Texas dropped its second straight home game in a 69-65 loss to Misssouri that dropped the team to 15-6 overall, 4-3 in Big 12 play. Though Texas rode a huge first half from Dexter Pittman to lead 34-29 at intermission, Missouri head coach Mike Anderson made significant halftime adjustments and the Tigers outpaced the Longhorns 40-31 over the game's final 20 minutes to pick up the win.
Texas had the ball with less than a minute remaining and the game tied 65-65, but AJ Abrams missed an off balance three point attempt with 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock, giving Missouri the basketball with a chance to take the game's final shot. Following a timeout, the Tigers' Zaire Taylor ran the clock down to 10 seconds, then used a ball screen to gain a half step advantage past Justin Mason, driving to the basket for a game winning layup and foul. Why Rick Barnes did not instruct his team to switch on all screens I have no idea. Texas turned the ball over on the subsequent inbound play and the ballgame was over.
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS
After looking to be in great shape following a gutty road win in Waco, Texas now finds itself on the precipice of collapse -- Rick Barnes' first back-to-back home losses since 2002 likely dropping the team out of the conference title race and out of the Top 25. Though losing to Missouri isn't devastating on its own, given the context the loss is particularly disappointing. Rick Barnes has over the years done a remarkable job getting his kids to turn in a big performance when they needed it most, particularly following losses. Not last night, though, and the most disappointing effort of the night might have been from Barnes himself, who coached about as inconsistently as his team played.
On the one hand, I sympathize a bit with the difficult position Rick Barnes is in with this team. He has a nice assembly of quality items, but it's not at all clear how best to make them go together -- a bit like having a bowl of miso soup, a glass of desert wine, and plate of brisket.
"What am I supposed to do with this?".
But if the challenges Rick Barrnes is facing are significant, his attempts to deal with them have been disappointments. Details are after the jump, but the consecutive home losses now make Saturday's visit to Lincoln a must-win basketball game. While the quotes in the postgame wraps talk about the team just needing to "step up" and "get it done," the problems are more fundamental than that. And the solutions have to come from the top. Game on, Rick.
|Points Per Minute
|Points Per Possession (PPP)
|Points Per Shot (PPS)
|True Shooting %||49.7%||47.9%|
|Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
- Texas' first half man-to-man pressure defense worked really well in forcing Missouri into settling for jump shots, but Mike Anderson clearly got after his kids at halftime and had the Tigers attacking the rim in the second half. The adjustment had a domino effect that turned the game: Dexter Pittman got tired and started to foul, Justin Mason and Damion James lost their legs, and Texas fell into a devastating offensive slump.
- Rick Barnes' press break was maddening to watch, not because Texas couldn't handle the Tigers' pressure, but because the only player who had any interest in creating offense in transition was Varez Ward. Everyone else seemed content to get the ball past halfcourt, pull up, and run halfcourt sets. That's on Barnes, of course, and when I wrote on Tuesday about making some fundamental changes, this was one of the areas I had in mind. Texas got 25 points from Dexter Pittman, but for many reasons that's not a 40-minute strategy. It's a 20-25 minute strategy, depending on Dexter's fouling, and the fundamental problem Rick's not addressing is what to do to on offense for the other 15-20 minutes each game. Trying to score in transition would be a great place to start.
- I may be understating the problem, too, because it tookl Mike Anderson a full half to make the relatively easy adjustment to what Texas wanted to do in the halfcourt. When in the second half Anderson just packed his defense in the paint, Texas fell apart. There's the blueprint, and every team should/will do that to Texas heading forward.
- Gary Johnson played a horrible game overall, and if I see him shoot another 15+ foot jump shot I'm going to personally run down on the court and yell at him. My goodness.
- Raise your hand if you can explain why Dogus Balbay played two minutes last night? Anyone? No? Me neither. Though Justin Mason did a fine job in the first half, he was very obviously gassed by the midpoint of the second half, as ineffective down the stretch as he was effective early on.
- My enthusiasm for Clint Chapman is next to zero. He's soft and one of my least favorite Longhorns for the opposite reason that Brian Boddicker was one of my favorites. Though arguably less skilled than Chapman, the much-maligned Boddicker played with real fire and physical toughness. Chappy looks like a guy who showed up at the wrong pick up game and is just trying not to be embarrassed.
- I thought AJ Abrams played a nice game overall, on both ends of the floor. He let the game come to him, didn't force many shots, was pesky on defense, and actively trying to involve his teammates. That's what we need from him; the loss last night wasn't an "Damnit AJ!" kind of game.
- When Damion James scores 6 points on 3-8 shooting, it's obvious the system is broken. We can have this same conversation over and over again, all the way to the NIT, or Rick can start putting this group in a better position to succeed. Open things up. Run the damn floor. Let these kids try to score in transition. The halfcourt game sans Pittman is a mess.
- It's a little baffling that Barnes hasn't been willing to open things up like this yet. On the one hand, he continues to up Varez Ward's minutes, presumably because he recognizes that Ward is playing with exactly the kind of aggressive attacking that this team needs. On the other hand, Barnes doesn't seem willing to instruct everyone to play this way. Time and again last night, the Longhorns just settled into halfcourt sets, whether or not Pittman was on the floor. 31 second half points later, Texas had lost.
- The question for the group, which I posed to Wiggo last night: Is it possible for a team to have two identities, one with Pittman on the floor and one without? Is that asking too much? I'm asking seriously. Maybe I'm asking too much, in which case we are what we are and there's not much room for optimism about postseason success. Either way, I still submit that it's worth trying to find out. There's just not much to lose if the effort fails.
I don't want to conclude on such a wholly negative note, however, so let's wrap up by looking at what Texas is doing well in the halfcourt. The first half success with Pittman in the game was executed really nicely at times, with Texas running a simple high screen game featuring Pittman on the backside block. Here's the basic set, with James setting the ball screen for Mason:
As Mason moves to the top of the key, Johnson flashes to the middle near the free throw line, setting up the following looks for Mason:
OPTION A: Backdoor look to Damion
Option B: Pass to Johnson in the middle, who will have a shooting option or look to Pittman option. (I have Johnson a little too high and to the left in the diagram; imagine him more centered and just below the FT line.)
Option C: Reverse the ball and dump it in to Pittman.