I raced out of the Frank Erwin Center this evening with about two minutes left on the clock. The reason? I wanted to be sure I caught Rick Barnes' postgame comments on the radio.
And hot damn, I'm glad I did.
Ninety percent of Rick's conversation with Craig Way was standard postgame filler. "We did well at this. Not so well at that." The usual.
But Rick dropped in one line that made it all worth the while. Craig Way asked Barnes about the timeout he took after Missouri cut Texas' lead to 14 points about midway through the second half, and Rick's answer was - to my delight, and surprise - pure gold.
I'm paraphrasing slightly here, but it went something like this:
"I told the guys that this Missouri team - if nothing else - was going to play for 40 minutes. I told the players I thought they needed to start pushing the ball again - that they'd started settling into their halfcourt sets. I wanted them to get out there and push the tempo up again."
Rick? Is that you? One of the questions I've been struggling with a bit lately is whether our push-the-pace offense was a product of the players or the coach. As you may recall, way before this season got under way, Rick was talking about trying to make this young team like the Phoenix Suns. The skeptics among us (including yours truly) wondered whether that was even in Rick's capabilities.
Just two days ago, I was perusing the NCAA's basketball statistics, and noticed that Texas ranked fourth nationally in points scored per game, at 86.4. Texas? Fourth nationally in points scored per game? I thought we got rid of "Tournament" Tom Penders?
It's no illusion, though. Barnes has changed his offensive philosophy to best fit his personnel, and to great results. This team can score - and it's just now starting to hit its groove. Rick is urging the guys to push the ball and run the floor. Scoring is up. Fast break points are emphasized. Holy hell: settling into the half court sets is something Rick wants the guys to avoid?!
I've been rather critical of Rick Barnes for coaching his players into a slow, predictable, unimaginiative half court pace. Frankly, I thought that this was all Rick Barnes knew, but this year is giving me plenty reason to reconsider. The reality appears to be that Rick is a far more flexible and interesting coach than I was willing to give him credit for. He coached a Tucker-Aldridge dominated team to be an inside-first, half-court oriented club. But he's coaching this year's extremely guard-heavy group to be an up tempo, push and score ball club.
And I couldn't be more pleased to be wrong.
Best of all, Rick's pushing this year's squad to be aggressive in the open court while doing his usual strong work rounding the team into an above average defensive group. Combining that with this team's impressive offensive prowess, Texas suddenly has the making of a legit Big 12 title contender. DJ Augustin is our Steve Nash. Kevin Durant is our Shawn Marion. Damion James is our Tim Thomas. AJ Abrams is our Leandro Barbosa. And the phrase "The sky is the limit" is taking on a whole new meaning.
Rick Barnes is pushing his club to play like the Phoenix Suns?
Holt shit, I've seen it all.