What Rick Barnes Needs to Do

This team SHOULD be in the NCAA tournament, but they’ve not played like an NCAA tournament team since conference play started. And if they play the next month like they’ve played the last two months they WON’T be in the NCAA tournament, even though they have more than enough talent and the early season record to be there. Therein lies the rub: an under-performing team, out of character for RB (at least as far as the regular season goes).

RB should:

- Sit Atchley instead of trying to be Counselor Troi to him. He won’t be back next year and he’s not contributing to this season, so let him ride the pine and let Chapman and Hill compete for the time. Give them both a set of criteria they’ll be evaluated on and whoever is better starts, the other plays off the bench.

- Dogus is in the Dog(ho)us(e). He’s young, he’s wholly unfamiliar with US-style hoops. He may have future potential, but until he decides to follow his coach’s instructions to the letter he rides the pine. He’s not good enough to freelance, especially when his teammates aren’t on the same page and he ends up turning the ball over recklessly, multiple times each and every game. He’s a fast dribbler and passes the bb around faster than most, but he’s inattentive and a horrible shooter. Since he’s young RB may be able to develop him into something better. But he’s earned nothing yet, certainly not a starter role, the other young guys should get as much, if not more time on the court to develop, learn and earn the roll.

- Abrams has the most combined talent and experience on the team this season. But for the team “shooter’ to have a 37% season average, 33% in conference is inexcusable. I know coaches always say you need to let shooters shoot through slumps. But when does a slump become a player’s season par? Whether or not teams are doubling him and in his face AJ has not been on the mark all season long, with few exceptions. Expectations of Conner were raised last year when he had a handful of breakout games; but nobody confused him for a shooter. AJ has had as many "breakout” games this season as Conner did last; but he’s still considered the shooter? AJ had NBA fantasies at the end of last year and broke up the team chemistry when he and his daddy wanted their egos stroked by prematurely testing the NBA. If he thinks defenses in the NBA will be easier to overcome than what he’s facing right now he really is delusional. NBA talent is able to fight through what the other guys throw at you. If I’m RB I tell AJ "look, it may seem like a raw deal that other teams are able to double you up and defend you almost to the exclusion of the rest of the team, but if you really want to play in the bigs you’ve got to elevate your game that much more – ‘cause in the NBA the other guys are all bigger than you, all just as fast, all of ’em know how to play defense better than anything you’re facing today. Your future is in your hands, either you find a way to get it done and prove to the scouts you’ve got it; or you go play in the European leagues; or you sell life insurance. In the meantime I don’t leave him in 40 minutes, Ward gets in for at least 7 minutes that AJ’s not.

- Dexter should play much more. And he should be allowed to foul out. If he gets into foul trouble early RB should leave him in. If he fouls out so be it. He needs to learn how to play without fouling so much, yet still be effective and not unnecessarily avoid contact. Let him get his 5th playing ball, not waste away on the bench with 4. He’s gotta learn and what better way than learning under the pressure of a real game with real foul out consequences. Pittman seems like a real good kid who wants to please his coach and teammates as much as he wants to feel good about his own effort. Let him fall off that bicycle and get some cuts and bruises. He’ll get the hang of it.

- Gary Johnson is an animal when he wants to be. I’ve watched him dominate the middle and his eyes glow red when he gets in a groove. If there’s a tonic RB can brew that brings out the Mr. Hyde in him for 25 minutes then he needs to be a’brewin. An angry Gary is a good Gary as far as I’ve seen. RB has to be Patches and Gary has to be Gordon (Dodgeball).

- Mason & James. Both these guys have regressed without a true team leader. In the absence of a leader on the floor RB has to fill that void with his own leadership. M&J have the talent to provide quality minutes in their respective rolls. But if RB has defined clearly what those rolls are it’s not obvious. RB needs to narrow down what he expects of them, but then expect they’ll perform those duties flawlessly. They’re trying to do too much, and not succeeding at doing anything well. They need focus and more definition.

- Ward has a ton of potential. The season is such that Texas can afford to develop him for next season now. The team is not going anywhere this year, and losing to OSU on Tuesday or CU on Saturday will send them to the NIT, regardless. It’s time to get Ward the playing time and experience he’ll need to be an impact player next year when the posse arrives. He can be a young leader to next year’s freshmen and incoming transfer IF more is expected of him this year. Sure, he’ll make his share of mistakes, but as long as he is learning from them, and not making the same mistakes over and over (like Balbay continues to) he should get more and more playing time – even let him get a big taste of the conference tournament so he learns what stepping it up to the next level looks like.

- Chapman & Hill. Let ‘em compete for Conner’s minutes.

- Smith. Still a great unknown to me. Does he have anything? If not it must be nice to ride the bench and get four years of free school with no expectation of contributing anything in return. When UT was a weak program we had plenty of these guys littering the bench. As RB has succeeded he’s had fewer and fewer of these guys with splinters and bruises in their asses. If RB is asking himself what he’s paid for in reserving a spot for Smith he needs to find out. If he’s got game he needs to play like it when he’s in. If he approaches his minutes like they’re only junk minutes he’s filling then we’ll get more of the same. If he believes coach expects more maybe he’ll give more. RB should leave it crystal clear that he expects more. Otherwise, Harrison gets a four-year degree paid for just by being a junk minute cleanup guy. Every team has one like him, heck, that’s what we all thought Conner was until last season surprised us (but this season he’s back to form). Does Smith have a spurt in him to help?

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