Posted February 17th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

For the first time in the [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag] era the University of Texas basketball team is in real danger of not making the NCAA tournament. This could be the most any of the major three programs (football, basketball, baseball) has struggled in the regular season since their respective coaches arrived on the Forty Acres.

Rick Barnes is an amazing coach, but sometimes the players just aren’t there. For the 2009 UT basketball team that player is [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag]. Last year Augustin was recognized as the best point guard in the nation. He decided to leave after his sophomore year for the NBA, a move that has worked out for everybody but the Longhorns.

Texas has been spoiled in the backcourt in recent memory. The stellar play started with [tag]TJ Ford[/tag], next came [tag]Daniel Gibson[/tag], and then Augustin. Right now they’re stuck with Justin Mason who can’t score, [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] who can’t dribble or pass, and [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] who can’t shoot and struggles with consistency.

Every key member from last year’s Elite 8 team returned besides Augustin. Last year at this time Texas was playing for a number one seed and the talk around town was of national championships. This year the Longhorns are coming off four losses in their last six games, none to a top 10 team, and the talk is centered around if the team will even get to be a part of March Madness.

There is still talk of national championships on campus, but the sport is football.

Texas went through something similar following their Final Four berth when the then sophomore Ford decided to skip his last two years of college for the NBA. Barnes had his whole team coming back then too, but the group led by Brandon Mouton, Royal Ivey, and James Thomas at least made it to the tourney. On the message boards, at the water cooler, and on the couch most fans are looking for someone to blame. Has Barnes forgotten how to coach? Did the players regress that much? Who kidnapped [tag]Connor Atchley[/tag]?

The answers aren’t that simple. Or maybe they are. We’ve all heard the expression, “It isn’t the X’s and O’s it’s the Jane’s and the Joe’s.” The 2009 version of Texas basketball has proved the old saying to be right.

The Longhorn offense is set up for a player to dominate the ball and create for teammates who are coming off screens. Texas has the players to come off the screens but they don’t have the guy to get them the ball at the right time in the right spot. On top of that Barnes likes to have a guard who can shoot and score off the dribble. Texas has guards who can shoot and they have guards who can score off the dribble, but they don’t have any who can do both. This allows defenses to play a box and one, trailing Abrams, and making other people beat them.

So far Texas hasn’t done it enough. It is hard to imagine this same team beating UCLA and Villanova, but they did. And that fact leaves some hope, but with [tag]Kansas[/tag] and [tag]Oklahoma[/tag] still on the schedule it looks like a .500 finish may be in sight. With the Big 12 in a perceived down year, that just won’t cut it.

It is looking more and more likely that the Longhorn fate will be decided in the Big 12 tournament. And this year it has nothing to do with seeding. It will have to do with the bubble. A word Texas hasn’t had to worry about in a decade.

The good news is the cavalry is coming. Texas has a top three recruiting class coming in and they all can score. Just another reason to wish for next fall to get here.


The Texas Longhorns men’s basketball team went from a top ten ranking to possible on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. Saturday the team dropped its third in a row to [tag]Nebraska[/tag] to fall to 6th place in the Big 12 thanks to a 4-4 conference record.

This may have been one of the most disappointing games of the seasons as at the end of the first half and beginning of the second they played some of their basketball in weeks. In the end it was another hectic finish and just like in previous games the Horns couldn’t get it done. [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] and [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] both had looks in the last moments but neither made the shot and Texas fell 55-58.

ESPN “highlights” are below:


Posted February 6th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

Varez Ward and the entire Texas team struggled against Missouri

Varez Ward and the entire Texas team struggled against Missouri (

Texas had not lost at home since February of 2007; they’ve now lost twice at the Frank Erwin Center in the last seven days. [tag]Kansas State[/tag] came in and won in overtime thanks to Denis Clemente’s 44 points. Then on Wednesday [tag]Missouri[/tag] came in and outlasted the Longhorns to capture sole possession of third place in the conference.

Texas had won three straight since dropping a game in [tag]Oklahoma[/tag]. But even with those wins it was obvious something was missing on this team. Against OU, Tech, and [tag]Baylor[/tag] Texas failed to score over 30 points in the first half. Against Kansas State it got even worse as the Longhorns scored only 22 points in the first 20 minutes of the ball game.

