I have a confession to make. I may have drank the Kool-aid of the UTA Men's basketball team. After a tough non-conference slate that saw numerous close losses to progressively better teams, I thought UTA would be a force in Sun Belt play.
That hasn't happened. Last week I was very disappointed in their 0-2 start. This past week, they picked up their first win in conference, 83-79 in OT to Louisiana-Monroe, but are now 1-3 overall, good for 9th place. Remember, they have played 3 games at home to one on the road and only the top eight make the conference tournament.
I think I have finally figured it out. This years team has a lot of talent, but they don't seem to play well as a team. They have good-to-great individual players, but aren't integrating their skills into team play.
A few of the players remind me of a Steven Barber. To refresh some memories and give a history lesson to others, Barber played for UTA at the turn of the century under previous coach Eddie McCarter. Barber fit right into McCarter's style of play, which was a fast-paced, lots of shots, defense less of a concern every game. Barber averaged 18.6 points per game and a 40 percent field goal percentage, but would give up the same on D. The team averaged 76.3 points per game, one of the higher totals in Maverick history. They gave up 77.8 and he was a big reason why. The team didn't play defense well and lost a lot of shootouts.
Compare that to this year so far. In losses, they have scored 87 against Boise State, 81 versus Robert Morris and 89 to Oklahoma. They have scored 70 points or more in four other losses, including Saturday's 90-70 setback against Louisiana-Lafayette. Make no mistake, defense has been hard to find this year.
And that is really the crux of the issue. The team, to use that term loosely, is really a collection of five guys playing basketball out there. Offense can still work well with talent, but in order to play effective defense, five guys have to be on the same page and talking. A good defensive team is a collection of players playing well as a team. I just haven't seen that much this year. If they want to move up the conference standings, they are going to have to figure it out. This team is not going to win shootouts in this league. They didn't do it well enough in the Southland Conference when shootouts were their style.
Up next is a match-up on the road to Texas State. The Bobcats are 5-11 on the year and just beat Monroe in Monroe 61-36. New coach Danny Kaspar has had a tough year, but have begun to play better of late. All-time, the 'cats lead the series 30-28. It sure would be nice to beat TXST and Kaspar, I just don't know if we can play well enough as a team to do it.