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Supporting cast finally emerging

The college basketball court is no Gotham City.

Sheldon McClellan's 14 points over the last four games has been a huge lift to the Texas offense.

Batman can almost always get the job done by himself in Gotham. He and his wonderful toys have defeated many nemeses without the help of Robin.

The story doesn’t usually go that way on the basketball court.

It is incredibly hard to navigate an NCAA Division 1 schedule without a sidekick. The most notable national champion of recent memory who carried a team to a title was Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony back in 2002-’03. But even ‘Melo had Hakim Warrick dropping 14 points a game and Gerry McNamara adding 13.

While the Longhorns were struggling against the better Big 12 teams, junior guard J’Covan Brown was desperate for some consistent help. During that six-game stretch Brown averaged 24 points. The next highest average was freshman guard Sheldon McClellan with 7.5.

With those numbers it’s no surprise Texas dropped five of the six games. Opponents were able to survive Brown’s outbursts because there wasn’t anybody else capable of stepping up and pitching in 15 every night…or anywhere close to that.

Things are looking a little better in Austin now, though.

In the four games since – all wins – it hasn’t been a one man show. Texas’ Batman has been able to rely on his teammates for consistent help for the first time this season.

McClellan is averaging 14 points, and freshman point guard Myck Kabongo is contributing almost 10 per game during Texas’ current four-game winning streak. With Brown’s 19.75 points per contest over that stretch the Longhorns are starting to look like an NCAA Tournament team for the first time since Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph declared for the NBA Draft.

Things have seemed to slow down for Texas point guard Myck Kabongo during the four-game win streak.

It’s definitely a learning curve making the jump from high school to college. Freshmen almost always take time to get used to the change in skill level, and it appears the Texas freshmen have started to figure it out.

“The young fellas are starting to get that teams don’t back down from us,” Brown said.

McClellan’s 13-point game against Oklahoma earlier this week marked his fourth straight in double figures, and the 16th in Texas’ 26 games this season. He’s shown throughout his first year in Austin that he can be a scorer for the Longhorns, it’s just been a matter of doing it on a game-by-game basis.

“One of the things with young guys is going from having potential to becoming consistent,” assistant coach Rob Lanier said. “We hope that dynamic is what’s happening, but it hasn’t happened long enough to say at this point that it’s a trend.”

McClellan and Kabongo have begun to separate themselves a bit from their classmates over the last few weeks. Kabongo, who has had issues with decision making and turnovers this year, has double-digit points in five of the last seven games, and is showing signs that he’s becoming more comfortable running head coach Rick Barnes’ offense on the court.

“Before I’d call a play and see somebody where he’s not supposed to be and still try and run it,” Kabongo said. Now he says he’s reached the point where he’s more comfortable in the offense to know where guys need to be, and also more comfortable telling them where they need to go to make the offense run.

While McClellan’s consistency over the last few weeks has been a welcome sight to Longhorn fans -- and J’Covan Brown -- it’s Kabongo’s growing familiarity with the offense Barnes wants to run that has really aided Texas.

Before this current winning streak, the Texas offense would go stagnant for long stretches. Now that Kabongo’s become more comfortable in the scheme those stagnant periods are happening less often and lasting for less time.

These guys are still freshmen, and they’re bound to make mistakes as they continue to grow, but after taking their lumps earlier in the season they’re starting to look like a team that’s better equipped to take on the big boys.

A national championship is still an ambitious goal for the 2011-’12 Longhorns, but with the supporting cast emerging around J’Covan Brown, Texas has become a much better team. One with an NCAA Tournament bid within reach.

  • Tuesday was the best game that I've seen Kabongo play. OU simply didn't have anyone who could stay in front of him; whether they were playing man or zoning. If our bigs could finish at the rim; Myck would have ended up with 12-15 assists. McClellan is developing into a good scorer. Just needs to start hitting the three pointer with more accuracy. Lewis is starting to show a little better shot selection. What's not mentioned enough about Lewis is his defense. Probably our best on ball defender.

  • Good article, Dave. Thanks.

    To blend the two lines of thought (additional scoring help and defensive presence), I'll point out a couple of interesting stats.

    Syracuse dominated all year long as a result of size and a smothering zone defense. It had 7', 6'9", 6'8", 6'8", 6'6", 6'6", 6'4", and 6'2" in the eight man rotation in the 2-3 zone defense. It finished second in the country in blocks and fifth in fg % allowed, even though points allowed were higher due to the rapid pace at which it played. Mcnamara had an excellent final four--37 points.

    UConn last year had Walker as the one scoring threat supplemented with parts (Lamb the only other guy in double figures in points--11.1). It finished 11th in both blocks and fg % allowed. Lamb averaged 16.2 points per game in the tournament and 14.1 in the conference tournament. Opposing teams scored an average of 56 points against them in the entire tournament.

    This post was edited by bierce 2 years ago

  • Agee Dave nice story...........looking at McClellan's numbers I wonder how many true freshman average 14 pts per game or better? I bet the list is not very long.

    "Leadership is wisdom, courage and great carelessness of self"

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