The sky isn't falling but this season is quickly falling apart. Texas lost its first home game of the year and its first game to Baylor in Austin since 1998. After winning 24 straight over Baylor, the Bears have now clipped the Longhorns in their last two meetings.
The loss is particularly painful because it came at home, because it came in a game Texas could have easily won in regulation, and because it was suppose to be a bounce bask week for the ‘Horns after suffering two road losses the week before. As mentioned in my brief post-game thoughts, Texas has a daunting road back to the top of the conference, and it starts with road trips to Stillwater and Norman this week.
Before we examine what needs to change for Texas to get back on track, let's briefly take a look at what went right and what went wrong against Baylor-starting with the positives.
What Went Right
Freshman Bradley was matched against junior Dunn for most of the game. Some of Dunn's struggles were self inflicted; Dunn fouled out of the game in regulation after committing his second offensive foul of the game. However, the rest of the credit goes to Bradley. Dunn shot just 4-of-11 from the floor and finished well below his season average with just 12 points. Bradley did a good job of chasing Dunn all around the court and contesting most of his jumpers. As will be a theme of this post in the positive section, there is a negative to go along with this. Bradley was so focused on denying Dunn the ball that his helpside defense was basically nonexistent. In addition, Bradley was horrible defensively on baseline inbounds plays. Twice he allowed Dunn to screen a Texas defender without helping on Lomers or Acy as they curled down the lane unimpeded.
Full-court trapping defense, especially in overtime
Texas was down six points with a minute left in overtime but created two steals in the next three possessions and had a layup to tie the game just thirty seconds later. The Longhorns look looser when they are trapping all over the court. Their natural abilities appear to take over and they play without thinking their way through every possession. Also, as will be discussed below, the court is more open when Texas pressures the ball full-court, and two good things come of this. One, the ‘Horns are able to easy buckets off turnovers, and two, Texas forces their opponents to run their offense with 25 or fewer seconds left on the shot clock. I liked the full-court pressure earlier in the season, and I still like it now, especially when Texas goes small with Damion James and Gary Johnson as the only frontcourt players.
Dexter Pittman on the low block
Sexy Dex didn't rebound or block out worth anything, but he did dominate offensively. Dexter abused Lomers on the low block in route to his most efficient offensive performance in weeks-14 points on 7-of-10 from the floor. However, when he is on the floor, he has to rebound. The length and quick jumping abilities of Udoh, Acy, and Jones gave Dexter fits yesterday. Pittman had trouble blocking out the quicker Baylor frontcourt and resorted to just swatting potential defensive rebounds.
Also, Baylor did an excellent job of making Pittman play high pick-and-roll defense. Dexter's limited lateral quickness prevented him from hedging properly and allowed Tweety Carter to turn the corner too easily. In a half-court game, we need Pittman on the floor offensively. However, in a half-court game, Dexter can't cost us as much defensively as he adds on offense. I'd like to see Dexter not even attempt to hedge when his man is involved in ball screens and instead help from inside the arc. Secondly, we need more from him on the defensive glass. One rebound in 29 minutes is not acceptable. I was particularly disturbed by this post-game comment from Pittman,
I just tried to tip the ball to one of my teammates at the top instead of just going up and grabbing it. We've got a great rebounder on our team in Damion. I just box my guy out and I know he's going to come get it.
Uhh, no. Dexter, we need you to be registering a double-double every game also. You are 6-10, 290-play like it.
Upon re-watching the game, I was surprised at how well we actually attacked the Baylor zone. Our field goal percentage didn't show it, but I thought we got good looks. With help from a ball screen, Dogus was able to get into the paint, particularly in the second half. His penetration also created great looks for Bradley from the wing and from the corner.
Next, Baylor was pushing their two wing defenders at the back of the zone up the court for some reason. This would make sense if Texas had a perimeter scorer on both wings. Sadly, we have only Bradley, as an outside threat, and even he was cold. The push up the court left James more room on the baseline. Texas did a nice job of getting James the ball in a position to score. Last, as noted above, Dexter got great looks by sealing Lomers and planting himself in the lane.
Unfortunately, Texas couldn't finish the good looks and scored just 64 points in regulation. On the game, Dogus was 1-for-3, Bradley 3-for-11, and James 6-for-17.
Damion James on the Glass
James is listed at 6-7 but so are Alexis Wangmene and Jordan Hamilton, who both appear to be taller than Damion. DaMo grabbed a career-high 19 boards despite battling 7-0 Josh Lomers, long 6-10 Anthony Jones, longer 6-10 Ekpe Udoh, and athletic 6-7 Quincy Acy. James continues to be a beast on the glass. I just wish he had some help. James 19 boards vs. rest of Texas team 22 boards.
What Went Wrong
Texas had 18 turnovers for the game-10 in the first half and eight in the second and overtime. It is easy to see the Baylor actually had more turnovers, 20, than did Texas. The bigger stat is points off turnovers. Baylor dominated here, 27-12.
I was worried about this game on Saturday morning. I thought Baylor was going to score 75+ and that the ‘Horns were going to have trouble keeping pace. Having thought that, if you had told me that J'Covan Brown would have free throws to put Texas up three with 16 seconds left, I probably would have taken it. Coming into the game, Brown had missed just three foul shots on the season and was shooting close to 95%. He is the only Longhorn in which I have faith at the line.
