Dogus Balbay and the Texas Longhorns basketball team are soaring.
You can read previous editions of the Texas Basketball Report here.
The University of Texas men's basketball team defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 74-63 on Saturday to improve their record to 16-3 overall and, most importantly, a perfect 4-0 in Big 12 conference play. Our postgame celebration thread is here. Additional links: the Texas-Kansas game as 'Texts From Last Night'; Game Recap; and Box Score. (Update: Trips Right has good game coverage over at Barking Carnival, as well.)
Below are a collection of thoughts from yesterday's unforgettable win.
J'amour. Regular readers of this site don't need to be reminded of how big a fan I am of J'Covan Brown, but it's worth revisiting a couple of my past observations. From this season's first TBR:
Brown still makes some bad decisions, but Texas fans are now overreacting to them. It's perhaps understandable, but the paradigm has changed. This is much closer to the J'Covan we want. He's not going to be perfect, and you're going to have to live with him doing some dumb stuff out there (although, one hopes, less and less of it, if the trend continues, as I think we're seeing), but we're just an exponentially more dynamic team with him playing 25+ minutes per game. For my money, he's the best pure basketball player on the team, which is not to say he's the most talented, or the most polished, but he has the purest hoops instincts of any player on our squad.
And, from TBR 4.2, following the overtime loss to UConn:
Brown is a two-win player for us, by which I mean his play will be essential to Texas winning two games it otherwise would not, while he's past the point where his play is going to cost Texas a victory.
J'Covan Brown's performance on Saturday could not have more perfectly illustrated those points. Early in the game, he made two mistakes (nearly drawing a technical after a terrible no call on a fast break, and throwing a terrible entry lob that was fortunate not to result in a turnover), but on the whole the mistakes were nothing compared to all the great stuff he gave us.
And when I said he's a two win player for us, well, there you go. Texas loses that game yesterday unless J'Covan Brown delivers the performance he did. And when I said that he's the best pure player on the team, Saturday illuminated what I meant by that. He's not the most talented Longhorn on the roster, but he's a pure gamer like no other, and on an afternoon when it took the rest of the team a while to settle in, it was Brown's skill and composure that fueled the furious comeback.
I couldn't be happier for, or proud of, the kid, and though he nearly made a costly mistake with his outburst early on, he handled the much more incindiary situation (when Selby molested him at midcourt) later in the game quite well. A year ago, I'm not so sure he wouldn't have taken a swing at the Kansas guard. He's a leader on this team, and Rick Barnes credited him with calming the team down at halftime with encouraging words.
Team effort keyed comeback. It was J'Covan Brown who fueled the offensive turnaround, but it was the effort from the entire roster of Longhorns that anchored the defensive and rebounding performance that kept Texas in the game. After falling into a nightmare deficit early (trailing 18-3, with 14:41 left in the first half) that featured a pair of uncontested Tyrell Reed three pointers, an easy lay up after we lost track of a back cutter, and two Jayhawk offensive boards, Texas settled down and, for the rest of the game, really, locked down the Jayhawks, both defensively and on the boards.
And we could spend an entire post doling out all the credit. A huge portion goes to Rick Barnes, who managed our line ups beautifully, making all the right adjustments after the horrible start. Particularly inspired was the second half line up featuring Matt Hill and Dogus Balbay, which although a shaky offensive line up was critical to the Jayhawks miserable offensive second half. Balbay locked down the Jayhawks best pure scorer (Selby), while Hill did an absolutely brilliant job making life difficult for Marcus Morris, while adding 4 huge defensive boards.
Credit, too, to both Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph, who understood that as much as we needed them to help put points on the board, we needed to win the battle of the boards, both players contributing 9 rebounds. And Gary Johnson and Tristan Thompson gave phenomenal defensive efforts on a night when scoring was hard to come by. It was, truly, a team effort on defense and on the boards, and those areas were, heading into the season, the presumptive barriers between this squad and elite success.
We played the Jayhawks' screens perfectly, smothered the passing lanes, tracked back cutters, and closed out jump shooters. And once Barnes took my advice and started running the two-man game with J'Covan, the stage was set for the 36-13 run that turned a 12 point deficit into an 11 point lead.
Improvement continues. Of all the many wonderful things about this run the Longhorns are on, maybe the most encouraging is that the team continues to improve. The team clearly learned what it needed to from the loss against UConn, shoring up both their team rebounding and free throw shooting. After a brilliant 19-22 performance in blowing out the Aggies, Texas went 25-31 from the charity stripe in Lawrence. They continue to improve in attacking the basket to get to the line, continue to improve in cashing those opportunities in, continue to improve in the way they play team/help defense, and continue to improve in attacking the boards as a group.
The goal of every season is to have a team that is legitimately capable of winning four games to make it to the Final Four. Whether a team actually does so is also a matter of match ups, health, and good old fashioned luck, but the goal is to have a genuinely legitimate shot at getting there. Heading into this season, I don't know a single Texas fan who believed that was a possibility for this squad. Heading out of Lawrence, I don't know a single Texas fan who suggests this team doesn't have a shot.
After his most disappointing season as a head coach at Texas, Rick Barnes is delivering his best. What a thrilling, satisfying season this has been.
The timeout that was never taken. A lot of fans were yelling for a timeout during the disastrous opening five minutes, but Texas head coach Rick Barnes demurred. As he told Craig Way after the game, "I know a lot of people thought I should have taken a timeout early on, but I had nothing to tell them. I know our team. I think there's a time in the game where they have to figure it out."
He was right, and it's worth highlighting. There are moments when taking a timeout to stop a run, or make an adjustment, is necessary, and on that count -- something we've faulted Barnes for in the past -- he's done a terrific job this year. As he did on Saturday. Three times during the second half Barnes used a timeout when his team wasn't doing something that they needed to be doing, and he wanted to stop a rally and get his team on track.
But early in the game, Texas just needed to settle down. And a timeout wasn't necessarily going to cure that. They just had to do it. To play through it. To get through the bad start and settle into a basketball game. A timeout simply delayed that process, and his instinct -- especially in retrospect -- deserves high praise.
Frankly, after what we've seen Barnes do this year -- both in preparation for the season, and learning/growing/improving within it -- there's no room for anyone to doubt that Texas has one of the very best in the business. That won't stop the halfway fans from whining when we don't win the whole enchilada, but for those of us who truly live and die with this basketball program, it's deeply satisfying to know that Rick Barnes is our head coach. His time will come. And that it might come this year is just incredible. Truly, marvelously incredible.
Looking forward. The Big 12 schedule is always brutal, and Texas has a long way to go yet, but they're now in the driver's seat for the conference crown having picked up a critical road win against a Tier 1 team. Our statistical profile now has us favored in every game remaining on the schedule, and while it's highly unlikely Texas will actually run the table, if the Longhorns were to finish 14-2, as projected, that wins the conference so long as Kansas drops at least one more along the way.
As for seeding, Texas probably finds itself on the 2 line right now, with a legitimate shot at a 1 seed if they keep playing as well as they have the last two weeks. But probably best not to get ahead of ourselves. The Big 12 schedule has a tendency to wear you out, and there are very few gimmes in this league, especially on the road. Wednesday's trip to Stillwater is a perfect example: Oklahoma State isn't great this year, but can Texas avoid a letdown after Saturday's euphoria? It'd be hard not to, and winning in Stillwater is never a given.
For now, though, we celebrate. And dare to dream big.