College Basketball Nation: Damion James

Path to the Draft: No. 10 Texas

June, 13, 2013
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five Draftees Since 1989

  1. Kevin Durant (2007)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (2006)
  3. T.J. Ford (2003)
  4. Tristan Thompson (2011)
  5. D.J. Augustin (2008)
Sixth man: Avery Bradley (2010)

The rest: Daniel Gibson, Dexter Pittman, Damion James, Royal Ivey, Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph, P.J. Tucker, Chris Owens, Chris Mihm, Alvin Heggs, Lance Blanks, Travis Mays, Dexter Cambridge, B.J. Tyler, Terrence Rencher, James Thomas, Maurice Evans

Why they’re ranked where they are: Kevin. Durant. LaMarcus. Aldridge.

It’s not that simple. But the duo carries the most weight and responsibility for the program’s NBA legacy and standing in our “Path to the Draft” rankings.

In Durant, Texas is tied to a player who could end his career as one of the top 10 players in NBA history. And with Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett likely retiring soon, the next great NBA power forward very well may be Aldridge, who has averaged at least 21 points and 8 rebounds in each of the past three seasons. He’s made the last two All-Star games and has evolved into one of the premier players in the NBA.

And he’s only 27. Durant is just 24. So the Longhorns’ stock will probably rise in the coming years.

It’s necessary to mention Durant and Aldridge because the rest of this list is not necessarily pristine when compared to the other teams we’ve ranked thus far and those we’ll unveil in the coming days.

T.J. Ford played eight years but a spinal cord injury interrupted a promising career. Still, he averaged 11.2 points and 5.8 assists per game.

Avery Bradley (9.2 PPG, 1.3 steals per game in 2012-13) could take on a larger role with the Boston Celtics or another NBA team in the future.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are building a strong post-LeBron James lineup. It certainly helps that second-year big man Tristan Thompson (11.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG) looked like a future All-Star this season.

Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson hasn’t been the same player since James left town. But he’s just 27, so there’s still time to regain that old swagger.

Cory Joseph might have a future with the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s too early to know. There aren’t many 21-year-old point guards logging minutes in the postseason, though.

D.J. Augustin struggled with the Indiana Pacers this season, but he had three good years with the Charlotte Bobcats. Just five seasons into his career, it wouldn’t be prudent to pass judgment on his career yet.

Chris Mihm had a few solid years with the Los Angeles Lakers. Maurice Evans gets credit for longevity (nine years).

[+] EnlargeKevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)Ex-Longhorns Kevin Durant, right, and LaMarcus Aldridge should be NBA stars for years to come.
But Durant and Aldridge clearly anchor this list.

James became the youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 points (28 years old, 17 days) earlier this year. That record could be shattered soon. He has scored 12,258 points and won’t turn 25 until September.

The 6-foot-9 wing averaged 28.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.3 BPG and 1.4 SPG this season. He shot 51 percent from the field. And he made 91 percent of his free throws.

Through six seasons, Durant established his place next to James on the game’s Mount Rushmore of future Hall of Famers and legends. He commands an Oklahoma City Thunder franchise that should remain in the NBA title picture for many years.

There are a lot of lists that utilize a variety of criteria.

We’re all about quality. And in our eyes, Durant, Aldridge and a few other noteworthy players are collectively worth more than a team such as Kansas that has produced dozens of NBA products but only one legitimate star since the 1989 NBA draft -- the cutoff for our rankings.

Texas is also top-10 because its best players have a lot of time left. We’ve already discussed Durant. Aldridge will earn more national recognition for his skills in the coming years. He’s a beast. Bradley and Thompson could rise in the next two or three seasons, too.

Yep, the Longhorns belong here.

Why they could be ranked higher: Durant is a superstar. His presence alone would justify a move up the rankings.

We’re measuring teams according to their abilities to produce NBA talent. And Durant has already had an NBA career that tops the pro achievements of entire programs.

And there’s so much potential with this group. Aldridge is a young star. Thompson will be.

If these were actual teams that competed against one another, it would be easier to make Texas’ case for a higher ranking.

Aldridge and Thompson inside. A bunch of solid guards in the backcourt. And Durant destroying defenders inside and outside.

Makes more sense now, right?

Why they could be ranked lower: So what’s the real difference between Texas (No. 10) and Syracuse (No. 20) and Kansas (No. 14)? The programs owe their rankings, in part, to the presence of superstars. But there was little substance among their respective squads’ overall pro legacies.

Durant is a stud. Aldridge could be an All-Star for the next decade.

But Thompson still has a lot to prove.

