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February 4, 2010

No. 9 Texas hits the road for OU before facing KU

No. 9 TEXAS (19-3, 5-2 Big 12) at OKLAHOMA (12-9, 3-4)

WHEN:
Saturday, 3 p.m. CT, Lloyd Noble Center (12,000), Norman, Okla.

TV: ESPN (Ron Franklin, Fran Fraschilla)


Texas is coming off yet another come-from-behind victory Monday at Oklahoma State. UT trailed by 11 in the first half, but rallied behind 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting from freshman Jordan Hamilton.

UT is 5-2 in Big 12 play but has trailed at halftime in all but one of its league games. Here's a look at UT at halftime:

--Colorado: UT led 57-42 at halftime of a 103-86 victory.
--at Iowa State: UT trailed 44-42 en route to a 90-83 win
--Texas A&M: UT trailed 36-27 en route to a 72-67 OT win
--at Kansas State: UT trailed 36-26 in a 71-62 loss
--Texas Tech: UT trailed 50-47 in a 95-83 win
--Baylor: UT trailed 38-29 in an 80-77 OT loss
--at Oklahoma State: trailed 36-32 in a 72-60 victory

The million-dollar question is if Rick Barnes is ready to replace Justin Mason in the starting lineup with J'Covan Brown. Ever since Mason's minutes started increasing six games ago, UT's scoring average has dropped by 13 points per game (from 88.2 ppg to 75.3 ppg).

How much longer before Barnes realizes the offense-choking combination of Dogus Balbay and Justin Mason is the reason Dexter Pittman has ground to a halt?

Pittman is coming off his worst game of the season, a 2-point, 2-rebound, 2-turnover game in just 10 minutes of action against Oklahoma State.

But before Barnes can blame Pittman for watching his season come off the rails, the coach has to realize Pittman has no room to work with two non-scoring threats on the floor together (Mason and Balbay) and the defense sagging in on him.

Big 12 teams do a much better job of scouting than UT's non-conference teams, and everyone is focusing on taking away Pittman because he's 6-10 and 280 pounds.

Until Texas can spread the floor and give Pittman some room to work, that won't change.

Here's how bad things have gotten for Pittman:

--Through the first 13 games of the season, Pittman was averaging ...


*15.4 points per game
*74.3 percent FG shooting (81 of 109)
*7.6 rebounds per game
*55.9 percent from the free throw line (38 of 68)
*20.5 minutes per game.

--Since conference play has started, Pittman is averaging ...

*5.9 ppg
*50 percent shooting (20 of 40)
*3.8 rpg
*47.8 percent from the FT line
*19.1 minutes per game.

In facing the Sooners on Saturday, Texas gets a great matchup to get Pittman going against a guard-heavy lineup.

The Sooners are 10-0 at home this season, including non-conference victories against Arkansas and Arizona as well as Big 12 wins against Oklahoma State, Missouri and Iowa State.

But OU is hitting just 43.6 percent of their shots while allowing opponents to convert the same percentage.

Oklahoma has attempted more 3-pointers than any team in the Big 12 (496) but has hit just 174 (35.1 percent), just slightly better than Texas from 3-point range (34.6 percent, 126 of 364).

OU is led by sophomore Willie Warren (16.8 ppg), who has been frosty from 3-point range this season (25 of 88, 28.4 percent) after hitting 67 of 180 from distance (37.2 percent) last season as a breakout freshman.

Warren has been erratic without superstar Blake Griffin to play off of this season. Jeff Capel has struggled to get this team to play together, but Capel can be happy about freshman guard Tommy Mason-Griffin.

Mason-Griffin (5-11, 206 from Houston Madison),
averaged 23.5 points and 5.0 assists in a home win against Iowa State and a road loss to Nebraska last week and earned Big 12 rookie of the week honors.

In those two games, Mason-Griffin shot 53.3 percent from the field (16-for-30), 46.7 percent from 3-point range (7-for-15) and 88.9 percent from the free throw line (8-for-9).

Five of OU's top six scorers are guards. The only big man who presents much of a scoring threat is 6-9 forward Tiny Gallon, who averages 10.6 points and 8.4 rebounds.

