Posted March 27th, 2011 by Ross
Filed under: Basketball

As we conclude another Longhorn basketball season, we are left again unfilled. The men’s basketball team was a crucial moment away from a visit to the Sweet Sixteen which is seen by many fans as a benchmark for success. I am not going to lament the fact that we have only reached this plateau 5 times under Rick Barnes. We need to realize what we have in Austin. There is an NBA team playing on the 40 acres. Let’s take a look at the NBA players that have been drafted while playing for Rick Barnes:

Player (*active) NBA Draft Pick
Chris Clack 1999 55th
Chris Mihm 2000 24th
Chris Owens 2002 48th
T.J. Ford* 2003 8th
Royal Ivey* 2004 37th
LaMarcus Aldridge* 2006 2nd
P.J. Tucker 2006 35th
Daniel Gibson* 2006 42nd
Kevin Durant* 2007 2nd
D.J. Augustin* 2008 9th
Avery Bradley* 2010 19th
Damion James* 2010 24th
Dexter Pittman 2010 32nd

This is a very impressive list of NBA players especially if you compare it to other schools. Currently there are only 6 other colleges that have more players that are active in the NBA (bet you could name the schools without looking at the next sentence). Those 6 teams are the true blue bloods of college basketball: UCLA, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, and Connecticut. We are tied for 7th with the team we just lost to which is Arizona. Oh yeah, everyone of these schools has won a NCAA championship in the past 15 years while Coach Barnes has been at the helm for 13 of those years. I know that Barnes was quoted by ESPN saying “We would love to win a national championship, but we’re not obsessed with it because we’re obsessed with these guys trying to live their NBA dreams”. I share the same feelings of Jay Bilas who was quoted that “Coaches will down play the importance of winning the title, until they actually win it”. But you can understand the frustrations of Longhorn fans when so many players are at the elite level with no NCAA championships to validate your program.

The Horns program is very similar to many NBA franchise. Go to a men’s home basketball game with the suites, the lack of attendance and the lack of electricity unless the scoreboard calls for noise or a highly ranked team has to make a visit. The brand of basketball played here is entertaining like you would see at any NBA game. The problem is that this team looks like the team you would travel north on I-35 to see which are the Mavericks. The team is fun to watch, entertaining, great in the regular season but nothing substantial to speak of in regards to conference or league titles. I wish the Horns were more like the NBA team that is located just south of us that brings home the championships.

Thanks for following my WTH articles throughout the season. I appreciate the opportunity to rant about the greatest University sports program in the country. You can continue to follow comments on all of UT sports on twitter at 40AcresSports or follow me at Horns1991. HOOK EM!!

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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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Posted March 1st, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

Harrison Smith had career night, but it came due to massive struggles from Justin Mason and Varez Ward

Harrison Smith had a career night, but it came due to massive struggles from Justin Mason & Varez Ward.

Stop if you’ve heard it before, the Texas basketball team is struggling. The Longhorns followed their huge home victory up with a close and ugly win over [tag]Texas Tech[/tag] and then a loss in Stillwater to [tag]Oklahoma State[/tag].

In both games Texas was sloppy on the offensive end. Texas’ main problem is their personnel combinations. The whole season hinged on [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] and/or [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] being able to play the point consistently. Both were given chances and both failed.

That inability forced another point guard into the starting lineup. And that is Rick Barnes’ dilemma, do you move [tag]Damion James[/tag] to the four and play the small guards and a big like last year’s team or do you bring Mason, your best perimeter defender, off the bench to keep James at the three with two big men.

The answer so far has been James to the four. The decision has brought mixed results, but I don’t think Barnes likes the decision. All offseason Barnes stressed getting bigger in the back court. Playing Mason at the three makes Texas one of the smallest perimeter teams in the country.

But what choice does he have?

[tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] is hurt. [tag]Alexis Wangmene[/tag] is hurt. [tag]Connor Atchley[/tag] has been sacked. [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag] can’t play over 20 minutes per game. And I’m not sure [tag]Matt Hill[/tag] still can play without his hair. Barnes has put more faith in [tag]Clint Chapman[/tag] as of late, but the sophomore is nothing more than a role player with some offensive upside at this point.

The fact is the Longhorns hands, or hooves, are tied. This is last year’s team without a superstar point guard who can shoot from the outside. For all intents and purposes that is like saying the Bulls were the same team when MJ was trying to hit curveballs in the minor leagues.

Barnes’ team has two conference games left ([tag]Kansas[/tag] and [tag]Baylor[/tag]) before the conference tournament. As long as Texas splits those games and wins their opening round tournament game they’ll get into March Madness.

Luckily Texas won some early games against big name opponents and Blake Griffin can’t handle contact or NIT would have been what this team had for supper.

There aren’t any great teams in college basketball. North Carolina, Connecticut, Duke, [tag]Oklahoma[/tag], and everyone else have shown the ability to drop a game they should win. That fact gives Texas hope if they can hang in there and get to the tournament. The Longhorns could be a bracket buster this year.

Maybe not.

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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.

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Posted December 2nd, 2008 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

What have we learned so far about this UT team?

What have we learned so far about this UT team?

Texas is entering the teeth of their pre-season schedule with [tag]UCLA[/tag], [tag]Villanova[/tag], and [tag]Wisconsin[/tag] coming up on the schedule. Texas has already been tested in the young season at the Maui Invitational. The Longhorns finished third after losing a close one to Notre Dame. Every season presents different questions about a team, but after a handful of games we’re starting to learn some key things about the Longhorn basketball team.

