January 2, 2009

The BIG preview: ASU coming to town

The Basics

The Longhorns return to the court after a week off with a home game against Appalachian State (5-4). Tonight's tip-off is scheduled for 8pm and the game will be televised by ESPNU.

Series vs. Appalachian State

First meeting

Post-Wisconsin Notes

• After struggling in recent games to win on the glass, the Longhorns absolutely dominated the Badgers in the rebounding department (40-25), posting a season-best +15. The Longhorns have outrebounded their opponent in nine of 12 games thus far this season.

• The Longhorns also shot a season-best 93.9 percent (15 of 16) from the free throw line in Madison.

Damion James' 18 points and 15 rebounds against the Badgers marked the fifth time this season that he has posted a double-double this season. After averaging a double-double in 2007-08, James is averaging 14.4 and 8.6 rebounds per game this season.

Dogus Balbay had the best game of his young career, posting a career-high five assists against the Badgers.

Horns maintain Top 10 ranking

After their big road win at Wisconsin the Longhorns moved up a spot in both of the national rankings, as they currently rank 7th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and 8th in the AP Poll.

One tough schedule

The Longhorns are finishing up a pretty taxing stretch that has seen 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 (W 67-58)
December 20th - vs. No. 18 Michigan State in Houston (L 67-63)
December 23rd - at Wisconsin in Madison (W 74-69)

The Longhorns conclude their non-conference schedule on Tuesday with a road game against Arkansas (10-1). The Razorbacks have been unranked all season, but that might not be the case by the time they tip-off with the Longhorns, after they raced past No.4 Oklahoma 96-88 earlier this week.

Abrams keeps gaining ground

A.J. Abrams is not only the Big 12's second-leading 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 19.8 points per game through the first 12 games, while making 40-of-89 (44.9 percent) from 3-point land. Overall, he's hit the 20-point mark on 29 different occasions for the Longhorns during his career.

Heading into today's game against Texas Southern, Abrams ranks seventh on UT's all-time scoring list with 1,627 points and trails No. 6 Jim Krivacs (1,673) by only 46 points. If Abrams can average a minimum of 20 points per game this season, he will move into the No. 3 slot all-time among Longhorn career scoring leaders and would have Terrence Rencher (2,306 points) and Travis Mays (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 averages only 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 and he'd still have the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments remaining to play.


Mason moving into rarefied air

Junior point guard Justin Mason knew coming into this season that the Longhorns were going to lean on him to become a better distributor of the basketball for his teammates and he hasn't let anyone down through the first third of the season.

Mason is currently averaging a career-high 5.58 assists per game and even more important, he's averaging a 2.8:1 assist to turnover ratio, which ranks among the best marks in school history.

In the last five games, Mason has taken his newfound playmaking ways to new heights, having dished out 26 assists and committing only two turnovers in his last four games, which translates to a near-ridiculous 13:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Overall, Mason's strong start to this season has him within the best career assist-to-turnover ratio in school history.

Here's a look at the numbers:

Top Career Assist-to-Turnover Ratio in UT History (since 1982-83)

1. T.J. Ford (2002-03) - 2.21
2. D.J. Augustin (2007-08) - 2.05
3. Justin Mason (2007- ) - 2.04
4. Alex Broadway (1985-88) - 1.80

NBA Longhorn Notes

Kevin Durant had one of his best nights of the season on New Year's Eve, as he scored 25 points, grabbed ten rebounds and dished out six assists in Oklahoma City's 107-100 win over Golden State. Durant is averaging 23.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 46.4 percent from the floor and 42.6 percent from three-point land.

Former Naismith winner D.J. Augustin had 15 points and two assists in 35 minutes earlier this week against the New York Knicks, but he's struggled in the last two weeks. Augustin is averaging 7.2 points and 2.0 assists per game in his last five games, which has dropped his season averages down to 12.5 points and 4.3 assists per game.

Former All-American Lamarcus Aldridge continues to play well in his third season with the Portland Trailblazers, as he scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a 91-86 win over Boston on Tuesday night. Aldridge is averaging 17.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this season.

About Appalachian State…

On paper this would appear to be a nice, cozy little non-conference snack for the nationally-ranked Longhorns, but for a team that has played to their competition at various times this season, this match-up with the Mountaineers shouldn't be overlooked.

Yes, this team was annihilated by Kentucky (93-69) less than two weeks ago, but this is a team that will play at a pace very similar to the one that Texas State played earlier this season, which means that the Longhorns transition defense will be tested for 40 minutes.

Like the Bobcats, the Mountaineers will enter this game with an offense that spread around pretty evenly, with five different players averaging between 10.2-12.4 points per game. Also, just like the Bobcats, the Mountaineers are relentless in their effort on the glass, especially on the offensive end of the court.

