of the age & experience on the Texas roster, they're still in the first year of learning Shaka's SHART© system so it's not as if they're uniquely prepared for the full-court press at this point. Hopefully, they'll separate themselves from other teams as the season progresses.
Oh, hello there Peak Cameron Ridley. His 14/13 line doesn't really describe just how much
havocchaos he created against a TAMU-CC front line that's not that much smaller than him. I put up a handful of Vines showing his blocks, but the one I want to highlight here is the dexterity he displays while on pretty much a dead run:
That's an impressive level of touch for a guy too many people describe as 'lumbering'. Look, I know he's not going to be on the next season of 'Dancing With the Stars', but he's more agile than many people want to believe. He made good decisions on the low block, he passed well, and generally set himself up for success. This really was one of the better games I've seen from Cam in awhile. It's still a small sample size, but in the ~150 minutes of film I've seen this year he's looked like the best of the 3-headed Clearibley beast.
Texas isn't going to lose many games when Lammert goes 3-5 from 3. Connor was 1 rebound away from his own double-double and also showed a good feel for when to pass, where to pass, and when to shoot. He had half of the team's blocks, played well as the 'madman' in the press, and showcased the all-around 'glue guy' assets that make him uniquely suited for this system. Case in point:
There's less than a minute left in a game that's basically over and Lammert's diving on the floor 5 seconds after he blocks a shot. That kind of stuff makes any coach happy, and Shaka doubly so. I'm really interested in seeing if Connor can play at this level all season, because if he does it opens up a lot of options for the team.
Good Javan showed up again tonight, going 4-4 from 3 including a shot that hit every part of the rim before going in. Even if he went 0-4 tonight, the shots he took from beyond the arc were good decisions. I don't have a box score with player minutes on it, but Felix couldn't have been on the court for more than ~15 in the game. He's being deployed effectively as a bench scoring option. I still have some issues with his off-ball defense sagging like Craig Way's ballsack in the Panamanian rainforest, but it's a relatively minor complaint compared to what he's offering on the offensive end.
The Mixed Bag
Zay's 1-7 shooting from the floor was an issue, but I'm loathe to hammer him for it because in some ways his game tonight showed the breadth of his ability. Contrary to the Washington game where a large portion of the second half featured the 'Let Isaiah Do Everything' offense, this game showcased Isaiah's ability as a distributor. 8 assists to 3 turnovers is a ratio I'll accept pretty much any day from a PG(2.66 ATO would be well above his 1.71 mark last season), especially in light of the press Texas faced. Zay dishing like this is always a net-positive for Texas.
Tevin has yet to get on a roll offensively, going 0-5 tonight to bring his season total to 1-17 from the floor. Tevin pretty obviously has the green light from the staff to shoot whenever he feels like he's open, and he's taking those opportunities. He's also taking some opportunities that he shouldn't, and I'm guessing the staff had a word with him because he didn't shoot much in the second half. I'm not worried about the guy yet, this is the second D1 game of his NCAA career. It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff changes their approach with Tevin going forward.
Overall this was a good bounce-back game for a Texas team that's racked up more frequent flyer miles than half the Presidential candidates this month, and is probably closer to an 'average' performance than what the Texas fanbase has seen to this point. The Battle 4 Atlantis tournament looms large, not only in terms of seeing how this squad performs in a tournament setting against high-level opponents, but also because the players are well on their way to gold status and Steve Patterson made this year's squad pay for their own checked luggage fees. Texas plays their first game against Texas A&M (no, the other one) on AXS TV Wednesday at 6pm CT.
On a programming note, I'll be in the Bahamas watching the team so I won't be putting much up on Vine during the games. I'll be working on the recaps through the good graces of island hotel wifi, so there's a better than zero chance Scipio has to transcribe notes via carrier pigeon.