Monday night, No. 1 ranked Texas Longhorns basketball team was handed its first loss of the season to drop their record to 17-1 at the hands of No. 9 Kansas State in Manhattan, KS in an arena known as "The Octagon of DOOM." It's hard enough to win on the road in college basketball, but winning in a place like that? Near impossible.
It's Not Football
That's right, this is not football or baseball, this is the Texas Basketball team that is No. 1 in the country. How often do you hear that? Never. They won't be staying in the top spot, but they can lose the next five games and still have a chance for the national championship unlike in football where going undefeated is a MUST.
But the fact is we lost to Kansas State, a good opponent, on their home court. The loss is respectable while the performance was a bit embarrassing and humiliating.
Is this freshman class of Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton, J'Covan Brown, and Shawn Williams (who was a high recruit but is not getting time) better than the freshman class of 2006 with Kevin Durant, DJ Augustin, Damion James, and Justin Mason? The obvious answer is "No". The experts say yes, while I still say no, but I'm not going to argue that much more, this freshman class is good, real good, and with time they will be better.
Number one for how long?
After becoming the No. 1 ranked team for the first time in the 105 year history of the basketball program, we had near losses at Iowa State and against Texas A&M before losing to Kansas State last night. In each of those games we had halftime deficits, but all year we have been a second half team, and we started the second half with an 8-0 run before things quickly spiraled out of hand and Kansas State regained control. Were we shooting for an undefeated season? No. Are we shooting for a championship season? Yes, always. Like Coach Rick Barnes said, "I can't tell you who was #1 in the second week of January last year (and neither can I without looking it up), but I can tell you who won the national championship."
Now, Texas Basketball has never won a national title. During my lifetime we had teams with guys like TJ Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, PJ Tucker, Brad Buckman, AJ Abrams, Kevin Durant and so on--these guys were supposed to win championships. In 2003, Texas was in the Final Four, the only Final Four appearance of my lifetime for the Longhorns. Two of the last four years we have made the Elite Eight, but the other two years, we lost in the second round.
2007 was the most recent where we could have won a title, but made it no farther than the Elite Eight. That team had AJ Abrams, DJ Augustin, and Damion James. Where was the leadership? No one. Imagine if that team had Kevin Durant? Or if Durant and Augustin were still around today as seniors? Both bolted for the NBA as top draft picks and honestly who blames them? Much like what Vince Young, Jamaal Charles, Jermichael Finley, and Earl Thomas have done recently to the football program. The lack of continuity and a mature leader has plagued Texas Basketball in the postseason. That's reality.
The loss to Kansas State
Texas is a team that had a hot hand on offense, and dominated games rebounding the ball and playing smothering defense. None of that was evident during the Kansas State game.
Texas was very poor in transition defense and made stupid mistakes in transition offense. Texas did not rebound and was not physical enough in the paint. There were too many turnovers, many of them unforced. The pressure got to Texas and they pressed on offense, throwing the ball away and taking bad shots and poorly managing the clock. The team chemistry needs to be worked on. Guys threw the ball to where they thought their guy would be or should be. There were a bunch of times where the ball was thrown to a vacated spot because the other guy moved and the passer expected him to stay put. That's basketball, you have to keep moving, but good chemistry will tell you where everyone will be and where they will be moving to. We didn't see that from Texas. The younger players are really starting to press and the No. 1 and the need to be flashy was added stress.
Freshman superstar Avery Bradley had been averaged 26 points per game, but that was based on games against Colorado and Iowa State. Against good teams, he hasn't shown that he can take over as a scorer and for the first time we saw him become tentative. He has never lacked confidence and was always willing to take the next shot even if he was 0-for-5, but we started to see him buckle down and pass on scoring opportunities. We need Avery to better utilize his skillset. The other freshman, Hamilton and J'Covan have been too inconsistent, and that's a problem. Hamilton is another guy that it looks to me tries to do too much and J'Covan gets anxious and takes bad jumpers.
One big thing I want to point out about the poor performances for Texas. Damion James, our senior leader (who has become a great leader this year), he too was overcome by the scoreboard. The fact that he had taken over so many games offensively for Texas, and that he was only held to 9 points last night, he was frustrated and tried to do things himself, for his team. He had a steal in the late goings and dribbled down the court in a fastbreak situation and had 3-on-1 Kansas State defender. PASS THE BALL and you can get an easy lay-in. Instead, he tried to do things himself and put up a bad shot, did not draw a foul, and it was a easy rebound for Kansas State who then took it down the court in transition and scored and that was all she wrote for Texas.
Overrated? It's up for debate
Anyway, the loss to Kansas State will be beneficial in the long run, and it showed us a lot about this Texas team. Winning on the road in college basketball, specifically, is, for whatever reason, so damn hard. Texas going into Manhattan into the "Octagon of DOOM" and losing is another example of that.
