This is the most interesting Texas Longhorns basketball team in my lifetime. More interesting than the BMW gunning brigade, more interesting than the TJ Ford squad, and more interesting than last year's unit that sent three players into the NBA.
|Give this man more minutes, Rick.|
Throw in Texas' purest deep shooter in years (AJ Abrams), and Texas has a ceiling that may just be higher than anyone in the country.
The elephant in the room for this team, though, is an obvious one: interior play. Sophomore Connor Atchley has been a huge disappointment (and the expectations for him were awfully low to begin with); Matt Hill is showing lots of promise, but looks a year away from being ready to be a consistent contributor; and Dexter Pittman is a running marshmallow.
The marshmallow's the key, though. Through seven games, it's painfully obvious that Texas' hopes in March depend on what happens with Dexter Pittman's development over the course of the next four months. If Barnes can develop his game and his stamina into 25 minutes of action per night, Texas can erase their interior concerns. If not? This team won't have any chance of making a deep run in March.
There's cause for optimism, though. When Big Dex has been in the game, he's looked effective. He's averaging 4.5 points and 4 rebounds in just 6 minutes of action per game. Teams have trouble dealing with his massive body. Hell, Dexter has problems dealing with himself, he's so big and strong. All the news we hear is about how hard Dexter is working to get into game shape, and there's reason to think he's getting close to being physically ready to run up and down the court for 20+ minutes per game. But it's clear that Rick doesn't yet trust him to play with the control he'll need to exhibit to succeed.
That's too bad, because Texas needs him, and in this author's opinion, Rick Barnes needs to give Dexter Pittman a baptism by fire. Pittman needs to be out on the court, learning in live action. Rick Barnes has said that he doesn't believe there's such a thing as a "gamer" - what you see in practice is pretty much what you can expect to get in a game. I think there's a lot of truth to that, but it's demonstrably less true for freshmen. These freshmen need to be out on the floor against players they don't know, under scrutiny that is less familiar, with officials whose whistles are calling a game on the books.
The sooner that Rick throws him in there to learn as he goes, the better. Pittman's looked appreciably better than what you'd expect from a guy that's only getting 6 minutes per game. It's time for Rick to take off the kid gloves, let Dexter get on the court and, if need be, fail on the court. Fouling out in five minutes is a bad thing, but not entirely so; not when that experience can help teach a player about body control for the next time he's out on the court. Let the man play, Rick. Let's see how high this team's ceiling really is.
Texas plays its next game Sunday night in Houston against #9 LSU (4-1) at 7:00 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN. Tickets to the game at the Toyota Center are still available.