The Texas Basketball Reports more or less write themselves when the team struggles through one or both of its games in a given week. It's less clear what to discuss when the team puts together a strong week, as it did this time around, taking care of both Iowa State and Oklahoma State at the Drum.
Neither game was close, despite a Cyclone second half surge that got them within spitting distance late, and the Big Monday thrashing of the Cowboys was Texas first "complete" game of the season against a quality opponent. There's no question that Oklahoma State was flat, but Texas also played its best and most energetic defense of the season, which contributed to OSU's struggles.
Looking At The Schedule Ahead
AW and I have mentioned several times that 11 is Texas' magic number this year: if the 'Horns can win eleven conference games before heading into the Big 12 tournament, they'll be in a position to sneak up the seeding charts to a #6 seed if they can win their Big 12 tourney opener.
What's left on the schedule to get to 11 wins?
At Baylor, Texas Tech at home, at Oklahoma, Texas A&M at home, and at Kansas. The Longhorns would have to win three of those contests to get to eleven conference wins, which means they can't afford to slip up Saturday in Waco or next Tuesday at the Drum against Tech. Winning those two puts Texas in a position of only needing to steal one of the final three, all of which they will likely be favored to lose. (Ken Pomeroy's numbers show Texas as 'dogs in all three.)
Can Texas do it? Watching the team on Monday, you have to like our chances, but this team has not proven itself able to sustain momentum this season; great wins have been followed by frustrating defeats. The home loss to Kansas State sticks out as the biggest disappointment of the year, bar none. If the 'Horns drop to either Baylor or Texas Tech, we'll be right back where we started, wondering if the team can get it together to take that 'next step' forward.
Unfortunately, though, we'll be just about out of time. The window for improving significantly is closing quickly, to the point where Texas will prove very soon that it's either a team to be taken seriously, or a collection of young talent that's not going to get to that next level this year.
So watch closely on Saturday and Tuesday to see whether this team really has taken things up to that next level. If all goes well, the next Texas Basketball Report will be looking closely at Texas' chances to win one or two of the final three games.
More than a few of you spoke up about the improved play from Damion James of late, a development that really helps this team find some balance on offense. There's been a tendency at times for Texas to stand around, watching either DJ or KD do their things. Having DJ and KD do their things is unquestionably a good thing, but it's how they go about it that makes or breaks the offense. What's especially important is that Barnes use James and Durant working together on screens to free up driving lanes for Augustin. This, as opposed to just having Augustin try to ram it down the throats of the opponents.
When James and Augustin worked well together on Monday night, James was getting great angles to the basket off pick and rolls. He's also showing the ability to hit the 15 foot jump shot - a facet of his game I sold short earlier this year. Despite his tendency to miss a few balls because of his below average hands, he's a lot better than, say, James Thomas. If Damion is bringing enough offensive versatility to the floor to chip in 10-15 points per night, Texas is all the more difficult to defend. That helps the rest of the team get better looks, and keeps the defense from over-rotating to help guard Augustin and Durant.
Elsewhere, I guess JD Lewis was hurt, but it was especially nice to see Winder getting his minutes. Craig provides energy and quickness that Lewis lacks, and though Winder's a very limited player, his athleticism and defense are far more useful than Lewis'. . . well, nothing. Here's to hoping Rick sticks with Winder down the stretch - whether Lewis is healthy or not.