There is certainly no shame in losing to top-ranked Kansas – even in your home gym – as Texas did Monday night. But the Horns’ problems certainly run deeper than one game and currently make them a bad bet and unlikely to make much of a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Jan. 13 was the high point of the Longhorns’ season. They had ascended to No. 1 in the polls that day for the first time ever, and then went out and spanked Iowa State that night to improve to 16-0 for the first time in 77 years. A home overtime win over Texas A&M a few days later wasn’t really worrisome because the Aggies are a solid team.
But then the wheels fell off for UT.
Since beating A&M to move to 17-0, Texas has lost five of seven games and is now probably no better than the fifth-best team in the Big 12. The Kansas loss Monday highlighted two of Texas’ main issues: only Damion James has been consistent and the Horns stink from the free-throw line.
James had 24 points and 10 rebounds against the Jayhawks, but the only other player to show up was freshman guard J’Covan Brown, who had 28 points. Other than an off game to Kansas State that started this skid for Texas, James has been splendid in averaging 18.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in the past seven. Freshman guard Avery Bradley, the team’s second-leading scorer on the season has been inconsistent, as one would expect from a freshman. He had just three points on 1-for-6 shooting in 35 minutes in Monday’s loss. Brown stepped up big Monday but check out his point totals in the previous six games: 2, 0, 4, 15, 5, 3. And freshman swingman Jordan Hamilton has followed a 27-point game at Oklahoma State with a combined eight points (on 3-for-21 shooting) in the past two games.
OK, Bradley, Brown and Hamilton are freshmen, but what’s the excuse for Horns senior center Dexter Pittman? He looked like a Player of the Year candidate in non-conference play but has been below average at best in Big 12 play, reaching double figures in points just twice and pulling down at least 10 rebounds only once. In this five of seven skid, Pittman has attempted more than five shots in a game twice. He had three points and three rebounds as the Jayhawks dominated inside Monday with a 38-24 edge in scoring and 45-34 margin in rebounding.
And let’s talk free throws. On Monday, UT wasn’t too bad, hitting 17-for-23 (73.9 percent). But take out Brown’s 8-for-9, and you are at 64.3 percent, which would be an improvement on Texas’ season percentage of 61.4 percent. In UT’s previous four losses before Monday, it was only 47-for-96 from the free throw line, including an inexplicable 10-for-27 in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma. Bradley is under 50 percent on the year from the free-throw line, while Pittman is barely over 53 percent.
Inconsistent freshmen + lousy free throw shooting = an early exit from the Big Dance when every game is likely to be tight, especially with UT now looking at a No. 5 seed or lower if it doesn’t turn things around quickly. And the remaining schedule is not friendly, with road games at Missouri, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor. Would you favor the Horns in any of those right now (UT is 1-6 ATS in road games)? I wouldn’t. UT should be able to beat Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma at home even though Texas has failed to cover in its past five in Austin.
Since the New Year, Texas has covered once. Once! And unless the freshmen grow up fast and Pittman gets more assertive, this is a team to avoid – or make your money on the opposition.