Expect The Turkish Prison to lock up either Warren or Mason-Griffin, whoever is feeling it. And for Avery Bradley to lock up the other.

I'm on the record saying I think Barnes has to start J'Covan Brown again and make Justin Mason a vital, role player who plays limited minutes.

Saturday presents a perfect opportunity to make that switch for three reasons:


(1) Barnes started J'Covan Brown in the second half of the OSU game on Monday, when Texas rallied from an 11-point deficit to win by 12.

Even though Brown didn't do much offensively (5 pts on 1-of-6 shooting), Brown broke down the defense and created for Jordan Hamilton, who broke out with 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting.

The dunk by Hamilton that got Texas going in the second half was on a beautiful cross-court pass from Brown.


(2) Brown has been efficient with the ball. He had 4 assists and 1 turnover against Oklahoma State after posting 4 assists and zero turnovers against Baylor.

In fact, in UT's seven Big 12 contests, Brown has 18 assists against just eight turnovers. So Brown got Barnes' message in January to take better care of the ball.


(3) Saturday's game against OU is also the right time to insert Brown back into the starting lineup (he started four games earlier this season) because OU is not some torrid shooting team. Just the opposite. So it's not like Brown's defense, which is improving, will be some liability in this game.

Brown's defense against someone like G Tony Crocker, who was 2-of-11 in OU's loss at Nebraska last Saturday and still recovering from a sprained right ankle, should be adequate.

That way, you can see if the added room to work for Pittman actually translates into a big game for UT's big man.

Here's why it's essential that Pittman get on track Saturday:

--Cole Aldrich (6-11, 245) and Kansas
come to Austin on Monday. If you want your big man to be playing with some confidence in UT's biggest showcase game of the year, it's time to see if Brown can elevate this team offensively at the start of a game instead of needing a ladder to help climb out of the hole UT usually finds itself in at halftime with Mason and Balbay on the floor together.

We know The Turkish Prison has to stay on the floor because he just locked down the Big 12's leading scorer James Anderson by holding him to 4 points in the second half despite a 6-inch size disadvantage (Anderson is 6-6, Balbay is 6-0).


Here's a quick recap of the numbers showing Texas is better when J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton are on the floor for Texas.

When Hamilton has played a minimum of 20 minutes (a total of nine games), Texas has won by an average of 29.3 points per game, including victories over Iowa and Michigan State.

In the first 18 games of the year, when Jordan Hamilton averaged 19.3 minutes per game, Texas averaged 88.2 points per game.

In the last six games, when Hamilton has averaged just 12.5 minutes per game, Texas is scoring just 75.3 ppg.

All the proof you need about J'Covan Brown creating offense was on display in a 23-point turnaround in Stillwater Monday, where Texas ended OSU's 16-game home winning streak.

So with it clear that J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton have to be more involved for Texas to have success, my question this week was, "How much tolerance must a coach have for some freshmen mistakes when it's clear the team relies on that freshman?"

Here are the answers I received to that question in talking to a few Big 12 coaches this week.

KANSAS STATE COACH FRANK MARTIN

"You have to continue to challenge your upperclassmen to evolve your team," Martin said. "So you continue to challenge your upperclassmen and put them in better places to have success.

"Well, that's a little different from what the freshmen are trying to figure out. So you're challenge as a coach is to make those two groups connect as soon as you can and consistently challenge both of them, so they both continue to get better every day.

"If you focus too much of your attention on the younger kids, then you're cheating the upperclassmen. If you focus too much on your upperclassmen, then you're just telling the younger kids to sit and watch.

"And you've got to figure that out and be consistent with it. You've got to continue to toughen your freshmen up and make them understand how difficult work is every day, how prepared you have to be every day.

"But at the same time, not kick them to the curb or throw them to the side. You have to continue to work with them and throw them out there and make them understand they have to fight and battle to have success.

"As that goes on, there's some guys who embrace it and you can see growth in them. And there's other guys who can't handle it. And those guys you don't want to kick to the curb, but you obviously can't spend as much time with them because then you lose your upperclassmen."


