Well, tonight’s the night we’ve all been waiting for.
The epic tilt of No. 1 versus No. 2 to decide the Big XII conference! Or maybe not.
Texas’ recent swoon and our inability to really distinguish ourselves from Kentucky and Syracuse has taken a bit of the hype away. Regardless, I expect it to be an extremely fun game, even if it ends in our defeat—which it very easily could. If nothing else, we’ll have the better looking uniforms. When you get down to it, that’s as important as anything.
First thing's first. We didn’t quite get the breather I was hoping for on Saturday.
However, some first-half foul trouble did limit everyone except for Collins (36) and Marcus (34) to less than 30 minutes. Specifically, Cole Aldrich only logged 21. So that was nice. The overall performance was not.
But enough about us, let’s talk Longhorns.
The crux of the Texas slide resides at the PG position and their three-headed monster of Balbay, Brown, and Lucas. The latter two can’t hold a candle to Balbay defensively, or in running an offense, but "The Doge" is able to cancel out much of the good he does by being a worse shooter than you, me, or pretty much anyone you know that has attended a basketball camp.
One extraordinarily large benefit for us tonight will be the decreased amount of energy Sherron will need to expend guarding the Texas point guards. If it’s Balbay, he’ll pick him up in between the free throw and three-point line, slide his feet, and try and keep him from getting too deep.
If it’s Brown or Lucas, don’t give them open looks and stay in their chest enough to force a mistake or two—they’ll come. Brown is the most dangerous of the three and the guy Rick Barnes will want to go to, but even we can turn him over if we’re playing D like we can.
The two guard is a little tougher with Avery Bradley.
Bradley is a phenomenal athlete, superb defender, and excellent offensive player. In short, he’s the most complete player on the Texas roster, except he either doesn’t know it or isn’t willing to show it. If and when this kid asserts himself and attacks the rim, he’s as tough to guard as anyone.
Picture Tyshawn Taylor with a better handle and a much better jump shot. The play here is to crowd him and foul him. He doesn’t want to go to the rim and he’s been horrific from the stripe (47%), so don’t let him catch it in rhythm, and make him earn whatever he gets.
At the three, amazingly, they’ll start Justin Mason. A thorn in our side his first two years, Mason has become Balbay at the three spot: a superb athlete and pressure defender, but a complete liability offensively. When they play together, the only defender that should be outside the arc is whoever we have on Bradley. With Mason, take away the dribble and get a body on him when a shot goes up. Do that and we’ll hardly notice him on that end.
His replacement, however, requires an enormous change of plans. Jordan Hamilton is their natural three, a 6′7″ freshman that can handle it, pull up in mid-range, and flat out stroke it from the outside. If you watched the Okie State game (27 points in 19 minutes), you saw wht he’s capable of when he gets it rolling.
If you saw the Baylor game (2 minutes, 3 missed shots, 1 TO), you saw how short of a leash Barnes has him on. Like with Bradley, we need to find this guy in transition, deny him the ball, and stay in his chest. He can go off the dribble, but he’s not ultra-quick, it’s not what he wants to do, and we’ve got Aldrich there to challenge him when we get beat. I imagine we’ll have X on him most of the time and except for the couple possessions he takes off defensively, I like that matchup.
The bell cow is Damion James and he remains one of my favorite non-Jayhawks of the last decade. I liked him complementing Durant (No. 1 on that list) as a freshman; I fell in love when he outrebounded our entire National Championship team during the second half in Austin two years ago.
And he worries me greatly tonight. He torched us for 26 a year ago—but part of that came from his 8-8 at the line, which no one expects to happen tonight—completely outworking anyone we put on him. Now, the Morrises are very different players with very different bodies this time around, but very few work harder than James and I’m not sure I’ll be counting on them to do so tonight.
How we defend him will greatly depend on who else is on the floor with him, but task one should be keeping him away from the basket. From there, play him straight up. He can burn us from deep, but it’s not his primary strength and he’s 0-4 from three over the last four games, so it’s not where he’s looking to make his living.
Don’t play so off that he’s wide open, but don’t crowd him so much that he can go right by either, because he’s plenty quick enough to do so. Long story short, we want him handling on the perimeter as much as possible and we’d like to force him into trying to create his own shot. Let him play off of others and he could kill us.
The big man on the block next to him will be Dexter Pittman. One-on-one in the paint, Dex is as hard to guard as anyone in the college game. Five-on-five with Texas’ supporting cast, he’s nothing we can’t handle. Let him get in close with room to work and he’ll throw a little body into Cole and sink a baby hook with no problem.
Deny entry and crowd him on the catch and he becomes another big body with a Dwight Howard-type arsenal of post moves that can’t make you pay with his passing.
Wangmene and Chapman can do some things off the bench, but for our purposes, we’ll concentrate on Gary Johnson, as he’s basically Damion James with less range. He can hurt us from the FT line and out, he drives as well as anyone other than James and he’ll attack the glass. He may not take the game over, but if we forget about him, he can put up a double-double pretty easily.
Keys to the Game
Offensively, I’m not sure we need to do anything special. Priority one will be ball movement, and movement without the ball. They’ve got some nice defenders, but if we’re making them work and moving the ball crisply, we’ll get the shots we want. Specifically, there are a few things we must remember.
1. Pittman cannot defend Aldrich, particularly without fouling . Go to this well until it runs dry.
2. Hamilton cannot defend, period. Any time he’s in (and presumably guarding Xavier), we should run X across the baseline and around screens as much as possible, because Hamilton won’t keep chasing him. If ever there were a time to get out of his funk, tonight could be it, because if Hamilton is on him, he’ll get the looks. Mason is a different story, but if Rick has to resort to that, we’ve already net won on the other end of the floor.
3. Don’t be afraid to throw some junk at them. It took Bill a while to swallow his pride against the Horns last year and he may not have the same grace period this time. They have some glaring offensive holes and we need to exploit it, even if it means not playing straight up man defense.
4. Dribble penetration. It won’t always be easy as Bradley and Balbay are as good as they come on the ball. But the help D behind them is non-existent and both Sherron & Tyshawn can make a living finishing at the rim, dropping a quick dime, or kicking out to our shooters. When Brown (Lucas) is in, we need to go at him relentlessly, because it’s an offense/defense trade for Barnes, and we need to do our part in exploiting it.
Be sure to also check out BC for the thoughts of Trips Right and his vast readership council. Trips sees this one with a +/- 20 point range from the axis, and while I see his point, I disagree. Maybe it becomes 8 or 11 in the final, but this one will be tight the whole way.
The Horns get up for us like no one else and with James leading the way, I expect no different this evening. They’re reeling and they’ve got their issues, but they’re also one of the select few that can match either our talent or our depth. However, we can do enough to punish them that I’ll be shocked if we don’t stay close. And since we’ve hammered exactly one team on the road this year, I’m not holding my breath that number two comes tonight.
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