Rick Barnes’ team just can’t get it all together at the same time. One game [tag]Damion James[/tag] will go off, next game [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] can’t miss, and in another [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag] looks like an unstoppable force in the paint. A week ago it looked like [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] was finally going to be the answer at point guard, flash forward to the Missouri loss and Balbay only registered two minutes of play.

Basketball is all about confidence, and right now as a team Texas has none. Early in the season the Longhorn defense put fear in opponents, especially on the ball. Now it looks like Texas is lost. They let a marginal player in Clemente take over a game, and then on the key play of the Missouri game Texas’ best on ball defender, [tag]Justin Mason[/tag], allowed a Missouri guard to get all the way to the paint for a game winning bucket with 5.5 seconds left on the clock. No big guy came over to help on the play.

Everybody knows Barnes is a great coach, so it is hard to understand the lapses in mental judgment by this team. There is no doubting their effort, this team plays hard, but at times the fundamental flaws on this team are just mind boggling. If it isn’t poor rotation of defense it is a bad block out on the defensive boards, if it isn’t a horrid fast break attempt it is the lack of passes on the offensive end.

This season has shown how important a point guard is in college basketball. Texas doesn’t have a player, like in past seasons, that can sense when the team needs a bucket and has the ability to go get it. Texas went scoreless for the last 5:01 of the first half against Missouri, erasing what was a 12 point lead at one time, because nobody on the offensive side can create for themselves or other people. James has become a one on one player, [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] wants to be a jump shooter, [tag]Connor Atchley[/tag] looks lost, and Abrams is only effective when he running off screens.

Fortunately it will take a mega meltdown to miss out on the tournament. With wins over [tag]UCLA[/tag], [tag]Villanova[/tag], and [tag]Wisconsin[/tag] it is a safe bet that Texas will get in there. Especially considering it is a down year in the Big 12. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like there are any answers to what ails this ball team. Something about them doesn’t seem right, and I’m not sure even Rick Barnes knows what is going on.

Texas guard AJ Abrams shot the ball well on the way to 19 points

Texas guard AJ Abrams shot the ball well against Baylor on the way to 19 points

Texas won two games in four days against in state conference foes Texas A&M and [tag]Baylor[/tag]. Combine those wins with one against [tag]Texas Tech[/tag] earlier in conference play and the Longhorn domination of the state of Texas has continued in a season most are considering a down year.

For all the conceived shortcomings of the 2009 version of Longhorn basketball has, Rick Barnes’ team is 4-1 in the Big 12 with the only loss coming to soon to be number one ranked Oklahoma on the road. They are also ranked in the top 15 with no real bad losses on their resume. They do however have wins over [tag]UCLA[/tag], [tag]Villanova[/tag], and [tag]Wisconsin[/tag].

Texas has accomplished this by outworking their opponents on the defensive side of the court. No team in the Big 12, and maybe the country, can pressure the ball on the perimeter as well as Texas. A lot has been made about the progression of [tag]Damion James[/tag] as a perimeter player, but few take into account what it has done for the Texas defense. With James at 3 it allows another big guy to work the paint. Instead of having say [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] at 3, which you would if James still played 4 because [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] would come in to play point guard, now you have a 6’7″ guy getting hands in the face of a good outside shooter. Basically the move adds five inches to the Longhorn lineup.

Banes’ team is also aided by being full of tough guys, mentally and physically. None of them shy away from physical play or melt under pressure. [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] is a cold blooded assassin; the little guy wants the ball when the game is on the line. Everything that needed to be proven about Abrams toughness should have been laid to rest in the last few minutes of the [tag]Notre Dame[/tag] game. Texas lost the game, but Abrams singlehandedly would not let Texas give up. He made shot after shot, and came an inch or two away from draining a half court shot to steal the win.

Justin Mason may not be a great offensive point guard but the guy is a junk yard dog. He is relentless on defense and takes pride in guarding the opponent’s number one perimeter scorer. Mason is also a great rebounder and is considered by most on the team as the on and off court leader.

James, [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag], and [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag] give Texas size, strength, and physicality to the Longhorn middle. A Rick Barnes front line is not going to be soft, and these guys are no exception.

With all that said, this year’s team is not as talented as some of the year’s past. Texas ranks last in the Big 12 in three-point shooting in part because the team doesn’t have a point guard to set up Abrams, [tag]Connor Atchley[/tag], and James up for easy shots and in part because Texas simply lacks more than one legit perimeter shooter. The only player on the roster opposing teams don’t want shooting threes is Abrams. If James is shooting threes he is not driving to the bucket or collecting rebounds. If Mason is shooting threes he is not playing within his game. If Atchley is shooting threes, at least this year, it is not a good thing. If Balbay is shooting a three the shot clock is about to go off.

