Posted March 22nd, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature, NCAA Tourney

Dogus Balbay loses the ball to a Duke defender. (TexasSports.com)

Dogus Balbay loses the ball to a Duke defender. (TexasSports.com)

A few missed free throws, a couple of missed rebounds, at least two awful foul calls and Texas’ 2009 basketball season came to an end.

After a good showing and victory over [tag]Minnesota[/tag], Texas faced [tag]Duke[/tag] in the second round. Duke has owned Texas since [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag] has been on campus winning games by over 20 points three times. On Saturday night in the second round of March Madness Texas at least made a game of it.

[tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag] continued to be unstoppable in the paint. In tournament play (Big 12 and NCAA) Big Dex has taken his game to another level. Big guys that demand the paint are a dying breed in basketball, especially at the college level, and with one year left in college the Texas staff and fans should be excited about the return of what could be the most dominate low post presence in the nation next year.

Another bright spot in the first two rounds of the tournament was the play of freshman point guard [tag]Varez Ward[/tag]. Texas has struggled at the point guard position all year, mostly because all of their players who have the ball handling skills to play the 1 do not possess the scoring skills to make opposing defense’s respect them on the perimeter. Ward does not have a great shot, but unlike [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag], Ward isn’t afraid to shoot it on occasion. Ward may have replaced [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] as the best on ball perimeter defender on the team, and he attacks the basket and makes good decisions. With the loss of [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] to eligibility Ward will be huge even with the talented freshman class coming in.

Speaking of Abrams, the Texas fan base will have no idea how much he meant to this team until he is no longer on campus. There have been message board rumblings that Texas would be better off without the sharp shooter from McNeil high school. All Abrams was for Texas was the best perimeter shooter in school history. It is amazing that on a team that struggled to score so much for most of the season that the one guy who could score at will was taken for granted so much. When AJ was making shots this team could beat anyone in the nation, when the other Longhorns on the floor were so inept that opposing defenses could shadow Abrams every time down the floor and he was taken out of games, Texas would go long stretches with no points. Thank you AJ. I needed to say that.

It was an on and off season for [tag]Damion James[/tag] and [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] and the two rounds of the NCAA tournament was a perfect microcosm of their season. James was Jekyll and Hyde, sometimes in the same possession, so much so that there is talk around campus that he may come back for his senior season. It was expected all year that James was a sure fire lottery pick because of the lack of top flight talent in this draft class. However, James hasn’t adjusted the perimeter game as easy as some thought, and he may need another year to prove he can be a small forward.

Johnson on the other hand struggled down the stretch. In the mid part of the season it looked like the former Mr. Texas would emerge as the number three scoring option for this team. Instead, the sophomore fell in love with his mid range jump shot. It will be important for this team to get Johnson’s aggressiveness up in the offseason. A front court of Pittman, Johnson, and prep star [tag]Jordan Hamilton[/tag] could be the best in the nation if Johnson can demand attention at the power forward position. He isn’t as good of a rebounder as he should be, and that should be a number one priority in the off season.

In the end the game was lost because of free throw shooting. Texas had every opportunity to win the game against Duke, and while some will blame the referees and some will blame the coaches, it really came down to wasting points at the charity stripe. Coming into the season many felt it would be this team’s Achilles heel, and in the end it was.

The Longhorns performed well though, in a game most gave them no chance of winning. Most fans will look at this season as a disappointment, but the 2009 team went further than Kevin Durant’s squad did. People must remember that this team and offense was built for a scoring point guard to dominate the ball and set up the other talent on the floor. That plan went out the window when [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag] went to the NBA after his sophomore season. This is the same team, minus Augustin, that went to the Elite 8 and was given a two seed in the tournament.

College basketball is a guard dominated game. A point guard dominated game. Texas came up short on that all year, and they weren’t good enough at three point shooting and/or rebounding and defense to make up for their personnel deficiencies.

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