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Texas Basketball Report, 8.2: Second Half Wish List

The Longhorns dropped their first home non-conference game in over a year, but it's not too late to make a Christmas list of things we want for the second half of the season.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

For 40 long minutes, Texas and Stanford stood together, cooperating to pass the lead back and forth until arriving at 64 points apiece. But in overtime, Chasson Randle and the Cardinal fell out of sync with us, opting to nail clutch open jumpers instead of heaving ill-advised jacks. It was a selfish thing for Stanford to do, and they have no one but themselves to blame for missing out on an opportunity to play (at least) five more minutes of basketball.

Blah. All things considered, this wasn't a terrible loss, but it's one we could and probably should have won. As fans, we're prone to focus on Texas' bumbling offensive possessions down the stretch -- pretty damn piss poor, no two ways about it -- but for me the disappointment in this one was our defensive effort, which wasn't up to par for a team that aspires to win the Big 12. If we give up 1.12 points per possession at home to any of the eight other Big 12 teams who are at least as good as Stanford, you can forget about a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. We won't even get a bye in Kansas City.

I'm out of town visiting family so I didn't get to hear Rick Barnes' post-game comments to Craig Way, but having listened to 90% of them for 17 seasons now, I'd wager it went something like this:

Craig Way: This is a tough time of year for the players because of finals and holidays and what not, but I know you're disappointed any time you lose at home, Coach.

Barnes: Again, we really didn't execute well down the stretch and I told the guys that we're not gonna beat anyone in this league if that's how we show up to play. You know, again, three times coming out of timeouts in overtime we had guys go out there and completely ignore what we'd just talked about. Again, it's frustrating and we're not in November any more. But again, I thought we were okay on offense until the end, but I just finished asking our guys if they wanted to start playing in haz-mat suits, because they defended ball screens like they were playing pick up with a group of ebola patients.

Craig Way: A loss is definitely not what the doctor ordered, that's for sure. Thanks, Coach.

To quote another Texas head coach, "It is what it is," and this loss won't keep us from achieving our season goals if we get a few things fixed going forward. A sports blog is no place to spend all your time on Christmas Eve, but before retreating to more important things, let's take a couple minutes to channel our inner Clark Griswold and daydream a little bit about the second half of the season.

All I want for Christmas is...

Horns_bullet_mediumA healthy Isaiah Taylor. No explanation needed, right? Right.

Horns_bullet_mediumCameron Ridley's sophomore self. We've already covered this in detail, but yeah... still waiting. There have been flashes of a breakthrough coming of late, but for a variety of reasons -- some explicable, some not -- Cam has struggled through a bafflingly bad first half of the season. My working theory has been that Cam is thinking too much out there, and that may account for some of it, but I'm increasingly convinced that a non-trivial part of it is just noise from the universe. Sometimes, every little thing goes wrong, inflating the apparent size and meaning of a bunch of things that wouldn't stand out if spread out across an even distribution. If so, his production is likely to start its progression to the mean here before too long, which would certainly be a big boost to this team for the conference season.

Horns_bullet_mediumBall security. Texas' offensive resume is very nearly glittering, marred only by one very ugly dark splotch. The good stuff: I suggested before the season that this team has much better shooters than last year's numbers suggested, and our effective field goal percentage on the season sits at 52.3%, we're shooting enough threes (35% of field goal attempts have been from beyond the arc) and making plenty of them (35% overall, and 38% if you take away Barnett and Croaker's combined 6-for-25). When we do miss our shots, we wind up grabbing our own missed field goals almost as often as do our opponents (42% offensive rebounding rate, 8th best nationally, and though I think we're underperforming in terms of our potential to earn trips to the line, (1) that's a number I expect Taylor's return will drive up and (2) we're one of the better free throw shooting teams in the country (74%), despite having the nation's worst free throw shooter (Hi, Prince).

The only blemish? Our turnover fetish. This team is full on BDSM: we get off on the pain.

Hey, to each their own, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that we'll be more fulfilled if we don't handcuff ourselves to the bedpost every game. Be kinky. Be free. Do what makes you feel good, Texas Basketball.

Just quit coughing up the damn basketball.

Horns_bullet_mediumConnor Lammert to redefine the Role in Role Player. Connor Lammert isn't struggling like Cam Ridley is struggling. What I want from Lammert isn't quality contributions, it's more of them. Lammert has embraced the idea of Playing His Role to the fullest possible extent. That's admirable and all, but, uh... can someone please get him an updated copy of the script?

Lammert is playing like a guy with limited abilities who only plays his 15-20 minutes a game through sheer determination. I love the effort and team-oriented approach, but he's not a Wangmene Starter1 (That Myles Turner kid - he can play a little, yeah?). He's a physically agile but strong player with a versatile offensive skill set and the ability to score from every spot on the floor, but playing like an unathletic three-point shooting specialist with hustle.

Before the season I predicted Lammert would take a step forward this year by embracing a bigger role, and while I see a player who is capable of playing a bigger role, it's not the one that he's embraced. How much of that blame belongs to Lammert and how much is on the staff is hard to say, but I see an underutilized asset.

(Truth be told, I find it a bit odd, given the impressive job we've done involving Myles Turner, which has exceeded my expectations. For whatever reason, it's been the opposite when Lammert enters the game. It makes me wonder if it's a symptom of the same disease that's plaguing Ridley -- if perhaps the whole first unit is a bit thrown off by (1) our efforts to feature Holmes as a wing/post and (2) no Taylor to run the show.)

1A Wangmene Starter is in the starting line up because... whoops. Is he really our best option?

Horns_bullet_mediumJavan Felix to stabilize. Staying true to his career narrative, the performance of Texas' junior point-ish guard has been all over the map. For the first half of the non-con season, Felix's offensive game was a disaster, marred by a high turnover rate and poor shooting, but his defensive effort was vastly improved from a year ago. In the games since Kentucky, Felix has provided valuable scoring and cut his turnovers, but regressed defensively. Case in point, Javan's effort "contesting" Stanford jumpers tonight:

Javan Felix Defense vs Stanford

Particularly if Taylor's absence is going to extend for any meaningful amount of time into conference play, Texas needs Javan to deliver the best from both worlds: efficiency on offense and superior effort on defense. His physical attributes are such that if he's turning it over, taking bad shots, and/or giving less than his absolute best defensive effort, he's a liability. But at his best? He's capable of delivering important value.

It may have been too much to ask of Javan Felix, unexpected 35-minute-per-game starter as a freshman. It's not now that he's a junior. Even with Taylor's unexpected absence. Step it up and put all the pieces together, Javan.

Horns_bullet_mediumStocking stuffers. A few quick hits before handing off the list to you: I want to see Prince Ibeh to start shooting free throws Rick Barry-style... our Taylor-less offense to run some isolation plays for Demarcus Holland to get more out of his excellent ability to penetrate and score at the rime or draw fouls (think Varez Ward-vs-Duke and J'Covan-vs-Arizona)... Jonathan Holmes establish his willingness/ability to score on the blocks earlier in the game (it seems to help him, and it gives us the opportunity to be run more of the inside-out offense our coaches aspire to run)... and last but not least, an outright Big 12 championships. The Jayhawks look vulnerable, but it's no accident they've won a share of the last 10 titles.  The crown in the Big 12 is earned, always, and usually through Lawrence.

Add your own wish list in the comment section, and have a happy holidays, my friends. Hook 'em!