RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Texas LonghornsPosted by zhayes9 on September 2nd, 2009
Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.
The primary debate throughout college basketball this offseason is not who should claim the top spot in the polls in early November. It’s fairly evident Kansas is the near-unanimous choice and the most talented team in the land on paper. Instead, the serious discussion will surround which team should hold the rights to the #2 spot in the country after the Jayhawks. Some will say Kentucky and their immense talent, or Villanova and their elite backcourt. Some will argue Duke or North Carolina or Michigan State deserve the nod. My money is on Kansas’ main Big 12 foe: the Texas Longhorns.
Losing the all-time Big 12 leader in three point field goals, a 16.6 points per game scorer and a guard who played over 35 minutes per contest the last three seasons will be an adjustment for coach Rick Barnes. Consistency wasn’t always A.J. Abrams’ forte, but the constant threat he posed from outside would stretch defenses and help teammates find easier lanes to the basket. Even with Abrams gone, the backcourt looks strong led by holdover Dogus Balbay, a tremendous passer, and Florida transfer Jai Lucas, an elite guard that played thirty minutes per game for Billy Donovan just two seasons ago and shot 44% from deep. The #1 recruit in the entire nation according to ESPN, Avery Bradley, also joins the backcourt as an attacking wing that can hit mid-range jumpers and defend like a senior. Talented guard J’Covan Brown also joins the fray after missing last season due to academics.
The frontcourt also looks strong, bolstered by the return of Damion James for another campaign in Austin after testing the NBA Draft waters. James nearly averaged a double-double as a junior and could very well accomplish said feat in 2009-10. Another top-ten recruit, small forward Jordan Hamilton, has the potential to be a huge scoring force for Texas. Hamilton is an exceptional shooter with a long wingspan that can finish at the rim with equal prowess. Dexter Pittman and Gary Johnson, two monsters inside, both return as double-digit scorers a year ago. Justin Mason and Varez Ward are the glue guys on the perimeter defending and contributing when needed. This team is loaded and could challenge Kansas for the top spot in the country at some point.
How does the schedule play out for my #2 team in the nation? Let’s examine:
Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8.5. The Longhorns non-conference slate features two top-ten teams in a span of four days right before Christmas. On December 19, Texas will face defending champion North Carolina in Arlington at Jerry Jones’ new monstrosity and take on Michigan State at home in Austin on December 22. Rick Barnes is never one to dodge challenging non-conference schedules and this year is no different. Still, the Longhorns don’t leave the state of Texas for an entire month (November 28 vs. Rice in Houston to December 29 vs. Gardner-Webb at home). Their neutral floor games in Kansas City are against Big Ten bottom-feeder Iowa and a rebuilding Pittsburgh team who will be without Gilbert Brown for the fall semester (assuming they beat Wichita State). They’ll also take on a talented Connecticut team in late January. Barnes put together this schedule in brilliant fashion. He’ll pick up neutral floor wins against moderately big names and brings two highly ranked schools to his home state, surely boosting his RPI and SOS with the chance to pick up quality wins in hopes of grabbing a #1 seed in March.
Cupcake City: Barnes did schedule his fair share of cupcakes, but nothing excessive to the point of being embarrassing. I count seven games against “cupcakes” (including Long Beach State, the Big West preseason favorites) in Austin with two to begin the campaign as part of the CBE Classic and the others sandwiched around the North Carolina and Michigan State games, which makes perfect sense. I never understood why coaches schedule weaker opponents 8-9 games in a row during the season. Sprinkling in serious challengers in the middle portion, as Barnes did, is the best strategy to keep his Longhorns motivated and focused.
Toughest Early Season Test: Even though the game is in Austin, Michigan State still poses a bigger threat than the greener Tar Heels. Kalin Lucas should be an early test for Jai Lucas and Co. in the backcourt while Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers will be the first huge tests for Bradley and Hamilton on the wings. Texas will be looking for serious revenge this time around, as Michigan State has defeated the Longhorns each of the last three seasons in close contests.
