After a Thanksgiving weekend on the road in Portland, Texas looks to right the ship with a home stop against Florida A&M on Wednesday evening. With just six games remaining before the start of conference play, questions linger as to just how transformative this year’s roster can be.
Here are takeaways from head coach Shaka Smart’s press conference on Tuesday morning.
Underclassmen beginning to find a rhythm
Texas’ impressive array of talent was on full display in the overtime losses to Duke and Gonzaga — but so was its youth. With freshmen and first-year transfer players logging heavy minutes, crunch-time miscues cost the Longhorns a pair of potential upsets. Smart acknowledged the value of those losses as an opportunity to grow and is encouraged by his team’s response. Still, the coaching staff hopes to address some of the more glaring issues before the Big 12 opener against Kansas in late December.
“Our number one emphasis as a team coming out of Portland is just knowing how to win big games,” Smart said. “Through a commitment to our culture, and offensive and defensive principles.”
Another point of encouragement seems to be how quickly the team is coming together. While both matchups ended in defeat over the weekend, Texas was able to put itself in a position to win the game against two top-25 opponents. The issue is now consistency.
“One of the things we demonstrated is that, certainly for stretches of games, we can be really effective against some of the best teams in the country,” Smart said. “So our challenge right now is getting to the point where we can be equally effective for the entire game.”
Finding the right pace
Transition opportunities and half court sets are typically seen as opposites, but Smart wants to see more of both from his
“We want to, first and foremost, play faster.” Smart said.
With a trio of slashing guards and two forwards who can run the floor, Smart knows Texas has the potential to beat opponents in transition. The team demonstrated its ability to generate easy points off of turnovers from the press against Gonzaga, and accelerating the pace will only heighten the threat. Smart said he had been advised to push the tempo by Gonzaga head coach Mark Few after the game, who saw transition as “a key for Texas.”
But in half-court sets, particularly in tight contests, Smart is preaching a more composed offense — fewer improvisations in favor of spacing and good movement.
“More passing, less dribbling, hard cutting, great spacing,” Smart said. “And when you watch possessions when you do those things, that usually leads us to really good shots.”