If it's Thursday, it's time for another Texas Basketball Report. Last week's entry focused on what I defined as the Pittman Problem, though I may have chosen the wrong week to bring up the topic.
Texas went 2-0 against Baylor and Texas Tech this week, but neither team had what we could legitimately consider a serious frontcourt presence. Both teams are guard-oriented squads who lack the interior strength to take advantage of Texas' Achilles heel.
What we saw, though, was that Texas has the personnel and firepower to take out guard-heavy teams. Texas has struggled, however, with bigger, more physical teams. Yesterday, I responded to one of Wells' questions about rebounding margin by posting game by game margins in rebounding for the 'Horns. Not surprisingly, in each of Texas' five losses, the Horns have been outrebounded (Michigan State, Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, Villanova), or were even in rebounding margin (Tennessee). Only twice (Arkansas and Baylor - both close wins in Austin) has Texas won depite being outrebounded for the game.
The data fits the story we've been telling for some time now: Texas must crash the boards with alacrity. Damion James and Connor have to "play big," or Texas is reduced to a one-man rebounding team (Durant) and vulnerable to far too many one and done possessions on offense or extra scoring chances for opponents when the 'Horns are on defense.
What's this mean for the schedule ahead? For starters, Texas needs to be aggressive on the boards on Saturday afternoon when Kansas State comes to town. Looking at the Big 12 conference statistics (conf. games only), the Wildcats are third in the league in rebounding margin and do an excellent job of limiting opponents to only one shot. Looking further ahead, Kansas and Texas A&M both look like they'll present significant problems for Texas in the rebounding department. Both the game in Lawrence and the road trip to College Station are certainly projected losses at this time, while the Aggie visit to Austin falls more realistically in the 'tossup' category.
As fun as it is to watch Kevin Durant dominate night in and night out, the development of the team as a whole is more critical. If recent trends are indicative of where this team is headed, the news is looking brighter than it was after the mess in Philadelphia. Atchley and James are giving Texas valuable minutes on both ends of the floor - Texas will be relying on both not to wilt as Texas takes on more physical conference opponents. The Horns should also be able to steal some valuable minutes with Dexter Pittman when they play more physical, slow-the-tempo teams.
The last key ingredient for the remainder of the season is DJ Augustin, who Texas really needs to score 10-15 points each night. When Augustin's not contributing to the team as a scorer, Texas becomes too one-dimensional (Durant) and relies excessively on AJ Abrams, who needs to be used as a role player (shooting threes off screens). Smart teams will start spending more of their defensive capital on taking Augustin out of his game. Durant's going to get his points and rebounds - there's no doubting that - but to the extent that opponents can keep Augustin from being effective with his penetration, they can slow down Texas' potent offense.
Next up for the Horns: Saturday vs Kansas State in Austin, and Monday evening in College Station to take on Texas A&M.