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Texas Basketball Report

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It's Thursday, which means another edition of the Texas Basketball Report. Texas comes off a tremendously frustrating week, with a head-shaking loss at home to Kansas State and a challenging road loss to Texas A&M. Writing these reports, it seems like Texas has settled into a nice little pattern of two steps forward, two steps back. Just when we think the 'Horns are turning a corner, the team stumbles and drops a frustrating game.

Best, then, to look all the way back to this edition of the TBR, in which I wrote:

[L]et's not get too greedy. Aiming for that 21-22 win plateau heading into the Big 12 tourney would be just fine. If the team is what we hope it can be, it'll be in position to win a game or three in the Big 12 tourney and play itself into a #4-6 seed. And that, really, needs to be the focus of what we look at. The Longhorns - given this team's incredible inexperience - need to avoid falling to the #7-#10 seeds. If Texas can play its way into that 4-6 seed range, it would avoid a monster of an opponent until the Sweet 16. Yes, yes, I know: we're looking ahead a lot here, but it's instructive - with a team like this - to keep the big picture goals in mind. Why? Because there are going to be nights when this team doesn't quite get it done. In all likelihood, we'll drop a frustrating, ugly game to a team in that middle bracket. We'll probably squeak out a win against one of those bad teams that we're supposed to handle comfortably.

But if we're on top of where this team needs to finish, as opposed to just agonizing over the details of how it gets there, we'll be in a better position to appreciate the team's organic growth.

That's just what AW has done with an analysis of the remaining schedule, and it's important that we try not to worry about individual games as much as the big picture goals. Getting to 11-5 in conference - however we do it - would be tremendous.

The question, of course, is how to get there.

A quick look at the Texas season box score provides some guidance.

  • J.D. Lewis has shot the basketball 44 times this season. 43 of those field goal attempts have been from beyond the arc. Eleven of them have passed through the rim. If your calculator's not handy, that's an abymsal 27% shooting from a guy who's a zero on the glass and a negative on defense. Even his assist to turnover ratio (9:13) is subpar. We're well past the point of justifying playing time for JD, to the point where Texas is more or less playing four on five when he's on the floor, and always hiding in a zone. Please, Rick. For crying out loud: quit playing JD Lewis. He brings nothing to the table.
  • As an alternative, try Craig Winder if you -must- steal some minutes with a guard. Winder's an awful shooter from beyond 20 feet (1-11 on threes for the year), but he's athletic enough to finish around the rim, quick enough to contribute on defense, and has a more-than-respectable 12:4 ratio of assists to turnovers. Winder scares the bejeezus out of me at times, but there's simply no denying, at this point, that he's a better alternative than Lewis for stealing minutes.
  • Sticking with the guards, Barnes has to quit playing Abrams for 38-40 minutes in a game. In 39 minutes in College Station, Abrams hauled in exactly one rebound. We're all aware of the lack of depth for Texas in the backcourt, and I certainly appreciate what Abrams -does- bring to the table, but the scouting report is well established at this point and good teams are forcing Abrams to the dribble drive, where he predictably collapses.
  • If not Abrams, then who? Pushing the pace with our starting five is a great idea, but it can't be a forty minute strategy. Texas simply doesn't have the depth (in numbers or talent) to sustain that pace. Further, the 'Horns aren't playing strong enough transition defense to warrant a push-at-all-costs strategy. It would behoove Barnes to "go big" more often - including, at times, a "Jumbo lineup" with DJ, Durant, James, Atchley, and Pittman. If nothing else, Texas will save some gas for the late stretch runs, where the team has been falling short in game after game.
  • Last, but not least, Texas has to find a way to start games better. The team has been expending so much energy making up for mediocre first halves that it's coming up short in late game situations. Along those same lines, we're seeing Durant explode in the early second half in game after game after game. It's not a magic formula, either - Texas is just adjusting to doing the right things after halftime. Rick's got to get the team to come out of the gate much stronger. As noted with all the problems above, the 'Horns lack the depth to race back from deficits time and time again.
To conclude, there's no magic solution to fix all of Texas' problems this year. Solving one problem often means creating another. This particular roster doesn't quite fit all the things we need this team to be, which means Rick Barnes is going to have to come up with his best coaching performance to date to avoid a mediocre finish to the season. With Durant on the team, you can't say anything's impossible for this group of guys, but until Rick gets everything around Durant performing at maximum capacity, one weakness or another will likely continue to pop up to trip up Texas in big games.

--PB--