Texas’ basketball team has been in a serious slump lately, losing six of their last 10 games after a 17-0 start. The latest polls have the Longhorns dropping to #21 nationally, and the conference schedule has taken its toll. Now, starting point guard Dogus Balbay, who started 22 games for the ‘Horns this season, joins Varez Ward on the bench with an injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season.
Balbay tore the ACL in his left knee early in the first half in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech. Balbay is, by far, the team’s best on-ball defender, yet his ability to lead the offense has hampered the ‘Horns throughout the season. So, while the injury leaves Texas thin at the point guard position, perhaps his injury isn’t such a bad thing for Texas’ long-term success in 2009-2010.
While no one wants to see injuries decimate a legitimate NCAA tourney team, Balbay wasn’t a threat on the offensive end of the court. Time and time again, Balbay would penetrate the lane, only to dribble around in circles and come back out to the top of the key without dishing the ball, putting up a shot, or drawing a foul. While he was Texas’ leading assist man when he was on the court (3.9 apg), his inconsistency to produce points (3.8 ppg) in Barnes’ ball-screen offense was offensive in itself.
It’s been no secret that with Balbay and senior Justin Mason starting at the guard position, Texas has been playing 3-on-5 in most of their games. Until mid-season, that worked for the ‘Horns, as Damion James, Avery Bradley, or Dexter Pittman would step up to lead the team to victory. Now, Barnes will be forced to start J’Covan Brown or transfer Jai Lucas at the point, with help from Mason and perhaps Bradley shifting over to run the offense when either of them needs a blow.
What does this mean for the rest of the season? Well, Texas does lose a great defender, but it also forces Barnes to insert a player in to the line-up who is more aggressive when it comes to putting the ball up and potentially scoring points. While Mason is a good defender in his own right, if Brown, Lucas and Jordan Hamilton can continue to improve on the defensive end, and make better shot selection on the offensive end, Texas has more potential to create opportunities and score points to help get and maintain a lead, and then close games out.
Balbay’s only a junior, so he’ll be back, and Eyes Of TX wishes him a speedy recovery. But, the focus for this team is here and now, and the time has come for Brown and Lucas to show that they are willing and capable of putting in the effort and control to lead this team deep in to the NCAA tournament come March.