To help prepare for a game with major implications in the race for a first-round bye at the Big 12 Tournament, we spoke with Peter Bean of Burnt Orange Nation, one of the college blogosphere's premier sites. Bill and I answered Peter's questions about Missouri over at BON. We highly recommend you head over to BON and check out the pulse of the community, and as always, we ask that you represent yourself, your team, and RMN in a positive manner when on another blog.
RMN: There seems to be a fairly prevalent talking point that Texas simply has too many players and no set "team," per se. Is this a fair assessment or simply an oversimplification?
Peter: It is indeed a talking point, not an insight, and you can tell as much because the same guys (I'm looking at you Hubert Davis) who use it as their go-to nugget on Texas will extol the amazing depth of another team five minutes later, oblivious to the inconsistency. So in that sense it's very much an oversimplification: it doesn't tell you much on its face.
The problem for Texas has not been that they have too many players, but that they've had too few play well on the same day, and only one (Damion James) play well consistently. Rick Barnes has been scrambling through multiple line ups to find one that works because none of them were working well. J'Covan Brown, Dexter Pittman, and Jordan Hamilton have all had brilliant games, but they've been interspersed among meager outings.
The good news is that Rick Barnes is perfectly aware of what's going on, and isn't substituting haphazardly out of ignorance or stubborn refusal to pick a group that works. His post-game quotes following the win over Nebraska tell the tale.
RMN: Is Texas closer to the team that started 17-0 or the team that is 3-5 over its last eight games?
Peter: I'm going to punt a little bit here, because I circled the Missouri game as the one that would answer this question, so while I've got my hopes up that we'll see a performance that suggests good things for March, I want to see how this team fares in Columbia.
RMN: Mizzou was able to pull out a win in Austin last year largely because a ruthlessly efficient Dexter Pittman was forced off the floor by fatigue and foul trouble. Do you see Pittman being as vital to Texas' matchup with Missouri this season?
Peter: Sexy Dexy is certainly a boon when he's playing his best, but Texas has the team to continue to swim without him. So I'll say this: If Dexter plays well, it's a great thing, but if not, the more important key is how the trio of freshmen perform. If Brown, Hamilton, and Bradley show up, Texas should compete for a win, with or without Pittman.
RMN: How much do you trust your backcourt to handle Mizzou's pressure?
Peter: I really worry about Texas' transition defense, which has been something of a weakness this season, but other than that caveat, I think this Texas team is fine with Missouri's style of play. Believe it or not, Texas leads the Big 12 in pace (possessions per 40 minutes) in conference play this season -- getting up and down the court at an even higher rate than Mizzou, even. Again, the key will be the freshmen, who are perfectly capable of getting run out of the gym if they get rattled, or capable of taking Texas to a huge road win if they're cool and calm. I've got this game circled for a reason.
RMN: The Rick Barnes debate appears to continue to rage in UT circles. If you had to summarize or paraphrase the sentiment of the Texas fan base toward Barnes in a couple of sentences, how would you do it?
Peter: There is no real debate. There are fringe basketball fans who care just enough about basketball to get REALLY, REALLY UPSET by losses, and I regret every word I have to spend telling them to calm down and see the bigger picture. I think you have to really invest yourself, over a substantial period of time, in a team to learn how to sort through strengths and weaknesses in a coherent, constructive way -- one that leads you to identify a coach who needs to be released, and to hold on to one who just has weaknesses on which to improve.
Rick Barnes is the latter, and that's the focus at BON.