Classless and brainless critics will say "Good teams will win no matter where they are playing." As Kansas State's crowd began to chant "OVERRATED" at the Texas bench, Bob Knight, commentating for ESPN (who I should point out has a bias against Texas) clearly stated, "Texas is in no way an overrated team."
Ask me if Texas should be No. 1. I may not be able to give you an honest answer.
Can we still be at the top?
Yes. Texas is easily among the best three teams in the country (Kentucky, Kansas, Texas). What I saw last night was a different mentality. The great Hall of Fame college football coach Lou Holtz always says that your attitude and being positive are the keys to winning. "If a high jumper can clear 6'10" but doesn't think he can, then he can't," he said.
Texas has been down at halftime so many games. We are an explosive team in the second half and haven't had games come down to the final minutes until we got the No. 1 ranking. Then things changed, but they shouldn't. Texas was clearly nervous about having the huge target on their backs from all across the country. Against A&M, they were able to feed off the home court. At Kansas State, the fans were in a frenzy against Texas. Texas emotionally stooped down and felt their perfect season falling apart rather than feeling confident they could maintain it. The leadership from Damion James disappeared because he was frustrated over a rough time scoring. True leaders cannot be so focused on themselves.
Texas dominated so many games with the big men inside, but Dexter Pittman has been a non-factor recently. We need you Pittman. You have to step up your game. He is picking up too many early fouls that's keeping him on the bench and Pittman, the nation's leader in FG % has missed a bunch of shots and the solution other teams have is to foul him. Don't give him an easy bucket. If you foul Pittman, you come away with giving up one point, or maybe none. The free throw shooting woes are dooming Texas.
That is the most important thing. Free throws. I know they sound easy, and it's easier said than done to complain about the team missing so many free throws and telling them they need to improve. For whatever reason, Texas struggles as a team shooting free throws, they are the worst in the Big 12 Conference. Go back and look at Memphis in 2007 when they nearly went undefeated and lost to Kansas in the national championship game in overtime. That game should never have gone to overtime. Memphis should have won in regulation. But they did not. Why? Because Memphis, all season, could not shoot free throws. The same is happening for Texas in 2009-2010.
It hurts especially in close games at the end to not have Dogus Balbay playing the point. Barnes has no choice but sit Balbay because he is not a shooter and shoots below 50% from the free throw line so in late fouling situations, teams would feast on Dogus. He's our best playmaker, he's sees the floor and makes things happen better than anyone else, but he will never shoot the ball. That's why late in games, Barnes is forced to go with Jai Lucas, the transfer from Florida. You'd like to put J'Covan Brown, our best free throw shooter, at the point, but we can't yet with his lack of big time experience. Lucas was an All-SEC performer at Florida and has not made the expected impact for Texas.
I think we should play Justin Mason more. Mason, Pittman, and James are the lone remaining seniors from the 2006 historical freshman class. Mason provided a spark offensively. He's the "glue-guy" of the team and starts, but has lost a lot of minutes to the freshmen. I think Mason should be more involved. He made some free throws and he's a great ball handler. He may not see the floor as well but he gets to the basket as good as anybody. Mason is also one of the better perimeter defenders in the country. Texas has three premier perimeter defenders with Mason, Bradley, and Balbay (the best in the nation).
Is Texas really #1 or are the rankings wrong?...Again
Are they the number one team in basketball? Some people think so, I do not. I never thought so from the beginning even though I was very excited and proud to be the biggest fanatic of the #1 team in America. But truth be told, Texas needs a lot of improving before we can say without a doubt that they could beat likely new-No. 1 Kentucky (new rankings come out Monday) or former-No. 1 Kansas. On paper, Kansas are Texas are 1-2. On the court (where clearly it matters) Kentucky is No. 1 and the only undefeated team remaining at 18-0. How long can they go undefeated? For a while I believe. There are no real challengers to the Wildcats in the SEC. Of the top teams Kentucky has had the easiest schedule and has the easiest road ahead. They might face a test against Ole Miss but that's a home game for them, and again on the 13th of February at home against Tennessee. The road games are worth watching Feb. 16 at Mississippi State or Feb. 27 at Tennessee. Obviously, those dates are far away, so there will need to be a major upset for Kentucky to not stay unbeaten for a few more weeks.
Next Up: UConn
Texas will still officially be the No. 1 team in the nation until the new rankings come out on Monday. That said, they have one more game as No. 1 Saturday in Storrs, CT as UConn. It was just announced today that UConn coach Jim Calhoun will be taking a medical leave of absence. As if the game on the road wasn't tough enough, the UConn men will be more motivated now.
It won't be easy, but Texas has to somehow go into Connecticut and make a statement. Will they? I can't even say for sure. I have mixed feelings about this team right now. A loss to UConn will not be all that surprising. If it were to happen, two straight losses for Texas I feel would be devastating for the team morale and might temporarily derail our season. The attitudes don't look promising if they lose this game. I want to root for guys that want to win, that are motivated and inspired to win. Not guys that put their heads down after a loss. This game will be big (Saturday 4pm ET on CBS).
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