When you watch the Texas basketball team play, you see flashes of a team that could be pretty good.
But then you see the Longhorns fall back to earth and struggle in situations that ultimately lead to losses. With an 0-4 record in Big-12 play, Texas is having a tough time finishing games and finding an identity that will ultimately lead to wins. Texas struggles can be attributed to a combination of problems, largely related to youth and inexperience.
Closing out games has been a thorn in the Texas’ hoops squad’s side. Â Losing focus and late-game leads go hand in hand with this crew. No matter how they play, I see two problems that stand out.Â These issuesÂ are the difference between wins and losses.
The first problem may shed light to a lot of theÂ team’s troubles. The interior of the offense and defense are just not reliable enough right now. When you watch the Longhorns, you see a team that clearly has struggled with rebounding, especially on offense. Game after game, opposing teams have series’ on offense where they miss their first, and sometimes even second shot attempts, but continue to keep the ball because Texas can’t effectively block-out and attack the glass. One of the biggest keys to winning a basketball game is rebounding.
Look at the stats.
The team that wins the rebounding edge generally comes out on top of the scoreboard. And it’s common sense to think the team that wins the rebounding battle simply has more opportunities to score, and less for their opponents. The Texas big men, specifically Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh, also need to do a better job protecting the rim. Ridley and Ibeh do show up at times with blocks, and those are some of the flashes of good basketball.
But more times than not I see these players standing right next to the opposing player that lays the ball up for an easy bucket. Or I see Longhorns’ defenders get beat by shot fakes and poor positioning. With the size of this frontcourt duo, there shouldn’t be anyone anywhere near the bucket, able to easily attempt a shot, without at least one of the Post trees making them hesitate or rethink their decision. But the two big guys are young and just not playing up to the game speed that they need to in order to be effective on defense.
The same could be said on the offensive side of the court.
Texas seems to struggle the most on offense when the game slows down. Sure, the team shows flashes of making shots, but their is no consistent source of scoring to rely on. It’s largely because Texas also does not have any reliable scorer down low to feed the ball to the interior of the opposing team’s defense.
The best big-man on the Texas offense is Jonathan Holmes. The 6-foot-7 Â power forward is often undersized against his opponents and has moved his scoring outside rather than trying to post up inside the paint. Honestly, Holmes needs to continue to develop his outside shot if he wants to play in the NBA. Having a lack of any reliable scoring threat down low forces the Longhorns to rely on jump shots any way they can get them.
The only other way to improve their offense, other than having lights-out shooters, would be to have guys who can create their own shot by getting to the rim consistently. This would create some interior scoring threats to opposing defenses. Unfortunately, the only guy who has really shown he is capable of doing that is the shortest guy on the team, 5-foot-10, really think he’s 5-foot-8, Javan Felix.
When the lane is open, Felix has shown he can be a decent scorer getting to the basket. Hampered by his height, Felix has tailored his scoring to a pull-up jumper at the elbow. The problem with that, eventually teams can sag back on help-side and on-ball defense from the lack of a reliable 3-point shot. Â So, right now, I see a team that relies heavily on jump shots from the outside.
The fact that Texas relies on jump shots also shed’s light as to why they are taking so many less free-throws than opposing teams. Sure there are calls in games against Texas that I don’t agree with, butÂ I don’t think this is some big effort by the NCAA to screw Texas over in free-throws.
It largely has to do with the style of basketball Texas plays currently. If they don’t have any interior offense, they likely will not get many fouls called on them. And if they don’t have guard who can make something happen off the dribble, they will also have less fouls called on him. When you are a team that relies on jump-shots, the one of the ways to get fouls is if a defender jumps into you while your shooting, which doesn’t happen nearly as much as it does compared to a team that has players that take the ball to the rim. Or Post/Center players that bang around down low.Â So for now, get used to the fact that Texas will likely takeÂ fewer free-throws in games compared to their opponents.
There are definitely teams who find success by getting their players open and in positions to knock down shots. The problem for Texas is their inexperience and lack of offensive flow really hinders them from consistently finding spots on the floor for their shooters to knock down shots. The two guys that the Longhorns should be finding more shots for on offense are Sheldon McClelland and Julien Lewis.
Those are the two best shooters at guard for the Longhorns. Holmes is also a guy I’d like to see Texas run in offensive sets, but he usually finds his shots when defenders forget to follow him to the 3-point line. I should be clear, I’m not saying the guards necessarily need more shots a game (McClellan just attempted 18 shots in the loss against KU). But the Longhorns should be running their offense to find more open shots for those two guys. A lot of the shots they take are contested, which lowers the percentage that the shot will go in. Instead of more than half of McClellan’s shots being contested, Texas should find ways where less than half of his shots are contested. It isn’t always easy to make happen, but when that is where your offense makes noise then you have to find a way to make it happen throughout the game.
The other problem Texas has emerges late in games, and even late in first-half’s. Texas does not have a reliable “go-to” player that can close games/quarters for them. When Myck Kabongo comes back, he likely will have the first crack at being role. But, they do not have any someone who can take the game over late and help the team hold on for a win. This largely has to do with the type of players, specifically guards, Texas has and their mentality.
First, I don’t trust the ball handling of the guards other than Felix (and Kabongo when he returns). So that initially makes it tough for the Longhorns to put the ball in any other guards hands beside Felix.
Secondly, even if the ball is in the hands of Lewis, McClellan, or even Holland neither of them really do much on offense other than taking a jump-shot (as we went over earlier). Out of those three, Holland has been the one guy who has sort-of shown he can get through traffic to the rim but he often struggles to finish the shot-attempt successfully (and I don’t really trust his ball-handling yet either. Not enough for him to have it late in games). So since these guys rely on jump shots, it makes it tough for any of these guys to step up in the final minutes. They aren’t going to be dribbling around with the ball waiting to get fouled, or trying to take it to the rim to force the other team to foul before they attempt a lay-up.
Lastly, I haven’t seen McClellan, Lewis, or Holland really show they even have the mentality or desire to want the ball the last few minutes of the game. They may be able to knock down shots late in games, but I haven’t seen any of those guys want to close games over a span of a few minutes. Which basically leaves you with Felix as the guy who likely has the ball at the end of the game. Which isn’t the ideal player you’d want with the ball. He can handle the ball well and has an decent free-throw percentage (77%, not automatic but decent), but Felix doesn’t have the size to take it to the rim at will, and he does not have a reliable outside jump-shot. On the season, Javan is shooting 34% from the field (though in recent games that percentage has increased). And he is shooting a very pedestrian and unreliable 17% beyond the 3-point line. So to sum it up, Texas really doesn’t have an ideal player that can close games. And in result, Texas continues to lose some close games that they had within reach.
I said this a week ago, but it’s like the Texas Men’s basketball team is trying to play games with one hand tied behind their backs. And they just can’t seem to figure out how to untie that other hand. They are very frustrating to watch because they show flashes of good basketball.Â In the end, their problems ultimatelyÂ overtake their brief success in games and they end up losing. This team is also very young,Â and the problems do stem from lack of development and experience. It will be very interesting to see the impact Kabongo will have when he returns. I think he will help the team, but I’m not convinced he completely fixes all of the problems. Rebounding, for example, is an effortÂ the whole team needs to improve upon.
Regardless, I still think Texas should have a winning record right now instead of being 8-9, and 0-4 in Big-12 play.Â The reality is the Longhorns are currently fighting just to make the NIT at the end of the season, and this is easily the lowest point Rick Barnes has let his basketball program slip.