Previewing Texas vs. North Carolina

Posted by Taylor Erickson & Lathan Wells on December 18th, 2013

(Ed. note: news released on Wednesday afternoon that UNC’s Leslie McDonald has been cleared to play as soon as tonight’s game. This post was written prior to that release.)

On Wednesday night, Texas will head to the Dean Dome for a showdown with what suddenly looks like one of the better teams in the nation in North Carolina. North Carolina has had its struggles early this season with losses to UAB and Belmont, but has righted the ship with perhaps the best collection of wins in the country after knocking off Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky – the top three teams in the preseason AP rankings. Texas has opened the season with a 9-1 record itself, but has yet to see the type of talent that the Tar Heels will roll out. ACC correspondent Lathan Wells and the Big 12′s Taylor Erickson decided to discuss some key topics heading into the contest in the hopes of providing some insights to watch for as the game plays out.

Can Marcus Paige continue his hot streak against Texas on Wednesday? (Scott Muthersbaugh / The Times News)

Can Marcus Paige continue his hot streak against Texas on Wednesday? (Scott Muthersbaugh / The Times News)

Taylor:  So I have to start with the obvious question: North Carolina has three of the best wins in non-conference play, but also has puzzling losses to UAB and Belmont. Which Tar Heels team are we going to see on Wednesday night?

Lathan: Prior to the Kentucky game, that would continue to be the prevailing question. But after their third marquee non-conference win of the season, it appears that UNC is starting to find some consistency. The players appear to be more comfortable in their roles. The fact that Texas has taken four of the last five since Roy Williams took over in Chapel Hill may be motivation enough. Speaking of adapting to roles, how has Texas been able to have such a solid start with a team that entered the season in the midst of major transition?

Taylor: The 9-1 start for Texas has certainly been refreshing to Longhorns fans, but when dissecting the schedule in more detail, it becomes apparent that most of those wins have come against clearly inferior teams. According to CBSSports.com, Texas’ strength of schedule to this point ranks 100th in the nation, 91 spots behind what North Carolina (ninth) has faced. If Rick Barnes’ squad is truly improved, it will have a chance to prove it with tonight’s game followed by one against Michigan State in a span of three days this week. That said, Texas has gotten solid contributions from big man Cameron Ridley, who went for 22 points and 10 rebounds in his last outing. After the way North Carolina handled the talented front line of Kentucky, is there any reason to believe the Heels will struggle to do the same with the Longhorns’ frontcourt?

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Texas in the CBE Hall Of Fame Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2013

With Feast Week kicking into high gear, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Big 12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: The Longhorns haven’t garnered many headlines this season, but as we mentioned in Friday’s M5, that’s probably a good thing, given that their schedule has consisted of four games against teams outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 100. After a couple of close calls against Mercer and South Alabama, Rick Barnes‘ team finally got the lead out last Monday, thrashing Houston Baptist in Austin. It may still be early, but things could be looking up, as the Texas offense is already more promising than it was at this time a year ago. Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert have made great strides, and a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio from Javan Felix has made scoring easier to come by. The Longhorns are still trying to get Cameron Ridley out of neutral, free throw shooting has been awful, and the team’s shot selection has been questionable at times, so there’s still a lot of improvement to be made. Defensively, kinks are still being ironed out, especially on the perimeter. Texas has allowed four nondescript opponents to shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc, the result of fielding a young team and showing a zone defense that hasn’t done a good job of closing out on shooters.

The 4-0 Longhorns look to keep the good times rolling in Kansas City. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

The 4-0 Longhorns look to keep the good times rolling in Kansas City. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

First Round Preview: Texas’ defensive three-point percentage will be an area of concern right off the bat as the Longhorns draw sweet-shooting BYU tonight in Kansas City. Even though the Cougars hit only 4-of-14 attempts from outside the arc against Iowa State, the Longhorns need to keep a close eye on Matt Carlino, Tyler Haws and Anson Winer, each of whom can do damage from the perimeter in a hurry. Inside, the match-up should work slightly more in Texas’ favor, especially if Cougars forward Erik Mika has trouble adjusting to the eye injury he suffered at the hands of DeAndre Kane. Any time would be a great time for the Longhorns to get Ridley going, but with such a distinct size advantage down low, this is an especially good opportunity for him. Still, none of it will matter if Texas doesn’t keep up with BYU’s quick-strike offense, as the Cougars’ possessions last an average of just 12.6 seconds.

