One of the benefits (consequences?) of jet lag is waking up 2+ hours before your alarm, meaning I woke up, started some laundry, ate breakfast, and watched the Texas Longhorns beat California Baptist 67-54 before most people got to work today. I’m like the Army, but for writing basketball. Let’s knock this recap out so I can spring my dog from the pet lodge.
In the never-ending search for signs of a Texas team that may or may not be improved from last season, one of the mile markers is how the Longhorns perform after a big win. Can they keep up the intensity and have the same consistency night after night, or will they be dramatically up & down? To be blunt, we’re all doing the same Press Your Luck-style NO RADFORD NO RADFORD NO RADFORD BIG MONEY chant. Texas had some execution issues on both ends and the Lancers hit some tough shots to keep the game interesting, but a 4-6 minute section at the beginning of the second half showcased the talent disparity between the two programs and provided the needed margin for a Longhorns win. California Baptist closed the gap 2⁄3 of the way through the second half, but that stretch was the exception rather than the norm in terms of offensive performance. The Lancers were averaging over 90 PPG in the first two games and Texas held them to nearly half that. It wasn’t the best Texas game, but it was enough.
A good rule of thumb for this season: Texas needs solid games from at least two of the following four players to win; Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Jericho Sims, & Jase Febres. If one or more of these guys have great games, it can cover for deficiencies from the others I’ve listed. Today both Sims and Ramey had good games; Sims recorded his first-ever double-double - which sounds bad for the junior, but you share the court with Mo Bamba and Jaxson Hayes the first two years of your career and see how many times you crack 10 in either category - and overall played the exact kind of game Texas needs. He was active on the boards (7 offensive!) played the ball screen well, rolled to the rim effectively, and overall just did a ton of things Texas needs for a successful season. Oh, and his free throw form is light years ahead of two years ago.
Ramey started the season in an offensive slump, but had a breakout second half that reminded people of just how good he can be when things are rolling. He finished at the rim better than most any time last season, played solid individual defense, and was the driving (pun intended) force behind the gap opened up at the start of the second half. If Ramey can play like this for full games - and I think he will as he gets back in the flow after coming back from his pre-season wrist injury - it makes the team that much more dynamic.
The last two games have been a showcase of the two different ways in which Coleman can be an effective leader; against Purdue he was pushing the offense as a primary scoring threat, against the Lancers he was a facilitator and defensive pest. If you watch the way in which he runs the ball-screen offense with the bigs compared to the last couple of years, there’s a level of decisiveness and precision that’s hard to miss. He’s reliably making passes in traffic that were hit & miss the previous years and it’s facilitating the effectiveness of guys like Sims.
The Mixed Bag
Liddell shows a lot of promise; his length and athleticism are impressive (you can see it in his rebounding effort) and his offensive game is starting to catch up. I can see why Smart has been raving about him all summer, and I think he’s going to play a major role in the team’s success the next couple of years. That said, he still has a bit of a tendency to commit to shooting the ball regardless of what’s in front of him. For example, you can see the eyes start to lower to the court when he’s clearly about to work into a post-up, when he should be paying attention to what the other Longhorns are doing. It lowers his effectiveness and stagnates the offense. He doesn’t do it a ton like some others coughHammcough but it’s one of the areas he needs to improve to unlock his full potential.
For those who read this on a regular basis, you’re familiar with my position that I generally care less about the outcome of the shot than I do about the execution/decision-making that led to the shot. The perimeter shot selection in the first half of this game was the definition of a mixed bag. I didn’t chart every three, but I’d say about 1⁄3 of the first-half threes that they took were poor choices outside of the goal of the offensive scheme. Some was the defense taking away driving angles, but most of the poor choices guys not reading the situation properly. They cleaned it up in the second half and the results bore that out.
Royce Hamm and Will Baker need to improve, period. I’m going to be more lenient on Baker because he’s three games into his collegiate career - the threes he took were fine, and they will start dropping eventually - but Hamm needs to know his role better and they both need to rebound better or Sims is going to be putting up a ton of minutes this season. It’s early, but this and the defensive rebounding situation (which dovetail together) are my primary concerns so far.
It’s a win, and Texas is 3-0 with a real chance to go 5-0 and have a chance to make the biggest statement of their season against a probably undefeated Duke in MSG. Before they get there though, they have to take on Prairie View A&M in Austin. Last season was a textbook case of the pitfalls of looking too far ahead so Texas needs to focus on the Panthers first. The game is Friday on LHN, tip time is 7 PM CT.
In women’s basketball news, the #22 Longhorns are 0-1 on the season after falling to USF 64-57. They play UTSA on Thursday and Arizona on Sunday.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Chris Liebing.