In today's edition of The Daily 5 we'll take a look at five things we learned from the Longhorn basketball team's season-opening 55-53 win over Fresno State on Friday night at the Erwin Center.
Sheldon McClellan's ability to get to the foul line was the Longhorns' only offense.
1. Sheldon McClellan can find ways to score
The Longhorns need the sophomore guard from Houston to put the ball in the hole. McClellan had a game-high 20 points, with 14 of them coming at the foul line.
The best thing about McClellan's game was that he started 0-for-5 from the floor, but kept trying to find ways to impact the game offensively. Even though Texas' best offense was counting on McClellan to get to the foul line by going to the rack, that's something he wouldn't have done last year if his shot wasn't falling.
“Last year I would have stopped shooting the ball,” McClellan said. “This year coach wants me to score. I had to stay in attack mode. I kept confidence up by getting the foul line.”
However he does it, Texas needs McClellan to score. Until Myck Kabongo returns, the offense will run almost exclusively through McClellan, and he'll have to keep finding ways to get his for Texas to have a chance to win games.
2. This team needs Myck Kabongo
Without Kabongo in the lineup the offense was as stale as week-old bread at a bakery. It wasn't just the fact that Texas shot 37 percent from the floor, or 1-for-13 from three-point range that was concerning.
The offense had absolutely no flow without Kabongo, who can not only get the offense moving but is a guy who can help create shots for others.
“We weren't attacking,” Rick Barnes said. “We were just dribbling with no purpose. Javan got tired, and we didn't get our offense going the way we wanted to get it going.”
Kabongo not only gets things moving on offense, but he's the unquestioned leader of the team. It's his team, and the Longhorns looked lost without him.
Javan Felix showed flashes of his long-term ability.
Jonathan Holmes was visibly frustrated after the game. The Longhorns have practiced to not have Kabongo in the lineup, but it was clear the Longhorns weren't the same without him.
“We are young, but it was a really close game,” Holmes said. “We had some good areas, but we have a lot of work to do.”
3. Javan Felix will eventually be fine
Being the only point guard presence available to handle the load, Felix played 38 minutes in his debut. He scored 10 points and pulled down nine rebounds, but he showed signs of fatigue late.
Despite wearing down at the end, he was able to generate offense early. Conditioning is something that can be fixed, and Felix's ability to break down guys off of the dribble and create his own shot is among the things seen in the opener that leads you to believe he's got a chance to be a productive player.
Barnes is traditionally tough on point guards, and said after the game Felix needs to play harder than he did against Fresno State. As he did in pushing T.J. Ford and D.J. Augustin in the past, there's a method to Barnes' madness that will hopefully pay off for Felix in the end.
“We're tough on point guards,” Barnes said. “We know those guys have to drive it and get it going.”
4. Rick Barnes is indeed willing to play zone defense
You might have had to pick a long-time Texas basketball fan off the floor last night as there were sure to be some folks fainting at the sight of the Longhorns opening the game in a zone defense.
Nobody was more surprised than long-time Barnes assistant Rodney Terry, who didn't prepare his Fresno State team to see a zone.
Jonathan Holmes' rebounding was key in the win, including 8 offensive boards.
“A little surprised? I told my guys that coach is a man-to-man guy,” Terry said. “It reminds be of the teams we had when I first got here. This team is trying to get back to being one of those power teams.”
When Texas had bigger bodies like Jason Klotz, Brian Boddicker, James Thomas, and later LaMarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker and Brad Buckman, the Longhorns played zone. Barnes has been reluctant to play zone in recent years, but with Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh, Connor Lammert, Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond the Longhorns have length up front they haven't had since the 2005-06 team.
Barnes saw the writing on the wall and bought in well before the season started that he'd need to play more zone that he typically would. It doesn't sound like the zone will be going away any time soon.
“We've spent more time working on the zone than we ever have,” Barnes said. “We have the versatility to do that.”
5. The win wasn't the most important thing
Barnes wanted the Longhorns to learn about how self-inflicted mistakes and lack of execution can hurt you in games. The Longhorns did both, and they nearly lost the game, however, this young team won a tough game without it's best player and it's best interior defender (Jaylen Bond missed the game with an ankle injury suffered in practice).
“I'm glad we won the game, but I wasn't sure what to expect,” Barnes said. “I like the way they handled themselves throughout the game.”
While the negatives from the game will grab more of the headlines, the Longhorns had some positives. They got an overall solid performance from Felix, Cameron Ridley flashed some skill around the rim in limited touches, Jonathan Holmes had eight offensive rebounds and did the dirty work in Bond's absence, and Connor Lammert and Demarcus Holland played productive minutes.
It wasn't pretty, but Barnes is banking on this team being much better in February and March than in November and December.
“I really like these guys. The way their demeanor was during the whole game in the huddle and the way they were talking,” Barnes said. “Some of the things that we had talked about, just being together, that part was really, really good. They found a way to finish the game.”