A few scattered thoughts on Texas' dominant 81-60 win over Texas A&M on Wednesday:
If you're Texas, you can't ask for a much better first-half performance. Dogus Balbay and company did what they've been doing to most opponents this season, forcing Texas A&M to a 44 percent effective field goal percentage in the first 20 minutes. According to Ken Pomeroy, Texas is the best team in the nation at defending opposing scorers as measured by effective field goal percentage. No surprise, then, that this is one of the five best defenses in the nation. Unable to handle UT's man-to-man pressure, A&M scored .95 points per possession in the first half, well below its season mark.
But the Longhorns weren't just defensively stifling in the early goings. They were offensively brilliant, too. Texas scored 1.36 points per possession in the first half, which is kind of insane for any team, let alone one averaging 1.12 points per possession (adjusted) for the season.
The first half set up Texas quite nicely for its second half, which was every bit as impressive as the first, if not more so. Jordan Hamilton (whom we'll get to in a second) hit a 3 with his little, effortless, barely-needs-to-jump stroke right out of the gate, which extended the Horns' lead to 15 at 42-27, a deficit from which Texas A&M never recovered. It's hard to say a game like this is over in the first few minutes of the second half, but in retrospect, that certainly felt like the end, didn't it? The Longhorns never let the Aggies in the game again.
Offensive outbursts aside, this Texas team will win with defense. The Horns are very, very good at that high-pressure man-to-man, which they extend all the way to the half-court line. Texas doesn't force many turnovers, but it doesn't need to. As Bob Knight said on the broadcast, this group is excellent at simultaneously pressuring the ball while containing its assignments and committing minimal fouls. It's an excellent style in theory, but it requires supreme athleticism to execute. Fortunately for Texas, athleticism is not a problem.
Now, for Hamilton: It's time to put the sophomore swingman's name firmly in the Big 12 player of the year discussion. Hamilton scored 27 points on 10-of-14 from the field and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc, which, yes, means that Hamilton didn't miss a single two-point shot Wednesday night. He also added eight rebounds. Last season, Hamilton was an obviously talented, oftentimes erratic scorer; his flashes of offensive brilliance were marred by the sorts of dumb shots and silly mistakes that will get even the most promising freshmen into their head coach's doghouse. This year? Hamilton might be the breakout player of college basketball. He's gotten better in just about every regard. His offensive rating is 12 points higher than last season's mark. His shooting is vastly improved. His turnovers are way down, and he's a major help on the defensive glass. Perhaps most importantly, Hamilton has put all of that offensive ability together with a solid approach on the defensive end.
Hamilton, in tandem with freshman Cory Joseph, has made Rick Barnes' life immensely easier. Why? Because Barnes doesn't have to juggle his lineups to find combinations that produce on the offensive end without suffering letdowns on defense. Hamilton's improvement is a major boon in this regard. So is the slightly better offensive play of defensive specialist Dogus Balbay. Add Joseph -- one of the most solid, all-around-excellent freshmen in the country -- and Barnes has a crew of guards that don't require the sort of one-in-one-out juggling act he performed for much of last season.
Texas A&M, as you might imagine, did not shoot the ball well; the Aggies were 16-of-39 from inside the arc. And no, the 3-point shooting wasn't much better (6-of-14, 42.9 percent). But A&M isn't a great shooting team generally. Instead, the Aggies win with rebounding, particularly on the offensive end, where they rebounded the fifth-highest percentage of their misses prior to Wednesday night's game, according to Pomeroy. The Ags typically rebounds about 41.1 percent of its misses. Tonight, they rebounded a mere 33.3 percent. As you can see here, A&M was thoroughly trounced in nearly every statistical category, tempo-free or otherwise. But no statistic is more important to this team than offensive-rebounding percentage, and on this night in Austin, Texas shut that down, too.
All in all, it was a thoroughly impressive performance from a team that appears to be the clear No. 2 behind Kansas in the Big 12, at least to this point in the season. The best part? In three days, we get to find out if that's the case. That's when UT travels to the Phog for a huge matchup with Kansas. If Texas plays nearly as well as it did at home Wednesday night, well, look out, Jayhawks. This team is good.