Texas Basketball: What Did We Learn from the China Trip?


Texas basketball struggled in its season opener. Perhaps the team was mesmerized by all that Shanghai has to offer?

The Shaka Smart era with Texas basketball got off to a running start Friday night. Unfortunately the points didn’t catch up with the team.

Smart introduced his up-tempo pace to fans. His players raced up and down the court at break-neck speed. This was a vast departure from the methodical offense Rick Barnes employed. The run-and-gun approach will be entertaining, assuming the Longhorns start making more of their shots.

Texas shot less than 27 percent from the floor. There were wild shot attempts. The shot clock was irrelevant on offense. Getting to the basket or putting up long 3-point attempts were the name of the game. This pace is something we haven’t seen since the Tom Penders days.

Let’s not put much stock in this game. It is the season opener. It was played halfway around the world and Texas is breaking a new system. Smart is trying to get players who were recruited for one system to adjust to a new game plan. It will take some time to acclimate. I give you the Texas football program.

What did we learn from last night’s game?

Isaiah Taylor, we are glad you came back

Taylor is, bad pun and all, Taylor made for this offense. The junior lead the Longhorns in scoring with 29 points. He made 12-15 free throws and single-handily kept Texas in this game. He is the sparkplug for the Texas basketball engine. Everything flowed through him, and when it didn’t the team struggled to score. Smart played several true freshmen who will one day contribute on offense. As expected, they showed they weren’t quite ready for that role. In the meantime, the offense will flow through Taylor, and that’s not a bad thing.

Box out, anyone?

One of the pitfalls with running a frantic pace is shots went off before the Texas big men could get set underneath the basket. Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Shaquille Cleare combined for 21 of Texas’ 49 rebounds. The 49 boards sound like a lot, but with both teams shooting so poorly – Washington was 35 percent from the floor – there were many rebounds to be had. The Huskies won the battle on the glass 62-49, with many of those coming down low when Texas didn’t box out.

Again, this group is still learning a new system. It’s a pace that players like Ridley and Ibeh are not used to running. Factor in some wild shots and an athletic opponent, Texas big men will lose some of these rebounds. But when the Longhorns do work the ball around, players need to get into position to box out on the shot.

For the freshmen, welcome to college basketball

Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis, Jr. and Tevin Mack are all going to be great players at Texas. They will fit in nicely with this style of play. On Friday night, however, they were reminded that this is much different than what they saw in high school.

The trio combined to shoot 3-30 from the field and missed all nine of their 3-point attempts. Much of this can be attributed to nerves, the environment and a good Washington team. Anytime you take a team out of its routine – and to start the season nonetheless – young players could struggle. Factor in learning a new system, you get what you saw Friday night. These guys will get better once they get back home and have more time to acclimate themselves with the offense Smart wants to run.

One game doesn’t make a season. Yes the shooting was bad. It was bad on both sides. Maybe the players were distracted by Bill Walton’s China infomercial.

This was a good learning experience for the players. They had a chance to run their system against a legitimate opponent. Strengths and weaknesses were found. Smart now has some game tape to evaluate his team.

One thing is for sure – this Texas basketball team will be fun to watch – once the shots start to fall.