Rick Barnes and Texas Longhorns Searching for Answers
Last night's game got me thinking about whether the Longhorns are as good as everybody thinks they are. Coming into the season, I thought they would struggle early, but not like this. Dexter Pittman went through a stretch where he missed three or four straight uncontested layups, and A.J. Abrams has been shooting jumpers like Shaq does free throws of late. For whatever reason Damion James can't play a full game.
Connor Atchley hasn't showed up yet this season. I don't understand how he could take such a huge step back from the way he played last season. Chapman and Hill look like they're having a competition over who can miss the most wide-open layups when they get in the game. I'm sure they're not trying to miss on purpose, but at some point you have to make something.
The guy supposed to be our leader, Justin Mason, hasn't made a jump shot since he left Maui in November and got fried by his high school teammate Austin Johnson last night. I am probably the biggest Texas fan in the world, but the way they played last night was disappointing.
The only thing good about yesterday was that Harrison Smith showed he deserves more minutes. He played very well offensively and defensively. He looks like a totally new player. I know he didn't do much, but I'm really proud of him. Last night was the first time in three years he's seen significant minutes, and he was ready to go. That takes a lot of heart and character.
Hopefully Rick Barnes keeps giving him minutes. He might be that other scorer from the guard spot that the Longhorns need so desperately.
Teams have figured Texas out, and the formula is quite simple. Cut off the head, and the body will follow. Meaning, stop A.J. Abrams and the Longhorns can't score.
Check this out...Abrams shot the same exact 8-for-27 from the field he shot in the Longhorns' first loss of the season to Notre Dame. In Texas's other two losses, Abrams scored seven and eight points respectively, shooting "Un-Abrams-like" percentages. In the Longhorns' four losses this season, Abrams has been forced into an "Un-Abrams-like" 22-for-80. That's 27.5 percent.
Iowa State figured out the formula and almost upset the Horns in Austin. The Longhorns were lucky they got some big jump shots from James and Johnson and prevailed in the end.
The worst part about the loss to Oklahoma is that the Longhorns have more talent than OU. They're bigger, they're stronger, they're faster, and they're deeper. They are just a better basketball team than Oklahoma.
The Horns flexed their muscle in the middle of the second half, when Damion James and Dexter Pittman went inside and got offensive rebound after offensive rebound and the Longhorns got within four. After that Pittman picked up a silly fourth foul, and Blake Griffin went back to being the best player in America.
As crazy as this sounds, they're playing good defense. They just can't score. Oklahoma's 78 was the second-highest total put up against them behind Notre Dame's 81.
The Longhorns desperately need Atchley to show up, and soon. They need to throw the ball inside to Dexter and let him go to work. He missed layups last night, but it looked like he rushed them because he thought Griffin was coming. Well, he's only going to see Griffin once more this season...give him the ball.
Damion James needs to be told he has to be on the floor for Texas to win. He is Texas's best player and cannot be sitting on the bench because his head isn't in the game. I think Mason will be just fine too—he usually bounces back well.
A.J. is A.J. and will fix what he needs to fix, but he needs help on the offensive end. The Horns desperately need someone else to stretch the D. Everybody knows Justin Mason isn't going to take the three, and Dogus Balbay looks uncomfortable taking it as well. Varez Ward doesn't mind taking it—he just can't make it right now.
Maybe Harrison Smith can be that guy though. It might be far-fetched, but what other option does Rick Barnes have? He needs to try something. Remember that old saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"? Well, at this point it's broke, so Barnes needs to fix it.
Whatever the problem was, they're going to need to turn things around quickly because their next game is down in Lubbock. They're headed to the same Lubbock where they lost to an inferior Texas Tech team last year. They should put the Red Raiders away easily this year. I'm expecting Rick Barnes lights a fire under them and gets them playing hard again.
Hopefully this loss puts a taste so bitter in their mouths that they come out with a vengeance the rest of the season and run through teams all the way to the National Championship. Win or lose, I'm still a Longhorns fan, but we need to play better. Just because we're Texas...
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