And Then Just One Unbeaten Team Remained

For a game between two top 10 teams, particularly one where No. 1 fell, Monday night's Texas-Kansas State game had to be a bit of a letdown for a national audience. (I'm sure everyone in Manhattan disagrees with me this morning.) Outside of Kansas State's bigs -- Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly -- it's tough to pick anyone out from the pack who played exceptionally well. ↵

↵Both backcourts were different shades of terrible. Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente might've actually been worse than the rotation of Texas guards. Pullen and Clemente's combined line: 23 points, 4-of-24 shooting (0-of-8 from 3-point range), 10 assists and eight turnovers. I'm not sure if there's a statistical line for making Bob Knight groan on the ESPN commentary, but Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen definitely rocked that stat last night. (As I tweeted during the game, did anyone else get the sense that Knight was one bad Clemente decision away from leaving the booth and grabbing the Wildcats' guard by the neck during a timeout? If I was a man with more time, I'd splice together all the times Knight muttered something after a wasted Kansas State possession.) That being said, I full support the Abraham Lincoln/Jacob Pullen Beard meme if it has brought us this awesome Frank Martin picture (right). ↵

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↵But we should probably celebrate the fact that Kelly and Samuels so thoroughly outplayed the more celebrated Texas frontcourt. Damion James played as poorly as you'll ever see. He was missing layups and turning the ball over. Many of his wounds were self-inflicted. Dexter Pittman found himself in foul trouble and was limited to just 16 minutes. With all the talk about Pittman's weight loss, you'd think that after seeing limited action he'd be in great shape to close the game, but that obviously wasn't the case. He was really sucking wind toward the finish. ↵

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↵I suspect the Texas frontcourt will sort itself out. There won't be many nights both James and Pittman combine to play that poorly. The questions in the wake of the Longhorns' first loss should focus on the perimeter and how Rick Barnes chooses to manage it going forward. ↵

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↵Barnes has chosen to start Justin Mason, Dogus Balbay and Avery Bradley to this point. It sends a clear message about the mission statement for Barnes. He wants his starters to defend. There's no question that when you compare Balbay and Mason to reserves J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton, you've got two offensively superior players coming off the bench. That doesn't even bring recently eligible Jai Lucas into the conversation. Taking that into account, you're discussing five guys for two spots, assuming we all acknowledge Avery Bradley is the right combination of defense and offense to deserve that starting spot. ↵

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↵In the end, what matters is March, but we're not that far from a time when Barnes is going to have to trim his rotation. To play this combination of guys in limited minutes is a great way to hamper them all. Right off the bat, Jai Lucas appears to be the odd man out. He's getting just 12.9 minutes as is. He only played six minutes against K-State on Monday. ↵

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↵It seems like a great problem to have, having too much talent on the perimeter, but it didn't work out in anyone's favor on Monday night. Balbay didn't deliver on his caretaker role in the offense (six turnovers). Brown and Hamilton didn't provide the necessary offensive pop (combined 4-for-17 shooting). Because Bradley is the only all-around option, Barnes is left with a tricky balancing act, swapping defenders and ballhandlers for scorers and hoping they're all clicking. At some point in the next few weeks, one of those guys will have to show a better all-around game if Texas wants to make it to Indy and compete for a title. ↵

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↵(Oh, and if you're wondering when the last unbeaten -- Kentucky -- will drop its first game, good luck picking which middling SEC team will do the deed. If you have the guts to say anyone other than Tennessee or Mississippi State, you're a bolder prognosticator than I am.) ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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