More "Great season, guys" type stuff later, but for now, a review of what happened out there on the court today. My notes are pretty scattered, so I'll stick to bullet points and jump around. We'll start with game-specific stuff before moving on to Big Picture thoughts.
MEMPHIS 85 TEXAS 67
- Rick Barnes has done a phenomenal job with this team this year. And I don't mean that just in the sense of assembling the kind of talent that can lose Kevin Durant and have a better team the following year. He certainly did that, but he also did a lot of great X's and O's coaching this year, getting the better of coach after coach throughout the season.
Not today. To be frank, today's game plan was shocking. And not in a good way. I'll get to the details in the points below, but let's just lead with this: Though I think Memphis whipped Texas pretty good today, I thought Rick Barnes only helped the Tigers. After a season of great coaching, today's showing was a disappointment.
- Why, for instance, did Rick Barnes open in man to man defense? Anybody who's watched the two teams at all this year thought to himself, "Texas certainly can't take this team in straight man defense." But that's what we opened with. Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts quickly took advantage of their enormous size advantages, Memphis built a quick lead, and the tone was set for a long afternoon.
- Equally troubling: why, oh why, was Texas sending two guys to the offensive glass? The key to Memphis is making them earn every single point in the half court, but there Texas was, sending Atchley and James to the offensive glass, only to see a superfreak Tiger pull down the board and start a fast break. At that point, it's over. Just score the two points. (As Memphis repeatedly did.)
- Along those same lines, though this game may have been played in Texas' back yard, the game was unquestionably played on Memphis' terms. Instead of slowing the pace, taking our time, and making a deliberate affair of the game, Texas got into an Athlete Contest with Memphis. Did that look to anyone else like a team you want to get into an Athlete Contest with?
- I was shocked at how ill-prepared Augustin, Abrams, and Damion looked in the first half. All three seemed utterly stunned by the team they were up against, shocked at their length, their athleticism, their quickness, and their agressive ball denial on defense. Result? Eight first half turnovers and an insurmountable Memphis lead.
- Add it all up and the one comment that sticks out in all my notes is a simple one, jotted down with about six minutes left in the first half: "Did we scout this team at all?"
- I'm speculating, but my gut feeling is that Rick just got too cute. He's done a fabulous job this year zigging when teams have expected him to zag. More often than not, it's been a wonderful strategic gambit that's helped Texas overcome various deficiencies. Today? I thought he out-thought himself. By the time the first half ended, I'm certain Rick realized his mistake, but it was too late. We wound up playing right into Memphis' hands in the first half, and that was that. Instead of a slower paced, deliberate game that sought to frustrate Memphis' open floor freaks, we played precisely the kind of game they're most comfortable with. And though John Calipari may not have been expecting it... I guarantee you he and his players were thrilled to indulge in it.
- If you're wondering what limitations DJ Augustin might have as a professional, today was your window into the future. With athletes who he couldn't just destroy with quickness, DJ struggled to find a good game rhythm. And without a good rhythm, he made uncharacteristic mistakes. My jaw hit the floor on several first half turnovers - plays you just don't see DJ Augustin make. But we haven't seen DJ Augustin play against a group of athletes like the Tigers.
- Only one player - Justin Mason - came out playing with the kind of athletic purpose you need to attack Memphis. Everyone else looked afraid to make a mistake. (Which inevitably led to mistakes.) On the bright side, I thought everyone improved significantly as the game went on. Once Texas adjusted to Memphis' athleticism, they did reasonably well, and if we played Memphis again tomorrow, I'd favor Memphis by a half dozen points and expect a very competitive game. That's not how it works, of course, and I can guarantee you Rick Barnes isn't very happy with himself for today's game plan. Our kids weren't ready for Memphis, and that's on the coach.
- It's easy to look at Texas' 9-28 shooting day from three point range and conclude that we just had an off day with our stroke, but that would be too charitable. The offensive system as a whole was broken, with most of those three point looks coming in less than ideal situations. I thought John Calipari did a terrific job of preparing his players for what we like to do, and we weren't at all well prepared to take advantage of the way they were playing us. You could see the kids out there trying to run the very sets that Memphis was specifically denying. Our adjustments came far too late.
- Finally, let's just give Memphis some serious credit for their performance today. For starters, John Calipari did an outstanding job preparing this team. Watching Memphis the past two tournaments, there was a sense that Calipari's players wanted too much just to be able to Be Better than their opponents. This year, I saw a team that listened to their coach and everything he taught them about how to play Texas. They executed his game plan well, and their ability more than took care of the rest. I haven't seen a team this loaded with athletic talent since 1991. Scarier still, Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts are wonderful basketball players, too. Dynamite.
BIG PICTURE THOUGHTS
- I know it's tempting to wonder whether Texas might have been better served as a #1-seed in a No Memphis Region, but I just can't buy into the logic. First, I believe very much that it was good for Texas to play in Houston. Less travel, a supportive crowd, and comfortable environment are good things for the team. But more importantly, to win a national championship you're going to have to beat at least two truly elite teams. Would I have prefered UCLA's or Kansas' path to the Final Four? In a heartbeat. But in the final analysis, if Texas was to be a national championship team, it was going to have to beat Memphis (or their equivalent, should one exist). Getting them in Houston is, in my estimation, preferable. Bottom line: Memphis took us to task in an environment that was pretty friendly to Texas. We put ourselves in a great position by playing in Houston, but they were better. End of story, and I don't wish we'd been placed elsewhere.
- The big question left for Texas is: what of DJ and DJ? Will either (or both) turn pro? We certainly expect Augustin to enter the draft, but today wasn't his finest hour on a big stage with NBA-caliber athletes. As for Damion, he didn't put on a performance that could have catapulted him up in scouts' minds, either. I'd say both would be wise to test the waters and declare. James should plan on returning unless he's guaranteed a first round selection. As for Augustin... who knows? This wasn't his finest performance of the season, but if he's locked in to the first half of the first round, coming back will be difficult.
- Tyreke Evans is still deciding between Texas and Memphis. Damnit.
- Watch carefully how UCLA plays Memphis next Saturday night. Assuming Ben Howland slows the game into the kind of half court affair that favors his team's strengths, we'll get a good look at what we should have been asking Memphis to do on offense. I know one thing above all else: Rick Barnes' biggest mistake today was letting Memphis get into the flow in transition. We could have lived with hard earned Tiger buckets in half court sets. The easy looks on the run were fatal.