And this list features multiple players who fizzled once they reached the next level. J'Covan Brown, who left Texas prior to his senior season, isn’t even mentioned because he wasn’t drafted.

What else can Texas stand on -- other than Aldridge and Durant -- to justify its top-10 status?

What’s ahead?: There’s a bright future ahead for Texas. Durant could win a few titles. Aldridge might be the next great NBA power forward. Thompson could be the franchise star along with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. Bradley could blossom, too.

Even guys such as Augustin could improve.

Myck Kabongo entered this summer’s draft. It will be interesting to see how he transitions to the NBA after limited playing time last season due to an NCAA investigation.

Texas is No. 10 right now, but a few years from now, the Longhorns might be even higher.

Final thoughts: There’s intrigue with this group because it features a multitude of current players. Its NBA rep could change soon.

Texas has produced one of the greatest players of this generation and another All-Star who’s matured into one of the league’s best power forwards. And Thompson, Bradley and others could boost the team’s profile soon.

Texas doesn’t have dozens of successful NBA players. But the ones who made it are some of the game’s most successful performers. We feel like if you have two of the league's top 15 players, you have to be right in the mix.

And there’s still room for this program to elevate its NBA profile, too.
BUFFALO – He is the gift that keeps on giving, to everyone but the schools that once employed him, that is.

Kelvin Sampson’s handprint is all over this NCAA Tournament, the players left in the wake of his implosion at Oklahoma and Indiana racking up minutes for teams while the Sooners and Hoosiers watch from afar.

Don’t think that’s not killing Jeff Capel and Tom Crean, either.

Six guys who either played for or were recruited by Sampson all made the field in different uniforms and five of them were still playing when the second round tipped off.

“I hadn’t thought about that, but I guess there are a lot of us,’’ said West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks, a top five recruit who decommitted after Sampson was booted at IU.

Damion James, ousted in the first round when Texas lost to Wake Forest, was supposed to play at Oklahoma but he was released from his scholarship after Sampson left OU for Indiana, leaving a trail of NCAA stink behind and no players for Jeff Capel.

Scottie Reynolds could have been James’ teammate. Instead Capel let him out of his commitment, too. On Saturday he and Villanova lost to St. Mary’s in the second round.

Armon Bassett, angry at the university’s decision to force Sampson out, was reportedly part of a pack of players that threatened not to play after Sampson left. He was dismissed by interim head coach Dan Dakich, reinstated by Crean and then booted again. On Thursday night, Bassett led Ohio University to one of the more stunning first-round upsets, scoring 32 in a win against Georgetown.

With players leaving left and right, Jordan Crawford told Crean in June 2008 that he, too, would be leaving Bloomington. He transferred to Xavier. The Musketeers will play Pitt in the second-round on Sunday.

And finally there is Ebanks.

He asked for and received an out-clause in his letter of intent, one that would allow him to be released from his scholarship if Sampson was no longer the Indiana coach. He exercised the out-clause not long after Sampson left.

“I think about it all a lot,’’ Ebanks said. “I wish it could have worked out at Indiana, but I’m glad it worked out for me. I was looking for a school that could make a Final Four run and I think I found that. I guess it kind of worked out for all of us.’’
NEW ORLEANS -- Kentucky coach John Calipari won’t be counting made jump shots this week in the Big Easy.

For that matter, he won’t be counting jump shots at all. He’ll gladly tell you that the Wildcats’ ability (or inability) to knock down perimeter jumpers won’t dictate how far this team goes in the NCAA tournament.

Say this for the Wildcats: They’ve made it this far, a No. 1 seed in the East Regional sporting a 32-2 record, and their 3-point shooting has been dreadful at times.

“If we’re not hitting our 3s, we’ll find other ways to score,” Kentucky freshman point guard John Wall said. “That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve done all season. We’ll score off our defense, go inside to our big guys, make tough 2s.

“We just look at the 3s as a bonus.”

A very scary bonus if you’re the other team lining up against the Wildcats and they happen to be hitting that day.

As Calipari said earlier this season, “If we’re making shots, we bury people.”

But the Wildcats have also had to grind out more than a few this season, and at some point in this tournament, grinding becomes a way of life.

Really, it becomes a necessity when you shoot 16 percent from 3-point range as Kentucky did during one stretch in February. And then in the SEC tournament, the Wildcats shot just 25.4 percent from behind the arc.

Will it catch up to them? We’re going to find out.

