I've been staring at the screen for 5 minutes trying to think of a pithy way to start an article about Texas snagging the kind of win that punches tournament tickets in March, but I think I'll let our esteemed coach sum up how I feel right now.
Shaka Smart celebrates the Texas win pic.twitter.com/reVI7tA27a
— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) December 13, 2015
Let's go, coach. Let's go, indeed. The Texas Longhorns beat the North Carolina Tar Heels - arguably the top team in the country right now - 84-82 on a buzzer beater from J'avonions Felix, sending a message to the rest of the country that Shaka's squad can't be taken lightly by anyone. This was pretty easily Texas' best performance of the year; the defense is tighter, the offensive movement is more fluid, and they just look more comfortable together. This game is essentially the best-case scenario for Texas in 2015-2016 and should be the game-to-game performance level they attempt to attain the rest of the year.
A couple caveats:
- This is hardly the first time North Carolina has made Texas look like world-beaters.
- Texas still has some pretty glaring flaws that need to be ironed out and/or minimized through game-planning.
Regardless, we're all allowed to enjoy the hell out of a major win. It doesn't hurt that Texas was hosting some major recruits(Andrew Jones, amongst others) who got to see Club Erwin at peak rowdiness. I don't know how a kid can come out of a game like that without a positive impression on Shaka's squad & the Texas fanbase. (Nobody showed them pics of the UT-SA crowd, right?)
The Amish Fire Hydrant balled out so hard that nobody's talking about Cameron Ridley's 12/13 game right now. 5-7 from 3 with the buzzer beater, not to mention consistently making quality decisions with the basketball while Zay went AWOL in the first half. His defense on Marcus Paige was good enough that Shaka could afford to keep Holland on the bench in favor of better offensive options(hello, Eric Davis, Jr.) for large portions of the game. Any other season, seeing a stat line of Javan playing 35 minutes would elicit groans from Texas fans but he earned every single minute with his play. Outstanding work by Felix, he's playing the best basketball of his career right now.
When talking to Chad & Kevin on 104.9 FM Friday, I said that Cam's production was going to be based largely on the quality of entry passes & whether the refs would call the game tight. The refs called the game fairly tight in the paint, but to Cam's credit he was the aggressor and came out on the winning side of the battle. The North Carolina bigs were outclassed by Cam, most of their production came when Connor Lammert defended them.Cam was excellent in nearly every phase of the game; just look at this beautiful bounce pass to Felix:
Cam's free throw issues are still an issue, though he showed some small signs of improvement in the second half. I have a bad feeling we're going to see Hack-A-Cam later this season, and there's no reason to think it won't be an effective ploy at this point.
Eric Davis, Jr.
I'm generally loathe to make comparisons like this, but Eric is basically A.J. Abrams if A.J. took part in a Gattaca-style leg surgery and decided to venture inside the 3-point line. Eric has no fear, and he shouldn't. 6-10 from the floor, 4-5 from 3; as our esteemed Sailor Ripley noted, Eric doesn't need a heat check as he assumes he's already hot. With all due respect to Kerwin & Tevin, Eric may end up being the most important recruit in this class when all is said & done. He's the first guy with "in the gym" range Texas has had in years. Oh, and he plays decent defense for a freshman, which helps tremendously.
Texas' rebounding has been problematic in some games this season, and one of the things I was most interested in today was seeing if Texas could show up on the boards against another squad with similar size. They answered the call on both ends of the floor, grabbing 33 rebounds (8 better than UNC) and 14 offensive boards. The offensive glass was enormous for Texas today; over and over they would limit UNC to one shot - UNC snagged less than 20% of potential offensive rebounds, half of their average - and grab their own misses to extend possessions. Any time you grab 40%+ of your missed shots, you're going to be in a game. Texas needs to make this a consistent part of their personality, because it hides a multitude of other sins.
The Mixed Bag
If you didn't watch the game and just looked at the box score, you'd think Zay was great tonight. And he was, for about 10 minutes in the second half. The closing stretch of the game was Zay shining brightly; taking and hitting - oh thank sweet 8lb, 9oz baby Jesus, hitting - big 3s, driving the lane with authority, running UNC guards ragged through so many Cam/Lammert screens, it was a sight to behold. That Isaiah Taylor has a future in pro ball, and if he can channel that Zay in more games this year he'll go from Ioannis Papapetrou's future roommate to a guy who can make an NBA summer camp. Unfortunately, he spent the first half impersonating the Sterlin Gilbert hiring process instead of playing smart basketball. Getting called for 2 charges - one which was unfathomably awful on his part - meant he got to swap hairstyle tips with Jordan Barnett for most of the first 20 minutes of the game.
Poor Lam Lam, this wasn't his day. He got bullied in the block by UNC's bigs, dealt with foul trouble all day, and passed up wide open 3s a number of times. Still, he made all 4 of his free throws, battled for rebounds, setup screens for guards, and did all the little things he's known for...like, say, erasing two guys on Felix's final shot.
If you wanna know why Javan Felix was so wide open, watch what happens to Marcus Paige lol https://t.co/IRDPlAxQgu
— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) December 13, 2015
Cam was such a problem for North Carolina that they had to adjust their entire defense...which Shaka followed up by bringing Cam out on ball screens and pick & rolls to open up space inside. I scrolled through the first 4 minutes of the second half and there were at least 4 times Cam was wiiiiiiide open on the PnR but the guards didn't get him the ball. Cam could have easily scored 20+ in this game with better guard recognition. To be fair, the guards were getting Cam the ball well in the first half, they just need to be more consistent about it through the game. Cam is playing at an all-conference level and deserves to be rewarded.
I'm just going to leave this here as a permanent placeholder and move on.
You have to work to foul out in 11 minutes. I don't know what's not clicking for Prince because he has valuable attributes Texas can use, but he's not successful in this system through 9 games. Hopefully he can figure it out, because there will be some games down the stretch where Texas will need him to contribute.
EDIT: Shaka's postgame locker room speech is online(hat-tip: HeapinHelpin)
Texas has a home game against Appalachian State (the pork of the basketball world) on Tuesday before traveling to Scipio Tex's home turf to face a Stanford program that started the downfall of Rick Barnes' Texas tenure. We will see if Texas stays on point or coasts after a major victory when the App St game tips Tuesday at 7p CT on LHN.