December 8, 2008

The BIG Preview: Horns face Nova in NY

The Basics

The Longhorns take on their third Top 20 opponent in the last couple of weeks on Tuesday when they travel to New York and face No.12 Villanova in the Jimmy V. Classic at Madison Square Garden. Tip-off is scheduled for 8pm and the game will be televised on ESPN.

Series vs. Villanova

Tied 1-1. Last meeting: Villanova 70-69. (January 20th, 2007; in Philadelphia)

Post-UCLA Notes

• The Longhorns have beaten nine straight ranked opponents at the Erwin Center.
• The Longhorns have blocked six shots on defense this season in six of their first seven games, while also holding their opponents to less than 40% shooting from the field in six of seven games.
• A.J. Abrams tied a career-high against the Bruins with 31 points.
• Damion James had 13 points and 13 rebounds against the Bruins, marking the third time this season that James had pulled off a double-double.
• The Longhorns were outrebounded (39-38) for the first time all season against UCLA, with 20 of the Bruins' rebounds coming on the offensive glass.

Horns move up a spot in the rankings

After knocking out UCLA at home last week, the Longhorns moved up two spots this week to the No.6 spot in both of the two major national polls. The Longhorns have been ranked inside the top ten all season.

One tough schedule

The Longhorns are currently in the middle of a pretty taxing stretch that will see them take on five ranked or previously ranked teams before the start of Big 12 play.

Overall, here are the early games of note that should play an important role for the Longhorns later in the season when it's time to talk tournament seeding:

November 25th - vs. No.8 Notre Dame (L 81-80)
December 4th - vs. No.9 UCLA in Austin (W 68-64)
December 9th - vs. No.12 Villanova in New York City (Jimmy V. Classic)
December 20th - vs. No.18 Michigan State in Houston
December 23rd - at Wisconsin in Madison

Defense leading the way

If there's one thing we know that we can take to the bank about this year's team, it's the fact that the Longhorns can play some nasty defense. After seven games this season, the Longhorns have proven to be one of the nation's most intimidating defensive units, as they have held their opponents to 56.7 points per game, 34.9% FG shooting and 31.4% from three-point range. Through those first seven games, the Longhorns have also recorded 61 steals and 44 blocks. By comparison, UT's opponents have tallied 44 steals and 21 blocks against the Longhorns.

Abrams keeps gaining ground

A.J. Abrams is not only the Big 12's top returning scorer this season, but he's also on his way towards becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the program. So far this season, he's averaging 18.0 points per game through the first seven games, while making 24 of 54 (44.4%) from three-point land. Overall, he's hit the 20-point mark on 26 different occasions for the Longhorns during his career.

Heading into Thursday's game against the Bruins, Abrams ranks 10th on UT's all-time scoring list with 1,515 points and trails No.9 Raymond Downs (1,558) by only 43 points. He passed former Longhorn star B.J. Tyler (1,502 points) with his 31-point scoring explosion against UCLA last week. If Abrams can average a minimum of 20 points per game this season, he will almost certainly move into the No.3 slot all-time among Longhorn career scoring leaders and would have Terrence Rencher (2,306 points) and Travis Mayes (2,279 yards) in his sights.

If he averages 20.0 points per game this season, he'd be on pace to finish with 2,030 and that does not include any potential post-season games. Even if he only averages the 16.5 points per game that he averaged last season, he'd still be on pace to finish the regular season with 1,921 points, which would put him within 37 points of Reggie Freeman for the No.3 spot.

NBA Longhorn Notes

Former Longhorn Lamarcus Aldridge scored 20 points to lead the Portland Trailblazers to a 98-97 win on the road in Toronto. Aldridge is 18.0 points per game in his last three games and is averaging a career-high 16.0 points per game this season.

Former Wooden Award winner T.J. Ford scored nine points and dished out three assists in Indiana's 122-117 loss to Boston on Sunday. Ford is averaging 14.3 points and 5.3 assists per game this season.

Former Longhorn All-American Chris Mihm is averaging 3.0 points and 1.4 rebounds in the seven games he's played in for the L.A. Lakers this season.

About Villanova…

Coming into this game, the Longhorns have a pretty good idea of who they are as a team, especially after match-ups with Notre Dame and UCLA in the last two weeks. The same won't be the case for the Wildcats, who haven't played anyone of substance through the first eight games of the season, unless the idea of playing Rhode Island or Niagara gets the juices flowing.

Returning to lead the way for the undefeated Wildcats is junior guard Scottie Reynolds, a player that Longhorns players will remember well from their last meeting in 2007 when he dropped 26 points on the boys in burnt orange. Reynolds does a little bit of everything for Jay Wright's squad, as he's a natural scorer who has really started to grow into a true point guard role.

So far this season, Reynolds is averaging 14.0 points and a team-high 4.8 assists for the Wildcats. The difference between the Reynolds that the Longhorns witnessed two seasons ago to the one they'll see this year is night and day. In helping lead the Wildcats to a Sweet 16 appearance last season, the Virginia native matured and became the type of player that didn't need to score to have an impact on the game.

When you look at the Wildcats on offense, they've got four players that take the majority of the shots and Reynolds has been the coldest from the field of any of them, as he's hit only 38.8% of his shots from the floor, although he's been solid from three-point range with a 35.7% clip.