Here’s a preview of the first-round East Regional games in New Orleans on Thursday:

Game 1: (6) Notre Dame vs. (11) Old Dominion, 12:25 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Irish (23-11) have won six of their last seven games, including three victories over nationally ranked teams. Their only loss in that stretch was a two-point decision to West Virginia in the Big East tournament semifinals. The Irish needed a big finish to ensure their sixth trip to the NCAA tournament in 10 seasons under coach Mike Brey. They had lost seven of 10 games from the middle of January to the middle of February prior to their hot close. The Monarchs (26-8) won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship to earn an automatic berth. They’ve won eight of their last nine games entering the tournament. Their best win was a 61-57 triumph over Georgetown in December.

Who to watch: Notre Dame senior forward Luke Harangody is back and looking healthy after missing five games in late February and early March with a bruised right knee. Now coming off the bench, he said Wednesday it’s the healthiest he’s felt, which is good news for the Irish. He’s averaging 22.4 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Irish tweaked their offense late in the season and are now playing more of a slow-down game.

What to watch: The Monarchs are an excellent rebounding team and rank fifth nationally in rebounding margin at plus-8.8. Junior forward Frank Hassell leads the way with 6.6 rebounds per game. He’s one of five players on the team averaging at least 4.2 rebounds per game. Old Dominion is 22-4 when it outrebounds its opponent.

They said it: “You know, you just can’t make that change [on offense[ unless you have guys that are really good with the ball. We’ve led the nation in assists to turnovers the whole season. If you’re going to make more passes every possession and throughout 40 minutes, you’ve got to have guys that can do that and big guys that can do that.” -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey

Game 2: (3) Baylor vs. (14) Sam Houston State, 2:45 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Bears (25-7) have won eight of their last 10 games, tying with Kansas State for a second-place finish in the Big 12 Conference. The No. 3 seed is their highest in program history. Baylor is the only NCAA Division I team this season with no loss of more than seven points. Its seven losses have come by an average margin of 5.6 points. The Bearkats (22-7) won the Southland Conference tournament championship to receive an automatic berth. They enter the NCAA tournament having won 17 of their last 19 games. They played Kentucky to a 102-92 loss back in November in Rupp Arena and drilled Auburn 107-89 on the road in December.

Who to watch: Baylor 6-foot-10 junior forward Ekpe Udoh has been the perfect complement to all of those guards in the Bears’ lineup after transferring over from Michigan. The Big 12 Conference’s Newcomer of the Year, Udoh set a Big 12 single-season record with 124 blocked shots and is also averaging 9.8 rebounds per game.

What to watch: The Bearkats love to run, love to force the tempo and aren’t shy about shooting the 3-pointer. They’re also an extremely unselfish team and lead all NCAA Division I teams with an average of 20.9 assists per game.

They said it: “We didn’t come up here to just win one game. We’ve come up here to win games, and that’s what we’ve worked to do all season long. So we’re going to continue to do that.” -- Baylor senior guard Tweety Carter

Game 3: (16) East Tennessee State vs. (1) Kentucky, 7:15 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Wildcats (32-2) swept both the SEC regular-season and tournament championships. Their only losses were to South Carolina and Tennessee. They won their 26th SEC tournament title in overtime last week, a 75-74 victory over Mississippi State in Nashville. The Buccaneers (20-14) are back in the NCAA tournament for a ninth time and have been the essence of perseverance. They overcame the tragic death of sophomore Seth Coy in a car accident in July and then lost their top player, senior guard Mike Smith, to a season-ending knee injury prior to the season. Still, they played their best basketball down the stretch, winning their last six games, including the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship.

Who to watch: The Wildcats have three sensational freshmen, all of whom will probably be playing in the NBA next season, but the guy who makes them go is Wall. Nobody in college basketball gets up the court as quickly as he does, and he’s also one of the best finishers in the country when he gets into the lane. Wall has struggled with turnovers at times and isn’t a great shooter, but go back and count how many clutch plays he’s made for the Wildcats this season.

What to watch: Calipari will try to join Rick Pitino as the only two coaches to take three different schools to the Final Four. Pitino took Providence, Kentucky and Louisville. Calipari has taken Massachusetts and Memphis. If Calipari does reach the Final Four with Kentucky, he would be the first coach to get to the Final Four in his first year at that school since 1998 (Bill Guthridge at North Carolina and Tubby Smith at Kentucky).

They said it: “I think all brackets are hard. Some may be harder than others. This guy may say this bracket’s hard. This guy may say that bracket is really easy. There is no easy road to Indianapolis. Don’t let anybody tell you there is an easy road. There is none. They’re all hard.” -- Kentucky coach John Calipari

Game 4: (8) Texas vs. (9) Wake Forest, 9:35 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Longhorns (24-9) limp into the NCAA tournament. They’ve lost nine of their last 16 games, a fade that’s even more stunning when you consider they started the season 17-0 and were ranked No. 1 in the country for two weeks in January. It’s not like the Longhorns have been going up against all powerhouses, either. Nine of their last 16 opponents finished with losing records. The Demon Deacons (19-10) have been a carbon copy of the Longhorns in a lot of ways. They’ve lost five of their last six games and were routed 83-62 by Miami their last time out in the ACC tournament. The Deacons do own six wins against RPI top 50 teams, but just about all of those came in the first half of the season.

