Texas Trampled: Longhorns Need to Find Offensive Purpose Before Big 12 PlayPosted by mpatton on December 21st, 2011
Matt Patton is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from tonight’s Texas vs. North Carolina game in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina absolutely pummeled Texas from buzzer to buzzer Wednesday night in Chapel Hill. From the opening tip the Tar Heels came out swinging, and the Longhorns immediately departed from the game plan. Needless to say Rick Barnes was livid after the game. He noted his team’s lack of offensive discipline, which he implicitly tied to Myck Kabongo‘s poor first half play. Apparently, Kabongo abandoned the team’s plan for the opening possession for the second straight game. After a horrendous first half, Barnes only played his freshman point guard two minutes in the second half. Why? “Guys aren’t gonna play if they don’t want to play.”
Inconsistent point guard play has plagued Texas two of the last three seasons. Two years ago, Barnes rotated Avery Bradley — a score-first guard — and Dogus Balbay — a defense-first creator — at the one to mixed success. The Longhorns climbed to the top of the polls only to plummet in conference play before eventually losing to Wake Forest in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. Last year, again Barnes employed two point guards with Cory Joseph and Balbay running the team. The team’s offense was significantly more productive thanks in large part to Jordan Hamilton’s development and Tristan Thompson’s ownership of the offensive glass. Coming into this year it finally looked like Barnes had one point guard, the freshman Kabongo.
However, in two of the three Texas losses, Kabongo has played a combined 31 minutes. His stat lines from the losing nights are eerily similar: against North Carolina State, Kabongo went 0-2 from the field, scored one point, and had three turnovers in 16 minutes; against the Tar Heels he went 0-2 from the field, scored one point, and had four turnovers in 15 minutes. Don’t be too fooled by the similarities though. In the NC State game, Kabongo’s playing time was fairly evenly limited throughout the game. Against North Carolina, Barnes basically sat Kabongo the entire second half (he played two minutes). The first game was a product of Barnes trying to calm him down. The more recent game was Barnes sending a message.
The fact is, this Texas team really misses the consistency Balbay gave it on offense. Sure, he wasn’t a huge factor on the offensive end, but he knew his role and stuck to it. By tempering Balbay’s playing time with a talented combo-guard, the Longhorn offense stuck to the game plan and its defense thrived. But losing the entire backcourt to graduation and the NBA Draft except for J’Covan Brown has forced Barnes to find a totally new floor general. This lapse is almost certainly a factor in why Kabongo hasn’t seamlessly transitioned into Barnes’ plan so far this year.
This criticism isn’t to say Kabongo’s early season play has been universally bad. In fact, he’s played very well in most of UT’s games, finishing with seven or more assists in seven of their 12 contests. He’s been a little out of control but for the most part lived up to high expectations to start the season. However, based on Barnes’ post-game comments, he may start looking elsewhere for this year’s floor general as he pointed out the team starts three guards (including Kabongo). The problem is that Barnes knows as well as anyone that the Longhorns’ ceiling is a lot lower this season without Kabongo at the helm.