January 10, 2009

The BIG Preview: UT opens Big 12 play

The Basics

The Longhorns (11-3) open up Big 12 play on Saturday against Iowa State (11-4) at the Erwin Center at 3PM. The game will be televised regionally by the Big 12 Network. Basically, check your local listings for the right channel in your area.

Series vs. Iowa State

Texas leads 9-8; Last meeting: Texas 71-65 in OT (Feb. 9, 2008; Ames).

Post-Arkansas Notes

• The Razorbacks went into the game with a +10 mark in the rebound department, but the Longhorns won the battle on the glass by a 50-37 margin.

• Sophomore Gary Johnson recorded his second straight double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Those two double-doubles represent the first two of his career.

• The Longhorns shot a season low 7.1 percent from three-point land in Fayetteville.

• Texas leads the Big 12 and ranks 13th nationally in blocked shots with an average of 6.1 rebounds per game.

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.

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 18.1 points per game through the first 14 games, while making 44-of-104 (42.3 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 Saturday's game against Iowa State, Abrams ranks seventh on UT's all-time scoring list with 1,643 points and trails No. 6 Jim Krivacs (1,673) by only 30 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.


6th Man of the Year?

Sophomore forward Gary Johnson is quickly emerging as one of the top sixth men in the Big 12 this year, ranking third on the team in scoring (10.8) and second in rebounds (6.9).

In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a player on the Longhorn roster that has played better than the former Houston Aldine star in the last two weeks, as he's averaged 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest while hitting 26-of-46 (.565) field goals and 15-of-18 (.833) free throws in his last four games.

Here's a look at the Big 12's top scorers and rebounders off the bench:

Scoring

1. LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor) - 15.9
2. Mike Singletary (Texas Tech) - 11.0
3. Gary Johnson (Texas) - 10.8
4. Keiton Page (Oklahoma State) - 10.6
5. Fred Brown (Kansas State) - 10.1

Rebounding

1. Gary Johnson (Texas) - 6.9
2. Ron Anderson (Kansas State) - 5.9
3. Marcus Morris (Kansas) - 5.8
4. Mike Singletary (Texas Tech) - 5.8
5. Jamar Samuels (Kansas State) - 4.9

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 5.6 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 eight games, Mason has taken his newfound playmaking ways to new heights, having dished out 50 assists (6.25 per game) and committing only seven turnovers, which translates to a tremendous 7:1 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. Justin Mason (2007- ) - 2.06
3. D.J. Augustin (2007-08) - 2.05
4. 4. Alex Broadway (1985-88) - 1.80

NBA Longhorn Notes

Daniel Gibson scored 10 points and dished out three assists in Cleveland's 98-83 win over the defending world champion Boston Celtics on Friday night.

Former Naismith winner T.J. Ford has missed two games this week because of a lower back pain. In 30 games this season Ford is averaging 13.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

Former All-American Lamarcus Aldridge continues to play well in his third season with the Portland Trailblazers, as he scored 26 points and grabbed six rebounds in an 84-83 win over Detroit on Wednesday. Aldridge is averaging 17.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season.

About Iowa State…

When the Cyclones come to town on Saturday, there are four things to really know about this group:

1) They played very good team defense (field goal defense ranks 18th in the nation)
2) They struggle to find ways to score at times (last in the Big 12)
3) They are not great on the glass (+0.1 average on the season)

Leading the way for the Cyclones is 6-10 sophomore center Craig Brackins. This team doesn't have a lot of front-line players in the line-up, but Brackins has been the go-to-guy for this team all season, averaging 18.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He's not a very good outside shooter, but he will expand his game out to the three-point line if he's left alone (he'll take one or two three-point shots per night).

Most of his work is going to be done around the basket and there's no question that if you limit Brackins, you'll likely beat the Cyclones, as he's taken nearly twice as many shots as the next closest player on the team.

