Messing With Texas — What Happened Here?Posted by jstevrtc on February 9th, 2010
If it wasn’t being asked before, it sure as heck is now. The biggest question in college hoops on this day — the Day After Kansas versus Texas facsimile-of-Texas — is what exactly has happened to the Longhorns. This former 17-0 and top-ranked team has now lost five of their last seven, including consecutive defeats at the hands of their most bitter rivals, Oklahoma and Kansas. With the exception of Damion James, the rest of the Longhorn squad has entered this part of the conference season with not even anything close to the spark with which they began the season. Kansas did their part in living up to the bargain of the Kansas-Texas game hype. Why not the ‘Horns?
From here, we see two levels to the recent backslide in Austin. First, Texas has three star freshmen in Avery Bradley, J’Covan Brown, and Jordan Hamilton, all of whom play substantial minutes and take a good chunk of the shots for the Longhorns. In Texas’ five losses, though, those three have shot only 47-146 (32%), and this accounts for over a third of the team’s shots in those games. In their last five wins, they’ve shot 68-139 (49%). When you have a team that relies heavily on freshmen, you invite this kind of inconsistency. We’re sure he’s addressing the issue in practice, but Rick Barnes can right this ship rather quickly if he can get his freshmen to buy in to the concept of taking not only fewer shots on the whole, but better ones. The two starting seniors, James and Dexter Pittman, can also help with this. James is only averaging 29.7 minutes in a given contest; Pittman (a 67% shooter from the field) is on the floor for an average of 19.7 MPG — not even a half. Having big-time freshmen is great, but it’s time for the Longhorns to rely on their seniors, and it’s time for those seniors to demand the basketball.
The second tier to Texas’ recent woes is more abstract. As we alluded to in our most recent ATB, this is the time of the season when players hit the wall (especially freshmen). They forget the fundamentals, they forget the little things that need to be done to win. Yes, there is a chicken-and-egg aspect to this question, but when you start settling for threes early in the shot clock and stop getting the ball to your 67% shooters and your POY candidates, you’re just going through the motions. When you’re the top rebounding team in the nation — Texas averages 40.8 RPG as a team, the best there is — and you stop boxing out, then you’re mailing it in. Ask yourself — is what we’re seeing now the same Texas team as the one from the first 17 games of the season that attacked their opponents on all fronts and put teams away early? Are they attacking the boards with the same ferocity? We say no on all counts. Telling fact even though they pull down the most rebounds of any squad in the game, in their losses (and even in recent wins) their opponents have kept up with them on the glass or even out-rebounded them. Texas can help their cause by getting back to the little things, and especially the things they already do well.
We’ll be the first to admit that these fixes that we’re recommending sound pretty simple — calm down the freshmen, get the ball to your seniors on the inside, get back to fundamentals, care more about what you’re doing — but even when dealing with complex problems on a team, the best solutions are often the simplest ones. We know Barnes is preaching this stuff in practice. We’ll see if the Longhorns are listening. If they’re not, teams will continue to find it pretty easy to mess with Texas.