Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Two Games In, Johnson's Impact Being Felt

In his second game back from his undisclosed heart condition, that caused him to be a liability to play on December 29th and completely healthy on January 2nd, Gary Johnson looked like the player that we had been hoping for for much of the season. With Johnson's impact, Texas looked a lot like the team that we can expect the rest of the season.

Defensively, the impact of Gary Johnson is immeasurable. It allows Texas to more adequately matchup against teams with size and allows Damion James to play at the more suitable small forward position. His impact is also seen on the offensive and defensive boards where his size and energy have given Texas the rebounding and interior boost that they needed. His defense and rebounding will only improve as he becomes more comfortable with the nuances of the college game.

Offensively, it finally gives Texas the balance it so desperately needed. It gives Texas an offensive post up threat which does several things. It takes some pressure off the guards to produce everything for the offense. It allows Damion James to be a more versatile offensive threat, attacking defenses from inside and out. This change in role has benefitted James the most of any Longhorn as was evident by his 29 points and 14 rebounds against TCU and his 15 and 8 against St. Mary's. It also takes the pressure off of Connor Atchley to score night in and night out, and allows our young front court players in Wangmene, Pittman, and Chapman to develop at their own pace and not demand consistent contributions.

However, the place that Gary Johnson has affected this team the most is on the bench. The flexibility that Johnson allows Coach Barnes with his lineups is what could possibly save the season and Barnes' sanity. The Michigan State and Wisconsin games showed some weaknesses offensively and defensively. Mainly, that Justin Mason had once again suffered his offensive disappearence just in time for conference season and the lack of a reliable offensive and defensive threat forced Damion James to play out of position and put undo pressure on the offense. Johnson's move into the starting lineup allows for Justin Mason to move to the bench, a role that he should be able to thrive in as a defensive specialist. Whether it is a coincidence or not Alexis Wangmene has played a lot better since the return of Johnson. Either way, Gary's presence gives Barnes many more options and allows the players that we have to better fit into the roles they are capable of filling.

Texas heads into conference play this Saturday at Missouri. It will be their toughest test of what should be a very winnable first four games for the Longhorns. A fast start could give the Longhorns the confidence they need to battle Texas A&M and Kansas for the Big XII title. With Gary Johnson in the mix, this Longhorns team becomes a definite contender in the conference as well as the NCAA tournament.

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