The Texas Longhorns and North Carolina Tar Heels tip off Wednesday night at 8:00 pm CT on ESPN2.
Ten games into the season, this young Texas basketball team is still searching for its first quality win, still without its leader Myck Kabongo (or any idea when the point guard might be back), and still struggling to score consistently. The early season difficulties have Texas fans feeling very uncomfortable, perhaps in part because we were hoping for a respite from the frustration of football season, but also because this team is so young, inconsistent and error prone.
But most of all because we just haven't gone through anything like this in the past decade. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the 1998-99 season -- Rick Barnes' first in Austin -- to find a worse start to the season through 10 games. In every other previous season, Texas started 7-3 or better, had at least one Top 50 win (and usually two), and no bad losses.
|SEASON||THRU 10||TOP 50 WINS||BAD LOSSES|
Even that 1998-99 Texas team that started 3-7 had a marquee win, knocking off a Utah squad that, led by senior PG Andre Miller, would go 28-4 (14-0 in the WAC) on the year and finish ranked No. 11 in the SRS. Last Saturday's game against UCLA would have been -- should have been -- a key win that got this year's Texas team to 7-3, but all 40 minutes count and so here we are, facing the uncomfortable and unfamiliar position of a 6-4 record with nothing resembling a quality win and at least one bad loss, and possibly two depending how USC finishes the year (currently KenPom #109, SRS #87).
With the Big 12 conference filled with young teams and down a bit from where it has been in recent years, it's easy to see why a win over North Carolina on Wednesday night would provide a substantial boost to this Texas team as it tries to build some momentum... and an NCAA Tournament resume.
Keys to the Game
1. Limit Carolina's transition offense. The Tar Heels are having a tough time in the halfcourt, struggling to develop any kind of offense around the basket and taking lots of low percentage shots. Roy Williams' teams will always run the floor, though, and Carolina can put you away by 25 if you sleep on transition defense.
2. Resuscitate Sheldon McClellan. Outside of a good start against UCLA, Texas' sophomore wing is ice cold from... well, from everywhere except the free throw line. That's a good place for him to start, actually: getting to the rim and to the line. His jumper is in a slump right now, but he's missing open looks. Those will start to fall again soon... starting tonight would be nice. For my money, the match up of sophomore wings McClellan and PJ Hairston is the most important one of the game, and Texas isn't winning this game unless McClellan plays like a budding star tonight.
3. No wasted scoring opportunities. You can't beat UNC without putting points on the board, an objective with which this young Texas team has been struggling miserably. McClellan can get his own looks, but needs to start putting it through the net. Lewis has been quietly having an encouraging sophomore campaign. And the rest, of course, is all freshmen. Whether it's making open lay ups, telling Jonathan Holmes to STOP SHOOTING THREES, taking care of the basketball to eliminate unforced turnovers, or getting the team to play to get to the free throw line, we've seen the team do all those things horribly wrong all at once, but we've come nowhere close to seeing them put it all together in a game. Young or not, they're going to have to take that step forward at some point soon, or it's not going to happen in time.
I really want to see that sign from this young team that it's taken the big step forward and is turning a corner, but we haven't quite seen that yet. They've been steadily improving, but this is a team that lost to Chaminade... they had a long ways to go. It's hard to play against UNC with a team that can't score. UNC 70 Texas 65