Thank the Lord the NCAA allows its coaches to spend two hours per week with their teams in the offseason. At least that's what Rick Barnes is saying after his Longhorns stumbled their way to a 69-46 win over Coppin State Monday night.
Javan Felix had zero points, nine assists and eight turnovers in his second game as a Longhorn.
"I can't imagine where we'd be right now offensively," Barnes said when reflecting on his time with the team. "That's disappointing."
It always takes more time for a team's offense to come around than the defense, but Texas' 26-turnover performance was about as ugly as it can get for a team that should have been able to breeze past a squad projected to finish tenth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
The Longhorns (2-0) surpassed last year's season-high in just their second game, and freshman point guard Javan Felix's eight turnovers were higher than any Longhorn's total from a year ago.
Coppin State (0-2) pressed Texas knowing it was going to rely on a guy playing in just his second career game, but it was more than that. Felix's decision-making wasn't near where it needed to be for the Longhorn offense to get rolling. Whether it was not finding the open guy or forcing a bad pass inside, despite dishing out nine assists, it wasn't working for the 5-foot-10 guard Monday night.
Barnes credits a lot of his mistakes to fatigue - Felix has played the most minutes of any player in Texas' first two games. Regardless, as long as Myck Kabongo is out, Texas is going to need significantly better play from Felix as it approaches a stretch in which it will play Georgetown, UCLA, Michigan State and North Carolina after the Maui Invitational.
"I can assure you that no one wants Myck Kabongo back more than [Felix]," Barnes said.
The two things that were working for the Longhorns Monday night were Sheldon McClellan and the zone defense.
Rick Barnes has very uncharacteristically switched up his defensive strategy to a 2-3 zone. He showed it in the first game and he used it exclusively against Coppin State.
Sheldon McClellan looks much more willing to shoot early on in his sophomore campaign.
The six freshmen Texas will rely on this year are all very tall, long players (Felix excluded). The type that fit perfectly into a 2-3 zone scheme. Combine them with the five sophomores and the Longhorns have a roster that's capable of being a very tough defense this season.
The Longhorns utilized the zone to keep the undersized Eagles out of the lane - Prince Ibeh finished with three blocks, though Barnes thinks he should have gotten credited for many more with the number of altered shots he forced - and were able to close out on shooters on the perimeter. Texas held Coppin State to just 24.6 percent from the field and 15.6 percent from three, where they hoisted 32 bombs.
"We're going really take advantage of the length with these guys," Barnes said. "We've got to play some zone. We like it."
On the offensive side, as ugly as it was at times, Texas still got a lot of production from Sheldon McClellan when it needed it. The sophomore led the Longhorns again in scoring with 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting (8-of-10 from the free throw line).
He was the guy Rick Barnes pointed to before the season started as the player that was going to have to take the brunt of the scoring load left by J'Covan Brown. As a freshman, and even before the season started this year, McClellan has been called passive by Barnes.
For the Longhorns to be the most successful on offense they need him to not hesitate to pull the trigger on shots, and for the most part he didn't against Coppin State. McClellan looked like the all-around scorer Barnes has seen in practice, and he's becoming more and more comfortable with taking on that role in games.
"I'm a different guy this year," he said. "I'm not discouraged by my misses."
Texas also got big production from Ioannis Papapetrou. The versatile forward played four positions for the Longhorns throughout the night, including some time handling the point, and finished with ten points and nine rebounds. Papapetrou was hitting shots from the perimeter (2-for-4 from long range), and was willing to get involved under the basket to help the bigs on the boards.
He doesn't really have a set role on this team, yet. His versatility allows Barnes to use him all over the floor, something that will come in handy while Kabongo waits to hear from the NCAA.
"I'm going to do whatever I must do," Papapetrou said. "I'll do whatever Coach Barnes tells me to do. I'm going to go out and do my best. I'll go out and play hard."
- As mentioned, Prince Ibeh blocked three shots, but it felt like a lot more. The freshman forward/center was all over the place on the interior of the Texas zone and prevented Coppin State from doing anything on the inside. He has a long way to go on the offensive end, however. He was just 2-for-5 from the field, but worse was his free throw shooting. He was 0-for-4 from the line with some atrocious misses.
"He's worked at it hard, he really has," Barnes said.
- Cameron Ridley flashed at times during the game, but also had a lot of bad moments. He turned the ball over six times (three due to offensive fouls) and finished with just three points, though he did snag seven rebounds.