For the Texas Longhorns, China was a basketball horror show. A young and perhaps not very good Washington Huskies team outlasted the Texas Longhorns in a display of horrendous shooting that will forever be etched into our memories. We cannot unsee what we saw.
Or unhear; the game commentary of ESPN's Bill Walton was simply bizarre. A personal highlight for me was when the discussion turned to Walton's chair, and the 6-11 redhead let loose with this: "I love my chair, and I love my bike. And I love China. Bike riding in China is so fun." This was, let's be clear, not a high moment in the history of hoops analysis.
But this one game is all we have had, and I keep experiencing Walton's commentary as I watch the game over and over. Like Patty Hearst I have begun to sympathize -- I, too, now want to put on a tie-dye shirt and frolic through the streets of Hangzhou. I, too, want to contemplate Lewis and Clark and Marco Polo.
For the last week, Texas hoops fans have been revisiting this game, this one single game, squeezing it for knowledge. But there is only so much juice to extract from a single game.
Thankfully this information deficit is about to evaporate and the thirst will be quenched, as Shaka Smart's team will now participate in four more games in the next week and a half.
I Would Die 4 U
This Saturday night, the stretch of games starts at home against what will likely be an overmatched Texas A&M Corpus Christi in the regional phase of the "Battle 4 Atlantis."
As of this writing, the Islanders have not yet faced a Division I opponent; they did dispense with Our Lady of the Lake of the NAIA at home last Friday night. Our Lady of the Lake sounds like a fake name that you would make up for a Catholic elementary school or hospital, like "Our Little Sisters of The Poor" or "Holy Sacrament of Perpetual Motion." One wonders if Our Lady of the Lake bankrolls its athletic department with the proceeds of Wednesday night bingo and Lenten fish fries.
During that game against the Saints, A&M-CC turned the ball over 27 times. This is a lot of turnovers for a college basketball game, and a lot for a team facing an NAIA opponent. With Texas likely to apply some pressure in the passing lanes, this basic trend may continue on Saturday.
After the Longhorns move past their home opener, they head off to The Bahamas for the main rounds of the Battle 4 Atlantis. In general, I am not in favor of naming things by substituting the number "4" for the word "four." I only make exceptions for Prince song titles; but then I pretty much give Prince a free pass on everything.
Setting aside the silly name, the Battle 4 Atlantis is generally one of the better holiday tournaments. This season it features a typically strong field. Texas will initially face off against former conference rival Texas A&M -- a team that has started off the season with two easy wins against USC Upstate and SE Louisiana. On paper, this figures to be an even match up, as Billy Kennedy's talented young Aggies are hoping to make their first NCAA tournament trip in five years.
The Aggies will provide a second chance for Shaka Smart's team to prove itself against high major competition. Kennedy is throwing a lot of minutes to his gifted freshman, and A&M has size inside to go against Smart's massive front court.
I think the Texas A&M game will make for an interesting data point for those who are trying to gauge where the Longhorns are currently at in their basketball journey, particularly as we grapple with the outcome in Shanghai. I am most interested in how Texas, a team that struggled to finish around the hoop against Washington, will hold up against another team with decent size inside.
And speaking of size, should Texas defeat A&M, the most likely opponent on Thanksgiving will be Gonzaga. Gonzaga played half a game against Pitt in Okinawa before the game was called off because the court was too slick to continue.
The Zags are one of the tallest and most talented teams in the country. Against Pitt, coach Mark Few started a front line consisting of 7-1 Przemek Karnowski, 6-10 Domantas Sabonis, and 6-10 preseason All American Kyle Wiltjer. All three of these guys can play.
If the second round match up against Gonzaga doesn't work out, game two will instead be a rematch against Washington. But Bill Walton won't likely be involved this time around... I think.
The rest of the field in the Bahamas is pretty good, with Syracuse, Michigan, and UConn all looming. There is also 0-2 Charlotte, a team that finished near the bottom of the Conference USA standings last year. If Texas is playing Mark Price's team (yes, that Mark Price) a week from Friday, then you will know that Shaka Smart's week has not gone well.
Holiday tournament time is a fun time to watch basketball. And it is the point in the year where we can first start to get a feel for a team.
But I do want to caution against drawing conclusions too strongly too early in the year. A season ago, after winning its holiday tournament, the Texas Longhorns looked like a national title contender. But it would end up being the high point of the season.
So my advice is to just kick back and enjoy the games. Let's try to learn some things about the team.
But let's also remember that the basketball season is a long one, and we are only in the very earliest stages. It is too soon to get too high, or too low.