With no one to stretch the floor teams can basically play a box and one, leaving one man on Abrams at all times, turning the basketball game into four on four. And without a dominating point guard Texas is left to taking off rhythm jump shots in half court offense.

Point guard has been the bugaboo position for Texas all year. It is clear Mason isn’t the answer, and it is also clear Barnes feels Abrams is limited when playing the role. Enter Dogus Balbay. The Turkish national player earned more minutes than Mason in the game against Baylor. It is clear that Texas’ half court offense is at its best with Balbay at the point. The problem is you have to sit Mason or Abrams. Or do you? Don’t be surprised to see Texas go back to a small lineup when offense is needed. A lineup of Abrams, Mason, Balbay, James, and Johnson would be Texas’ best on the offensive side of the ball.

The problem is that takes away the defensive size discussed earlier. And there lies the crux for this Texas team. The Longhorns have the players to excel offensively and to excel defensively. The problem is that there isn’t a combination of five guys that allows them to do both at the same time.

The conventional wisdom is that the defensive priority will win out. Barnes stresses defense and will not likely sacrifice pressure for points. Texas will continue to rely on defense to create points and scrap out wins as they come. And the wins will come, but it will be interesting to see how they come during tournament time.


Posted January 18th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

Texas bounced back from their road loss in Norman with a win in Lubbock over [tag]Texas Tech[/tag] on Saturday. The Longhorns did it with defense, which continues to be the strength of this team. Texas pressures the ball as well as any team in the country. When they cause turnovers or force bad shots, Texas has been able to create quick paced offense on the other end. However, the Achilles heel of this team continues to be half court offense.

Tech had been known as an offensive team this year. The Red Raiders had scored over 150 points in one game earlier in the year. But Texas held them to under 50 in a game that showed even if Texas is “underachieving”; the separation between them and the middle of the pack teams in the Big 12 is still there.

[tag]Justin Mason[/tag] and [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] had good games after struggling for the last few weeks. Mason got back to what he does best, defense and rebounding. The junior guard is not going to wow anybody with his point guard ability and I think at this time in the season it is time to stop forcing a square peg into a round hole and just let him do what he does best. Mason may be the best rebounding guard Texas has had in recent memory. The responsibility for the point guard is to get back after miss shots to prevent easy fast break buckets for the opponent. This took away one of the best offensive rebounders for Texas, so they’ve made the adjustment to get Abrams back unless he shoots from the corner.

To help with the half court offense [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] is getting more and more time. Balbay is the best penetrator on the team. And with players like Abrams, [tag]Damion James[/tag], and [tag]Connor Atchley[/tag] having a guard who can drive and kick is invaluable. All three of their offenses have struggled this year because there is no player on the roster that has made their job easier.

The style Texas excels in is not going to allow for many blowouts. Even with the 20 point margin at the end of the Tech game, the Red Raiders kept it close for a while. Barnes’ squad is going to have to fight tooth and nail for everything they get, and because of that the Longhorns are going to lose a few to teams they shouldn’t. It will also make them a very dangerous and unpredictable team in March which in college basketball is all that really matters.

The question going forward is will the Texas defense be enough against the best teams in the country. The answer so far has been, sometimes. If another team’s offense is clicking like Notre Dame’s and Oklahoma’s, the Longhorns are going to struggle to create enough points to stay in it unless Abrams is on fire. If the Texas pressure gets to their opponent like UCLA and Michigan State, Texas is going to be right in it until the end.

Rick Barnes’ teams tend to get better and better as the year goes on. For the first time in years a Texas team appears to be treading water. History suggests the team will snap out of it and make a serious run in March, but at this point I’m not sure anybody knows what the answer is. The simple fact is the answer may not exist and will be up the Texas players to make something happen when the tournament starts. If this was football the season would be over for all intents and purposes. But in basketball Texas still has as much of chance as anybody. Yes, even Oklahoma.


Posted January 13th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

Texas coach is looking for answers beyond AJ Abrams at guard.

Texas coach Rick Barnes is looking for answers beyond AJ Abrams at guard for the Horns.

