The Texas Longhorns are having an up-and-down season. Firmly on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bubble, the team is capable of both beating and losing to almost anyone in the nation.
The Longhorns’ struggles begin with freshman point guard Myck Kabongo.
Kabongo has incredible skills and is a true facilitating point guard. However, in making the transition from high school to college basketball, he has encountered a few roadblocks.
Kabongo is still learning Texas’ offense and also struggling to incorporate his raw abilities like speed and passing into the team’s style of play.
When Kabongo is on, he can be an asset to the team and provide a spark for huge victories.
But if he is off his game, the offense stalls and the entire team struggles.
Here are key areas in which Kabongo must improve for Texas to have success.
At the beginning of the season, Myck Kabongo did not look comfortable running the point and it affected the rest of his game. He seemed unsure of his role in the offense, especially when to shoot and when to pass.
In December, Kabongo was shooting just 23 percent from three-point range. Despite being billed as a fairly good shooter, Kabongo looked hesitant and his shots simply were not falling.
However, through January, he has upped that percentage to 37 percent, showcasing the skill everyone expected him to have.
Kabongo has run the team much better as well. He is learning when to step back and shoot versus when to fake the shot and hit an open teammate.
If Kabongo can continue his improved shot selection, he will be able to be another scoring threat in the Texas Longhorns’ backcourt.
Taking the pressure off J’Covan Brown and opening up the floor for drives and for Texas’ big men to post up will make the Longhorns a deadly team to face at the end of the season.
Just like almost every other freshman point guard in the country, Myck Kabongo needs to cut down on his turnovers.
The plus for Kabongo is that his numbers on paper are not that bad. He is averaging three turnovers per game, which, especially for a freshman, is nothing to scoff at.
But Kabongo’s problem is that he can be very lackadaisical with the basketball while at the same time trying to do too much.
He has not quite settled into the flow of the Texas Longhorns’ offense and sometimes tries to force passes that are simply not there.
Kabongo also has a tendency to let one turnover spiral into many more. If he makes a mistake early, Kabongo must learn how to calm himself down and stay together.
In a near upset victory over the seventh ranked Baylor Bears, Kabongo had just one turnover to go along with 12 points, five assists and four rebounds.
Games like that make the Longhorns a very good team.
Kabongo is still learning how to harness his incredible skills without making too many mistakes, but he is off to a good start.
A simple problem for all point guards, and one that especially affects Myck Kabongo, is understanding when to push the ball up the court for a fast break and when to slow down and set up the offense.
In high school, most point guard prospects get used to being able to drive past almost any defender and running the break (even in one-on-four situations) whenever they want.
Kabongo struggled early with understanding the flow of the game. Sometimes, he would grab a rebound and race to the other end of the court when the rest of his team was laboring far behind him.
Other times, Kabongo would be so focused on setting up the offense properly that he would miss a teammate flashing down the lane for a wide-open layup in transition.
Kabongo must listen to scouting reports and learn which teams the Texas Longhorns can run against and which teams he would be better off just walking the ball up the court.
But in addition, he must see the floor better and notice fast break opportunities. Kabongo is crazy fast so when a teammate is out in front of him, chances are he can catch up and make a nice pass for an easy basket.
Myck Kabongo is one of—if not the—fastest players in college basketball. He can get an outlet pass and race up-court before some players even realize he has the ball.
And that’s exactly his problem—sometimes he gets all the way down-court, but none of his teammates are there with him.
Kabongo must realize that his speed can be a great thing, but that he does not need to use it on every possession.
When Kabongo gets down the court ahead of his teammates, he often has two or three defenders in front of him. Instead of pulling the ball out and waiting to set up the offense, Kabongo tends to fly towards the basket and throw up a bad shot or turn the ball over.
To be a great point guard, Kabongo must learn that sometimes he has to wait for his teammates to catch up. There is no sense in driving into three defenders if he has no help.
If there is just one man to beat, by all means Kabongo should take the ball to the rim. Chances are, he will blow by that one defender pretty easily.
Otherwise, he must slow down and eliminate costly turnovers.
Keep in mind, Myck Kabongo is sharing the backcourt with J’Covan Brown. Brown averages 19 points per game and is the natural first option for the Texas Longhorns’ offense.
But Kabongo cannot let Brown take over games to the point that he barely registers on the court.
Kabongo can be a good shooter and should look to score more. Texas has become too much of a one-dimensional team, making it much easier for teams to defend against their offense.
In near upsets of the Missouri Tigers and Kansas State Wildcats, Kabongo showed what he is capable of, scoring 12 and 14 points respectively to go along with 10 assists in each game.
Kabongo’s game is to be more of a facilitator, so he should not be counted on to score 20 points a night. But he should be able to settle into 13-point games while distributing the ball.
The Longhorns need another offensive threat, especially around the perimeter. It is up to Kabongo to step up.
The Texas Longhorns do not have the best frontcourt in the country by any means. None of the team’s big men average more than seven points per game.
But that does not necessarily stem from a lack of talent or effort. Texas’ guards, especially Myck Kabongo, are simply not adept at feeding the post. Half the time they do not even look down low.
Oftentimes, Kabongo’s passes into the post are lazy and are stolen by defenders. He must learn how to involve his big men in the offense and get them easy baskets.
Kabongo is great at penetrating into the lane. If he can get inside and then dish the ball to Clint Chapman or Jonathan Holmes for a wide-open look, it will help those players be more confident and more involved in the game.
It is almost as if, at times, the entire Texas team has decided that J’Covan Brown will run the show and everyone else will jack up shots when they get the ball.
If the ball found its way to the post more often, it would open up things around the perimeter for Brown and the rest of the slew of Texas guards.
Kabongo must do a better job of setting up the offense and making sure that all of his teammates get touches. He does not shy away from the role of team leader and facilitator, but he must be more aware of his post players.
The one area of his game in which Myck Kabongo should be able to improve the most in is running the Texas Longhorns’ offense.
The simple explanation for Kabongo’s struggles is that he just does not have a firm enough grasp on the plays that Texas is trying to run, so his timing and passing is slightly off.
The most important job for a point guard is getting the offense set and running plays efficiently. Kabongo must know not only what his role in the offense is, but also where every other player must set up in order to direct the team.
Since he is just a freshman, Kabongo is undoubtedly still learning the ins and outs of Coach Rick Barnes’ system.
This season, he has struggled at times, causing the offense to stall and leading to turnovers and bad shots.
But as Kabongo plays and practices more, he will learn the plays better and feel more comfortable on the court. It takes time, but given the instincts as a point guard that Kabongo has shown thus far, he should be able to learn quickly.