Who to watch: Texas senior forward Damion James thought about turning pro last season, but decided to come back. He’s averaged a double-double for the Longhorns (17.7 points and 10.3 rebounds) and tried to be more of a leader, but he hasn’t had a lot of help around him as Texas faded down the stretch. He admitted after a stinging 19-point loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals that the team had lost its focus and its passion. We’ll see if the Longhorns can get it back.

What to watch: The Longhorns and Deacons are both athletic, although neither team shoots it particularly well. Both will look to run and get out in transition. Teams forced Wake Forest to slow it down during its slide to end the regular season, but the Deacons shouldn’t have to worry about that Thursday. The team that works the boards the best and gets the most second-chance points is probably going to win this game.

They said it: “We’re going out there with attitude. But people forget we were the best team in the country. We’re still the same team. We just have to go out there with that swagger and that demeanor and go out there and go at it.” -- Texas senior forward Damion James
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A quick rundown from the end of the night here:

1. Baylor can win multiple games in the NCAA tournament. Heck, the Bears are talented enough to win this tournament. The Bears played with more passion and had an edge to them against Texas that I hadn’t seen much of this season. The Bears were quick to emphatically rub it against the Longhorns, which certainly raised the Horns' anger level. Damion James got a frustration technical, demonstrating how hard it was for him to control his emotions.

2. Ekpe Udoh has had a solid year for the Bears. Can you imagine had he stayed at Michigan? If he had, the Wolverines wouldn’t be looking for scraps at this juncture. Udoh is a live wire who can play around the basket. Texas couldn’t touch him as he scored 25 points, making 7 of 8 free throws.

3. Baylor’s guards are talented enough to keep the Bears in contention for a few weeks. LaceDarius Dunn had three fouls and was a non-factor in the first half, yet finished with 19 points and nine boards. Meanwhile, Tweety Carter scored 20 points to compliment Dunn in the backcourt. The Bears didn’t get much off the bench but didn’t need to as they continued to be efficient.

4. Is there another team in the country that is heading into the NCAA tournament on more of a slide than Texas? The Longhorns will get in and could be a double-digit seed at this rate. Texas has lost three of its past five games, two of which were to Baylor. The Longhorns look like a team that is filled with mismatched parts, has lost its confidence and is incredibly frustrated. I’m not sure I’ve seen a team collapse like this down the stretch.

5. The Big 12 dream scenario is a Kansas State-Kansas title game Saturday night. You won’t be able to get a ticket here at the Sprint Center if that occurs. But to sleep on the gritty Aggies of Texas A&M or to dismiss this athletic Baylor crew would be a major mistake. Sure an A&M-Baylor matchup won’t do much for attendance but it would pit two teams that could make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

6. Clearly, the Big 12 got its four best teams in the semifinals. Ultimately, that’s what you want. You want your best on display and playing well going into the NCAAs with the best chance to advance. KU, K-State, Baylor and Texas A&M all have the look of Sweet 16 teams. Of course, KU is the favorite for the national title and K-State could be a real threat to land in Indy as well.

7. While the Big 12 has seven likely locks for the Dance, how about the way Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma State leave Kansas City? None of them can feel too great about their mojo going into the Dance. If they win their first-round game it could be a surprise.

8. Kansas State got its edge back by crushing Oklahoma State. The Wildcats will be a tough out if they run, defend, board and continue to share the ball.

9. Kansas is Kansas. The Jayhawks were pushed in the first half by Texas Tech. But the Jayhawks are tough enough to be refocused and shut down a team they should beat.

10. One thing is certain at the end of the night: Baylor and Texas don’t like each other. And this rivalry will only get more intense.

Half: Baylor 43, Texas 39

March, 11, 2010
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The first half has made something a bit clearer:

The four best teams have a shot to be in the semifinals.

Kansas, Texas A&M and Kansas State are already in the semifinals Friday. If Baylor holds onto to beat Texas, then that says as much about Baylor as it does how far the Longhorns have fallen this season. Texas hasn’t played like it belongs in the category of being among the four best.

The Texas scenario has played itself out. And it’s becoming more obvious when you see the Longhorns against Baylor. The Longhorns simply aren’t as talented as Baylor right now or at least don't t play with the same quick first step.

