February 12, 2009

UT's report card at the midway point of Big 12 play

We thought about simply not doing a UT report card midway through the Big 12 season before the Oklahoma State game because we didn't want to depress anyone.

But after Tuesday's 99-74 wipeout of the Cowboys, there's actually a pulse, so let's get to it.

TOURNAMENT RESUME WINS: UCLA, Villanova, at Wisconsin

LOSSES: Notre Dame, Michigan State, at Arkansas, at Oklahoma, Kansas State, Missouri, at Nebraska (none of those kill Texas at this point)

PLAYERS

DAMION JAMES (15.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg): The coaches want better perimeter defense and his usual tenaciousness on the glass. On offense, they want assertiveness and no dropoff on the defensive end if the shots aren't falling. If his performance against Okie State is any indication, Damion is headed in the right direction. Before that game, he looked like he was playing himself out of any thought about the NBA next year.

Grade: B-

GARY JOHNSON (11.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg): A lot of James' report card applies to Johnson. Coaches want both of them to be more aggressive about getting to the basket, draw fouls and shoot free throws. Johnson has a nice jumper from 15 feet, but he needs to remember to drive. Coaches would love a few more boards and a little less dribbling.

Grade: B-

CONNOR ATCHLEY (5.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg): This was looking like a tale as sad as Ol' Yeller until Tuesday night. Atchley started on the bench and seemed to come to life, hitting his first three shots, including two 3s, and looking more confident. He's got to carry it over the last seven games or it could be Ol' Yeller tears again. Texas needs White Out to play with confidence to have any hope in the postseason.

Grade: D+

JUSTIN MASON (6.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.86 apg): He is the glue guy. He may be up and down, but his work ethic in practice and willingness to defend have endeared him to Rick Barnes. Barnes has been all over the map in what he's asked Mason to do (running the point and being the first one back on defense and then putting at the two and telling him to hit the offensive glass). Let Mason settle in at the two and build his confidence back, driving, shooting an occasional 3 (he did hit some of those last year) and rebound.

Grade: B-

A.J. ABRAMS (16.7 ppg, 1.52 apg): A.J. is the target of every defense, so the up-fake has never been more of a friend to A.J. It's not in his nature. He likes to show off that quick trigger because it's one of the quickest in the country. But he can buy some time and get his feet under him if he'd up-fake more of his defenders. Abrams also needs to be more of a vocal leader. A.J. likes to be the baby-faced, soft-spoken assassin. But those days are gone. He and Connor are the only seniors on the team. So speak up.

Grade: B-

DOGUS BALBAY (2.2 ppg, 2.3 apg): This is the team's point guard. Live with some of his mistakes and bring him along. Balbay can break down on a defense. Even if he rarely looks to shoot, he can get to the rim or create for others. So he needs the last seven games to get in a groove. No more games in which Balbay dribbles into a trap on the sideline and gets benched for the next 38 minutes. No more of that.

Grade: C+

VAREZ WARD (3.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.8 apg): The freshman guard is showing signs of being a total bad-(expletive). His steal and coast-to-coast layup against Oklahoma State when he baited Obi Muonelo was a veteran move. He was also the only one who could slow down Denis Clemente of K-State. Clemente talked about how strong he is. Ward is still feeling his way offensively, but he would do well to keep driving to the rim and ignoring the 3-point shot for now.

Grade: B-

DEXTER PITTMAN (8.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg): This is the team's best energy guy. He not only gives you a physical presence, but he gives you attitude and an in-your-face factor that will be critical in upcoming games against Texas A&M, OU and Kansas, who have play-making big men. Rick is finally settling into a groove in terms of substituting Pittman and not forgetting about him - even if it means playing some more 2-3 zone defense. (Not everyone is going to hit shots like Nebraska did.)

Grade: B

CLINT CHAPMAN (1.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg): The talented sophomore forward hasn't gotten onto Barnes' radar the way I thought he would have this season, but there is still time. He appears to be lacking the confidence he had when he came into games last season as a freshman, and he's only 2-of-16 from the foul line. Barnes is constantly harping on him to play better position defense. Once he gets that, the minutes should come.

Grade: C

MATT HILL (1.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg): Hill has been seldom used since coming back from last year's foot injury, and Dexter Pittman has a lot to do with that. The depth up front has made minutes hard to come by.

Grade: C

HARRISON SMITH (.5 ppg, 1.2 rpg): Barnes always seems to discover a player in the conference tournament as three games in three days can tax the depth. I see Harrison Smith being this season's Craig Winder. Smith has been a gritty scrapper when he's gotten into games this season (who will ever forget his first-half appearance and 14 minutes in the OU game in January as Barnes benched Damion James briefly?)

Grade: C

COACH

RICK BARNES: The ending is still to be determined, but this was looking like Rick Barnes' worst coaching job in 11 seasons at Texas before Tuesday night's victory against Oklahoma State. Players lacked cohesion. Some appeared to be regressing. Barnes also seemed to be erratic with his substitutions, not lending itself to consistency. Barnes regretted benching Damion James in the first half against OU and has allowed his frustration to show up in his coaching. If he can get this team to improve from here on out, he can get this team back on track. I said after the Baylor game that if Texas was to reach the Sweet 16 it would be a MAJOR accomplishment for this team. I got some criticism, saying I was aiming too low. But I will stand by my contention.

Grade: C-


BY THE NUMBERS:

The Good …


*Texas leads the Big 12 in rebounding, averaging 40.0 per game

*UT leads the Big 12 in blocked shots, averaging 5.61 per game

The Bad …

*Before the Oklahoma State game, Texas was the worst team in the Big 12 in field goal percentage. Now, the Longhorns are 10th (.438), and UT is dead last in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (.321).

*Texas is last in the league in 3-pointers made per game (4.87).

*Texas is 10th in the league in free throw percentage (.665)

The Ugly …

*Texas is 2-5 in games settled by four points. Lack of consistency at point guard played a huge role in these defeats.

MORE NUMBERS …

A.J. Abrams, Damion James, Connor Atchley and Justin Mason each took at least 79 3-pointers last season as the Longhorns' ranked second in the Big 12 in 3-point FG percentage (.386). Here's a look at their numbers from 2007-08 and this season from beyond the arc as UT is now shooting 32.1 percent from 3:

Player … 2007-08 … 2008-09

Abrams
… (118 of 309, .382) … (69 of 173, .399)
James
… (38 of 92, .413) … (17 of 54, .315)
Atchley … (43 of 104, .413) … (17 of 56, .304)
Mason … (27 of 79, .342) … (7 of 30, .233)
Varez Ward … (DNP) … (1 of 18, .056)


ALL-BIG 12 TEAM AT MIDPOINT

Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Sherron Collins, Kansas
DeMarre Carroll, Missouri
Denis Clemente, Kansas State


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