Our friend BitterWhiteGuy from SB Nation's excellent Texas/miscellaneous college shit community (they say this just so it doesn't look like one school gets two SBN blogs) Barking Carnival was nice enough to take some time away from his Charlie Strong welcome party to answer some questions about Texas Longhorns basketball.
CanAzn: How is it possible you guys suck less this year than last year with like 4.5632% (highly scientific figure) of your returning scoring back? By the way, you should know that the word Papapetrou is still banned in Ames.
BitterWhiteGuy: It's a classic case of addition by subtraction. Myck Kabongo was the biggest bust - metaphorically speaking; Dexter Pittman was the literal biggest bust - in the Rick Barnes era. Julien Lewis had the absence of short-term memory you want in a shooter, except he didn't have the shooting ability to go with it. Sheldon McClellan & Rick Barnes got along as well as Lindsay Lohan & her probation officer, and the result was a molotov cocktail of feces & burnt hair. I take that back, feces & burnt hair is capable of being offensive. The whole team hated being around each other, Felix was in over his head as the starting PG (to be fair, he busted his ass when tossed into that role), and Barnes reacted to the situation by channeling his inner Bobby Knight which only compounded every problem. Oh, and Julius Randle was favoring Texas until a couple of the departed players told him not to come to Austin during his official visit. Only Papi's departure was a real loss for the team, and it was a gut-punch to all 6 UT basketball fans that were still paying attention. The outlook for the team was understandably bad, and at the beginning of the season there was a 98% chance Rick Barnes was coaching his last team on the 40 Acres.
This year's team is a mixture of 3-4 year players who all have roles they enjoy, an atmosphere that's much more relaxed & fun (watch the end of the UT/UNC game, you can see Barnes smiling & joking with Roy in the last 20 seconds of the game), and a group of guys who seem to genuinely enjoy playing together. It helps a ton that Barnes looks like he struck gold with Isaiah Taylor at the point, and Holmes & Ridley have both improved significantly over their production last year. Still, I watch every game and think to myself at least once 'I wish Papi was still here'. Oh, and Julius Randle was favoring Texas until a couple of the departed players told him not to come to Austin during his official visit. Yes, I'm repeating myself.
*gazes wistfully at Greece*
CanAzn: So, how many times have you played with your Sheldon McClellan voodoo doll this season? Or are you too busy making one of DeAndre Kane? It does seems pretty crazy that a team with everyone leaving seems to have halfway decent depth a year later. How will all these newbies match up with Iowa State?
BitterWhiteGuy: Sheldon's like a crazy ex-girlfriend, you keep track of him at Miami just to make sure you know where he is at all times. (That's not to say the rift with Barnes was all his fault, but in hindsight he does seem like a diva.) As for Kane..which one is Kane? Is he the 6'4" guard, or the 6'6" wing? Wait, he's the 6'4" center. Right? Does Mayor McDreamy have a wing of the ISU Agricultural Engineering department devoted to cloning 6'4" - 6'8" outside shooters? Because I think you have at least 18 of them on your roster.
The Cyclones are a uniquely bad match-up on offense for Texas because Texas is built like a relatively traditional basketball team. Texas has a quick ball-handler in Taylor, several underclassman SG/SFs that have variable shooting abilities, a couple of PFs with underrated passing/shooting abilities, and a handful of tall guys who like to alter shots (5th highest block rate in the nation per Pomeroy). ISU on the other hand has 4-5 guys between 6'4" & 6'8" on the floor at any given time that all like to shoot and/or pass and seem to do both without turning the ball over. I'm having nightmares of watching Niang pulling Ridley/Ibeh out to the perimeter, opening up all sorts of lanes to the basket. Also, the nightmares include clowns dressed like Mack Brown, but that's another story. If Texas goes zone, then ISU just passes the ball to whoever Felix is guarding & watches him make it rain over Javan. Texas' only real hope is that ISU goes cold like they did against Kansas, because Texas' strength is rebounding on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Texas would theoretically have a significant advantage on the interior if the guards were more consistent with their entry passes...but they've had that theoretical advantage in nearly every game this year & only been able to realize it intermittently. If Texas can feed Ridley & Holmes, Texas has a chance to pull the upset. But again, that depends on quality entry passes, which some guys (Taylor) do better than others(everybody else).
