Wednesday, Mar 10, 2010, 8:30 PM CST
Big 12 Tournament - First Round - Sprint Center (18,897) * Kansas City, MO
TV: Big 12 Network (Armstrong & Gettys) * Radio: KVET
Ken Pom Ratings: Texas #14 / Iowa State #73
Ken Pom Predictor: Texas 79-70 (74 possessions)
Texas opens post-season play not as the favorite to win the Big 12 and a favorite to cut down the nets in Indianapolis, but instead in the No. 6 vs. No. 11 opening round game of the Big 12 Tournament and as a long shot to win multiple games in Kansas City or their NCAA destination. Oh, how far we've fallen!
However, and I'm not pointing to anything we've seen in last the last seven weeks of play, but to a hypothetical and to last fall, this team still has a chance to do real damage in both tournaments.
In theory, this team, even with an injured Dogus Balbay, shaky point guard play, and declining team defense, could still put it together and make a run in either this tournament or the next one.
Texas still has the talent. Most mock-NBA drafts have Damion James and Avery Bradley as first rounders and Dexter Pittman as a second rounder. I'll also add that once Jordan Hamilton figures how team basketball, he may have the most pro upside of any Longhorn. However, as we've all seen in the race to a 9-7 conference mark, talent means nothing if you don't play as a team. Talent means nothing if no one is playing defense. And talent means nothing when ridiculous line ups, turnovers, and missed opportunities at the line squash any potential momentum.
I am not holding my breath any longer for deep runs in either tournament and have positioned myself to either accept the likely disappointing end (I predicted that we'd win the national title before the season started.) or be pleasantly surprised by a magical run that allows me to remember 17-0 and forget losing to OU, being swept by Baylor, and getting blown out by a coachless-UConn team.
What does Texas need to do to advance? We've talked ad nauseum about this over the last four months, so here are some bullet points.
- Play through Damion James. He is our most complete and dominating player who is also usually a tremendous match-up problem for our opposition. The more DaMo touches the ball on offense, the better.
- Pittman must play with fire. This means that Sexy Dex needs to be calling for the ball on offense and cleaning the glass on defense. He needs to punish defenders with his body and make quick enough decisions to either score or create open jumpers with diagonal passes from the low block. Staying out of foul trouble wouldn't hurt either.
- Protect the basketball and Play Smart. Sadly our entire repertoire of guards is flawed. Some can score, some can pass, and some can play defense, but there isn't a backcourt player on our roster who can all three well and all three consistently. So, Rick Barnes needs J'Covan Brown to play smart, make the efficient not the spectacular pass, and look for his spots with the three ball. Texas needs Avery Bradley to be the lock-down defender that Varez Ward had the chance to be and the lock-down defender that Dogus Balbay was for much of the season. Bradley also needs to look for his offense more and not just settle for mid-range jumpers.
- Solid play from Hamilton. Jordan Hamilton has the chance to be the X factor for this team in the post-season. Hamilton should be getting 10 points, eight boards, and four assists in his sleep. If James isn't the biggest mismatch for our opponents, then it's Hamilton. At a legit 6-7 he can shoot over smaller defenders and easily take smaller, slower ones off the bounce.
- Make free throws. Games get tighter in March and possessions matter even more. Texas has improved from the line recently, so this is less fo a concern now than it was a month ago. Close games will come down to free throws in March.
- Play November/December defense and remember scouting reports. Against weaker competition, Texas dominated the defense end of the court. Since moving into league play, it has been a different story. Quick guards have been able to easily collapse the defense off the dribble; shooters have inexplicably been left open; and our domination on the glass has diminished considerably.
I could go on but those are the high points: play smart and efficient basketball through James on offense and regain our defensive intensity on defense.
It's lose and go home now. Time to show up.