In fact, the Mountaineers currently rank fourth in the country in rebounding with 40.3 per game. More impressive is their +10.5 rebound margin per game. Leading the way for ASU is 6-10 sophomore center Isaac Butts, who is averaging a double-double this season with 10.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game this season.

Just like UT's Dexter Pittman, Butts was a much bigger man when he first reported to college, but he's dropped from 335 pounds to 285 pounds in less than two years. Although he's not as physical or as skilled as Pittman around the basket, he has a nice touch around the basket and is a pretty efficient offensive player because the offense isn't exactly running the ball through him on every possession.

Outside of Butts, the rest of the ASU line-up is undersized and you can count on two things - fast-tempo and lot of three-point shots. The Mountaineers have 206 three-point attempts in nine games this season, which equates to 22.8 per game. By comparison, this Texas team, which is hardly shy about taking three-points shots, is averaging 15.3 points per game.

The top two long-range bombers on the ASU squad are Ryann Abraham and Donald Sims, who shoot 40.1 and 40.0 percent from downtown, respectively. Both players are high-volume shooters that take twice as many shots behind the three-point line than they do from inside of it.

The team's leading scorer is fellow guard Kellen Brand, who is averaging 12.4 points. Although he's shooting 37.5 percent from three-point land this season, he's been better than a 40.0 percent shooter from downtown for his career. Unlike Abraham and Sims, Brand is more of a slasher that can create his own shot off the bounce. He's also the last guy on the floor that the Longhorns want to send to the free throw line (team-best 83.9 percent).

With so many talented guards, it's surprising to see that this team's biggest bugaboo this season has been their inability to take care of the ball and if they can't improve on their 18.7 turnovers per game against the Longhorns, they'll obviously have very little shot at winning the game.

Overall, it's a team that lacks size, but they play at an aggressively high-tempo and has a lot of players that can make shots.

The Three Keys

1. Get back on defense. The Longhorns have really struggled in transition defense at times this year and this team will challenge them in that area. The Texas backcourt will need to be careful not to lose sight of their defensive assignments because if the ASU guards can anything close to a clean look from behind the three-point line, they are going to take it.

2. Hit the glass. There will be a lot of long rebounds tonight and great positioning in the paint won't be enough. The Longhorns will need to match ASU's intensity on the glass because they have been relentless in that area this season and they don't do it with a bunch of tall guys playing the part of trees over bushes.

3. Play quick, but under control. The Longhorns will be temped to get into a race track pace against these Mountaineers, but they need to make sure they play under control. This team is going to turn it over a lot, so the transition buckets will be there, but the Longhorns need to make sure that they are controlling the pace of the game and not allowing themselves to be dragged around by their tails.

The Texas line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Abrams - 5-10 senior - (19.8 points, and 2.4 rebounds)
Guard - Justin Mason - 6-2 junior - (7.2 points and 5.5 assists)
Forward - Damion James - 6-7 junior - (14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds)
Forward - Connor Atchley - 6-11 senior - (6.9 points and 3.6 rebounds)
Forward/center - Dexter Pittman - 6-10 junior - (8.0 points and 4.1 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Dogus Balbay - 6-0 sophomore (1.1 points and 1.6 assists)
Guard - Varez Ward - 6-2 freshman (3.2 points and 2.8 rebounds)
Forward - Gary Johnson - 6-6 sophomore - (10.0 points and 6.3 rebounds)
Forward/center - Clint Chapman - 6-10 sophomore - (2.1 points and 2.3 rebounds)
Forward - Matt Hill - 6-10 sophomore - (0.3 points and 1.0 rebounds)

The Appalachian State line-up

The starters

Guard - Kellen Brand - 6-2 junior - (12.4 points and 2.6 rebounds)
Guard - Ryann Abraham - 6-7 senior - (12.5 points and 4.5 rebounds)
Guard - Eduardo Bermudez - 6-3 senior - (10.2 points and 4.8 rebounds)
Forward - Josh Hunter - 6-6 junior - (9.6 points and 8.2 rebounds)
Center - Isaac Butts - 6-10 sophomore - (10.6 points and 10.8 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Donald Sims - 6-0 junior (11.7 points and 1.9 assists)
Guard - Jeremi Booth - 6-5 sophomore - (3.4 points and 1.6 rebounds)
Guard - Donterious Hughes - 6-2 freshman (3.1 points and 1.2 rebounds)
Forward - Andre Williamson - 6-7 freshman - (4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds)
Forward - Tyler Webb - 6-9 junior (3.3 points and 2.3 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…

6.17

The Longhorns lead the Big 12 in blocked shots per game with 6.7 per game. It is the only stat that the Longhorns lead the conference in at this stage of the season.


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