What Now For Longhorn Basketball?

At 5-2, No. 18 Texas has run roughshod over lightly-regarded competition in the early going but has cratered in two high--profile games against Duke and Arizona. From my perspective, too much blame has been laid on point guard <B>Royal Ivey </B>in this post-<B>T.J. Ford </B>era.

While Ivey is a more natural off guard, the senior has found a way to get the ball down low only to watch post players miss shot after point-blank shot. Ivey turned in a Ford-like nine assists against Duke, but Texas’ front court has failed to convert in the two most high-profile contests of the regular season.

"Royal isn't the problem," head coach Rick Barnes said immediately after the Duke game when the media questioned Ivey's performance. "Our wings aren't doing what they need to because they're too tentative, but it's inside. We've got to score inside."

Although Barnes opted to go small against the Blue Devils, C James Thomas has come up even smaller on the young season. The senior has not come close to realizing his preseason promise of "carrying this team on my shoulders" pledge. Thomas had but four rebounds against Arizona and just two against Duke (albeit in four minutes of play). He was 0-4 from the field during that span after averaging a double-double last season and leading the league in rebounds (11 rpg).

Barnes said Texas‘ shot selection was better against Duke than at Arizona, yet his guards laid enough bricks in those two losses to earn honorary masonry degrees. Ivey, senior G Brandon Mouton and junior G Kenny Taylor were a combined 7-of-26 against Duke while Mouton and Ivey were a combined 6-of-31 against the Wildcats. Mouton is streaky, but even more inexplicable was the MIA status of Texas’ defense against the Blue Devils.

Nobody is more disappointed than Barnes that Texas made such a poor showing while on center stage this month, but Orangebloods who follow this team know Barnes will be relentless in righting this ship. One of my favorite quotes from Barnes (and one that is indicative of his personality that refuses to coddle his players) is when he said last season, "When they don’t play their roles, the bench is a great motivator. When that bench starts talking through your ass and to your head, it will get the point across. The bench does good things for you."

Texas will enter the game at Providence (AP No. 28) with a 7-2 mark and then, after slapping around Baylor, should be poised for attention-grabbing contest against No. 8 Wake Forest when the Demon Deacons visit Austin on Jan. 13.

Barnes has always used the pre-conference season to tinker with lineups and rotations. Here are a few thoughts after seven games:

1) Give junior G Edgar Moreno or even Taylor a look at the point, freeing Ivey to be his old self as the Big 12’s best defensive stopper while still good for nine points-per-game. Taylor is the team’s best ball handler and Moreno has turned in workman-like efforts in the Burnt Orange after running the floor the past two seasons at Lon Morris Junior College.

2) Consider freshman F P.J. Tucker as the sixth man instead of senior F Brian Boddicker. Tucker got into foul trouble Saturday (four whistles in 16 minutes) and was shut out for what will likely be the only time in his career. Before then, the fearless frosh was Texas’ leading scorer in four of its first six games. His body control, ball handling ability and presence in the paint are well beyond his years (and not to mention well beyond his 6-5 frame). Yeah, I know: there are those who consider Boddicker as the Big 12’s best reserve but there are times when it’s as if Texas is playing with just four guys when Boddicker is on the floor.

3) Let Mouton shoot out of this early season slump, while trusting Barnes’ talent for getting inside a player’s head.

4) Thirty-six minutes on the bench for Thomas against Duke? Hopefully, in Barnes' terms, that was enough time for the message to reach his head from his bench-bound ass.

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