If you think you’re frustrated, imagine being [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag]. Two games into the conference season and this team still has no idea who it is. Let’s be clear, if Texas would have won Monday night’s game in Oklahoma the team would have won a game against the best team and player in the conference on the road in a primetime game. They didn’t, and that fact shouldn’t make anyone lose sleep. But the problems that were exhibited in the first half may require at least a week’s supply of Lunesta.

Texas simply does not have a reliable guard to run the offense. [tag]Oklahoma[/tag] does, and despite the presence of the best player in basketball, sorry Tyler Hansbrough, this game simply came down to one team having the ability to create by getting in the lane, and one that could not. Guard play rules college basketball, and Texas has none.

Oklahoma guards constantly got into the lane and made plays for themselves and their teammates. All three starting guards for the Sooners scored in double figures. The only player not named [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] to score in double figures was [tag]Damion James[/tag], who had been shutout and benched for most of the first half.

Rick Barnes was unhappy heading into the locker room. He stated that if guys didn’t want to do their job he’d find someone who would. Bench players like [tag]Harrison Smith[/tag] and [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] got extended time in the first half because of James and Justin Mason’s struggles. James was able to bounce back in the second half, but Mason continues to struggle. Basketball is a game of confidence and Mason has none right now on the offensive end.

Texas played better in the second half, even cutting the lead to four points midway through the second half. The low post defenders did a decent job keeping Blake Griffin in check. When on the court [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag] was able to out muscle the future top three pick in the lane. But the attention Griffin forced the Texas defense to pay to him allowed Sooner guards to live in the lane.

Texas plays Oklahoma again on February 21st in Austin, and before that game happens the Longhorns have to figure out their perimeter play on offense.

Gary Johnson has become one of the team's most consistent scorers.

Sophomore forward Gary Johnson has become one of the team's most consistent scorers.

The Texas Longhorns scraped by a game [tag]Iowa State[/tag] ball club to win their conference opener 75-67. The game came sandwiched between a loss to Arkansas and a looming Big Monday showdown in Norman against the top-ten ranked Oklahoma Sooners. All of Texas’ losses have come away from the Erwin Center.

The Longhorns continue to struggle from the perimeter. Teams are proving that [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] can be taken out of Texas’ half court offense and the guys around him do not have the skill set to consistently knock down three-pointers. Texas ranks last in the Big 12 in three-point shots made.

It is likely that Abrams and the other Horns will regain confidence in their outside shot. As conference play begins guys like [tag]Damion James[/tag], [tag]Conner Atchley[/tag], and [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] will get better as they play familiar foes. The problem that appears to not have an answer on the roster is at point guard. Abrams doesn’t have the ability to play there against high level opponents and Mason for all his strengths is not getting it done. Bench players like [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] and [tag]Varez Ward[/tag] are not consistent enough yet to be counted on. Balbay has an even worse jump shot than Mason and Ward doesn’t play the defense Barnes expects for an on ball defender.

The disadvantage of not having an explosive point guard has been evident in the late part of Texas’ losses. All three losses were determined in the last minute of the game, and all but maybe [tag]Notre Dame[/tag] could have been won with better offensive execution. The Longhorns can’t get easy shots. They can’t get them for themselves and they can’t get them for their teammates. With all the good things this team does it won’t mean much come March if the point guard doesn’t become a factor for this team.

The saving grace for this team and the one thing that makes them dangerous come tournament time is their ability to match up and play on ball defense like no other team in the country. Damion James playing at the three has not paid off completely on the offensive end, but it has vastly improved the total team defense for this team. Last year Mason was guarding small forwards, he now guards the point guard. The length James adds to the lineup at the three position helps with tip balls, help defense, and rebounding on both ends. Texas does a great job with help defense for the most part. The negative that comes out of that is they occasionally find themselves out of rebounding position. Texas allows too many put backs.

Over the last few games [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] has emerged as a weapon. The sophomore is sliding into the role James abandoned when he moved to the wing and he is quickly becoming a major factor on offense. Lately, Johnson has been the go to guy and the most consistent player on the offensive side. He rebounds with ferocity and hustles at all times. Barnes will rely on him more and more because of the emergence of his mid-range jump shot. Johnson has a high release which allows him to get it off every time without the threat of a rejection. He will have to be huge on offense and defense against Blake Griffen for Texas to have any chance against Oklahoma.

