How Good Can They Get?

No. 4/5 Texas is off to its best start in a quarter-century and looks to improve to 10-0 following Saturday's match against Texas State. Texas has done it against one of the toughest schedules in program history and without its prize recruit. The scary thing for opponents is basketball coach Rick Barnes' conviction that Texas has barely tapped its potential.

"Every day is critical," Barnes said. "Every day is a chance to get better. Every game is a chance to try to play that complete game. That's what we're still searching for."

That's why Barnes continues to rigorously drill his team on fundamentals and teach them the subtle nuances of the game. Case-in-point: Barnes held a two hour film study just 48 hours following the upset of top-ranked UCLA to show his team all they had done wrong. This week, it was more of the same-old, same-old.

"We're trying to get better, fundamentally, on our defense," Barnes said. "We spent a lot of time this week on passing, on footwork, and on staying in front of the ball. We've spent a lot of time rebounding. We're doing a lot of blocking-out and one-on-ones. We knew after last year that, any way you look at it, we had to get better on the defensive end...We have definitely spent much more time just taking care of details and getting guys into position. We still have guys who don't do it. We have guys who have happy feet and who are jumping around all the time. They're intense, they're aggressive, yet they take themselves out of position because they're too jumpy. You want to see them slow down and make smarter plays."

The week also highlighted the differences in responsibilities when Texas switches from man defense to a 3-2 zone. (The Horns also went with more of a 2-2-1 press zone against Rice than it had shown all year).

"When we're in man, we're trying to force the ball to the corner," Barnes noted. "When we're in the zone, we're trying to force it back up the middle. The guys who play the back line have a hard time understanding that."

Yet, it's clear that Texas is boasting one of the most balanced offenses (all five starters are averaging in double figures) and efficient scoring attacks (converting 52.7 percent of their shots) in school history. Meanwhile, Barnes' emphases on defense has also paid dividends. The Horns have limited their first nine opponents to an average of 60.4 ppg and a combined 37.7 percent FG shooting. What's more, Texas is the only team in the country to have two victories over a pair of Top 10 foes to this point in the season (97-78 against No, 7 Tennessee, 63-61 at No. 1/2 UCLA).

And as far as his team's early accolades are concerned, Barnes continues to temper the adulation with this old adage: "Proud peacock today; feather duster tomorrow."

While point guard D.J. Augustin basks in the national spotlight, sophomore swingman Damion James has emerged as Texas' most dominant player the past four ballgames. During that stretch, James has averaged 17 ppg and 11.8 rebounds, including a career-best 17 boards at Rice last Saturday.

"Losing weight has allowed him to become the athlete that he is," Barnes said. "It's allowed him to become quicker and his endurance has improved because of that."

On the season, James is averaging 12.4 ppg and a team-best 9.6 rpg. He averaged 7.6 ppg and 7.2 rpg as a true a true freshman in 2006-07. It's precisely the type of productivity that most envisioned for James after starting all 35 games last season. Barnes has exhorted James to become a more consistent player this year and has challenged him to strive for 20 rebounds per game.

"He's just scratching the surface," Barnes concluded.

Final exams for UT students this week signaled the longest lull (seven days) between tip-offs for the Horns. Texas State represents the first of two tune-ups -- the Horns host Oral Roberts on Wednesday -- before Barnes' bunch travels to Auburn Hills to face No. 9 Michigan State. The Bobcats enter Saturday's game at 5-3. The Horns hold a 36-5 series lead and have won 18 straight against the Bobcats. Texas posted a 96-70 win against Texas State a year ago this weekend. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. (Central) and will be televised in the state of Texas by Fox Sports Southwest.

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