Easiest Conference Stretch: The first six games of the Big 12 slate seem pretty favorable for Texas, a golden chance to start 5-1 or 6-0 en route to challenging for a conference title. The hardest game will be a trip to Kansas State to take on a Wildcat team led by Denis Clemente, Wally Judge and Jacob Pullen at one of the more intense environments in the nation. Otherwise, it’s four home dates against below-average competition- Colorado, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor– with a trip to Iowa State and Craig Brackins also involved. This is also the stretch where Texas plays Connecticut (time and site not announced yet), so Texas won’t be able to cruise through this stretch. But anything less than 5-1 will be considered a letdown.
Hardest Conference Stretch: Following the end of that stretch and the home date with Baylor, Texas enters the difficult portion of their Big 12 schedule. The trip through Oklahoma State and Oklahoma is always challenging; luckily, the Longhorns get five days in between to prepare. Texas then returns home to greet Kansas on February 8 for what should be one of the biggest games of the season. A home date with Nebraska provides a slight rest before two more road dates in tough environments with Missouri and Texas Tech. Both of those schools are down, but will be chomping at the bit to pull off a stunning upset at home.
Most Difficult Road Test: Texas lucked out and doesn’t have to travel to Lawrence (which is a bummer for fans like myself that wanted to see these two teams square off again) so the trip to Oklahoma should be the sternest test for Barnes and Co. The Griffin brothers and Austin Johnson are gone, but Jeff Capel is one of the best in the business. His recruiting class is led by Tiny Gallon, Tommy Mason-Griffin, Andrew Fitzgerald and Steven Pledger with sharpshooters Willie Warren and Tony Crocker returning. Traveling to Gallagher-Iba to take on James Anderson and the high-scoring Cowboys will also prove a very daunting task.
Most Anticipated Home Date: Kansas. Easy. These two teams are the reason why the Big 12 could be the best conference in the land this season. Think of all the talent on the floor in this game with Cole Aldrich banging down low with Dexter Pittman, Xavier Henry and Jordan Hamilton with Damion James on the wings, and supreme talents like Tyshawn Taylor and Gary Johnson, two players that could be go-to scorers on BCS teams, playing supporting roles. The big edge for Kansas could be Sherron Collins against Lucas/Balbay/Brown.
Best Individual Matchup: Even if Avery Bradley doesn’t start at the onset for Rick Barnes, expect him to play a significant role at the starting shooting guard position by midseason at the very latest. He’s just way too talented on both ends of the floor. Bradley is known primarily for his defense rather than his offense, a rarity in today’s highlight reel/AAU era. His intelligence, quick hands, length and quickness are tremendous at such a young age. The test: Willie Warren of Oklahoma. Bradley attempting to contain Warren off screens and on the perimeter should be a joy to watch and a true test for the youngster.
Upset Watch: Remember when the Baylor Bears almost made an improbable run through the Big 12 Tournament and reached the Dance after an immensely disappointing 2008-09 regular season? If Baylor peaks again in March, Texas could be in trouble. The Longhorns travel to Waco on March 6 for their season finale. Who knows: maybe Baylor will be playing with the idea of a quality win punching their ticket to the Dance. LaceDarius Dunn, Tweety Carter and Quincy Acy join high-profile recruit Nolan Dennis for Scott Drew. They may not defend or play smart basketball, but the Bears can certainly score (especially Dunn). This would be a huge upset.
The Longhorns were expected to be a force last season in the Big 12; in fact, Texas was ranked #5 in the country when Michigan State knocked them off in December. Thus began the tailspin that included road losses to Arkansas and Nebraska and home losses to Kansas State and Missouri. A Big 12 tourney loss to Baylor and a second-round defeat at the hands of Duke ended a letdown campaign for Barnes. The talent entering Austin for this season gives Longhorn fans hope that 2009-10 will mark an epic turnaround. I expect a Final Four could be in the works.