As absurd as it may sound with the current state of Rick Barnes’ squad sitting in the lowly eighth place in the Big 12 at 14-7 (3-5), there was actually a point in the season when expectations on the hardwood in Austin were quite large.
The Texas Longhorns were returning the vast majority of their production from last season and with a frontcourt that was seemingly second to only Kentucky, many believed Texas could muster up some interior dominance that would make them the most legitimate threat to the Kansas Jayhawks’ quest for 11 straight regular season Big 12 titles.
Well, just as we’ve been unfortunate enough to witness by now, the lofty expectations placed on Texas’ towering frontcourt this season has fallen short and the team’s production and record has followed.
I’ll begin with where things started to quickly unravel for the Longhorns in their first of many conference losses with a 70-49 blowout at home to Oklahoma. Of Texas’ 49 pitiful points against the Sooners, the frontcourt comprised of 6-9 Cameron Ridley, 6-9 Connor Lammert, 6-11 Myles Turner and 6-10 Prince Ibeh was only able to contribute nine points on 3-15 shooting, and their 14 boards shows how weak of an overall performance this was.
Against Oklahoma State, the big men managed 27 points on 9 of 19 from the field, which is an improvement nonetheless, but Turner contributed 18 of those points while Ridley got only one look at the rim. There’s simply no reason Ridley should ever be taking the fewest number of shots between the Longhorns four big men.
The frontcourt again put up 19 points in their loss to Kansas on 8-of-21 shooting with 22 boards to compliment, but again, Ridley ended up with the most efficient night of all four after getting 3-4 from the field to fall, but Turner nearly tripled hit shot attempts with 11 and Lammert six himself, of which he only connected on one. Against Iowa State, they combined for 26 points on 11-of-23 shooting, while outside of Ridley’s double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-12 shooting against Baylor, Texas other big three went 1-10 from the field for two points and seven total rebounds.
We all know the guards have played a role in this lack of success in the paint. Anyone who has watched Texas this year has seen the backcourt just swing the ball from wing to wing and hardly even begin to attempt to get the paint into the paint until the shot clock in dwindling. This doesn’t do much to assist the often double-teamed Ridley, freshmen Turner and offensively limited Lammert and Ibeh, but this still doesn’t take away from the fact that a once glorified frontcourt is now getting outplayed on a nightly basis.
I’ll begin with Ibeh, who is worthy of the least amount of blame between the Longhorns’ four post presences. In Texas' five conference losses, Ibeh has scored only two points on 1 of 3 field goals. These numbers are completely understandable, as he’s never been thought of as an offensive threat and playing only 7.2 minutes per game during this stretch doesn’t really allow Ibeh to contribute much outside of rebounds and blocks, which he’s had only nine and three of the two respectively.
Ridley hasn’t necessarily played poorly with 31 points on 13-of-27 shooting with 33 boards during this stretch, and even more so with him being the main guy on the team who has to stay in the paint and hope the ball eventually comes his way. But whether you want to credit it to Ridley just being in the wrong place at the wrong time this season, having to compete with other big bodies for boards or place the blame on a regression from last season’s impressive campaign, the rebounds haven’t been consistently ending up in Ridley’s hands and the Longhorns’ most imposing player in the paint having games where he snags less than four rebounds – especially with all the missed jump shots Texas puts up – points to Ridley being far less of a threat on the boards than he was expected to be.
For Turner, this biggest red flag for him comes with his shooting from the perimeter. In Texas' five losses, he connected on only four attempts from deep and they all came in the loss at Oklahoma State. He’s been 0 of 8 in these other four conference losses, but still manages to try and heave a couple per game. Turner has proven he can hit them every once in a while, but he hasn’t been having much luck lately and with a Texas team that was once ranked No. 6 in the country now seeing their season fall apart game-by-game, one empty offensive possession after another, it’s time for the big fella to do what he does best and hang around the block and knock down that nearly unstoppable turnaround jumper.
And just as this issue has been with Turner, it’s even more so with Lammert. The 6-9 power forward has attempted seven more shots than how many points he’s added over this five game sample, with 21 attempts and only 14 points. But this is also true for his looks from deep after heaving 15 shots from the perimeter and connecting on only four of them. Even more concerning is that Lammert is 0-6 from shots inside the arc, which has made Lammert a practical non-factor in the paint after his meager attempt to become a part of an already underwhelming perimeter attack.
So what’s the big picture issue, outside of the big men shooting a combined 38 of 100 over this stretch, of course? Well, the perimeter shots from Turner and Lammert have to cease. The two have shot 8 of 27 in Texas’ five losses, and even that total looks more impressive after Turner’s 4-4 performance against the Cowboys. Having these two hanging on the perimeter looking for shots often leaves one, if not two of Texas’ available big men out of position for rebounds and second chance opportunities. Plus, it doesn’t do much to help when neither have had much luck on knocking these looks down consistently.
There’s really not much that can be done with Ibeh’s limited offensive ability, but with Lammert doing very little to contribute in that right recently, it wouldn’t hurt to increase Ibeh’s minutes and see how much of an impact he can have on the boards.