AW: Well, to me, the word that comes to mind after watching today's game is disappointment. I rushed home from work to see the Horns in their conference opener. I expected a tough game... but I didn't expect a 13-point loss.
The defense was particulary disgusting. We are an elite team on offense but cannot afford to give up 97 points on the road, no matter how good we are with the basketball. Missouri was able to get the looks the wanted, and to their credit, knocked them down. Yes, they were hot from the field, but their makes were also a result of the Horns not getting hands up on jump shots, not rotating quickly enough in the half-court, and not geting back in transition.
Add poor free throw shooting and average games from AJ and DJ to the awful defense and the Horns come out losers to open conference play for the first time under Coach Barnes.
The sky is not falling but getting to 13-3 and presenting a realistic challenge to Kansas' Big XII supremacy just got a lot tougher.
PB: Texas fans are rightly disappointed by today's showing, but I think your second adjective was more appropriate: disgusting. That's the only word for today's defensive performance. And you're absolutely right: though it's tempting to dismiss Missouri's 97 points as a ridiculous shooting day... the looks were all wide open. We identified this as a problem, and today it was at its worst.
Though the offense overall is a strong one, I was particularly disappointed by today's performance. Specifically, teams with good coaches and elite athletes on the perimeter are throwing the kitchen sink at smothering our perimeter game. What bothers me, though, is that we continue to allow the defense to dictate what we're going to do. In other words: there's no adjustment.
Texas had countless possessions today when there wasn't a single player within 10 feet of the rim on offense. We ran what one commentator a couple weeks back called the "random screen offense" where Texas haphazardly weaves the ball on the perimeter as post guys set screens. But when teams are defending us so far out from the rim, it's entirely self-defeating.
This is Basketball 101, Rick. Spread the floor, let Augustin work his way up toward the three point line, and pass the ball to the freaking post. I've seen JV high school teams which can do this better than Texas. And unless and until we learn to do that, we're going to lose every time we play a team which can defend us outside. K-State was the first to show how to do it last year. USC added the exclamation mark in the NCAAs. And we're back to the same story right now.
AW: I agree, but I guess I'm just not as down as some of the posters in the gameday thread. Under Coach Barnes, Texas has never been an impressive offensive team, save the seasons with outstanding indivdual players like TJ and KD. Like it or not, Barnes prefers to let his players play loosely on offense and create off the dribble. As you correctly pointed out, that doesn't always happen and we'd like to see something change mid-game when we have struggled to get the ball into the paint against bigger and more physical guards.
I do think our offense will continue to improve the rest of the way. Gary Johnson has been practicing with the team since the fall but has only been on the floor for the last three games. In the first 13 games, Texas played with 4 1/2 guards. Connor is the only player even remotely comfortable with his back to the basket. Johnson brings a totally different offensive dimension. It is, however, going to take time for Johnson to gel with the othe four starters and vise versa. For the first time all year, Texas has a back to the basket threat. AJ and DJ can feed the post, relocate, and either get the ball back or cut through to the basket. Now, Gary only played 19 minutes today and didn't make a single basket. So, this added dimension is not there yet, but I think it will develop nicely over the next few weeks.
The second offensive adjustment I'd like to see is a transition from a pick and pop to an actual pick and roll. If Connor isn't the right guy to do that because he isn't comfortable catching the ball at the high post, taking a power dribble and finishing near the rim, then we need to move to letting Gary Johnson or Damion James set more of the high picks for DJ. Right now, defenses can double DJ with the ball and the worst they will give up his a 20 ft jumper by the center. We need to force defenses to guard the screener or punish them with cuts to the baskets and easy looks in the paint.
PB: All good points. And closing out here, a word on the outlook heading forward: Texas fans need to hold off on hitting the panic button. We've had two very disappointing losses (today's and the Wisconsin choke), but still sit pretty at 13-3 overall. Moreover, winning both at Missouri and at Kansas State was never a given; losing this one means we'll have to pick something else up along the way to contend for the Big 12 championship.
Alternatively, we may just have set the expectations a little high because of the fast start to the season. This is still a very young, inexperienced team. I still think we're two months away from seeing the best basketball from this team. That's important to remember as we get into the grind of Big 12 play.
AW: I remember how pumped I was watching the Horns win at UCLA, but that win alone has encouraged some fans to set unrealistic expectations for this year's team. Let's look at this team without the burnt orange tinted glasses. We lost the best player in the country off last year's team that only made it to the second round in the NCAA tournament. We brought in four freshmen. Then had Dogus Balbay tear his knee in the fall, which eliminated any depth at the point guard position and played all fall without the jewel of the freshman class, Johnson. Add to that the injury and subsequent surgery on Matt Hill's foot and we have a very thin and very young team.
So what are realistic expectations? I'd say second or third in the conference. When you look at Kansas, it's hard not see the Jayhawks at 14-2 or 13-3, given their talent and schedule. A&M is still very good and very physical even without Acie Law and Billie Clyde and should be in the 12-4 or 11-5 range at least. Last, the Big XII is solid overall. OU is much improved, as are Missouri and Baylor. Kansas State has too much talent with Walker and Beasley not to be there in March as well.
So, the Horns have holes, no doubt about it, and will be playing in a tough conference that should send five or six teams to the NCAA tournament after just four danced last year.
The Longhorns have no backcourt depth at all, unproven frontcourt depth, only one real threat to score in the post, and are not a particularly good defensive or rebounding team. Given that description, our UCLA win is even more remarkable and the expectations that this team is Final Four bound that much more unbelievable.
If I had to make a prediction right now, and this is a blog, so I might as well, I'd say 12-4 in conference with the other three losses coming at OU, at A&M, and at home to Kansas. That would put us sweeping Baylor, Tech, and OSU, winning at Iowa State and at Kansas State, and winning home games with Colorado, Nebraska, OU, and A&M.
Stay tuned. Unlike football season, this loss doesn't cripple our hopes. It only magnifies the areas where we need to improve.
PB: As guilty as some of our readers may be of having unrealistic expectations, I'm probably the one to blame. My lust for a 1 or 2 seed that sent us to the South Regional in Houston has been pronounced.
If that was a bit of a pipe dream, your point stands: fans should reset expectations. I'd be thrilled with your 12-4 prediction.