January 6, 2009

The BIG Preview: Horns head to Fayetteville

The Basics

The Longhorns have one final non-conference showdown before conference play begins this weekend on Tuesday night when they travel to play Arkansas (11-1) in Fayetteville. The opening tip-off is scheduled for 8PM and the game will be televised by ESPN2.

Series vs. Arkansas

Arkansas leads 85-65; Last meeting: Texas 80-76 (Dec. 20, 2006; Austin).

Post-Appalachian State Notes

• Junior center Dexter Pittman scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds in a career-high 26 minutes against the Mountaineers.

Damion James recorded his third straight double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds against ASU. Through the first 13 games this season, James has recorded six double-doubles.

• The trio of Pittman, James and sophomore Gary Johnson combined for 51 points and 31 rebounds against Appalachian State.

• The Longhorns were +11 in the rebounding department against the Mountaineers and have won the rebounding battle in 10 of their first 13 games.

Horns maintain Top 10 ranking

Although there was quite a shake-up in the national rankings this week, the Longhorns didn't see much movement this week, as they stayed at No.7 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, while they moved up one spot from No.8 to No.7 in the AP Poll.

One tough schedule

The Longhorns are finish up a 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)

Abrams keeps gaining ground

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 19.0 points per game through the first 13 games, while making 43-of-96 (44.8 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 Tuesday's game against Arkansas, Abrams ranks seventh on UT's all-time scoring list with 1,636 points and trails No. 6 Jim Krivacs (1,673) by only 40 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.

The Big 12 scoring record is 2,256 points set by former Texas Tech star Andre Emmett.


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 5.5 assists per game and even more important, he's averaging a 2.7:1 assist to turnover ratio, which ranks among the best marks in school history.

In the last seven games, Mason has taken his newfound playmaking ways to new heights, having dished out 43 assists and committing only seven turnovers, which translates to a tremendous 6:1 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

Daniel Gibson scored eight points and had two steals in Cleveland's 80-77 loss to Washington on Sunday night. Gibson is averaging 8.9 points per game this season.

Former Naismith winner T.J. Ford had 16 points and seven assists in Indiana's 122-117 win over Sacramento on Saturday night.

Former All-American Lamarcus Aldridge continues to play well in his third season with the Portland Trailblazers, as he scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 100-86 loss to the L.A. Lakers on Sunday night. Aldridge is averaging 17.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season.

About Arkansas…

When the season began nearly two months ago, the Arkansas faithful wasn't exactly sure what they were going to have with this year's basketball team.

The team was already missing five contributors from last season's 23-12 team that accounted for more than 50 points per game when they lost projected starting guard Patrick Beverely in August.

At that point, the keys to the car were going to be turned over to a class of six freshmen and the team was going to sink or swim with whatever they could give.

So far this season, this feisty bunch of Razorbacks isn't treading water in the pool - they've jumped into the pool like Michael Phelps.

Leading this pack of super six freshmen is point guard Courtney Fortson, who was ranked as the nation's No.9 point guard by Rivals.com last season. The 5-11 Fortson is averaging 15.3 points and 7.3 assists per game, and through the early part of the season he's done a great job of attacking teams in transition and getting his teammates involved in the offense.

The other star freshman in the starting line-up is Rotnei Clarke, who is averaging 12.7 points and four rebounds per game. If you're looking for a comparison, Clarke is Arkansas' version of A.J. Abrams, as he'd absolutely deadly from downtown (42.7 percent) and he's been almost perfect from the charity stripe (26 of 27). Like Abrams, he's not the guy that you want to leave alone at any point and if he gets a clean look in transition, he's doesn't lack the confidence to fire away on the break.

While the freshmen are garnering a lot of the headlines this season, there are a pair of upper-classmen that represent the heart and soul of the team.