1. [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] is going to be the point guard. I know [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag], and his father, want him to be a point guard but the fact is the senior sharp shooter isn’t one. The former McNeil star wasn’t one in high school and he won’t be in college. Barnes allows Abrams to play point on some occasions but clearly this team is served best with Abrams running the base line working off screens. Mason showed the ability to run the point and beat defenders off the dribble when he had a monster dunk that ended up being the play of the night on SportsCenter after the Notre Dame game. Even if Abrams could run the point consistently it would put the Longhorns at a disadvantage on the offensive end if Mason played the off guard because Mason possesses fewer skills at the “2” than Abrams does at the “1”. Look for Mason to be the point guard going forward.

2. [tag]Damion James[/tag] is the key to the season. The Longhorns looked the best offensively Wednesday against [tag]Oregon[/tag] even with Abrams not being a huge part of the offense. The success was due to the focus on pounding the ball into the paint and the willingness of James to play from the inside out. James struggled the first two games of the tournament in shot selection as he seemed to try too hard in prove he can play on the wing. James is one of only six returning players in the nation to average a double-double last season. Even though this team will rely more on his perimeter skills James can not forget what has made him a star. He must attack the basket and be a factor on the glass for the Longhorns to make a run at a Final Four. James’ work ethic is unquestioned so there should be no doubt he will do whatever it takes to improve in these areas.

3. This team misses [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag]. This is a no brainer. Augustin was the best pure point guard in the nation last year and is already making an impact in the NBA. The Longhorns led the nation in turnovers (9.4) last year with Augustin at the point. Without him Texas is already averaging 15 a game this season with the combination of Mason and Abrams running the ball. As Mason, and [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag], continue to get more comfortable as the man at point the Longhorns are sure to improve in the area. With the pressure and intensity Texas is able to produce on the defensive end it is imperative that this team value the ball on the offensive end. Nothing is going to come easy this year on the offensive end and Texas can not afford to give away possessions to good teams.

4. Defense, Defense, Defense. [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag] loves defensive teams. He must love this one. The Longhorns are already being called the best defensive team in the nation after only five games. The Longhorns pressure the ball at will and with James playing on the perimeter are able to add length and athleticism that Barnes has not been able to muster at Texas. The Longhorns are going to give opponents fits all year with their effort on the defensive end and they are going to have to keep it up, especially early in the year, as the offense finds an identity. A good defense can keep you in games that the offense is struggling in and with only one proven outside shooter on the team it is likely there will be a few games where Texas is going to have to win ugly.

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DJ Augustin interview by FanHouse at Vegas summer league. Discusses head tattoos, Larry Brown, and the status of his knee.

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DJ Augustin’s play impresses Bobcats coach Larry Brown. Felton may play shooting guard to make room for DJ.

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Posted June 26th, 2008 by Brian
Filed under: Basketball, Draft, Feature

DJ Augustin selected by Charlotte BobcatsTexas point guard [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag] has been selected with the 9th pick in the first round by Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats. A couple picks higher than most mock drafts had DJ going so congrats to him on being selected and the big contract that’s going to be coming his way.

Charlotte was not expected to select a point guard, they currently have PG Raymond Felton starting who they drafted just three years ago in the top five picks. There were some rumors before the draft that the Portland Trailblazers were looking to move up to take Augustin and now there’s already rumors that the Bobcats took this pick with the intention of turning it around to complete a trade. Maybe Charlotte has a deal with Portland set up? That be great news for Texas fans for sure.

Congrats DJ and good luck with your NBA career. We’ll be watching and rooting for you.

Update: The Blazers just took Kansas guard Brandon Rush at #13. Rush is 100% a shooting guard, a position the Blazers already have the outstanding young Brandon Roy. Maybe send Rush to Charlotte for Augustin? Probably just wishful thinking.

Update 2: I was right about the Blazers picking Rush to trade him for a point guard, but it was with Indiana at #11 and not Charlotte. Charlotte is reportedly shopping Raymond Felton.

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TJ Ford traded for Jermaine ONeal

TJ Ford was traded for Jermaine ONeal

In the weeks leading up to tomorrow’s NBA draft the Indiana Pacers were one of the most likely destinations for Texas point guard [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag]. Now that’s not going happen thanks to another former Horn point guard. On the eve of the draft the Pacers have completed a deal to send Jermaine O’Neal to the Toronto Raptors for [tag]TJ Ford[/tag].

ESPN is reporting that the Pacers and the Raptors have agreed to a deal that would send O’Neal to Toronto in exchange for Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and the 17th pick in the draft. Due to Ford’s contract the deal cannot be officially completed until July 9th. Players will also have to pass physicals, not necessarily a given considering TJ’s history of neck problems.

A possible O’Neal/Ford swap has been in the news since Monday. Toronto had two excellent point guards and TJ has been rumored to be on the trading block for the last several weeks. The Pacers have been pursuing a point guard and wanted to get rid of O’Neal so the needs of the two teams match up well.

After being in Milwaukee and Toronto, Indiana still isn’t a marquee market but he’ll have a chance to get a fresh start in a place where he’ll be the sure #1 guy. Good luck to TJ with his new team.

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Portland trying to trade up to #10 with the intent to draft Texas point guard DJ Augustin. That would be awesome place for DJ to go.

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