CanAzn: I really feel like you're not giving us enough credit for Tyler Ellerman. He's like.. 6'9 and can't really shoot from anywhere, but we love him and his 3.3 minutes per game. KU is built somewhat traditionally too, and we struggled crazily against them, but I suppose you don't exactly have an Embiid on the roster, huh?
Here's the good news about Niang. He went 0-9 from 3 against KU, so he's probably due for 7 3s against the Longhorns. Ridley's improvement has been impressive, and I completely agree with you that getting Ejim and Niang in foul trouble with him and Holmes is the key to the upset.
BitterWhiteGuy: We have Ibeh, which is sort of like having an Embiid with a touch of Downs. Does that count? Prince can leap through the roof three times in a row, which you'll see him do the first time a Cyclone uses their shot fake. Prince Ibeh loves blocking shots more than I love anything on this planet, and his block rate is an insane 16.3%. If he played enough to qualify, he'd rank 5th nationally in that department. Part of the reason he doesn't play enough to qualify is the aforementioned jumping issue. It makes for a great highlight when it works(I've seen him swat several guards' 3-point attempts when one of them is dumb enough to try to shoot a 3 over him), but it also exposes him to quick fouls. Oh, and he likes to take charges in a league where the last charge was called sometime in 2009.
The light is coming on for Cameron Ridley, he's an order of magnitude better than he was last year. He's a proficient blocker (top-50 block rate nationally), above average rebounder, and his free throws have gone from 'Shaq with epilepsy' to reasonably, uhh..reasonable, which is huge since he gets fouled a LOT. If Texas can feed the big man against ISU, he *will* eat. Cam Ridley is finally starting to show why teams like Kansas offered him coming out of high school.
All that being said, Holmes is the heart & soul of this Texas team. If he stays on the floor - he has a tendency to pick up ticky-tack fouls in some games - he helps everything work better. He's one of the best 3-point shooters on the team, one of the best rebounders on the team, and one of the best free throw shooters on the team. Did I mention he's the leading scorer? BRB going to finish my Jonathan Holmes neck tattoo.
CanAzn: Thanks for the Elijah Johnson flashbacks which then caused the Aaron Craft actual-charge flashback, jerk. I am billing you for every minute of the therapy I'll need. If we're going for ticky-tack fouls, I'm pretty sure Ejim and Holmes can have a competition for who can pick up the most ridiculous ones.
So, who's guarding who tomorrow?
BitterWhiteGuy: What, and give away our decided schematic advantage? I DON'T THINK SO, SIR.
Barnes is probably going to attempt to neutralize your athletic advantage at the 4/5 - not to mention keep Ridley/Ibeh (we call them Ribley) out of foul trouble - by going zone until you nail your 7th three of the 1st half over Felix, at which he'll go back to his bread & butter (man-to-man). At that point, you're likely to see Holland matched up your best/hottest shooter. Holland - I'm calling him Holland because he & Croaker are both named Damarcus/Demarcus & I always get the spellings backwards - is the current incarnation of the Defensive Wizard With No Outside Game that Barnes always plays about 5mpg too much. I'm tempted to say Barnes will respond by going 'big' with Lammert/Holmes/Ridley at the 3/4/5 because Lammert & Holmes are relatively athletic for forwards & they all play with a relatively high defensive IQ. Well, depending on the officiating. If the refs call a tight game, Barnes is going to go through players like Charlie Weiss goes through bibs at Country Kitchen. Martez Walker has been a pleasant surprise the last 2-3 games & seems likely to spend some time guarding your least effective wings(do you have least effective wings?. He has a nice anticipation & a desire to guard in the way Barnes likes, though he still has his freshman moments. I predict whoever Felix is guarding(your PG when Taylor's out, your 2-guard when Taylor is in) will have a great game shooting over a 5'3" guard that likes to keep one foot in the paint whenever possible. Is my pessimism showing through yet?
