Before we resume the Holiday Bowl/football team fun, there's a basketball game that needs dealing with.
Game Recap: Texas meandered through an entire game without ever really breaking out, and eventually it caught up to them, as Wisconsin stole a win at the Erwin Center 67-66.
The 'Horns led by three points with less than a minute to play, but Wisconsin scored a nice post basket on a mismatch with AJ Abrams to cut the lead to one. The Badgers then fouled Abrams with 10 seconds to play, but AJ only made one of his two free throws, extending the lead back to two. Wisconsin then took the ball down the court, hit a three, stole the inbounds pass and chucked it high into the air as Longhorn fans watched the clock in horror: 3... 2.. 1... effing ball game.
The outcome was: If the football team was a sexy girl who generally frustrated us right from the get-go, the basketball team has been the opposite: though we went on that first date with lowered expecations, she was nothing short of stunning through the first handful of dates. And then as we're just starting to really fall for her she mentions that she's married. WTF, woman?
Setting aside the metaphors, I was fine with the loss to Michigan State, but I had to flip the channel a dozen times today as ESPN showed the "highlights" from Texas' clash with Wisconsin. I'm not being a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately jackass here, either. I was going to be perfectly content with an ugly, not-our-best-performance win. But when we actually gave up that win in the final minute, the frustration erupted.
Here's the thing: in the grand scheme of things, everything is fine. We're off to a very strong start, have shown some promise, and have plenty of room to grow. But this team managed to pick up a neutral court win over Tennessee and a true road win over UCLA. With those wins under our belts, the stakes were raised. And though we didn't give much back with an easily forgivable loss to Michigan State in Detroit, we gave some of our winnings away with today's loss.
Think of it this way: Imagine entering the World Series of Poker and finishing the first day as one of the top four chip leaders, then starting day two by giving away a third of your stack because you chased a flush on a hunch. That's what today's loss felt like. Just stupid. None of this is to discredit Wisconsin, who admirably hung tight throughout. But Texas had every opportunity - and ability - to win this game. Damnit.
The Offensive MVP was: I go back and forth on who's improved more - Connor or Damion. The difference with Connor is more visibly obvious, but Damion's taken an enormous step forward with his offensive game. What I really like is his ability to score on jump shots off the dribble; if you'd asked me before the season whether I thought James' could be a guy who can create his own looks like he has been, I'd have laughed you off.
It's especially fun because he still looks pretty damn raw out there at times, so there's room to improve, but of all Texas' players this season, James has been the most impressive at creating his own good scoring chance. That's an odd thing to say for a team that features DJ Augustin, but our sophomore point guard has hit a bit of a wall as teams have adjusted their game plans to take away his dribble penetration. He's doing well overall, but he's got some adjusting of his own to do as a scorer.
All this is just to point out that James has evolved from being a freak of an athlete to being a freak of an athlete who can shoot the ball from 12-15 feet. With his high release, nice size, athletic prowess, and improved ball handling, it's tough to deny him a clean shot. Augustin is the more skilled player, but he's got bigger physical hurdles to overcome.
The Defensive MVP was: Texas' overall team defense was mostly fine, but Wisconsin was a really uninspiring offensive ballclub. We're not disruptive enough as a team as small as we are needs to be, and the mismatches Wisconsin took advantage of in the second half eventually wound up costing us the game.
The Freshman Evaluation tonight was: I think the Gary Johnson news deserves a siren. What do you think? (God we need this kid to be what we hope he can be...)
Dexter Pittman Watch: Oh, Dexy. I thought Rick was wise to give Pittman 10-12 minutes in this game, and he gave us some good and some bad. On defense, Pittman takes about 13 seconds to load his body before he can jump up off the floor. By that time, of course, the opponent has scored, Texas has inbounded the ball and is running the court on offense.
Still, Pittman provides a good body to have in games like this. The only problem right now is that he's still a year away from really harnessing it in a consistently positive way. Pittman's a great kid, with great hands, good energy, and big potential. But he's still got so far to go before he's a guy who can give Texas 20-25 minutes of difference-making basketball.
(A relevant parenthetical here, as this report is pretty damn negative: it's useful to remember how much room this team has to grow. The exciting start to the season has raised expecations, but I know Andrew and I each felt like this wasn't a team that could be a force until February, at the earliest. Even as we lay down - sometimes harshly - the weaknesses, it's uplifting to note how much room Texas has to grow.)
Three Things: It's time to adjust, Rick. We came out the gates strong, surprised some people, and are enjoying a terrific start to the season. But the book is out on how to defend Texas, and it's time to make some counter-adjustments. DJ Augustin is finding it harder and harder to get to the rim, and though we've done a reasonably good job scoring anyway, the offensive plan is built around DJ getting dribble penetration. And teams are taking that away.
AW will have more on Johnson in his TCU preview (Wednesday, 4:00 p.m., Erwin Center), but let's take a moment to celebrate now. Texas has done a better than expected job rebounding this season, but as mentioned above, the offense needs to be tweaked as teams continue to smother our perimeter. Right now, Texas isn't scoring in the post much; Johnson might be able to help keep the defense more honest, allowing our guards more room to do what they do best.
I think a lot of Jay's problems right now are mental, and a trip to the bench might do him some good. The defense is still good, but he's not enough of a rebounder to keep giving him 35 minutes a game when Johnson returns. And coming off the bench might help him get on track offensively. Right now he's just unsure what he wants to do: he's thinking before he shoots, and not finishing very well when he drives. I'm not worried about him in the Long Term, but he's in a bad place right now. Rick's always been good at handling things like this; I'm sure they'll get it worked out.
Even with everything discussed above, Texas should have won on Saturday. Though Rick needs to do some tweaking with the offensive game planning, this loss was mostly on the kids. Usually, Andrew and I reserve the largest portion of the blame for the coach(es), but not this time. The 'Horns just didn't execute very well. Missed free throws and missed layups just killed us for the second game in a row. Time to regroup against TCU and try to get one more solid non-con win over St. Mary's.
Home vs. TCU (Erwin Center) – Wednesday 1/02 4:00 p.m.