Junior forward Michael Washington is finally getting a chance to be the man in Fayetteville and he's responded by averaging a double-double. The 6-9 Washington is one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation and gets to the free throw line quite a bit, but he's just as comfortable from 17-feet in as a shooter. He's really the total package.

While Washington is the team's best interior threat, junior guard Stefan Welsh does a little bit of everything for the Razorbacks (13.5 points and four rebounds). He's not a great shooter, but he's a capable one. He does the second-best job of creating for other players and he's one of the more active defensive playmakers.

One of the question marks for this team entering the game on Tuesday is the availability of 6-6 freshmen Jason Henry (8.2 points and 3.2 points), who has missed six games with an injury. If he's out once again against the Longhorns, the Razorbacks will be without their top sixth man and the best offensive weapon on the bench.

When the Razorbacks beat Oklahoma earlier in the season, they did it by being able to out all of the pieces together at once, as they shot 63.3 percent in the first half to open up 53-38 lead. With six players reaching double figures in scoring, the Razorbacks were able to ride that wave of momentum to a very convincing win.

Overall, it's a young, but very talented team that's still learning just how good they can play. The pace is going to be very fast and they are going to try and get the Longhorns into an up-and-down game as much as the Longhorns will allow.

Expect the most frenzied pace of the season.

The Three Keys

1. Rebound, rebound and rebound some more. The Razorbacks are +10 in the rebound margin per game for the season, which is just outstanding. Washington is a beast down low, so the Longhorns will need to overwhelm the Arkansas front-line with numbers over the course of 40 minutes.

2. Mason must control the tempo. The Razorbacks are going to trap and really push the envelope with defensive pressure in this game and Mason has to control the pace for the Longhorns. If he can't keep things under control, the Longhorn offense might get ragged in some stretches.

3. Push the tempo right back at Arkansas. This is a young team that can score, but they still don't defend all that well at times, especially when it comes to transition defense. When the Longhorns get the opportunities, they need to get the ball up the floor and create some fast-break opportunities. Arkansas is going to get some cheap points, which means Texas needs to do the same.

The Texas line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Abrams - 5-10 senior - (19.0 points, and 2.2 rebounds)
Guard - Justin Mason - 6-2 junior - (6.9 points and 5.5 assists)
Forward - Damion James - 6-7 junior - (14.4 points and 8.9 rebounds)
Forward - Connor Atchley - 6-11 senior - (6.6 points and 3.4 rebounds)
Forward/center - Dexter Pittman - 6-10 junior - (9.0 points and 4.6 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Dogus Balbay - 6-0 sophomore (1.0 points and 1.7 assists)
Guard - Varez Ward - 6-2 freshman (3.4 points and 2.7 rebounds)
Forward - Gary Johnson - 6-6 sophomore - (10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds)
Forward/center - Clint Chapman - 6-10 sophomore - (1.9 points and 2.1 rebounds)
Forward - Matt Hill - 6-10 sophomore - (0.9 points and 1.0 rebounds)

The Arkansas line-up

The starters

Guard - Courtney Fortson - 5-11 freshman - (15.3 points and 7.3 assists)
Guard - Stefan Welsh - 6-3 junior - (13.5 points and 4.0 rebounds)
Guard - Rotnei Clarke - 6-0 freshman - (12.7 points and 1.8 rebounds)
Forward - Michael Washington - 6-9 junior - (17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds)
Forward - Michael Sanchez - 6-8 freshman - (7.2 points and 6.8 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Marcus Brit - 6-3 sophomore (4.3 points and 1.9 assists)
Guard - Jason Henry - 6-6 freshman - (8.2 points and 3.2 rebounds)
Guard - Marcus Monk - 6-6 senior (4.0 points and 2.8 rebounds)
Forward - Brandon Moore - 6-9 freshman - (2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds)
Forward - Andre Clark - 6-9 freshman (3.4 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…

1-of-21

That is what the Texas bench is shooting behind the three-point like this season. Only Varez Ward (1-of-10) has hit a three-point shot this season.


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