I'm going to go ahead and bring up what will be the most interesting aspect of tomorrow's game to me: the point guards. Deandre Kane gets a lot of pub (deservedly so, Pomeroy has Kane in his top 10 for his PoY award), but I think a lot of Cyclones fans are going to be surprised by Isaiah Taylor. The kid is lightning quick and likes to attack the rim. More to the point, he likes to finish at the rim rather than just looking for contact. He's basically what we thought Myck Kabongo was going to be, and the fact that he was rated a 3-star coming out of high school is proof that recruiting services aren't infallible. He is a little loose with the basketball though, and given Kane's prowess at picking pockets then Taylor can be bothered by a good defensive guard. Kane's offensive ability is pretty self-explanatory, and I'm thinking Taylor might not even defend him as Barnes is probably fitting Holland inside Kane's jersey as we speak. I'm fascinated to see how much Kane & Taylor go after each other. Related: I just like saying Kane's name, I hope after this year he bulk orders deer antler spray & joins the WWE as Son of Kane.
CanAzn: You know Kane already has the eye gouging thing down (just ask BYU's Eric Mika), so he's well suited for the WWE. He's also good at playing hurt, so I imagine he'll be also good at taking a steel chair in the back.
So you're saying you didn't expect that Myck Kabongo would be an ultimately disappointing player who would get suspended for what was seemingly half his career? Shocking. But you've definitely inspired the fear of God in me about Isaiah Taylor, provided he's more aggressive than his name counterpart Isaiah Austin, which isn't saying much.
Last thing... What's your prediction for tomorrow and how do you see both teams finishing the rest of the season (or at least until we meet again at Hilton)?
BitterWhiteGuy: I should probably dial back the Taylor lovefest a touch because he doesn't have the ceiling Myck had, and part of my exuberance is based off how low my preseason expectations were. This Texas team as a whole is like watching 'Batman Begins' right after watching the Joel Schumacher Batman movie; it has its flaws, but it's still so far ahead of the last film that you just sit back & enjoy watching a coherent plot. Plus, LIAM NEESONS Y'ALL.
I have a standing rule when it comes to the Big 12: I'm predicting Kansas wins the league every year until they don't, and that rule doesn't seem like it's going away anytime soon. I could see ISU ending up as high as 2nd in the league; nobody does less with more than Scott Drew, and Travis Ford's offensive system at OSU makes LeBron's Cleveland years look like a chess grandmaster at work in comparison. I was floored when I watched the Cowboys play Texas; it's like Ford saw Marcus Smart in a game at Rucker Park & thought "let's do THAT". Unless Iowa State is at the start of a major slide (and I don't think that's the case), 2nd place & a 2-3 seed in the NCAA tourney are there for the taking. As for Texas, they're the very definition of a bubble team. As I talked about on Barking Carnival a couple weeks back, Texas' ceiling is probably a 10-8 conference record & a 10-12 seed in March Madness. If they play to the level they've set so far, there are 4 games left in the season (Baylor, @OU, the KSU series) that will define whether they end up in the NCAAs or are NIT-bound (and likely whether Barnes is back next year as well).
Tomorrow is tough to call with a team that loves to shoot the 3 as much as ISU does. If ISU is hitting from outside, this game won't be close. If they have another cold stretch like they did against KU, anything's possible. I'll say 83 - 76 Iowa State & hope I just jinxed the hell out of the Fightin' Hoibergs.
BitterWhiteGuy then ran off to go watch highlights of Kevin Durant while playing soft jazz in the background, which is pretty weird, but I'd like to thank him for his time anyway. Feel free to harass him on Twitter about anything Texas related.