Posted March 11th, 2010 by Ross
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

WTH?! (What the Heck?) Moments are attempts to find the memorable and the off-beat perspective on Longhorns sports. Here are some interesting moments from the Texas’ Men’s Basketball Season.

Rick Barnes' Texas basketball team collapsed midseason.

Rick Barnes' Texas basketball team collapsed midseason.

Pre-Season WTH Mr. April?! April is the month when most high school basketball players sign their letters of intent. Coach Rick Barnes, Mr. April, has out did himself by coming up with an incredible freshman class that includes McDonald All-American Avery Bradley (6-2, 180), Jordan Hamilton (6-7, 226) and J’Covan Brown (6-1, 185) to go along with highly touted transfer Jai Lucas(5-10, 150). These additions with three seniors Damion James (6-7, 225), Justin Mason (6-2, 195) and Dexter Pittman (6-10, 290) had this team starting the preseason ranked #3. An ESPN article reported that Barnes would rather develop players for the NBA than win an NCAA championship. I believe this is a misinterpretation because Mack Brown finally shed his stigma as Mr. February with his national championship, let’s hope that Coach Barnes does the same soon.

Nov. 25th WTH Practice?! The season was starting fast with a win over highly ranked Pittsburgh 78-62, but during pregame warm-ups Varez Ward right knee gave out ending his season. “We not talkin’ bout a game – we talkin’ bout practice” nod to AI. Who knew his backcourt experience (only as sophomore) would be sorely needed throughout the year?

Dec. 22nd WTH DJ?! Damion James was making claims early in the season for player of the year honors with back to back 20+ points and 13+ rebound in wins over #10 North Carolina (103-90) & #9 Michigan State (79-68). DJ also established himself as UT’s all time leading rebounder by surpassing James Thomas. The problems of poor foul shooting and any lack of a half court game was covered up by the Horns posting 17 straight wins through mid-January.

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The struggling Texas basketball team suffered a setback even in a win Saturday against Texas Tech. Early in the game starting point guard [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] went down in a non-contact injury and Monday we learned the junior from Turkey had torn the ACL in his left knee. He will at least miss the rest of the season.

From the Statesman

“I think it just buckled on him,” coach Rick Barnes said. “As soon as he went down, he knew.”

Balbay, a junior who started 22 of the Longhorn’ 27 games, led the team with 3.9 assists a game. He had a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He was also the Longhorns’ best defender.

“We’re gonna miss Dogus’ toughness,” Barnes said. “We’re gonna miss his defense.”

With Balbay done, the Horns will need a guard to step up from among the trio of [tag]JCovan Brown[/tag], [tag]Jai Lucas[/tag], and [tag]Justin Mason[/tag]. A week ago Brown would have been the overwhelming favorite to nab Balbay’s minutes, but after starting two straight games the freshman only played 5 minutes against Tech. Hopefully someone steps up on both ends of the court or the free fall will continue.

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Posted February 22nd, 2010 by Brian
Filed under: Basketball

It wasn’t pretty (especially late) but with the way the Longhorns have been playing they’ll take a win any way they can. The team blew a 15 point lead and [tag]Texas Tech[/tag] had a chance to tie the game with less than 10 seconds to go, but a clutch rebound and 2 made free throws (!) by [tag]JCovan Brown[/tag] gave the Horns a 71 – 67 win in Lubbock. Watch brief video highlights from ESPN below…

Video courtesy of ESPN.
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Posted January 30th, 2010 by Brian
Filed under: Basketball, Feature, Live

Follow along live with 40 Acres Sports on Twitter and below for our thoughts and analysis during today’s Texas game versus [tag]Baylor[/tag] on the Big 12 Network. We’ll be live right around tip so join us to discuss the game at 3:00pm Saturday.

Feel free to leave comments and questions using the live tool, but not all comments will be published. Read below for more notes on comments and how the live blog will work. Hook ’em!

(continue to read full live blog …)

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Follow along live with 40 Acres Sports on Twitter and below for our thoughts and analysis during tonight’s conference basketball match-up on ESPNU. We’ll be live right around tipoff for Texas versus [tag]Texas Tech[/tag] so join us to discuss the game at 8:00pm Wednesday night.

Things might be a little less wordy than normal, but please feel free to leave comments and questions using the live tool, but not all comments will be published. Read below for more notes on comments and how the live blog will work. Hook ’em!

(continue to read full live blog …)

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Posted January 23rd, 2010 by Brian
Filed under: Basketball, Feature, Live

Follow along live with 40 Acres Sports on Twitter and below for our thoughts and analysis during today’s big hoops match-up on CBS. We’ll be live right around tipoff for Texas versus [tag]Connecticut[/tag] so join us to discuss the game at 3:00pm Saturday afternoon.

Things might be a little less wordy than normal, but please feel free to leave comments and questions using the live tool, but not all comments will be published. Read below for more notes on comments and how the live blog will work. Hook ’em!

