1. Everything is going to be OK – Take a deep breath and relax Longhorn fan. I know you were hoping to see a much cleaner, polished Shaka Smart-led basketball team on Friday, especially given what’s become of Texas’ football program. But relax and put things into perspective.
Asking a program with a brand new staff and three key contributing freshmen to go overseas to play a season opener isn’t exactly ideal. Yes, the staff tried to make the most of it and used it as an opportunity to grow closer as a team. That’s one of Smart’s biggest priorities every season he coaches. He preaches togetherness more than most coaches [See: Seals training].
But the trip was just too much. I mean if you heard Bill Walton – even if you had your TV on mute I’m sure you still could - then you know that China has a ton going on right now. That’s not an ideal situation for a staff, at a pressure-cooker university like UT, to coach their first regular season game.
Tip your hat to Washington, no doubt. Lorenzo Romar had his team – complete with one returning starter and seven freshmen – ready to play.
But don’t read too much into UT’s performance. Take it for what it was – a season-opener in SHANGHAI, CHINA with a staff trying to get a feel for their program – and move on.
Don’t forget stating power forward Connor Lammert was sick when he boarded a plane to Shanghai shortly after missing Texas’ exhibition against Tarleton State. Don’t forget Shaquille Cleare had just had a root canal prior to boarding that plane.
This team will be OK.
If I’m wrong you can lock me in a room with Walton for an hour as punishment. I think that’s more than fair.
2. Isaiah Taylor is more important to this team than I first realized – Let me start by saying that I never doubted his importance on this team. But there was a part of me that thought Kerwin Roach’s shot-making abilities might cut into Taylor’s need to be who he was on Saturday offensively.
I’m not saying Roach still won’t be electric on offense – he had a rough opener going 1-for-8 with 2 points. He’ll be fine.
But Taylor has got to stay on the court in any close game situations for Texas. His experience is something you can’t make up, and his shot-making ability at the rim is something you just can’t teach.
He did some really nice things and virtually supplied Texas’ offense on Friday with his 27 points.
Texas is going to prove itself to be a much better shooting team than the 19-for-72 effort it put forward. But until those shots start to fall, and even when they do, Taylor can never lose who he is as a PG.
He’s never going to burn the nets down with his jump shot. That’s not his game. But his ability to create at the rim is as good as any guard in the country. He has to keep his foot on the gas at all times for this program and hope that those outside shots start to fall for Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis Jr., Tevin Mack, Javan Felix and others, which will make that lane a lot less crowded for himself.
3. The starting five is far from final right now – I was a bit surprised when I found out that Eric Davis Jr. was going to start for the Longhorns along with Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland, Connor Lammert and Cameron Ridley.
I liked the move because Davis is a player that isn’t going to stub his toe that much as a true freshman. His shot selection is like that of an upper classmen and he is active enough on defense where he isn’t a liability. He actually had a team-high three steals against UW.
But going 2-for-12 from the field, including missing all three 3-point attempts, is not going to make it easy for him to keep that starting spot.
Personally, I think Kendal Yancy would be perfect in the starting lineup. He can only do so much on the offensive end – he’s not near the shooter or shot creator that Davis is – but he’s a bigger-bodied guard that can really put his foot down defensively. And he can get to the hole enough on the offensive side [didn’t record a shot but got to the FT line 12 times] to where he’s not hurting Texas when it has the ball.
I think the other four players are firmly in place as starters. But that other guard spot is up for grabs between Davis, Yancy, and even Tevin Mack and Kerwin Roach.
I think Mack and Roach are better served supplying energy off the bench right now though.
Let’s see if Davis can hold off Yancy.
4. Demarcus Holland needs to get more involved offensively – He’s always going to be known for his defense and just overall hustle and selflessness, which has already endeared him with the coaching staff.
Did you know it was his decision to come off the bench the last seven games of the season in favor of Kendal Yancy?
But he’s underrated offensively, especially when it comes to finishing around the rim. I think it would be in Texas’ best interest to get him involved more offensively moving forward, especially while the freshmen try to find their jumpers.
So far Holland hasn’t really looked for his shot at all. His three shot attempts against Tarleton State were the third fewest on the team [only two walk-ons shot fewer times than he did]. He was only 2-for-4 against Washington, with all four of those attempts coming in the second half.
He reached double-digits 11 times a season ago and was second on the team in assists (82). Good things happen with the ball in his hands.
5. Going to take a while for these freshmen to adjust – The last thing that Smart wants to do is start to coach every shot. As he’s said before, that starts to bring hesitancy into a shooter, which is the last thing you want.
But there are definitely some adjustments that need to be made after Roach, Davis and Mack combined to go 4-for-32 from the floor against Washington.
Smart wants these players to shoot because they can. Mack was the team’s best three-point shooter during camp. Davis might be the best overall shooter on the team. Roach can get his shot as freely as anyone.
As I’d mentioned earlier, opening up on the road – overseas – isn’t an ideal place to try to settle in to the collegiate game.
They’ll be just fine. Just temper the expectations a bit for right now. When it matters most, they’ll come through.