The good news for the Wildcats is that they haven't needed Reynolds to carry the scoring load, as 6-8 senior post-player Dant Cunningham has emerged into one of the best low-post players in the Big East Conference After averaging 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last year, Cunningham has taken his level of play to another level to begin this season, as he's averaging 17.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

Even more impressive is the manner in which he's getting the job done on offense. In addition to the 57.0% field goal percentage he brings to the table, he's also shot more free throws (41) than any player on the team and he's a productive shooter (78.0%) once he gets there. There's nothing about Cunningham's game that the Longhorns haven't already seen from a couple of other impressive post-players on the schedule, but the kid plays hard, is a good offensive rebounder and doesn't need the offense to flow through him in order to make an impact offensively.

As much as Reynolds and Cunningham might lead the way in press clippings this season, the player that might be the straw that stirs that drink is 6-5 sophomore guard Corey Stokes.

The former McDonald All-American is shooting 51.0% from three-point range 49.2% from the field and 82.4% from the free-throw line. Basically, the Longhorns need to make this kid pass the ball as much as possible because with the way he's been shooting this season, he can take over a game if he's given too many good looks.

If you're looking for a good comparison, he's basically Villanova's 6-5 version of A.J. Abrams. The Longhorns need to make sue he's accounted for at all times.

The other double-digit scorer for the Wildcats entering the game is 6-1 sophomore guard Corey Fisher, who averages 11.3 points per game, but isn't a very good outside shooter (21.7% from three-point land).

Overall, this Wildcats squad is going to be put to the test in this game in ways they haven't been tested all season. Like the Longhorns, the Wildcats have been very good on the glass (+10.6 per game) and they defend very well.

Their biggest weakness in this game might be their lack of depth in the front-court. The Wildcats mostly play a seven-man rotation and they get by with three viable front-court players, although Stokes has a lot of size for a guard, but isn't exactly a physical player. If 6-6 senior Dwayne Anderson (a key member from last year's Sweet 16 team), who has been hobbled all season by a foot injury, is unable to go, the Longhorns will have a clear edge up-front.

Of course, Villanova's biggest strength is in their backcourt. With the trio of Reynolds, Stokes and Fisher, the Wildcats can beat just about anyone if these guys can get hot, and Reynolds and Stokes have the ability to drop 20+ spots on the stat sheet in every game they play.

One stat to keep an eye on in this game if things stay close - Villanova shoots an incredible 78.7% from the free throw line as a team.

The Three Keys

1. Beat the Wildcats on the glass. After getting outworked for much of the second half against the Bruins, the Longhorn front-court needs to reestablish themselves in this game, especially on the defensive end of the floor. The Longhorns have more size, skill and depth up-front and it needs to show.
2. Don't let Stokes catch fire. It'll be interesting to see what the Longhorns do defensively because a case can be made for putting Justin Mason on either Reynolds or Stokes.
3. Dictate the style of play. The Wildcats are going to want the Longhorns to be forced to match-up with their three-guard line-up more than be forced to try and match-up with Texas' size. The Longhorns need to make the Wildcats pay dearly if they choose to go small by pumping the ball down low to the posts and making them match-up with that Texas size.

The Texas line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Abrams - 5-10 senior - (18.0 points, and 2.7 rebounds)
Guard - Justin Mason - 6-2 junior - (9.1 points and 4.9 assists)
Forward - Damion James - 6-7 junior - (14.3 points and 8.7 rebounds)
Forward - Connor Atchley - 6-11 senior - (8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds)
Forward/center - Dexter Pittman - 6-10 junior - (6.0 points and 3.4 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Dogus Balbay - 6-0 sophomore (1.1 points and 1.0 assists)
Guard - Varez Ward - 6-2 freshman (2.3 points and 1.7 rebounds)
Forward - Gary Johnson - 6-6 sophomore - (10.3 points and 7.4 rebounds)
Forward/center - Clint Chapman - 6-10 sophomore - (1.6 points and 2.1 rebounds)
Forward - Matt Hill - 6-10 sophomore - (0.0 points and 1.3 rebounds)

The Villanova line-up

The starters

Guard - Scottie Reynolds - 6-2 junior (14.0 points and 4.8 assists)
Guard - Corey Stokes- 6-5 sophomore - (12.9 points and 1.3 assists)
Guard -Corey Fisher- 6-1 junior - (11.3 points and 3.4 assists)
Forward - Antonio Pena - 6-8 sophomore - (9.3 points and 5.6 rebounds)
Center - Dant Cunningham - 6-8 senior - (17.3 points and 8.0 rebounds)

The next four

Guard - Reggie Redding - 6-5 junior - (7.6 points and 5.6 rebounds)
Forward - Shane Clark- 6-7 senior (5.7 points and 2.4 rebounds)
Forward - Dwayne Anderson - 6-6 senior - (3.0 points and 1.0 rebounds)
Forward - Frank Tuhuisi - 6-8 senior (1.5 points and 2.6 rebounds)

And finally…

In our quest to provide you with a tidbit in each preview that teaches you something you might not have otherwise known, we give you this…


The Longhorns have a perfect record this season when they've scored between 60-79 points, but they are 0-1 in the game this season that has played above the 80-point mark on the scoreboard.

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