(continue to read full live blog …)

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WTH?! (What the Heck?) moments are attempts to find the memorable and the off-beat perspective on Longhorns sports. Here are some interesting moments from the Texas basketball game against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Cowboys Stadium was a less than optimal game watching experience. (Image: TexasSports.com)

Cowboys Stadium was a less than optimal game watching experience. (Image: TexasSports.com)

Pregame WTH Jerry’s World?! Re-issuing this WTH tagline again. Walking into the Death Star you were immediately attacked by beer vendors. Where were you guys at the Big XII championship football game?! Make sure you are a fan of Miller products because Bud Light and Coors cannot be found.

1st Half (15:47) WTH Baby Video?! The Big Daddy video board was not enough so the Cowboys set up a smaller four sided video underneath for fans to see player names, fouls and points. Unfortunately, the baby video was often wrong or did not change with the substitutions that were happening on the floor. It was cool to see the time elapsed photos of converting the facility into a basketball arena. Shout out to the video producer who showed the UT Pom Squad often. So often that we noticed that one of the girls took out her belly button ring!

1st Half (9:12) WTH FREE throws?! UT is awful at the free throw line. On successive trips to the charity stripe [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] and [tag]Damion James[/tag] missed both free throw attempts. The team was 50% for the first half and clawed their way back to finish at 70% for the game. This will be a glaring weakness for the team this season unless head coach [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag] starts passing out $20’s for every made free throw at practice.

Half Time WTH Wholly Guacamole?! Never heard of the product and probably will never eat it. The sponsor for the halftime did provide us a funny moment when two youngsters played a very terrible game of pong on the giant video board. The best part was when the little brother started shoving the sister while she was playing.

2nd Half (13:11) WTH Balbay?! As UNC was trying to stage a comeback, Dogus Balbay was awaiting the inbound pass after a Tar Heel basket. The ball was rolling around the court so Balbay dropped kick the ball right into Alexis Wangmene’s grill.

2nd Half (4:39) WTH PB&J?! With a shout out to the teams of the past (BMW – Blanks, Mays, Wright), the new group of Pittman, Bradley and James put together a string of blocks, shots and dunks to get the 38,052 in attendance (3/4 Longhorn fans) up off their feet. Damion was the leader with 25 points and 15 rebounds followed by Dexter who had 23 points and 15 rebounds. A career day for a freshman was put in by Avery Bradley who finished with 20 points. The freshmen team that Barnes has put together will have many more career days on the 40 acres.

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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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Dexter Pittman dunks against the KU defense. (AP)

Dexter Pittman dunks against the KU defense. (AP)

The Texas Longhorns men’s basketball team finished the season with a win over [tag]Baylor[/tag] and a second half meltdown loss against [tag]Kansas[/tag]. Texas finished the 2009 regular season 20-10 (9-7 in conference), good enough for fifth place in the Big 12. Rick Barnes’ squad will take on [tag]Colorado[/tag] Wednesday in the Big 12 tournament.

Most experts feel UT locked up a March Madness berth by beating Baylor and earning their 20th win of the season. Texas holds wins over UCLA, Villanova, Wisconsin, and [tag]Oklahoma[/tag]. Out of Texas’ 10 losses only the ones to Arkansas (who also beat Oklahoma), Nebraska, and Kansas State can be considered “bad” losses.

Texas may not need to win Wednesday over the Buffaloes to make the dance, but a loss would most likely result in an 8/9 seed. Beggars can’t be choosers, and right now the Longhorns probably just want to get to the tournament and see what happens, but an 8/9 seed would set up a potential second round matchup with the number one seed of their bracket. That is assuming the Horns get past their first round opponent, which is no given this year.

If Texas can make a nice run in the tournament they have a chance to creep up to a 6 seed. Texas would likely need to beat Colorado, beat Kansas State in the second round then have a good showing in the semifinals. A 6 seed would set up a matchup with a 10 seed and set up a second round matchup with a team ranked no better than a three seed in their bracket.

Texas has the ability to play with any team in the country. In the first half against Kansas on Saturday the Longhorns proved that. When [tag]Damion James[/tag] is attacking the basket and making jump shots, and new point guard [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] is getting into the lane Texas is very dangerous.

The problem is this team has had a very hard time sustaining a team effort for 40 minutes. The Longhorns fell apart offensively down the stretch against Kansas and the defense couldn’t hold up to the pressure. If teams keep Balbay out of the lane and James and even [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] stop hitting their mid-range jump shots teams are able to focus all of their defensive energy on taking away sharp shooting [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] and clogging the lane.

Kansas moved into a form of box and one to take away Abrams and completely shut down the lane and Texas had no answer. The Longhorns have been prone to long droughts between points and against the type of teams they will face in the national tournament teams can’t afford to do that.

Anything can happen in March, which has been proven year after year. Texas does have a few of the ingredients needed for an unlikely tournament run. They play great defense, they have a deep front court, and they have a guy who can make four or five three pointers in a row.

March Madness is a guard dominated tournament. And that is where the problem lies for this year’s Longhorns. Texas has a guard who can shoot. Texas has a guard that can defend. Texas even has a guard who can break down a defense off the dribble and get to the bucket. Unfortunately they need three different small guards on the court to have all of them on the floor at the same time.

Texas has their work cut out for them, and they enter this post season in a different role than they’re used to the past few years. It will be interesting to see how the team reacts. There is no doubt Rick Barnes can recruit with the best coaches in the nation. Now it is time to prove he can elevate a team to achieve more than their talent should suggest.

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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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