It is unfair to single out his lone miss, though. James went 8-for-14, Pittman 0-for-2, Gary Johnson 2-for-4, and Justin Mason 1-for-2. On the season, our starters FT percentages read like this: James 68%, Pittman 54%, Mason 53%, Balbay 51%, and Bradley 48%. Those are from the freaking free throw stripe. Those are from a set distance with no one guarding them. If you're wondering, Texas shot their season average, 61%, from the line against Baylor. Pathetic.
Jai Lucas and Jordan Hamilton
I don't like to call our players for poor performances and am in no way suggesting that their play was the reason for the loss. I single out these two to illustrate a larger point about our rotations and the limits of our bench. Baylor played the entire game in a 2-3 zone. Even with their length on the backline, there were openings for three-pointers. Seeing that, Barnes decided to give us his zone-busting, outside threats a shot.
Lucas subbed in at the 10:02 mark of the second half with Texas leading 20-19. In his two and half minutes of action, Lucas had a turnover, a foul, a turnover that directly led to a Baylor fast break layup, an assist to Pittman, and another turnover that led to another fast break layup. In less than three minutes, Lucas coughed up the ball three times, and Texas went from up one point to down six.
Then it was Hamilton's turn. Jordan entered the game at the 6:23 mark of the first half with Texas down six. In less than two minutes, Hamilton missed a three-pointer, missed a baseline runner, had a turnover, and airballed another baseline jumper.
The larger point is the Texas advantage in depth has disappeared. We started the year with 14 players. After season-ending injuries to Varez Ward and Shawn Williams, we were down to 12. The disappointment that has been the play of Clint Chapman and Matt Hill cut the rotation to ten. Alexis Wangmene hasn't been much better and is probably fallen the shortest of individual expectations coming into the season.
With Lucas being small but not quick and Hamilton still playing like this is pick-up basketball, are we down to seven guys? Really, seven?
The frequent substitutions have stopped. Players no longer have to look over their shoulders when the commit a turnover or force a shot. Why? Because it appears, and not without reason, Barnes has lost confidence in all but the top seven guys. Consequently, Texas is playing most of its minutes with three guards under 6-2, James 6-7 and Johnson 6-6 or three guards under 6-2, James, and Pittman 6-10. Either way, we are now smaller than most opponents. We are starting to have more and more trouble controlling the defensive glass and can't even secure a rebound on a missed free throw. Missed free throws, missed jumpers, and turnovers killed Texas against Baylor. Even if the ‘Horns shoot the ball better moving forward, I'm now worried about our ability to get stops and secure misses.
What I'd Like to See Moving Forward
Quickly as this post is reaching PB level-length, here are a few things I'd like to see change and change quickly.
More Minutes for Brown
The season-long stats certainly don't back me up on this one. However, J'Covan's play yesterday was encouraging. He still took some questionable shots and needs to get tighter with his dribble in traffic, but he played with more poise. At times, Brown looked the floor leader he was rumored to be coming out of fall practices. J'Covan also has the ability to stroke it from three and forces defenses to play more honestly.
This is futile to point out at this point but playing Balbay and Mason at the same time is like giving someone a 20 yard head start in a 100 yard race. While you may catch-up by the end, there is no reason to force yourself to start from behind. Neither Mason nor Balbay are able to feed the low post because their defenders are already guarding Pittman. Our guards have difficulty enough with post entry passes without having to force each one into traffic.
I would like to see Bradley and Pittman on the same side of the court when we play in the half-court. Put James on the weakside and reverse the ball if Pittman isn't open. Let Brown penetrate and dish, shoot the three-ball or let Mason /Balbay drop it into Damion.
The other option is to play more up-tempo. I'd like to see more of this when Pittman sits and Texas goes small with James and Johnson. Press, trap full-court, force the tempo, create turnovers, and score easy baskets in transition. Hopefully, our top seven are in shape enough to run because, at this point, asking Texas to execute on both ends for 40 minutes is just begging to get beat.
Protect the Ball
Texas's offensive margin for error is too small to cough up the ball 20+ times a game. Limiting turnovers goes for the big men as well as the guards. James, Johnson, and Pittman need to be stronger when they attempt to finish in traffic, and the Texas guards can't make sloppy passes around the perimeter or on inbounds plays.
Stop Dribble Penetration
Tweety Carter killed Texas yesterday. Kansas State scored 46 points in the paint last week. Courtney Fortson killed Texas before he was forced to sit with cramps a few weeks ago. The Tech motion offense generated 50 first half points on Wednesday. Texas must figure out a way to stay in front of the ball. A guard getting the ball into the lane is death to a defense. Help must come, rebounding assignments are destroyed, and teams get into foul trouble. This is exactly what is happening to Texas and, until fixed, one of the many reasons I'd like to see Texas play more full-court basketball.
Last point, the Big XII is really good and will land either six or maybe even seven teams in the NCAA tournament. Yes, Barnes teams usually suffer a January slide, and yes, he usually finds a way to fix things. This year will be even tougher, though. Other than home games against Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma, the rest of the conference season looks rough.