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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Despite strong performances from freshmen Avery Bradley and the newly patient Jordan Hamilton, the Longhorns continued their freefall Wednesday night at Missouri. The team fell to the Tigers 82-77 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. Video “highlights” of the Horns falling to 6-5 in conference play are below…

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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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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 23rd, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

What a difference a week makes? Last week at this time the fans on the 40 Acres were left scratching their heads wondering out loud if their Texas Longhorns were really going to end up in the NIT.

One week later on the back of [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] scoring ability and the inability of player of the year candidate Blake Griffin to take a hit the Longhorns are right back in the thick of things after a win over [tag]Oklahoma[/tag]. The team now holds wins over Oklahoma, [tag]UCLA[/tag], [tag]Villanova[/tag], and [tag]Wisconsin[/tag]. Out of their eight losses only the [tag]Arkansas[/tag] and [tag]Kansas State[/tag] losses can be considered bad.

The style of play Texas uses makes every game a dog fight. The style is a double edged sword. Every game being close makes teams vulnerable to lesser teams who are hot down the stretch of a ball game, i.e. Kansas State. The style also keeps a team in a game they probably shouldn’t be in, i.e. Oklahoma.

Texas’ back yard mentality stifled the Sooners in the first half while Griffin dealt with foul trouble and a glass chin. The Longhorns made a run to push out the lead, but anyone who has watched this team play all season knew Oklahoma would make a run. In fact, the Sooners made two double digit to zero runs in the second half as the Longhorns struggled to score when Abrams was being guarded and forwards [tag]Damion James[/tag] and [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] struggled with their mid-range game.

Texas has been prone to long dry spells offensively all year because of inconsistent point guard play. The major bright spot, besides the win itself, on Saturday night has to be the emergence of [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] as the true starting point guard.

The move makes this team the same as last year’s with the trade at the one guard Balbay for [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag]. While the trade is nowhere near even, it does allow [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] to stay on the floor and concentrate on defense and clean ups instead of running the show and more importantly it puts James back at power forward where he can slash to the bucket and be a monster on offensive rebounds.

Balbay has the ability to penetrate the lane and either finish with his underrated athleticism or find a shooter in the corner. Abrams can shoot from anywhere at any time, but the other Texas shooters like James, Mason and [tag]Connor Atchley[/tag] enjoy success when they catch and shoot. The ease in which their shot came off of drive and kick plays has been missing all season. When Abrams was the point guard the offensive relied on isolation and pick and rolls, when Mason was the point guard he had the ability to get to the bucket but only to get himself points, but now that Balbay is the man at the point the whole Texas offense has opened up.

Another positive that came from beating the Sooners was the play of [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag]. The big guy dominated the paint even when Griffin was still healthy and fresh. He also made the key rebound and bucket of the game following an Abrams miss with less than 15 seconds left in the second half.

Saying Atchley is struggling on par with our economy. And just like the guys in Washington it looks like head coach [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag] is at a loss on what to do. Barnes has started him, brought him off the bench, played him inside, and even tried playing him at the small forward for stretches. Atchley played decent against Oklahoma but he is not the threat he once was. There was a time some were calling him the best pro prospect on the roster this year. Not anymore.

Pittman received the start because of the matchup with Griffin, but after his strong play with Griffin out of the game don’t be surprised to see Atchley coming off the bench for the rest of the season. If Pittman does get the start it will mean Atchley would be the second big man to come off the bench after Gary Johnson. Right now Johnson and Pittman do more for this team, and while I’m sure it is hard for Barnes to sit a senior who has given so much for the program Barnes still has to do what is best for the program. At this time that may be taking away significant minutes from Atchley.

While the win has many guaranteeing a tournament berth for the Longhorns, Texas still has work left to do. They have three winnable games against [tag]Texas Tech[/tag], [tag]Oklahoma State[/tag], and [tag]Baylor[/tag] before finishing up in [tag]Kansas[/tag] against the Jayhawks before the Big 12 Tournament.

If Texas can go three of four in that time they’d finish at 10-6 in conference. That gets Texas in no matter what happens in the tournament because believe it or not the nation respects the Longhorn basketball program more than the fans and students do.

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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 (TexasSports.com)

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.

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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.

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