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Bricking From the Corner: Texas 74, West Virginia 71

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ESPN seems to be allergic to the idea of playing Texas Longhorns basketball games that end in a Texas win. In the last week I’ve seen the following games:

  1. Texas losing to Kansas in the 2007 Big 12 conference final
  2. Texas losing to Iowa State in the 2015 Big 12 conference quarterfinals where Iowa State led for literally 0.0 seconds
  3. News Kevin Durant has COVID-19
  4. Texas losing to Kansas in the 2007 Big 12 conference final

I would give my parents Kevin Durant’s COVID-19 for CBS to air footage of J’Covan Brown beating Kansas in Lawrence, but even the idea of two eternal souls powering their media empire hasn’t pried that game from their archives yet, so I’m back in the Youtuve archives looking for a notable Texas win. I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend this amalgam of the 1929 stock crash & 1918 Spanish Flu watching an unending loop of notable Texas losses, so tonight was a win. One of the best Texas wins, in fact: the Texas Longhorns beating the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Sweet Sixteen. Do not look up what happened the next game, and do not look up how Texas fared after this game. Just enjoy this game and please do not give Kenton Paulino COVID-19 through excessive high-fives after watching the game. Yes, he kinda deserves the high-fives; no, he does not deserve the virus.

[Box Score]

The Good

LaMarcus Aldridge

There’s going to be a bit later about how anachronistic Texas looks in this game, but if Rick Barnes was going to go out with a big who harbored everything he wanted LMA was his guy. Aldridge frankly wasn’t supposed to be around for a sophomore season; if he never had his hip injury in his freshman year he was going to go pro. He’s an unstoppable force within 15 feet and his shot was soft enough one could imagine the next generation LMA being a guy who hit 35% from three. He’s caught in the early stages of a basketball revolution, but the NCAA hadn’t really caught on yet so he’s flat dominating this game. He put up a very traditional 26/13 and probably would have put up more if Texas attacked the 1-3-1 zone more effectively.

Mike Williams

This is yet another name who I saw and immediately went “ohhhh what happened to that guy”; Williams didn’t miss a shot from the field, going 4-4 from two. He was 1-2 from the line, ending up with 9 points and 7 rebounds off the bench. I can’t help but think he was the 7th-best player on this team but would’ve been the 4th or 5th-best player in a lot of years after this squad. If Brock Cunningham can become Mike Williams but with a better three-ball, that will have immense value.

The Hindsight Section

I’m modifying the “It’s Complicated” portion to incorporate the delta between games from, say pre-2012 to now because the basketball analytics revolution changed a lot in a fairly short order.

John Beilein

Many Texas fans simultaneously complain about the number of threes Texas takes and pine for Beilein to take over in Austin. Well, you want to know who was cool with a metric shit-ton of threes before it was popular? John Beilein. 60% of West Virginia’s shots came from three in this game, including 6 three-point attempts from Beilein’s son. West Virginia only made one two-point shot in the first half and it came in the last minute. Is shooting a ton of threes inherently bad? Beilein didn’t think so; he rode this pre-Villanova perimeter bombing idea to a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament at the point in time when Shaka Smart was still an assistant at Akron.

I don’t bring this up to admonish Texas fans from wanting Beilein - you could frankly do a lot worse as a head coach - so much as a point to consider that Beilein might actually deploy a similar strategy with the current roster. Beilein was cool with bombing away from deep so long ago that Jay Bilas was still referring to it as a “European model”. It’s interesting to watch what is effectively a 5-out offensive strategy that is basically my Will Baker fever dream; if Baker can become the 2020 Kevin Pittsnogle I will be a very happy camper.

The Changing Game

I like how basketball modifies and changes over time. It keeps things interesting, and it reveals some of the chess match between coaches. It also highlights which coaches are willing to adapt and how others are not. This game felt like...well, if not a tipping point, perhaps a sign of the impending change in tactics. WVU threw up a ton of threes by design, Texas was playing a back-to-the-basket game. WVU went 19+ minutes of the first half without hitting a two but kept themselves within striking range by hitting timely threes; meanwhile Texas rode a talent advantage to a more traditional lead. You can see the seeds being planted in some of the efficiency metrics in this game, though they didn’t really start to bear fruit until several years later.

Screens

Zero moving screens were called. I guess if you’re living in a time when the PnR is relatively less integral to offensive strategy, there will be less focus on the quality of the screens. Speaking of which, it’s a bit jarring watching both teams regularly rolling underneath screens. The game has changed so much in a decade; these days I would crucify anyone ducking under a screen against a guy like Mike Gansey, but it was less important back then.

The Bad

My Opinion of AJ Abrams Defense

I’ve caught a couple games over the last few days involving AJ Abrams and as much as I remember him as a three-point sniper, my memory back in the day was of him being sort of defense-optional. I was right about his three-point stroke, but he put more of an effort into defense than I recalled. He had two steals in this game and was putting a game effort into things defensively; he didn’t always succeed but he was putting in work and I appreciate the effort involved. I will stop making cracks about him hanging out on the perimeter waiting for his shot; frankly, I should’ve known he played decent defense because Rick Barnes would yank a guy who wasn’t trying defensively faster than hang on how do I reference Sheldon McClellan without mentioning his name.....dammit. Let the record show that Abrams gave a damn defensively.

Daniel Gibson

This was a bad game for Boobie Gibson; he was 1-8 from the field, 1-6 from three, had four assists to three turnovers. I had a love/hate relationship with Gibson when he was at Texas, it was clear he wanted to be a PG but his role in this world was one of a shooting guard. This Longhorns team wasn’t missing much, but an upper-tier point guard was the most glaring issue. If you could’ve swapped Gibson (or Paulino) ((or Abrams)) out for, say, a DJ Augustin then I think this Texas team makes the Final Four and maybe beyond. That’s not to say Gibson was a bad player, he just wasn’t cast in the right role.

Kenton Paulino

Yes, he made the game-winner.

Yes, he should be forever enshrined in Buzzer Beater lore for it.

Yes, he was bad the rest of the game.

Going into that shot he was 2-8 from the floor including 1-6 from three; he wasn’t on his game most of the night. He had one assist, one rebound in 30 minutes. He got a lot of minutes in part because of the lineup the Mountaineers were throwing out there; Barnes wasn’t really sure how to deal with this offense from the future other than to call his brother Chuck....Chuck Berry....and tell him about that new sound he was looking for. If the Mountaineers throw out a more traditional lineup, Brad Buckman probably soaks up a lot of Paulino’s minutes.

1-3-1 Zone Offense

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Texas had issues scoring against a 1-3-1 zone. Maybe that’s another mark against Beilein for people (or a mark for keeping Yaklich if a coaching change is ever made): he willingly used Scott Drew’s junk zone defense in a game.

Dick Enberg Making Me Feel Ancient

“Buckman could pass for a young Boris Becker” - Dick Enberg

PUT THE J’COVAN BROWN GAME IN LAWRENCE ON YOUTUBE, COWARDS

BWG’s writing tunes provided by Mattia Fabbri.