COLORADO COACH JEFF BZDELIK, who coached the Denver Nuggets for two years in the NBA

"First, you have to let young players play through mistakes. I always tell them, 'There is going to be an ongoing tension between me and you. An ongoing tension from the sense that I'm going to teach you the right way to play. And I'm going to demand that with the understanding that you will have to gain wisdom and experience playing through mistakes.'

"I also tell them that in doing it that way, there's only going to be a certain tolerance to making the same mistake over and over again because if you're being taught properly, and that means through film work, through drill work, through constructive teaching.

"Then, if you continue to make the same mistake over and over again then it shows me that you are not unteachable, but that you are stubborn and you don't want to learn. Then, we start heading into a problem.

"As a coach, you have to be understanding in terms of hitting that wall, so to speak. We might shorten practice or change practice routines up to keep it fresh. If players feel like they are getting better, that's when they are highly motivated.

"When we show an edit from a game, we try to show 50 percent of it good, and 50 percent of it the stuff we that needs work and mistakes are being made, so they can see the difference. When you teach, you have a sense of a player and their desire to get better, just by looking in their eyes and the way they ask questions.

"But after a while, if they're not coachable, that comes through, you can see it and you move on. There's another player stepping ahead of him. They're getting recruited over, and they lose their spot.

"But this is a simple game. Blocking out and defensive positioning and understanding you have to make good decisions. These are things on a daily basis we drill and we teach.

"When you have a young team, you have to let them play through mistakes, but you have to make sure the team is getting better. That's the balancing act."


OKLAHOMA COACH JEFF CAPEL, a former All-American at Duke

"It's a very delicate balance and you try to get your program into a position where your upperclass players take care of that. I'm sure it's like this at North Carolina or Michigan State, and I know it's this way at Duke.

"When I went to college as a freshman we had two McDonald's All-Americans in our class. I was a Top 25 player. There was four guys in our class.

"And I can tell you I learned more from the upperclassmen and older guys in the program than I did from any coach at any point in my career. That's no knock on Coach K and the rest of the staff there.

"But it was just the way the infrastructure was in place. So hopefully, you have that and your older guys teach, and you have a set standard in your program of how you want things. And the way things are supposed to be and how you're supposed to behave and how you're supposed to carry yourself.

"If you have that, your job is easier. If you don't have that, it becomes more difficult because the fact of the matter is most programs are bringing their freshmen in during the summer to get acclimated to college life, to going to class, to working out and things like that.

"And you can't hold those guys accountable during the summer because according to NCAA rules, which I think is a very bad rule, during the summer you can't punish.

"So if they miss class or miss a workout or don't want to go ? all that stuff is supposed to be voluntary. So if they don't want to go or don't show up, that's why it's important to have upperclass guys in your program who are about doing things the right way.

"Because if not, you can have some really bad habits created immediately, and those are tough to change once you get into August and September. Especially when you need those guys.

"With us this year, we've had a lot of things. We've had to bench guys, suspend guys. We've had to do a lot of those things. Hopefully now those lessons have been learned and we can become a better basketball team."

TEXAS COACH RICK BARNES

"Not just our freshmen but freshmen around the country, when they move up to this level, I don't think they ever think they do anything wrong.

"They have to go through a process where they say, 'You know what? Maybe I am turning the ball over, and I need to value the ball and realize if I don't change some things, I'm coming out of the game because one possession here or there is a huge difference.'

"And it's not like, 'If I miss a shot, the next time I get the ball I'm going to go prove I can make a shot.' That's what happens a lot. They let one mistake compound and lead to another and another. And then they get down, and you take them out.

"Sometimes they lose their confidence. Sometimes, they don't lose their confidence, but they have the feeling, 'Hey, you're not letting me do what I need to do.'

"So then you have to go through that process to where you get them to understand it's not about them. It's about the team, and it's about understanding how it all comes together. We've had to go through that process."


PREDICTION: Texas 83, Oklahoma 70

(This score is predicated on J'Covan Brown playing his average of 22.1 minutes, and Jordan Hamilton playing more than 12.5 minutes. This score could be higher in Texas' favor if Brown replaces Mason in the starting lineup and Big Dex gets going early.)


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