Was the North Dakota State team that Texas beat hopelessly overmatched? Unquestionably, and the win itself is pretty low on nutrients. That being said, over the years I've learned that there are a few things to watch for even in match ups like these, and I was pleased with our performance in each of those regards. Here are the evaluations I'm making across early-season games against weak opponents.
1. Did we thoroughly dominate the outmatched opponent? Even Barnes' worst Texas team would have beat this Bison squad, but while the win itself doesn't tell us much, the thoroughness of the ass kicking often does. Elite teams absolutely throttle overmatched teams, and that? That was a throttling. Good sign.
2. Was our upside visible? A lot of the projected strengths and improvements that constitute the foundation of this team's considerable upside were on display against North Dakota State. Myles Turner delivered 20 terrific minutes. We played and had success with a variety of different line ups. We shot the ball much better than a year ago. Holmes looked comfortable on the wing. And so on.
3. Were there any unexpected and/or alarming issues? We were far from perfect and this team isn't without weaknesses, but nothing that I saw gave rise to any new concerns, and the majority our mistakes qualitatively looked more like byproducts of early season rust than reflections of fundamental issues we're unlikely to overcome.
There was one other reason to watch this game with particular interest: 'twas the first opportunity to see these guys up close in the gym. Writing about the roster after the season opener is one of my absolute favorite exercises all year, and this year is no different. So let's get to it, sticking with the same groupings I used in my previews. I'll cover the frontcourt guys in this post, and get to the wings and guards in the next.
Cam Ridley -- 20 minutes, 3-9 FG, 3-3 FTs, 9 PTS, 5 REB (2 OR), 1 TO, 1 Foul
Prince Ibeh -- 16 minutes, 1-1 FG, 2-3 FTs, 4 PTS, 5 REB (1 OR), 0 TO, 1 BLK, 2 STL, 3 Fouls
Cam Ridley didn't have a stellar game, but it wasn't anything to be concerned about. The Bison really packed it in deep on defense, making it difficult for us to run much offense through the post and limiting Ridley's opportunities. All things considered, Ridley did just fine, neither playing his best game as a Longhorn nor delivering a performance that was troubling in any way. My only disappointment: I saw a couple missed opportunities for him to roll to the basket off of screens that he failed to execute, an aspect of his game that I really thought we'd start to see develop this year. Perhaps it has and will, but not tonight.
On the plus side, he looked terrifically comfortable shooting at the line, knocking down all three of his attempts as his massive improvement project continues its long trek up from the lows of 2012-13. And of course, there was this:
There is just so much awesome in that one clip it's almost hard to say anything at all. For now, I'll just note that Ridley -- who has every excuse to bring up the rear when Texas transitions into a fast break -- hustles his ass off running the floor, as perfectly demonstrated in this sequence. Awesome to see him rewarded with the monster flush on the fly to send the crowd into a frenzy. Just awesome.
As for Prince Ibeh, I expect after tonight there's less confusion about whether there will be minutes for the other half of the Twin Towers. As I said in my preview, assuming a continuation of the development curve we'd seen to date, Rick Barnes would have little trouble getting Ibeh on the floor this year, with the amount of his playing time depending in particular on improvements at the free throw line and with committing fouls. Ibeh did log 3 fouls in his 16 minutes (which again, I don't mind, given they're byproducts of him playing with the approach I want him to play with), and that may remain an issue throughout the season. There did, however, appear to be additional progress at the free throw line, where Ibeh made a big jump last year, and looks poised for even better this time around. The big fella hit 2 of his 3 attempts from the line, and I'll be damned if he didn't look relaxed and comfortable shooting the ball. Great arc, nice touch, and a solid, repeatable form. Love it.
Big Men With Range
Connor Lammert -- 19 minutes, 1-3 FGs, 1-3 3PFGs, 3 PTS, 7 REB, 2 AST, 0 TOs, 1 STL, 0 Fouls
Myles Turner -- 20 minutes, 6-8 FGs, 0-1 3PFGs, 3-4 FTs, 15 PTS, 6 REB (3 OR), 1 AST, 3 TO, 2 BLK, 3 Fouls
I tabbed Lammert as my breakout player for this season, but the freshman with all the hype stole the show. On Texas' first possession after Myles Turner checked in at the 16:05 mark, the freshman took a difficult turnaround jumper from the baseline for his first ever collegiate shot... and nailed it. Just two possessions later, Turner let it rip from 17 feet near the top of the key... and nailed it. And then on the very next possession, Turner did his best Dirk Nowitzki impression, taking a step-back fadeaway from about 13 feet... and effing nailed that, too. What a hell of a way to start your collegiate career.
As impressive as those three jumpers were to open his night, the play I found most enticing came a bit later in the first half, when Turner went to set a screen for Demarcus Holland. Let's break it down:
1. This is a set halfcourt play in which Turner is setting a screen away from the ball to get Holland free on a curl into the key.
2. The pass is released just as Holland is coming around the screen set by Turner, which is an excellent one.
3. As Holland catches the ball, take notice of a couple things. First, take a look at how Holland receives the pass -- he's in textbook triple-threat position, knees bent, ball raised, perfectly prepared to rise and shoot, pass, or dribble, as he prefers. Second, note the arm of Mr. Turner. He's calling for the basketball on a pick and roll. That's not something we see collegiate bigs do well very often, but there's Turner, rolling to the hoop and calling for the ball -- without even having to think about it.
4. A couple frames later, we can see that Holland chose to rise, but instead of shoot he's dropped a beautiful look towards Turner, who has broken open into space on his way to the rim... and there's only one way this play is going to end.
From the moment he entered the game to the final ovation as he departed for the bench, his work for the evening done, Myles Turner delivered everything that made him such an exciting, highly coveted prospect. He showed off his outside shooting. He used his tremendous agility to get looks at the rim, and finish them. He blocked a shot with that uncanny sense of timing. And best of all, he played with a competitiveness and intensity, setting the tone for a group that is full of players who are much more talented than they are emotionally demonstrative. Loved it. All of it.
Connor Lammert got overshadowed by Turner's spectacular debut, and while he rushed just a bit on his shots and only hit 1 of 3, he quietly made a lot of nice contributions on the evening, with several strong boards, solid defense, and two beautiful dimes that led to easy scores for teammates. Having both Lammert and Turner to stretch defenses and help keep the paint from getting too clogged is hugely helpful, and I'm encouraged by what we saw from the position tonight.
Next: Wings (Holmes, Barnett), SGs (Holland, Yancy, Croaker), and PGs (Taylor, Felix)