If you would have told me before the season that Texas would win two of its four non-conference games against Tennessee, UCLA, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, I'd have gladly accepted that as a success. Texas did just that, and a success it was. Just as important, Texas held serve against every other opponent on its schedule, picking up solid wins against New Mexico State, Oral Roberts and St. Mary's along the way.
Facing as tough a nonconference schedule as I can remember in my lifetime, Texas enters Big 12 play at 13-2, with two wins over Top 10 teams to pad its NCAA resume. Though the selfish part of me wants that Wisconsin game back, it's not an actual complaint. This year's non-conference performance exceeded even the highest of preseason expectations.
Most exciting of all, Texas accomplished all this without any inside post game to speak of. When Gary Johnson was held out due to his heart condition, Andrew and I agreed that this was a Texas team with whom we'd need to be patient. Our highest hopes centered around picking up one win over Tennessee, UCLA, or Michigan State, and avoiding any bad losses to the rest of our non-con foes. We agreed that we probably wouldn't see the best of Texas until February and the heart of conference play.
But here we are, 13-2, with two of the most impressive wins of the season from any team.
- 63-61 at UCLA
- 97-78 vs Tennessee (neutral court)
- 81-62 vs St. Mary's
- 102-87 vs New Mexico State (neutral court)
- 66-56 vs Oral Roberts
- 88-72 vs North Texas
- 67-59 vs TCU
- 80-54 at Rice
- 73-42 vs UC Davis
- 96-81 vs Texas State
- 58-37 vs UT-SA
- 98-61 vs Texas Southern
- 100-52 vs Arkansas Monticello
- He's taken a big leap forward from what was already a very solid freshman showing. Better quickness, decision-making, and improved shooting. If he can cut his turnovers by 15-20%, he'll be the best point in the country, if he's not already. Grade: A
- The dramatic improvement in his scoring inside the arc makes him 50 times more useful to this team than he was last year. He's in a terrible shooting slump from downtown, but still sits at 40% for the season. Defense is improved overall, but there are lapses. Grade: B+
- Shooting 49% from the floor. Has hit 11 of 20 three pointers. Averaging 10.8 boards per game. Much more fluid with the ball in his hands. Can create his own shot. Needs to improve from the free throw line (55%). Grade: A
- Having been asked to play 30+ minutes per game this season, Connor has responded with 11.1 points and 5.9 boards per game. Still isn't a physical presence inside, but has developed his overall game tremendously. Basketball IQ is terrific. Helps the team in little ways immensely. His 34 blocks and 18 steals are utterly fantastic. Grade: A
- His offensive game is completely lost (39% from the field; 26% from downtown), but he remains a solid contributor. I don't worry about him in the long-term, but he's got a big mental leap to make to regain his offensive confidence and become a useful player on that half of the court. 24 steals and 42 assists are both excellent. He'll be fine. Grade: C+
- AW is right; he's still a year away. He's shown flashes of utility, but we've got a long way to go before there's consistent production. Grade: C
- He's raw, raw, raw... but there's talent here. I think by March he's giving Texas 10 important minutes per game. It's going to come in baby steps for him, but he's got the tools to give Barnes things he likes. Grade: B
- Not ready yet. Chappy's got good feet and a nice skill set, but the game's moving too fast for him right now. Big 12 play will swallow him whole. With Johnson back, I don't expect him to play much from here forward. He's going to be an interesting player by the time he's a junior, but Texas fans should be patient. Grade: C
- DJ Augustin
1a. Damion James
- Connor Atchley
- AJ Abrams
All four have been the MVP of various games; all four have taken enormous steps forward as basketball players from last year. Augustin is the clear MVP, but Damion James truly is nipping at his heels. There aren't enough superlatives to describe how far along this team has come since last year. We're not without weakness, we're far from invulnerable, but these guys have done an amazing job already in 2007-08. This is why we love Rick Barnes.