Golden: Longhorn posts Sims and Jones pivotal during 2021 revival
Inside players aren't the top scoring options but they are delivering for the No. 4 Horns
- Texas plays at West Virginia Saturday. In the last meeting there, the Horns were embarrassed, 97-59.
The big boys in the paint are showing up for the Texas Longhorns, and when grouped with a tremendous group of perimeter players, Shaka Smart has one of the most complete ballclubs in all of college basketball.
The next test will give us all an idea of just how far the No. 4 Longhorns have come, especially posts Jericho Sims and Kai Jones.
The last time Texas visited Morgantown, the hard-pressing, ball-hawking West Virginia Mountaineers administered one of the most embarrassing losses in the program’s history. The Horns were trampled 97-59 and showed zero fight.
Sims, a 6-foot-10 jumping jack, played only 13 minutes and fouled out after scoring three points. Even more embarrassing was the Horns getting torched 41-19 in the rebounding department.
“We got our ass kicked, to sum it up,” Texas guard Jase Febres told reporters.
That loss sparked more speculation that Smart was fighting for his job. He survived the Turk and 10 games into his sixth season, has fans buzzing with excitement over the team’s first No. 4 ranking in a decade. It’s a deep, experienced group with a cool mix when it comes to the distribution of labor.
After limping out of the gate in the early part of the season, Sims’ pilot light has caught fire over the last two games with 21 points and 20 rebounds, really good numbers for the fourth or fifth option in the offense. Smart called him the best player on he floor in the 84-59 blowout win at Kansas. Sims has finally emerged to not only give this offense another weapon but also deliver to his coaches and especially teammates Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman, who have been in his ear to step up.
Sims grinned when he was told he'd scored 10 points with eight rebounds in the 78-72 win over Iowa State. It feels good to shut up his well-intentioned teammates with his play of late.
While Sims is finding his stroke, 6-foot-11 sophomore Kai Jones is easily one of the most improved players in the country with highlight-reel dunks and chase-down blocked shots that have NBA scouts buzzing about his upside. His block in the last two minutes during an Iowa State rally steadied his team and Texas calmly quelled the upset attempt.
Smart will play them more on the court together and will add 6-foot-9 freshman Greg Brown on the front line against a burly West Virginia, which averages 41.4 rebounds per game, second in the Big 12 and just ahead of the surging Horns (9-1, 3-0 Big 12).
It’s one of the most athletic front courts in America and unique in that its players have the luxury of picking and choosing their spots.
Of course we all know it’s a guard’s team.
Andrew Jones is one of the best feel-good stories in all of college sports. He’s beaten leukemia and is now beating defenders off the dribble with an array of scoring moves.
Ramey, the emotional leader, is streaky but fearless. He has the ability to take over a game and carry a team for stretches. He also doesn't mind taking on the defensive assignment of the other team’s best perimeter player.
Coleman, the spiritual leader, has never shied away from big moments. He delivered the Maui Invitational championship with a buzzer beater against North Carolina and is Smart’s lead dog in the locker room.
And then there's Brown, oozing with athleticism and intelligence. He has done a great job of not trying to do too much and is taking in the teachings of his coaches and the mentorship provided by his veteran teammates with the class of a true professional to be.
Of anyone on this roster, Brown has the potential to be a real game changer in the second half of the season because he’s learning on the job as a newcomer and coming into his immense gifts game in and game out.
"I'm talking about one of the best, probably top three I've ever been around when he when he's in that clear-minded space,” Smart said. “And you can see it on his face. He's not the strongest guy in the world. But when he's got that energy in that bounce to him, and I've looked to him, he plays with really good toughness and strength, even though he's probably not moving a ton of weight in the weight room.”
The Mountaineers and coach Bob Huggins are a tough-minded bunch, something Texas didn’t show when the two last met in Morgantown. It should be mentioned that when the two reconvened in Austin last season, the Horns, playing without Sims, fared much better by playing the Mountaineers even on the boards 29-29 and topping them on the scoreboard, 67-57.
Texas is in a much better physical and mental space in 2021, but the Horns still must prove it on the court. The sting of that loss will be in their heads when they take the court Saturday.
I expect the guards to show up in huge fashion because it’s what they’ve done all season, but will the bigs continue to play big in this latest test?