Texas thoroughly overwhelmed Coppin State from start to finish on Monday night, moving to 2-0 on the season with a 69-46 win in which the Longhorns battled themselves (26 turnovers, 15-29 free throw shooting) as much as they did the Eagles. Sheldon McClellan paced the offense with a beautifully efficient performance (25 points on 7 of 10 shooting, including 3-4 from long range and 8-10 from the line) and Texas used an impressive zone defense on the other end to blanket the Eagles, who shot just 14 of 57 for the game (24.6%), including an atrocious 5 of 32 (15.6%) from downtown.
This will be your post-game celebration/placeholder thread. This post will be updated with more complete game analysis later this evening.
Sheldon shines, looks ready to be go-to scorer. It's not just that McClellan poured in 25, it was the way that he did it. McClellan was ruthlessly efficient, he was smooth throughout, and he attacked scoring opportunities with confidence and purpose. Heading into this season, the question with McClellan wasn't one of ability, but how much he had developed the know-how to draw on his talent to be a go-to scorer. After a forgettable first half on Friday night, McClellan's last three halves suggest that he may have taken a big leap forward between his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Rick Barnes and his staff have been pushing McClellan's mental development hard by repeatedly insisting they want him to look to score it just about any time he touches it. J'Covan Brown took that approach at times last year -- more often than not to the team's benefit -- but the difference between the he and McClellan is that Brown had to rely on things like spacing and timing and crafty maneuvering to get his looks. McClellan can just beat a defender straight up. He's 6-4 with a pure shooting stroke -- great balance, repeatable shooting motion, quick release from the highest point -- who projects as a legit 38-40% shooter from beyond the arc; he's got explosive fast-twitch muscles and incredible spring in his hop, but also moves smoothly and fluidly, with exceptional body control; and on top of all that he's got unfairly long arms that further help him both score around the rim and release jumpers cleanly over defenders.
That's all stuff you can't teach, and what makes his ceiling so high. He's not ready to be a dominant player yet, but right now it's looking like he's ready to be a great player. And that's big, big news.
Texas goes zone. I wrote about the significance of Texas opening the season playing zone, and if Friday night was an introduction to Texas' zone defense, Monday night's game provided a full illustration of why I was excited to see Barnes pursuing it. The Horns pretty much played all 40 minutes of the gam in zone, and though the opposition was poor, the results were exceptional. Coppin State quickly decided that nothing but pain awaited attempts to shoot the ball within 12 feet of the cup, more or less abandoned the effort, and began launching low-percentage threes from 23+ feet, and when it was all said and done the Eagles managed just 14 made field goals on 57 attempts, including 5 of 32 from beyond the arc, while getting more than doubled up in attempts from the free throw line (16, to Texas' 34).
There were four things that made the performance particularly encouraging. First, I loved the way Texas looked rebounding the ball out of the zone -- with players reflexively positioning themselves with quick footwork and body positioning to fill space or box out. Second, I was very pleased with the perimeter close out defense, which is what separates great zone teams like Syracuse and sinks most others because of the damage done by three pointers and the sub-20 foot arc. Third, I was really impressed by the play we got from the back line throughout the night. At one point we had a line up of Papapetrou, Ibeh, and Lammert on the back line, with McClellan and Holland up top for a long, athletic zone that just brutalized Coppin State. And finally, I really liked how we seemed comfortable and attuned to getting into transition out of the zone defense, which is something I'd like to see this team do more and more of.
Ibeh takes center stage. After a very quiet debut in which Rick Barnes opted to corral his twin towers against Fresno State, both Prince Ibeh and Cameron Ridley featured much more prominently on Monday night. After a strong opening five-minute stretch, I thought Ridley was on his way towards a big time game, but he got derailed by a couple bad whistles and turnover problems arising from holding on to the ball too long. Right now Ridley is just indecisive enough that he's neutralizing his own strengths as a player, and as he starts to act more quickly and confidently, things will start to fall into place for him. He had a beautiful pick and roll that was negated by a poor charge call, but it was an impressive move that flashed the future for a moment.
While Ridley fizzled, Prince Ibeh took center stage, and turned in 20 highly productive minutes: 4 points, 9 boards and 3 blocks, with the only blemish being an adventurous 0-4 from the FT line. The kid's not half as bad a shooter as he looked at the line tonight, and he's suffering from thinking/aiming right now, when he needs to trust his motion and just shoot it. He might not make more than 60% or so, but he's got a decent enough stroke that he needs to trust in it and just shoot the ball. The free throws were forgivable given the rest of the work he did, though, as he showed why he's going to be an absolute nightmare defensive center for the next three years -- long and athletic, with good feet and excellent timing. Between he and Ridley, not to mention the rest of the nice size on this roster, Texas is going to have one of its best all-time seasons in blocked shots.
Moving on to Maui. I need some sleep so that's all I've got time for tonight, but we'll prep for Maui later in the week with a rundown of the whole roster through two games.