The Horns are eight games into a 30 game regular season. Rick Barnes' club has five more non-conference games before the Big 12 season begins with a trip to Colorado. Even though the season is relatively young, our identity is pretty clear.
This year's team is very guard and perimeter oriented. We have an excellent pass first point guard in DJ Augustin and a solid outside shooter in AJ Abrams. We have one of the best players in the country on the wing with Kevin Durant, another solid yet streaky and undersized freshman in Jay Mason, and a phenomenal freshman athlete who is still improving his basketball skill set in Damion James.
The middle of our team remains a question. Outside of Dexter Pittman, who remains a project, there is no true center on the team. The bench consists of two more players, Connor Atchley and Matt Hill who, while valuable in certain situations, lack the talent to match our starting five. Texas will continue to play power forward and center by committee until Pittman gets in better shape or one of the other guys shows more toughness.
Fans, players, and coaches knew before the season that post defense and rebounding would be challenging for this year's team. Through the first eight games this remains true and will likely remain a weakness throughout the year.
So, given our makeup I tried to come up with four statistics that best predicted success or equaled winning. Obviously, you want to score more points that your opponents but how do you do that? These aren't revolutionary but I've narrowed it down to four statistics given the makeup of this year's team: free throw attempts, rebounding margin, assist/turnover ratio, and field goal percentage defense.
Free Throw Attempts: More than 20 / game
Durant, Abrams, and Augustin are the three top scorers this season, basically three perimeter players. But as we witnessed in the Gonzaga game, Texas cannot afford to live and die with the jump shot. The Horns are more difficult to defend when they attack the basket off the dribble. In the eight games so far, Texas has shot more than 20 free throws four times.
Rebounding Margin: Even or Positive
The days of Texas dominating the glass are over. Gone are PJ Tucker, Brad Buckman, and Lamarcus Aldridge from last year's squad. That group cleaned the glass as one of the best in the nation. It was a bad night when Texas didn't outrebound their opponent by ten or more. This year is different. Durant and Mason must help on the glass for Texas to have any shot against a quality, more physical opponent. The Horns have done well in this category so far this season. Texas has outrebounded their opponent in six of the eight games.
Assist / Turnover Ratio: 1.2 or more
For those of you who don't follow basketball closely, this ratio is exactly like it sounds. You simply divide the total number of assists by the total number of turnovers. When Texas plays well, especially in the half court, the basketball is moving. Augustin is coming off screens and finding open shooters or players cutting to the basket. When Texas doesn't play well in the half court, we stand around too much and attack with only one on one moves, which don't lead to a lot of assists. Barnes also wants this team to take advantage of fast break opportunities. This team is very equipped to score in transition but must take care of the basketball as well. Texas' assist / turnover ratio has exceeded 1.2 five times.
Field Goal % Defense: Under 40%
Rick Barnes loves defense, is an excellent teacher of defense, and won't tolerate players not committing on the defensive end. But he has seven freshmen on this year's team most of whom have never been asked to play as hard on defense as they have on offense. Our team defense is improving and was outstanding in the LSU game but remains a work in progress. The Horns have held opponents under 40% from the field just four times in the first eight games.
Does meeting these goals equal winning? When the Horns met three or four out of four, they are 4-0. When the Horns met just two out of four, they are 1-0 (overtime win over LSU). When the Horns meet just one out of four, they are 1-2 (close win over St. John's). Through eight games there isn't a direct correlation but there is some correlation.
In my game previews, I try to offer a few keys to the game. I find myself generally writing the same ones before each game: play solid defense, rebound, attack the basket, and take care of the basketball. These fouls goals are basically the ones being tracked numerically. I will chart these four criteria for the rest of the season and follow how predictive they are of wins and losses.
As always, your input is valuable. Other suggestions?