Game Recap: Texas dropped its first game of the season in a 78-72 loss to a deep, talented, and well-coached Michigan State team. Texas falls to 11-1 on the year and will rest for a week before taking the floor against another Big 10 team next Saturday as Wisconsin visits the Drum.
After starting reasonably well, Texas got into trouble when Michigan State went on a 13-0 run, coupled with DJ Augustin picking up his second foul with seven minutes remaining in the first half. The Longhorns trailed by 8 points at half and by as many as 13 in the second before a late rally pulled them back within striking distance with less than a minute to play. But trailing by 5 points with 22 seconds remaining, DJ Augustin drove around his man for what would looked like a wide open layup only to have his shot blocked by Raymar Morgan. Michigan State secured the loose ball, ending the Texas rally.
The outcome was: Texas' weaknesses were exposed tonight, but the outcome itself isn't anything for Texas fans to be upset about. For one thing, Michigan State played very well tonight. The Spartans operated with impressive efficiency on the offensive end, never seeming to force a shot. Defensively, they absolutely smothered the perimeter, forcing Texas to play a style it wasn't comfortable with. You don't win national championships in college hoops fortuitously: Tom Izzo knows what he's doing. And he knew how to beat Texas tonight.
The Offensive MVP was: Abrams finished with 24. DJ finished with 22. Damion had a solid offensive night and picked up 15 important points. But none are deserving of any honors tonight. Abrams was a non-factor on offense until he hit a flurry of three pointers with less than two minutes remaining. DJ Augustin faced a defense that decided it would dictate what he could do, rather than reacting to his outstanding game. Damion had a mostly impressive night, but clanked four free throws and missed two put-back dunks. Those misses are why I can't single him out as an MVP tonight...
The Defensive MVP was: Michigan State scored at will. They scored on jumpers; they scored on layups. They scored in transition; they scored in the half court. AJ Abrams played one of those games where he lunged about the perimeter, coming nowhere near a steal, then flailed helplessly at the man he was late to cover. It was a vintage AJ 2006 performance. Though he was the most visible culprit, the Longhorns collectively had no answer for Michigan State. Our zone was soft on the inside, and slow to rotate on the outside. To make matters worse, we forced something like 2 turnovers for the game. Even if we'd played well on offense, I doubt we'd have won. Late rally (and missed Spartan free throws) aside, Michigan State controlled this game from the 10 minute mark in the first half on in. And mostly, it was our inability to get a stop when we needed one. Credit to MSU - their offense looked very, very good tonight.
The Freshman Evaluation tonight was: Chappy played 20 seconds, gave up a layup, and came right out. WingMan was in a big-time college game and didn't seem ready for it. Neither player had any effect on the game on a night in which we needed some big bodies to help out with a big, physical frontcourt.
Dexter Pittman Watch: Not a good night for Dexy, who Rick turned to in the first half to try and mix things up. One thing Pittman's done better this year is to learn to pass the ball out when his shot isn't there. I remember last year laughing because every time Dexy got the ball, you knew he was gonna shoot. I'm sure the coaches beat that lesson into his head, but it appears to have been taken to the opposite extreme. Tonight he caught the ball in perfect position to take a shot, but he hesitated, then kicked the ball out. Obviously, he's still got much more to learn. Defensively, Dexter was exposed on several possessions and was more liability than help for the 'Horns tonight.
Three Things: Texas' worst loss last season came at the Drum in February when Bob Huggins figured out a nice way to disrupt the Longhorns' offense, using his big, athletic guards to muscle Texas on the perimeter. It was the same strategy that Tim Floyd used to knock us out of the NCAA Tournament. Tonight, Tom Izzo took his turn. Bottom line: smart coaches (with the right personnel) are all going to do the same thing to Texas - muscle us on the outside and make us earn points in ways we're not used to. Rick must focus on ways around this, as there's absolutely no way to make a deep NCAA Tournament run if we can't get past a team with that profile. This Texas team can beat any number of different kinds of teams, but this Texas team is fatally vulnerable to the defensive strategy we saw tonight. It's on Rick to get us over that hump.
In my first game review of the season, I praised Atchley's development. In subsequent posts, I've praised Atchley's improvement. I still have managed to sell him short. In many ways, he played the best of any Longhorn tonight, though he wasn't nearly as involved in the offense as he has been of late. He's to the point now where I trust him with the ball, I like what he can do near the rim, and Rick would be wise to start running the offense through him on the blocks when we play a team that's trying to suffocate the perimeter. Having Atchley meander the perimeter setting picks is only so useful when Texas desperately needs someone who can give us something inside.
It's too soon to say, but it was a problem tonight. Gary Johnson will help. Some improvement from Pittman and the freshmen will help. But we're definitely a team that's gonna sink or swim with the starters. Given who we are... point #1 becomes all the more important. We're not a deep team that can play any number of ways - Rick's got to work hard to get the current crew to improve where they're not comfortable.
Home vs. Wisconsin (Erwin Center) – Saturday 12/29 11:00 a.m. ESPN2