Another player that needs to step up in the middle is [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag]. The big man is a mismatch for everybody on the court. The work he has done in the weight room cannot be understated, but he has to avoid the cheap fouls that prevent him from finding out how many minutes he can play. When he is on the court he opens up the outside, shots that will eventually begin to fall. The Longhorn outside shots are not going to come from drive and kicks, they will come from the post. The more attention that has to be paid to Pittman, Johnson, and James the more space Abrams will have.

No doubt this is a down year for Texas. And by that I mean their ceiling isn’t as high as teams of the past. But it says a ton about the program, coaches, and players that a down year fields a conference championship contender, a top-ten ranking, and a good shot at going to another Sweet 16. We just watched a football team overachieve for a full year, maybe the basketball team will do the same.


Posted January 8th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

Without a true point guard, Justin Mason and the Horns have struggled this season.

Without a true point guard, Justin Mason and the Horns have struggled this season.

It is amazing how far the men’s basketball program has come under the guidance of [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag]. Texas basketball used to be an afterthought, something watched to help get over not having anymore football. Now, the Longhorns are perennial conference championship contenders and recruit the kind of talent that brings home national awards. A decade and a half ago would [tag]Kevin Durant[/tag] ever think about attending The University of Texas?

With the success comes expectations, and with the bar that has been set it has to be said that this year’s team has underwhelmed many. The defense while great at times is hard to play for 40 minutes every time out, Damion James has had a harder time adjusting to the wing than expected, and the late minute offense has been inept. But the one thing that is holding this team back over all else is not having a true point guard.

College basketball is a guard dominated sport because of the zone defenses and shorter three-point line. The Longhorns have been spoiled in recent memory with the likes of [tag]TJ Ford[/tag], [tag]Daniel Gibson[/tag], and [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag]. [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] is a solid player, a great defender, and a hell of a young man. What he is not is a true point guard.

All three Longhorn losses ([tag]Notre Dame[/tag], [tag]Michigan State[/tag], [tag]Arkansas[/tag]) have all been decided in the last minute. In all of those losses except maybe Notre Dame, the lack of a fluid play set has denied the team from getting up efficient shots. Too many times when they need it the most the ball is lost out of bounds or a shot is jacked up after too much one-on-one dribbling.

Unfortunately [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] is not the answer. Unfortunately a true answer does not exist on the current roster. It doesn’t mean Texas can’t make some noise in March, but it does mean that Longhorn nation is going to be very frustrated with this team at times during conference play.

Rick Barnes is an excellent coach with a proven record of coaching teams that improve as the season goes on. On top of that guys like Mason and Abrams want to win and want to prove to the world that they can get it done. The mix is there for success, just not the kind of success that the newly spoiled Texas fans are looking for.

Justin Mason and Varez Ward helped swarm the Wisconsin offense

Justin Mason, Gary Johnson, and Varez Ward helped swarm the Wisconsin offense

After losing to [tag]Michigan State[/tag] this weekend the Longhorns bounced back with a tough win over the Wisconsin Badgers. The team went into Madison and game away with a close 74-69 win, only the eighth time in seven seasons a road team has won at the Kohl Center. #8 Texas is now 10-2 on the season.

The game again came down to the final moments when forwards [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] and [tag]Damion James[/tag] made huge plays for the Horns. Johnson, who had another excellent performance with 16 points and 8 rebounds, banked in a long, ugly clutch 2-pointer with less than 30 seconds left to go in the game. On Wisconsin’s next possession James blocked a layup attempt and then pulled in the rebound to put an end to their hopes of victory. James finished the game with 18 points and 15 rebounds.

After struggling in his last game, Texas’ leading scorer [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] scored 21 points but needed 21 shots to do it. He shot okay from beyond the arc but was only 5 for 14 from 2-point range. Abrams must improve his efficiency if the Horns’ offense is going to find any consistency this season. Backup point guard [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] had his best game at Texas by providing a spark off the bench with 5 rebounds and 4 assists in only 17 minutes of playing time.

The Longhorns are now off for the rest of 2008 until they host Appalachian State on January 2nd at the Erwin Center. Big 12 conference play will start against [tag]Iowa State[/tag] on January 10th.

Game Statistics

Related Links


Posted December 24th, 2008 by Brian
Filed under: Basketball

Last night the Texas Longhorns went to Madison and took down a [tag]Wisconsin[/tag] team that had only lost eight home games in the last seven years. [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] and [tag]Damion James[/tag] led the team to a 74-69 win with 21 points and 15 rebounds respectively. Watch video highlights below:

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