Every time it appeared Texas was ready to push Baylor, the Bears responded with an Ekpe Udoh bucket or a Tweety Carter response.

Baylor isn’t doing too many things wrong here. The Bears made 11 of 12 free throws, converted key 3s (four) and shot nearly 50 percent, despite getting outrebounded by nine.

LaceDarius Dunn was a non-factor with three fouls, but the Bears didn’t seem to miss him in taking a 43-39 lead at the half.

Texas is still a team of parts, none that seem to fit together anymore. They are spotty with Damion James giving Texas his necessary scoring pop with 16 points and now suddenly Avery Bradley being an effective scorer again with 12. But that’s about it for consistency. You never get the feeling like you can count on enough players with the Longhorns.

Watch Baylor and you feel like they belong in the elite. This could be a precursor to a decent run by the Bears this month.

Today's Big 12 tournament games

March, 11, 2010
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A few quick hitters before the quarterfinals Thursday:

Texas Tech vs. Kansas, 12:30 p.m. (ET): The Red Raiders had lost seven in a row before beating Colorado in the first round. Colorado had just put 101 points on the Red Raiders last Saturday in a win at Boulder. So clearly Pat Knight’s defensive message got through as the Red Raiders held the Buffaloes to 67 points. But can the Red Raiders pull off the upset of the week by beating top-ranked Kansas? Well, the last time they met, KU stomped on Tech by 26 points. This will be an interesting test for the Jayhawks. This is a game they should win by double figures. If the focus is there, KU should walk to the semifinals. I’d like to see how Sherron Collins steps up his leadership role with the postseason now at hand. I don’t see how the Red Raiders can keep the KU bigs, notably Cole Aldrich off the backboard.

Nebraska vs. Texas A&M, 3 p.m.: The Huskers pulled the stunner of the first day with a crushing win over Missouri. The Huskers ran with Missouri and sprinted past the Tigers. But will Nebraska be able to get out against Texas A&M? Would they want to do such a thing? The Aggies probably were prepping to face Mizzou in a high-octane affair. That won’t be the case now in what could be a grinder of a game. I’m not sure the Aggies would allow Nebraska to shoot over 50 percent the way it did against Missouri. I’m looking forward to seeing how Brandon Richardson and Ryan Anderson, who went off for the Huskers against Missouri get free against the Aggies. Donald Sloan and B.J. Holmes for the Aggies are two of the better guards in the conference and Bryan Davis’ ability to board will prove vital.

Oklahoma State vs. Kansas State, 7 p.m.: The Cowboys were able to easily beat Oklahoma with a mortal 11 points from James Anderson. OSU got quality production out of Keiton Page, who went for 24 points and Obi Muonelo’s 15. The Cowboys also made 11 3s. Oklahoma State was one of three teams to win at Kansas State during the season. So the Cowboys go into this game with a lot of confidence. The more intriguing storyline will be how K-State handles its role as a favored player in the field. Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente are coming off a disappointing home loss to Iowa State. There has to be some pride in play to get going on a high note heading into next week.

Texas vs. Baylor, 9:30 p.m.: This may be the best game of the quarterfinals. It pits two teams that when they play to their potential could be playing in the championship game Saturday night, or, at the very least, the second weekend in the NCAA tournament. Damion James went back to being an all-American in the win over Iowa State in the first round with a 28-point, 16-rebound performance. The Longhorns got key play from Gary Johnson, Avery Bradley and Jai Lucas. J’Covan Brown only played three minutes as Justin Mason got the start at the point. The best news for Texas was the high percentage of shooting from Dexter Pittman, finishing 7-of-9 with five boards. Baylor crushed Texas last Saturday 92-77. The key will be whether LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter can get free against the Longhorns, and who wins the tussles inside between Baylor's Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy and Texas' Pittman and Johnson. This should be an up-and-down affair at the Sprint Center.

Naismith Award nominees down to 30

February, 24, 2010
The Atlanta Tipoff Club, which awards the Naismith each year, has narrowed its preseason list of 50 "watch" players down to the much more manageable 30 -- what it calls its midseason candidates list, even if, on Feb. 24, the whole "midseason" thing is a bit of a misnomer. But that's beside the point. The point is that we have 30 players to mull over now. True, most of the list won't even crack consideration for the final player of the year award, which is almost certainly going to go to Ohio State's Evan Turner or Kentucky's John Wall. But the tally is fun to look at anyway.

