Texas basketball gives us first look in open scrimmage

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Big Blue Madness was a sight to behold. Rupp Arena, home of the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team, was sold-out and bouncing: The players were introduced by smoke machines, there was a multilevel stage to heighten the moment, and Drake introduced head coach
John Calipari.

It was exciting and kicked-off the start of the basketball season, despite the first game being almost a month away. The intra-team scrimmage gave fans a first look at the preseason No. 1 team in a concert-like atmosphere. 

The day after Big Blue Madness, on Saturday afternoon, No. 10 Texas had its own way of showing off the team to fans: an open scrimmage. While Rupp Arena was sold out, the Frank Erwin Center was hardly able to make the front levels look crowded, as only about 300 fans rolled in to watch.

But there was still excitement in the air as fans got their first looks at the team and its prized freshman forward Myles Turner. Before resorting to situational drills, head coach Rick Barnes had his team run two 12-minute halves just like a real game. Although it was a small sample, it was our first look at the team and a few things stood out.

First things first, it was all about Turner.

All eyes are on Turner to see how he can help take this program to the next level, and on first impressions, he looks ready, especially on offense. He looked most comfortable at the high post, with a smooth catch-and-shoot from around the elbow. He did a good job of keeping the ball high consistently and opening up the offense. He also showed off some handles, driving from the top of the key to the rim to finish an “and-one.”

While he looked incredibly smooth on offense, there were some areas in which he clearly needs work. On the block, junior centers Cam Ridley and Prince Ibeh threw him around. Both centers had little trouble backing down the thinner Turner and getting the shot they wanted.

Turner also didn’t have the best of hands. Multiple times it seemed as though the ball would just bounce off them and result in a turnover.

But Texas fans should be excited for Turner. He proved he can play with Ridley and help spread the court. He was comfortable with the ball and the jump shot and, by season’s end, he should be the best player.

The other freshman, forward Jordan Barnett, looked a little out of place. The 6-foot-6 forward clearly isn’t as strong as he needs to be, but that will come with time. While he did have a few good spurts — hitting a corner three and getting a block at the end of one of the halves — he was unimpressive for the most part. Despite seeming to be in the right spots on defense, he was a bit lackadaisical and was caught ball-watching a bit too much. While he’s not ready yet, there is definitely a need on this team for the intangibles he has as a tall, quick and athletic forward.

While we got our first look at the freshmen, we also got to see the development of the returning players, most notably Ridley.

The center seems to be getting better and better each year, showing up at the scrimmage looking both stronger and slimmer. And when he was in, the offense worked its way around him. He dominated in the post and looks to be the primary option in this offense.

By the time the scrimmage was over, one thing was clear: This is one of the deepest teams Barnes has ever had. He has 11 guys he can use, as every position except point guard has significant depth.

For the first time since I’ve been a student at UT, there is excitement around the basketball team. And there should be. This team is legit.