I'll finish the Michigan State preview later this afternoon. In the meantime, this week's TBR. --PB--
By the end of the 2006-07 season, AJ Abrams presented a special problem for Texas. On the one hand, the three point shot in college basketball is a tremendously effective weapon and few shoot in better than Abrams. On the other hand, Abrams was a lousy defender and completely unable to score by any means other than the three. In games where he wasn't shooting the ball well, or wasted possessions by taking bad shots, he arguably hurt Texas more than he helped.
Fast forward a year and things are decidedly different. Abrams started the season shooting lights out from three point land, but that didn't surprise anyone. What's been nice to see is Abrams' tremendous development as a player who can score inside the arc. The defense, too, is improved. Though no one will ever confuse Abrams for a good defender, he's not lunging around the perimeter aimlessly like was last season.
Given AJ's defensive limitations, the development of the ability to score without the three is of particular importance: if he's not giving Texas offense, it's difficult to justify giving him 32-38 minutes per game. Because I didn't think AJ's early season pace was sustainable, my big worry was whether he could remain an effective player if he ever hit an extended cold spell with his jump shot.
Well, AJ has hit a cold spell. Since the team ran Tennessee out of the gym in New Jersey, Abrams has lost his three point shot, missing 31 of his last 42 attempts. The good news, however, is that it looks like the improvement we saw in Abrams' two-point game is legitimate. Check out the numbers:
That 11-42 number is truly problematic, but AJ has found other ways to score, keeping his value to the team high. That's the good news. The even better news is that Abrams is a very, very good three point shooter. He'll get out of this slump, and when he does should be in even better position to be a consistent offensive weapon.
The smart money says that as AJ finds his stroke, he goes on a nice run of high-scoring games. The defensive gameplan against Texas has been established: get the ball out of Augustin's hands and make the Texas offense function without him. As teams clamp down more on Connor Atchley on the perimeter, Abrams is going to find himself with some nice open looks. As his stroke returns, the production will increase.
The important thing, though, is that Abrams is finding ways to be useful even when he's not shooting well. As a one-trick pony, it's tough to justify giving him so many minutes. As a more polished overall player, he's more consistently productive. Just one of the many reasons this Texas team is improved from a season ago.