Along with Brackins, sophomore point guard Diante Garrett is the other piece of the Iowa State puzzle that makes up the heart and soul of the team. In addition to being the table-settle for the team (5.1 assists per game), he's also the second-leading scorer (10.7), the third-leading rebounder (4.1) and also ranks first on the team in steals.

At 6-4, 185 pounds, Garrett does a great job of getting good dribble-penetration and he's a fantastic finisher around the basket that gets to the free throw line a lot. Look for the Longhorns to put junior Justin Mason on Garrett in this game and it will be interesting to see how the sophomore guard for the Cyclones responds because it will be one of the toughest individual match-ups that he's seen this season.

Once you get past Brackins and Garrett, there's a little bit of a decline in the overall personnel that Iowa State head coach Greg McDermott has to work with. German transfer Lucca Staiger is the team's best outside shooter (36-of-84 - 43.4 percent), but there's very little versatility to his game. Basically, he's the team's designated three-point shooter, but if he's not getting clean looks, he's not much of a factor in the game. As good of a free throw shooter as he is, he's only been to the line six times this season, despite playing the fourth most minutes on the team.

Outside of Brackins, there's just not a lot in the front-court to talk about and it figures to be a big problem for the Cyclones in Austin today. McDermott has worked several different players into the line-up with Brackins in the front-court, but nobody has really stepped up as a true compliment and contributor.

The Three Keys

1. Pound it inside. If Brackins gets into any kind of foul trouble in this game, it could be a feeding frenzy for the Longhorn post players because there's just not enough athleticism and talent on the floor to defend the volume of players that the Longhorns have to offer. This should be a game that the Longhorns post a +10-type number on the glass and don't be surprised if a number of interior players finish in double figures in scoring and rebounding.

2. Keep Garrett out of the lane and off the free throw line. Justin Mason, lock him down. That's your job today.

3. Remember who you are. Texas outclasses Iowa State in pretty much every way that a team can in terms of talent and the Longhorns need to play like it today, especially after dropping a bad one in Fayetteville when they seemed to forget that they are one of the nation's best teams.

The Texas line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Abrams - 5-10 senior - (18.1 points, and 2.4 rebounds)
Guard - Justin Mason - 6-2 junior - (7.1 points and 5.6 assists)
Forward - Damion James - 6-7 junior - (14.6 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 - (9.1 points and 4.9 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Dogus Balbay - 6-0 sophomore (0.9 points and 1.9 assists)
Guard - Varez Ward - 6-2 freshman (3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds)
Forward - Gary Johnson - 6-6 sophomore - (10.8 points and 6.9 rebounds)
Forward/center - Clint Chapman - 6-10 sophomore - (1.8 points and 2.0 rebounds)
Forward - Matt Hill - 6-10 sophomore - (0.8 points and 0.9 rebounds)

The Iowa State line-up

The starters

Guard - Diante Garrett - 6-4 sophomore - (10.7 points and 5.1 assists)
Guard - Lucca Staiger - 6-5 sophomore - (8.3 points and 2.2 rebounds)
Guard - Bryan Peterson - 6-1 senior - (7.0 points and 4.0 rebounds)
Forward - Alex Thompson - 6-10 senior - (3.4 points and 3.4 rebounds)
Forward - Craig Brackins - 6-10 sophomore - (18.3 points and 8.5 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Wes Eikmeier - 6-1 freshman (4.9 points and 1.1 assists)
Guard - Sean Haluska - 6-3 senior - (3.4 points and 1.2 rebounds)
Guard - Charles Boozer - 6-3 sophomore (2.4 points and 1.3 rebounds)
Forward - Jaime Vanderbeken - 6-11 junior - (4.3 points and 3.4 rebounds)
Center - Justin Hamilton - 6-11 freshman (4.6 points and 2.9 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…

10

In nine of the ten seasons that Rick Barnes has been at Texas, his teams have won at least ten conference games during the 16-game conference schedule.


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