Longhorns face tough schedule during holidays

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When we return to school on Jan. 17, we will have a lot better picture of what Texas is capable of. Six weeks from now, Longhorn fans may start circling their calendars for an early April Final Four in Houston, or they may start peeking ahead to the Sept. 3 football game against Rice.

During the holiday break, the Longhorns have the toughest segment of their nonconference schedule, with dates against North Carolina, Michigan State, Arkansas and Connecticut scheduled prior to Big 12 play.

If Texas intends to be ranked and ready for conference play, adjustments will need to be made. In its last three games, opposing teams have exposed Texas’ flaws. They have played zone; they have slowed the ball down on offense; they have kept Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson from getting too comfortable inside the paint.

UNC’s Roy Williams and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo will be ready for revenge games following losses to Texas last year. Arkansas and Connecticut will be prepared when they come to Austin. So what are the Longhorns to do?

1. Put more focus on offense: Head coach Rick Barnes spent a couple days last week all on defense. Texas has been strong on defense this year. It has allowed 62 points per game and are seventh in the country in rebounding. They will get by on defense. On offense, they need to work on a half-court game. Find an attack that works where they can succeed against the zone defense. The Longhorns are trying too much to be a fast-paced team but they need to be able to slow it down and work the ball around.

2. Work the ball through Thompson: The freshman can create. Posting him up and then having him dish it back out can make things happen on offense. He can’t just wait for offensive rebounds to put back up; he needs to move throughout the zone and come to the ball. This will enable him to get different looks on offense and open up more space for everyone else.

3. Dribble penetration: Dogus Balbay can drive to the basket, yet doesn’t do it often. Jai Lucas can do the same. We still haven’t seen too much from Cory Joseph. The guards need to start taking the ball inside and force zone defenses to collapse, rather than rotating the ball around the perimeter.

Before UNC, Texas plays Texas State and North Florida. They need to use those games as a learning curve to broaden their game. Will they be ready?