One minor quibble: The list of 30 manages to include six ACC players -- just one behind the Big East's leading seven -- without including Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney, who happens to be leading the conference in scoring with 20.2 points per game for a 21-5 Tech team that's overcome its horrid nonconference schedule to (probably) play its way into the NCAA tournament. Nothing against Al-Farouq Aminu or Gani Lawal or Sylven Landesberg or Trevor Booker but it's hard to see how you could include those four and leave Delaney off the sheet.

Anyway, the full list is after the jump. Other quibbles? Let's hear 'em in the comments.

(Read full post)

One more Texas-Kansas stat

February, 9, 2010
After this, we can officially move on. I promise.

There's one stat you have to see, though, and it's this: Last night, Texas' assist leader was center Dexter Pittman. He had two assists. The rest of his team had four.

If you want to know why Texas is struggling, there it is. The Longhorns committed 17 turnovers last night, but that would be forgivable if they were finding open men on offense and getting easy baskets with ball movement. Of course, they're not doing that, and last night's result was a byproduct -- for all of Texas' supposed depth, they have no one who can run the show, who can make Pittman and Damion James' lives easier, who can guide Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton into high-percentage shots. Texas just doesn't have that player.

One potential option is freshman J'Covan Brown, who scored 28 points in 32 minutes Monday night. Brown is more of a scorer than a game manager, but he showed flashes of point guard-esque brilliance last night, including wraparound left-handed pass on a screen and roll late in the contest. The Longhorns' primary point guard option throughout the season has been Dogus Balbay, but Barnes seems concerned that Balbay can't give the Longhorns any offense, and so doesn't seem all that interested in keeping him on the floor. (This is where I'd assert that with Pittman and Bradley and James in your lineup you don't need your point guard to give you offense, but whatever.)

The bottom line is that the Longhorns have to figure out the point guard position. And fast. Whether it's a scorer like Brown or a "true" point like Balbay -- or whether it's a matter of following Ohio State, Purdue and West Virginia's leads and having your best offensive guard (say, Avery Bradley) bring the ball up -- something needs to change. If it doesn't, and the Longhorns keep posting microscopic assist-to-turnover ratios, this team isn't going anywhere.

What in the world is wrong with Texas?

February, 9, 2010
AUSTIN, Texas -- Rick Barnes’ therapy was to talk.

And talk. And talk some more.

I'm not sure I have ever seen a head coach of Barnes’ stature vent in such a calm and therapeutic manner after losing a game of this magnitude.

[+] EnlargeCole Alrich
AP Photo/Harry CabluckClint Champman was one of 12 Texas players to see playing time in the Longhorns' loss to Cole Aldrich and Kansas.
Monday night's 80-68 victory by No. 1 Kansas -- the team Texas was supposed to challenge for the conference title and No. 1 seed -- was long over, well past an hour after the final buzzer, and Barnes was still discussing his Longhorns, why they have lost five of seven and how they’ll be just fine in due time.

But will they? Is the problem simple enough that the Horns can just fix their issues and start winning again?

"All I can tell you is that we’re 19-5 with seven regular-season games left," Barnes said. “How we got to 5-4 is pretty simple. If we had put our young guys out there early, then we wouldn’t have won whatever we did in a row [17 straight to get to No. 1 in the polls]. We weren’t going to do that. We knew at some point in time we needed to get them out there."

But the problem lies in whom to play, when to play them and for how long.

"If we would all play together," said Barnes, as he zig-zagged from point to point. "We’re going to fix this. We’ll be where we need to be. I knew there were issues that we were going to have to deal with and one of them was we weren’t totally together as a team."

And maybe that’s why Barnes is still searching for combinations. He played 12 players against Kansas, still unable to settle on a set rotation. He made a change in the starting lineup, inserting junior Gary Johnson for some offensive pop and sitting senior Justin Mason because, like Dogus Balbay, he had become an offensive liability.

Barnes leaned heavier on freshman J’Covan Brown off the bench, who played 32 minutes and scored 28 points. But just when you might get excited about Brown's steal, layup and 3-pointer to get Texas back in the game, he had a traveling call and then a poor shot -- a forced layup in traffic instead of giving up the ball to the hot hand of senior Damion James -- that led to Kansas stretching the lead again.

UT's one consistent player is James, who scored 24 points and made all four 3s. Center Dexter Pittman was a non-factor offensively, missing four of five shots and scoring three points. He had four blocks but was hardly a force. Freshman Avery Bradley had an ordinary game with 1-of-6 shooting, Balbay didn't do anything offensively (zero points and zero assists) and freshman Jordan Hamilton, who scored 27 points at Oklahoma State last week, continued to shoot too quickly and missed all six attempts and four 3s.

