For the first two weeks of January, with close and largely ugly wins against Texas A&M CC, Arkansas, Colorado, ISU, and Texas A&M, much of the fan base (including yours truly) tried to rationalize the Horn’s poor play with some “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” mental gymnastics.
In reality, it was more of a case of what doesn’t kill you only delays the inevitable. Texas won wars of attrition against those opponents, and when the Horns faced a team with some depth and physicality of their own, the poor level of play finally did us in.
But alas, even after this devastating loss at the hands of a mighty basketball team hailing from the sunflower state, there is still hope for the 17-1 Horns. Hell, they might even make the tournament at this rate if they can manage to go .500 in conference play. The catch is that the Horns cannot continue to rely on wearing opponents down with physicality and superior depth to get W’s, although those imposters can certainly be part of the equation.
At some point, the Horns will have to win by playing basketball, and doing the little and mostly obvious things it takes to win games. For you literary types, my modest proposal doesn’t involve boiling Jai Lucas and Doge Balbay in some kind of pygmy balkan stew. Nope, just a few simple tweaks, like running the UCLA high post offense, putting Rick Barry on a $500,000 retainer, and performing George Mikan drills in lieu of any activity other than dropping a deuce. Modest to be sure.
Moving without the ball, ball movement (hell dribble movement) should be numero uno on the list. We aren’t going to be able to blitzkrieg our way to easy buckets against elite backcourts with steals, especially now that the blueprint to beat us is a). don’t turn the ball over and b). don’t make things easy on us by opening the floor while attempting to run with our athletes.
The fact of the matter is that teams with above average backcourts can make us a halfcourt team unless we become the 1994 Razorbacks on defense. It’s that simple. And since we don’t have that complete point guard like John Wall or Sherron Collins to help produce points in the halfcourt, we have to manufacture team motion to succeed in slower paced game. Right now, our kids are easy to guard and it’s killing our skilled perimeter players and Dexter Pittman because they don’t get the benefit of attacking defenders that are on the move in help and recover situations.
Look, I get that Barnes isn’t Bobby Knight and Rick is married to his random screen game, but lately, our guys are randomly standing around. Personnel is part of the problem, and we’ll get to that, but most of the issue is inexperience in the backcourt and on the wings. So in order for Barnes to manufacture movement he’ll need to go to more pattern sets that call for multiple passes, some sets that are driven by ballscreening, hell even some three man weave at the top just to get the kids in the habit of moving with and without the ball.
The good news is that we did all of these things for a good portion of the second half of the KSU game until the JayCats got smart and went zone, so we’ve got some teaching film to work with. The bad news is that it’s tough to teach the nuances of motion halfway through a season. Things like test stepping, setting up screens, and making yourself hard to guard need to be fine tuned in November, not February. Regardless of that fact, motion, even if it’s contrived or manufactured, is better than standing around watching Doge Balbay or J’Covan Brown pound the deck with the ball.
I understand this horse has been beaten to death. As long as Rick Barnes rolls out the current combo, the Longhorns will get absolutely nothing in the halfcourt against a semi-talented opponent. So, either you don’t roll out this duo, or counter it by avoiding the halfcourt. This means more full court or trapping pressure on the defensive end to speed up the game, coupled with the willingness and resolve to push the basketball up the court off of rebounds. That typed, it’s utter insanity to have Balbay and Mason in the game with Pittman. It’s like arm wrestling with yourself.
3). Simplify…The Defense?
I love Balbay and Bradley when they’re asked to stay in front and pressure the ball, but there comes a time when every good defensive guard gets beat off the dribble. Hell, against good offensive backcourts it’s probably going to happen a dozen times during the course of a game. Which means you either need a shot blocking eraser to combat dribble penetration or you need a quality help-and-recover supporting cast.
Texas has neither.
And since Hasheem Thabeet and Emeka Okafor don’t grow on trees, Texas must address the latter, or we will continue to expose our big men to foul trouble and/or defensive rebounding problems against athletic teams, like, I don’t know, UCONN. Again, the good news is that Rick has already softened wing pressure in games this year to make help- and-recover responsibilities easier on the younger cats like Brown and Hamilton. And if he wants to lean on guys like Pittman and even Chapman for stretches, Rick will have to sacrifice turnovers for good, solid, man to man defense. You do that by softening wing denial and playing more to stop dribble penetration. This forces opponents to shoot over the top, which is why you go out and recruit longer guards and wings to begin with. Would you rather count on Jordan Hamilton to recognize the third leg of help rotation or go contest a jump shot? Exactly.
4). Making the Easy Plays
In Manhattan, we saw a confluence of the season long blemishes that became full blown warts of missed foul shots and blown layups. Missing layups can be fixed with rested legs and increased emphasis on going strong to the basket. Missed foul shots are a bit trickier because they can get in a player’s head. Since we have a good group of finishers, I’ll address foul shooting.
If I’m Barnes, anyone that shoots under 70 percent from the line must use my routine, a simple routine, when shooting the ball. Everyone under 70 percent must get the ball from the ref, take three simple dribbles, and shoot. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. No spinning, no Mark Jackson one-arm aiming, no Nick Van Exel “gangsta hoopa” behind the back bullshit. Nothing but a simple three dribble and shoot routine. We’ll reinforce said routine with hundreds of foul shots in practice after drills and game action to simulate fatigue. If that doesn’t get you to 70 percent, you shoot those suckers underhand.
Look, my modest proposal is about winning. This is how to do it.
What do you propose?
This article was written by Trips Right of Barking Carnival
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