November 13, 2008

Coach Walker's corner: A look at the first game

With the tip-off to Longhorn basketball season a day away I thought it would nice to give some insight on what Coach Rick Barnes might be looking for out of his team on Friday night. There are a lot of hopes when the season jumps off, not only from the coaches and players, but from the die hard fan base as well.

A reminder - looking good in practice is one thing but when it comes to the actual lights, camera and ACTION, a whole new set of emotions set in which plays a heavy role in a team's performance.

1. Intensity and Energy

With this being the first actual game of the year (that counts) against opposing players, you want your team to have a lot of intensity and energy. Actually, you expect this simply because this is what the sacrifices the players have made over the off-season and preseason was for. The one thing as a coach that worries you is your players using all that adrenaline and using it in a way that puts you in a path of destruction, as in playing at a pace that will not allow them to be successful individually as well as collectively. With that being said look for Coach Barnes to use his timeouts early to keep a hold on those emotions if things get a little sloppy in the first half.

2. Defense

Like most team sports, your defense is usually always ahead of your offense. When I was coaching, my first four days of practice was predominately focused on implementing our defensive strategies. Although you may not see all of Coach Barnes' plans on the defensive end on Friday night, expect him to be focused on how many possessions they gave up points on and where those baskets were made from. Also, a few things I would keep track of as a coach would be:

a. Deflections: If the players are getting after it and being active with hands in passing lanes, deflections are just as good as steals. You always want to keep the offense above the three-point line and with players on the defensive end getting after it and challenging each pass, good things will happen
b. Charges: Those of us that have actually played know this aspect of defense is harped on by every coach in America from grade school to the NBA. Most teams are not fortunate to have a shot blocker like the great Bill Russell, so a charge works just as good, I would tell my team if we could get anywhere from five to 10 charges a game, you are putting yourself in a good position to be successful.

3. Rebounding

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that rebounding is not a skill, it is a mentality, FYI, you don't have to have a 50-inch vertical to get the job done on the boards. All it takes is fortitude.

You always want to be at least a plus-five on the boards on each end. That's not only giving you extended possessions on the offensive end, but you are controlling the defensive end as well. With Damion James, Gary Johnson, Connor Atchley, and Dexter Pittman the Longhorns should be one of the top rebounding teams in the country.

4. Guard Play

I don't care who you have on the blocks, in today's game if you don't have strong guard play you will not win. It is very important that A.J. Abrams, Justin Mason and Dogus Balbay be on the same page offensively and defensively, I think they could be a very special group as the year goes on because I think they bring a variety of dimensions on both ends of the floor. I say this because with Mason you have a guy that can put constant pressure on the defense with his ability to breakdown a defense with his penetration and strength with the ball. With Abrams… well, we all know that you can't leave him open. If you do, COUNT IT. The picture I'm painting for you is that with those two guys on the floor you always have to make a decision on what to do defensively. Do you help on Mason's penetration and give up three points or do you stay at home and get one on one? This guard tandem could have a lot of coaches staying up late watching film to come up with schemes to match these two guards. With Balbay expected to fill the void left by D.J. Augustin, look for Coach Barnes to put the opposing defense in situations where they have to react to these two throughout the year.

5. Line-ups

Early in the year a lot of experimenting is done at times to see which players play best with the other players. With the depth of this team, look for Coach Barnes to throw different tandems on the floor at various times in early-season games. Don't be surprised if you see two to four guys being rotated in at a time with this year's team. I feel this team can go big or small, as well as having the type of team on the floor that is crazy athletic. I'm sure this has been done in practices but you never know until it is being done for a W. Will it work or will you need to trash it? We're going to soon find out.

6. Free Throws

Last, but certainly not least, so many games are won and lost at the charity stripe. As a coach you want your team to have at least a 75% team average and as I stated in my last posting, the only returning player from last years team that shot over 70% is Abrams. I know this has been a focus in the off-season and pre-season with Coach Barnes hopefully the guys can take the routine from the practice floor to the game floor, and be a very good free throw shooting team. I would hate to see Hack-A-Horn as a strategy in tight games with this group.

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