The Longhorns led 14-8 early in the game, but as soon as Barnes went to the bench, Texas wilted. Center Clint Chapman came in and played three minutes and had two turnovers.

Barnes said he had a hard time taking a senior like Mason out of the lineup because of what he has meant to the team. Barnes went back and forth on Brown. He said for all of Brown’s positives, there were still too many steps back. Yet, he hinted Brown will start over Balbay when the Longhorns play Nebraska Saturday in Austin.

"When we substitute, we get a couple of guys who get away from the gameplan," Barnes said.

Barnes said Hamilton has to understand how to get in the flow of the game, not to start "jacking up shots every time he gets them and think he has to go one-on-one and take really tough shots." But Hamilton can score points so he tosses him out there in case he can get going again.

"I didn’t feel everybody was in it together," Barnes said. "We were playing a lot of people, mixing and matching."

Brown showed he could produce in spurts. Bradley has had his run. Hamilton has been erratic. But Barnes said the reason Texas got picked high was because of those three newcomers.

And of course the expectation that Pittman would be a rock next to James.

"Dexter has to be a force in there," Barnes said. "Damion is trying really hard to do the right things and we tried him on the perimeter. What Dexter has to do is screen across. He can’t just get on the block and have the defender walk him across the lane while he stands straight up. He can’t do that. We knew they would double him."

Pittman has scored in double-figures only twice in the Big 12 this season.

And yet Barnes kept talking about how the Longhorns are still fine and will get this figured out.

At some point he will have to do what Kansas coach Bill Self did and go with a maximum of eight players. If someone isn’t happy about their playing time then so be it. He has to decide to ride the eight and finish strong with them. Time is running out to fix the erratic play.

Texas was No. 1 and now looks lost. The Big 12 title is out of reach now that the Longhorns are four games behind Kansas. So, too, is a No. 1 seed and the advantage of being the top team in Houston in the South Regional.

Barnes is still searching, talking and hoping he can find the answer by thinking aloud. He said he can.

He has to or else the Longhorns won’t be playing late into March, let alone early April.
Evan TurnerAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesOhio State's Evan Turner is averaging an impressive 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.

The player of the year race is actually shaping up to be quite interesting. There's Evan Turner, who, when not limited by a brutal back injury, has been destroying all in his path with one triple-double after the next. There's Damion James, whose stats and leadership of Texas will earn him consideration. There's Wesley Johnson, whose surge into the elite has turned Syracuse from a rebuilding project into a possible Final Four team. And of course there's John Wall, who, well, you don't need me to tell you Wall is. My mom knows who Wall is, and my mom doesn't even read this blog.

John Wall
Kim Klement/US PresswireKentucky's John Wall is still the favorite to win player of the year awards.
But who will actually win? Michael Rothstein of polled 45 college basketball media types -- the same that also serve on the Wooden and Naismith Award panels, to be exact -- to reveal their player of the year votes if the voting ended today. Early returns favor -- who else -- Wall.

The freshman tops the list with 32 of a possible 45 first-place votes. James is second with Turner at third. That is all defensible -- Wall has been a revelation in his first and only season in Kentucky and James is a beast, the best player on a shockingly deep Texas team. But if I had a vote in this process, my vote would probably go to Turner. Perhaps you can penalize Turner for the injury, but that doesn't seem fair. The dude broke his back and is already back on the court. And when he gets on that court, look out. Turner is averaging 18.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1 block per game. He is a statistical monster, the kind of night-in-night-out sure thing that will have fantasy basketball owners licking their lips next fall.

If you want to look at the player of the year in an MVP-race type of thing, you have to consider which player is most important to their team's chances. Wall? James? Or Turner? Maybe that's an unfair question, since we've seen how badly OSU needs Turner on the floor and haven't had that chance with Wall and James, but don't you think Texas and Kentucky would still be elite teams without their best players? I'd lean toward yes in both cases.

Anyway, there's plenty of season left and no reason to get too worked up over player of the year honors quite yet. In the meantime, though, voters owe Turner a legitimate shot at what appears to be Wall's crown. Turner is that good.

K-State quiets the doubters

January, 18, 2010
Jacob Pullen couldn't shoot. Ditto Denis Clemente.

And Kansas State still made Texas' first stay at No. 1 a brief one.

If anyone doubts the legitimacy of Frank Martin's Wildcats, the 71-62 win over the Longhorns ought to put the questions to rest. The new-to-the-spotlight Wildcats were the ones who kept their composure in a frenetic, physical and frequently ugly game. They rode the emotion and the fervor of a home crowd -- fueled by a student section that made a 4 a.m. wakeup call to wait for tickets -- to a first-half lead, and survived when the Longhorns made their run at the start of the second.

