Rick Barnes expected J’Covan Brown to be the Longhorns’ leading scorer this season. But the coach didn’t envision Brown becoming the team’s de facto point guard. That duty was supposed to rest with Myck Kabongo.
However, Brown is handling the ball more now and initiating the offense with Kabongo, who is struggling to grasp his role as floor general. As the third freshman starting point guard in the last three years under Barnes, Kabongo mixes flashes of brilliance with ugly turnovers and poor execution.
During the Longhorns’ three-game losing streak, the Toronto native has a team-worst 13 turnovers against 24 assists. In six Big 12 games, Kabongo ranks sixth in the league with a 1.85 assist-to-turnover ratio (37 assists, 20 turnovers). Brown is second with 22 dimes and only eight giveaways, a 2.75 ratio. Texas is 2-4 in the Big 12 for the first time in 14 years under Barnes and UT will need improved point guard play if they want to climb out of the conference cellar.
Iowa State visits the Frank Erwin Center tonight with the Longhorns looking for payback after a road loss to the Cyclones on Jan. 4.
In fairness, Kabongo is navigating his first season of college hoops and — prior to Saturday’s loss to Kansas — was UT’s primary ball handler, a formula destined for a large number of turnovers.
But failure to take care of the ball wasn’t all that kept Kabongo on the bench against the Jayhawks. The rookie played 25 minutes against KU, well below his 30.2 average.
“I didn’t even think he played that many,” said Brown, who logs over 33 minutes per game.
So why did Barnes move away from Kabongo?
“We need to run offense,” said Barnes, who hasn’t hesitated to criticize his freshman point guard. “And when he left the game, it was probably good. I thought he got a little bit upset because when he went back he did exactly what he needed to do for us.”
And when Kabongo isn’t running the offense to Barnes’ liking, Brown becomes the only reliable option. Backup point guard Sterling Gibbs did not play Saturday. The freshman played himself out of the rotation with two turnovers in three total minutes in losses to Missouri and Kansas State.
“Even though J’Covan is not going to push the ball at the pace that we would like to go, he does have an awareness to get us organized,” Barnes said. “We started getting the ball reversed, side to side. That’s experience, obviously, but we’ve got be organized coming down the floor. That’s what J’Covan did for us.”
But being a point guard is not what the Longhorns (12-7) need from their leading scorer. Brown may take better care of the rock than Kabongo, but the ball often never left his hands against KU (he took 26 shots).
Kabongo will start against the Cyclones, but if he fails to execute the offensive game plan, Barnes won’t hesitate to put the ball in Brown’s hands.
“The one thing you want is consistency,” Barnes said. “You want to know what you’re going to get.”
For now, the Longhorns just don’t know what they’ll get from Kabongo. He recorded double-doubles against Mizzou and K-State, but disappeared against Kansas. Kabongo had five assists and four turnovers against the Cyclones (14-5; 4-2 Big 12) in the conference opener, a ratio that must improve for UT to end its skid.
Printed on Tuesday January 24, 2012 as: Longhorns need more from Kabongo