Chomping at the bit for the NCAA Tournament to get underway, this afternoon Scipio Tex of Barking Carnival and I began exchanging emails about the Texas vs Oakland first-round game. Your own thoughts in the comments, if you would. (Plus, look for more roundtabling tomorrow with the BON authors plus Ryan from Longhorn Roadtrip.) It's that time of year.... Enjoy it.
PB: If we were Paid Sportswriters, we'd have to revolve this discussion around intangibles. Whose bulletin board has more clippings? Whose shoulder is more chipped? Will Rick Barnes, Enormous FailureTM feel too much pressure to perform? Which players are most likely to wake and bake?
Happily, we're bloggers. So let's talk about the actual game and match ups. I want to ask you first about tempo. I think I agree with you, but lay out your thinking as to why it's important that Texas pushes the ball and runs with Oakland.
Scipio Tex: We should run after Oakland's missed shots because it's the easiest way to get us right on offense by minimizing thinking, it creates a little energy in a half-empty building with an AM tip off, we're quicker than they are, and it transforms Dogus Balbay from a half-court liability to a full court factor. The idea that you don't attack a numbers opportunity because it somehow plays into Oakland's hands in advancing pace is misguided.
You take easy baskets where you find them.
Oakland doesn't pressure effectively and they don't turn teams over (327th in Division I). Their pace is purely a construct of their offense. You stop Oakland's offense with your defense, not running the four corners.
PB: I agree, and that last part is the key: we stop Oakland with our defense, not by trying to grind the game to a halt. And in fact that's what Texas has done against up tempo teams this year. Navy, Lamar, UNC, Texas Tech, Mizzou, Kansas, and Iowa State were all among the Top 50 teams in adjusted tempo and we absolutely crushed their ability to score efficiently. And though we didn't always play great offenisve basketball ourselves, the other thing we did exceptionally well against up tempo teams is rack up fouls and free throw attempts. Our erratic shooting aside, that's a big key in my book.
If we wanted to oversimplify and pin this contest on one match up, we could do worse than "Benson vs Thompson: Who succeeds in staying on the floor?" There's not a better open court forward than Thompson, while Benson is critical to Oakland not getting killed on the glass on Friday. But both players are among the very best in the nation at drawing fouls: Thompson draws 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes, and Benson isn't far behind at 6.8.
Scipio Tex: Excellent point on how we've attacked pace up to this point and Tristan has done a good job of staying on the floor all season long, the last KU game excepted.
As for drawing fouls, we probably won't maximize at the free throw line. But here's the rub: Oakland plays nine guys, they're really only comfortable with six of them. The scrub factor with players 7-9 on their bench is strong.
Oakland gets a lot of possessions because they shoot early, but also because they hit the boards hard. PF Will Hudson particularly thrives on the attention Benson draws. If Gary Johnson won't do the dirty work inside, I hope he gets a quick hook to Wangmene. If Oakland is getting one shot on the basket, they're in a lot of trouble.
Are there any other keys to this game - apparent or subtle - that you see?
PB: Sure, and you mentioned it: Gary Johnson. Gary was absolutely dreadful in Kansas City, making just 5 of 23 shots from the field, and 10 of 17 from the line. How a senior can miss three point blank dunks in three days is beyond me. It's not that we need Gary to be a star, but when he plays well in his complementary role it opens up our offense tremendously. Watching Matt Hill and Alexis Wangmene with the ball in their hands 17 feet from the bucket is terrifying, and completely neuters Thompson because teams can sag with impunity. Johnson can stretch the defense with a jump shot and his ability to put it on the deck against a slower defender. This should be a more wide open game, but we need Gary contributing positively. He looks like he has absolutely no confidence right now.
With that said, again, this game is going to be wide open, so throw solid play from Wangmene out there as something I'll be watching for as well. Lexi's best game of the year came against North Carolina, a pretty reasonable comp for the kind of opponent style we're going to see on Friday. My confidence in Matt Hill is plummeting (what the hell happened?), and while Johnson-Hill-Wangmene are all role players of one kind or another, we really suffer if all three aren't providing anything (and sometimes even two of three).
What about you? Any other keys that aren't being discussed much but look important to you?
Scipio Tex: And Gary's issues are not just his shot and his inability to finish around the rim. His screening has been terrible. He's setting nominal "show" screens and running to his spot demanding the ball, not understanding that he'll get the ball with a two count to shoot if he'll actually set a quality screen, free Hamilton or Thompson, and force the defense to overreact. He doesn't seem to get that he's a role player who can bury open shots, not a primary scoring threat who needs to get his.
I'm not sure if Matt Hill is demonstrating a regression to the mean or a lack of mean. The guy was a force at times. Send an assistant to challenge the senior and talk to him about how he wants his last few games at Texas to be remembered.
Defensive rebounding from Texas is probably an understated key. If Oakland gets one shot a possession, they're done. If we rebound, win the turnover battle (as we should), and play with energy, we'll scrape it out even if the shots aren't falling.
Parting thoughts? Can we make a tournament run?
PB: Great point about Gary and screening, and really, that applies to the entire team. We haven't been nearly as sharp with our cuts or our screens the last six weeks, nor with reversing the ball crisply across a well-spaced floor. Against Oakland, halfcourt sets won't make or break us, but if we're talking about a tournament run, that will determine whether we get through a team that can guard us like Arizona will.
Failing that, we're left hoping that Jordan and J'Covan are making plays, and Jordan -- whether he realizes it or not -- is a guy whose supreme individual talents only shine fully within a good team structure. If we're going to put the ball in a player's hands and ask him to make magic, here's to hoping J'Covan is on his game.
In any event, I love this team and have really enjoyed this season. I'm very hopeful we get to Anaheim. Hook 'em.
Scipio Tex: Absolutely.
None of our criticisms should obscure the fact that this team's highest preseason ranking was #25 and we just finished the regular season ranked #8 in the coaches poll.
That's a hell of a year. Now our guys get a chance to win glory forever.