Over-rated! [clap clap clap-clap-clap] Kansas State fans embarrassed themselves by indulging the most senseless chant in all of sports--the equivalent of a player saying during his post-game interview after a big win that the victory wasn't any special accomplishment by his team so much as it was reflective of the opposition not being as good as anticipated. The lessons for Texas fans are twofold: first, if you find yourself at an event at which UT fans are starting an over-rated chant, take active measures to hush the fools; and second, I join you if when you hear that chant you find yourself applying it to Texas' stay atop the national rankings. Not that fun. Quite apart from the top-rank worthiness of the basketball team, the experience of being the top-ranked team was not something I'll soon miss.
One week atop the rankings, two games, two losses, both of which made the case in point: As if winning in Manhattan weren't hard enough, Bramlage was on steroids from start to finish, the excitement of gunning for a win over #1 elevating their bloodthirstiness. And lest anyone remained unconvinced, consider that after today's home win over Texas, UCONN students stormed the court. Sure, the Huskies badly needed tonight's win, but fans at UCONN do not storm the court for skid-stopping wins. That was about the (1) next to Texas' name heading into this game. (It's only fair to note with approval The UCONN Blog's immediate condemnation of the "embarrassing" display by students.)
As this week's new rankings roll out, Texas will tumble from the top spot, to which most of us will mutter, "Good riddance." Even less than a week removed from trumpeting the importance of the accomplishment and the value of the accompanying benefits, I'm perfectly content to remain satisfied with and proud of the team's accomplishment, without the slightest concern that the reign was so short-lived.
Now that we've summitted the mountain a first time, I'm fine falling in line with the chorus that the mid-season rankings don't mean that much. At least not where cutting down this year's nets are concerned.
After a second consecutive loss, the mood among Longhorns fans tonight is decidedly dour. I definitely understand it, but I'm of two minds about ultimate takeaways from today's loss to UCONN. I may be the only one, but that's what the comments section is for.
On the one hand, the team is struggling, to varying degrees, with a multitude of problems--personnel, defensive rotations, substituting, etc. These need to be accounted, analyzed, and attacked for the team to reach its full potential. On the other hand, while there were plenty of problems on full display Saturday afternoon, I also observed a substantial number of what I would characterize as positive developments, insofar as they were things that, at the very least, offer some evidence that Barnes and his coaching staff are "accounting and analyzing" in the ways they must for the team to evolve into something stronger.
The other thing about today's loss that stuck with me was that I didn't feel angry and disappointed after the game. You can decide whether my personal barometer offers you anything you can latch onto yourself, but I've got the conch shell so I'm going to mention it here in the Overview. (Moreover, it's undoubtedly tethered in some way to those things I felt good about today, which will be discussed
momentarily.in Part 2 of the review, running in a subsequent post.) I've been going to basketball games since before I could walk, I grew up playing countless hours, both at home and on up through school, and when you're around that much basketball, you can't help but get a feel for when both individuals and teams have uncharacteristically good and bad nights. Though it doesn't diminish the importance of talking about Saturday's mistakes and problems, and especially those that are consistently appearing across games, today's second half didn't make me angry so much as it made me chuckle.
A long, frustrating stretch when nothing went right for Texas coincided with a stretch for the Huskies during which they could do no wrong. To name a few:
- Jerome Dyson--a 30% three point shooter--suddenly becomes J.J. Reddick on the perimeter, hits 4 of 8 threes, and rips off a career-high 32 points, successfully finishing anything and everything he tries to do.
Dogus Balbay somehow comes up with a trifecta of fouls within a single possession? One of them was an atrocious call when Balbay arrived at the ball before Kemba, who crashed into Balbay. Whistle on Dogus, and before the first minute of the first half is passed, he's off to the bench with 4 fouls.
- Parenthetically: I'm not going to pin a loss on the officials--we did plenty wrong, and UCONN plenty right, that it wasn't anything to burn a couch over--but the 'Horns were hosed all day long by a crew of officials who didn't so much strike me as biased so much as totally haphazard. Players were allowed to molest each other inside, but ticky-tack whistles sporadically appeared on minimal perimeter contact. The final margin of total fouls (30 called on Texas, 15 on UCONN) was padded by end-of-game fouling, but my count from a review of the play-by-play shows 6 Texas fouls in the final 3 minutes of the game, which still leaves a margin of 9 more fouls called on Texas than the Huskies. Again, I didn't so much see the officials as blowing the kinds of egregious whistles against Texas that make you scream BIAS! at the TV, but it's pure fantasy to say that the Huskies were avoiding the kinds of contact that resulted in whistles on Texas. Of greatest effect on the game, Dexter Pittman, Damion James, and Dogus Balbay all had to spend substantial minutes on the bench with foul trouble. Had the whistles been distributed more evenly, UCONN's lack of depth would have presented problems comparable to those suffered by Texas with Pittman, James, and Balbay on the bench for long stretches. Kemba Walker (37), Jerome Dyson (37), and Stanley Robinson (35) combined to play for 109 minutes, score 68 points and accumulate just 6 fouls between them. We may not be able to blame the officials for Texas' loss, but the events as they unfolded are at the least relevant to how evaluating Texas' performance.
- All that whining out of the way, the Huskies just put together one of those stretches where everyone's making plays, they're all on the same page, they're loose but aggressive, momentum builds, and suddenly they're even hitting 30 foot three pointers as the shot clock expires, just 'cause. Making matters worse, while the same 6 Huskies got in a tremendous groove, Texas spent most of the second half playing musical chairs with its lineup, dancing around foul trouble and, indirectly, the problems created by Balbay's extended second half absence, as Jai Lucas hit a wall and Justin Mason took a turn playing point guard like an out-of-position center, only with less grace and more turnovers.
You get the idea, the point being that above and beyond Texas' shortcomings, it just wasn't our day. In a game the Huskies desperately needed to win, UCONN got to play their top 6 all game, at home, and they capitalized when Texas began to unravel in the second half, closing the deficit and then surging well ahead with 13-0 and 11-0 runs. When Connecticut needed it most, their guys just exploded, Texas alternated possessions between missed lay ups and turnovers, the Huskies hit 21 of their 29 second half free throws, and by the end of it all had outscored Texas 54-32 in the second half of play. I realize why that made most people angry, but maybe in this light you can understand why I just chuckled.
Sometimes the other guys play lights out and you tip your cap. Sometimes the wheels come off for your guys and you have to shake that part of it off while identifying and focusing on the areas for improvement that will have consequences going forward. And then sometimes everything goes badly for you all at once and you get run out of the gym. It happens, it happened today, and I'll cover the remainder of the review, which has already sailed past post length of its own, in a separate Part 2 that will run on Sunday or Monday as the week's Texas Basketball Report, covering: (1) The legitimate concerns going forward, (2) Player notes and reviews, and (3) The things I saw Saturday that I find encouraging heading forward.