Three years ago, K-State earned headlines thanks to megawatt star Michael Beasley. Now the Wildcats are turning heads thanks to coach Frank Martin (see my Dec. 16 feature on him here) and the play of their entire team.

In a game where buckets were harder to come by than a smile on Martin's face, KState's defense stood taller than UT's. The Longhorns sent wave after wave of players at Kansas State -- 13 of them in all -- and none of them could score. Freshman Avery Bradley was the only Longhorn to hit double figures and he had to squeak in with 11 points.

Certainly the Longhorns didn't help their own cause. Tearing a page from the Memphis free-throw handbook, Texas continued its season-long free throw woes by shooting 9-of-22 from the uncharitable stripe and played with a stunning lack of composure in the first half, their frontcourt all but disappearing and the backcourt coughing up the ball time and again.

But some of the Longhorns' problems certainly were due to the Wildcats' efforts. K-State may not have played much prettier than Texas -- they missed 12 free throws and connected on just 1-of-12 from the arc -- but they played harder. With Pullen (who will apparently have to continue to grow his Amish beard) and Clemente all but shut down -- they were a combined 4-of-24 -- Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly all all but embarrassed the presumed stronger frontcourt of Texas. Samuels and Kelly combined for 37 points and 20 boards to the 15 and 14 of Damion James and Dexter Pittman.

James, a legit national player of the year candidate, was all but negated entirely, shooting only 3-of-12 from the floor. Kelly and Samuels were so in his head, the senior missed easy chippies down the stretch that could have made it interesting.

The interesting twist in all of this: K-State will host Kansas on Jan. 30 (the trip to Lawrence doesn't come until March 3) and will not have to travel to Austin.

In other words, the Big 12 championship -- as my colleague Doug Gottlieb blogged about Monday morning -- is running through Manhattan this season.

Kansas State takes down No. 1 Texas

January, 18, 2010
They're partying in Manhattan tonight.

Students who spent last night camping outside Bramlage Coliseum for seats spent the final seconds chanting "overrated" and "We own Texas" (Bobby Knight suggested chants of "great effort" and "thank you") after Kansas State's 71-62 win against top-ranked Texas.

Jamar Samuels scored 20 points and Curtis Kelly added 17, picking up the slack when Jacob Pullen was limited to two field goals and 12 points.

Damion James was held to nine points, and the Longhorns in a hostile environment committed far too many turnovers.

Of course, all this opens the door for Kentucky, the last unbeaten in the land, to be No. 1.

Texas-Kansas State now a top-10 game

January, 18, 2010
Students are camping outside Bramlage Coliseum to get a good seat to this one and grab their Jacob Pullen fake beards on the way inside.

That Kansas State leaped into the top 10 in both polls only adds to its Big Monday showdown against top-ranked Texas tonight.

Damion James willed the Longhorns to an overtime win against Texas A&M on Saturday, resulting in Andy Katz naming him the national player of the week and Kansas State coach Frank Martin calling him the best player in college basketball.

The Wildcats counter with leading scorer Pullen and the beard he won't shave, much to his mother's chagrin.

So who you got?
I just finished watching Texas survive a real scare at home against Texas A&M and one thing is very clear to me: If this weren't the year of John Wall, Damion James would be at the top of the player of the year ballots, with Ohio State's Evan Turner not far behind him.

The Texas senior, who decided not to jump to the NBA a year early, has been the best player for the No. 1 Longhorns but was at his best against the Aggies. James scored 26 points and hauled in 12 rebounds, but it was the timing of his actions that spoke volumes. James scored all but three of his points in the second half and overtime, including a dagger 3-pointer with 1 minute remaining in overtime. He then came back to block B.J. Holmes' 3-point attempt to seal the victory for the Longhorns.

Texas is a ridiculously talented and deep team, so to be able to stand out as James has done all season says something about just how valuable a player he is.

What makes James even more enjoyable is his personality. He knows this is a special season and he's relishing every moment, unafraid to subtly sing his team's praises even when another team in the Big 12 (Kansas) stood atop the rankings.

It would probably take a freak act of nature to wrest the Player of the Year hardware from John Wall but if, like a tainted Miss America, for any reason Wall is unable to fulfill his duties, I'm thinking James would be a suitable runner-up.

Texas A&M 36, Texas 27 at halftime

January, 16, 2010
Can Texas A&M take down top-ranked Texas? Damion James has only three points on 1-for-7 shooting. Tune in to ESPNU to see if the Aggie defense can hold up.

It's been the vaunted Texas bench that has kept the Longhorns in this one, with Gary Johnson scoring nine first-half points.