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Big 12 M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 20th, 2013

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  1. Credit to Gary Parrish for calling his shot about 10 hours before Marcus Smart went off for 39 points in a rout of Memphis in Stillwater. “But Smart now has a nice opportunity to shift the national conversation back in his direction, because the big stage will be all his on this Tuesday night.” Andrew Wiggins played Tuesday night, as did Jabari Parker and Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon. But Smart stole the spotlight from the fabulous freshmen, reminding us all that he is still the best guard in the country.
  2. Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid had a big day Monday. Jayhawk beat writer Rustin Dodd featured him in an excellent article, as Embiid’s dad watched him play for the first time in his life, and he finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks in an 86-66 victory. He was 7-7 from the floor and had a few buckets that made you realize he probably won’t be in a Kansas uniform last season. The biggest defense for the second-ranked Jayhawks is still protecting the rim, and as Dodd points out, Self is working with Embiid to play more like former Jayhawk and shot block-extraordinaire Jeff Withey. If that happens, this team will be complete.
  3. Last season Juwan Staten ran the West Virginia offense and the results weren’t pretty. Staten had a respectable statline of 7.6 PPG and an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2/1. But as Bob Hertzel points out, last year West Virginia was bad. Really bad. #219 in the country bad. And fair or not, that blame went largely to the point guard. A year later, Staten is averaging 20 PPG, 7.3 APG, and is shooting over 51 percent through three games.
  4. Texas is 4-0 for the first time in four years thanks in some part to the hustle of Jonathan Holmes, who lost parts of couple teeth diving for a loose ball in Monday night’s 89-61 win over Houston Baptist. The biggest takeaway from the win, as Chris Hummer notes, is that freshman guard Kendal Yancy got the start over returning leading scorer Javan Felix. It was a good move to get Yancy some starting experience in a game the Longhorns would control because Rick Barnes will need all the help he can get this season to keep his job.
  5. If you want good seats in the Kansas student section, whether the Jayhawks are playing Iona or Towson or Missou…Kansas State, you better like early mornings, sitting, and waiting. It’s a somewhat complicated system that is run close to perfection considering it is run by students and students only. But don’t let Elise Reuter of the Kansas City Star fool you about some of the camping group names. Back in the day, when Kansas and Missouri still played, Bill Self once handed out pizzas before reading the list of the 200 or so groups, many of which would make your grandmother blush. “You guys toned it down this year,” he said. “Last season was much worse.”
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Big 12 M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 15th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas has another big day today as Jahlil OkaforTyus Jones and Cliff Alexander are scheduled to make their college decisions this afternoon, and The Sporting News has a solid breakdown of Jones’ and Okafor’s recruitment and what the commitments will mean for the winner of their services.. The rumor mill has led many to believe that the package deal of Okafor and Jones are leaning towards Duke while Illinois is considered the leader for Alexander, a blue-chip prospect from Chicago. Even though Kelly Oubre is already committed to the Jayhawks for the 2014-15 season, Kansas may need to reload in a hurry with Andre Wiggins, Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid dotting mock drafts throughout the blogosphere.
  2. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but Iowa State has one big weekend in store. For starters, the Cyclones host top-flight 2014 recruit Rashad Vaughn. Touted as perhaps the best shooting guard prospect in his class, Vaughn has drawn comparisons to Ben McLemore with his shooting stroke and strength in a 6’6″ frame. While a decision isn’t expected in the immediate future, a commitment would send a message that not only can Fred Hoiberg land impact transfers, but he can make his presence felt on the prep level as well. The Cyclones top off the weekend Sunday night when they face top-10 foe Michigan at Hilton Coliseum.
  3. Their season is only two games old, but Kansas State hasn’t done much to change the minds of skeptics who are leery of their offense. The Wildcats’ defense has been fine so far, as it held both Northern Colorado and Oral Roberts to less than a point per possession, but Bruce Weber‘s team already ranks eighth in the conference in offensive efficiency. The next opponent on Kansas State’s schedule is Long Beach State, which hasn’t been the least bit impressive, so the 49ers appear to provide the Wildcats with a chance to get right on the offensive end.
  4. Burnt Orange Nation’s Jeff Haley is one of the best there is when it comes to breaking down advanced metrics, and his number-crunching tells us that Jonathan Holmes and Isaiah Taylor have been worth the price of admission through Texas‘ first two games. Haley also points out that the Longhorns have played a fair amount of zone defense, perhaps in an effort to keep Rick Barnes’ inexperienced and thin personnel from getting into foul trouble.
  5. Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler has been a work horse for the Sooners. Playing a key role in Oklahoma’s 3-0 start, Spangler has averaged 13.0 points to go along with 8.3 rebounds per game. Spangler also rejected three shots against Idaho on Wednesday and will look to keep the momentum rolling when the Sooners tip off against Seton Hall tonight in Brooklyn.
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Big 12 M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 8th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Big 12 and college basketball fans alike: rejoice. Just days before the 2013 edition of the Champions Classic tip-off, ESPN announced that Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State will continue the doubleheader series until at least 2016. For the last couple of years (and of course, Tuesday’s blockbuster), the Champions Classic has been the perfect nightcap to an awesome day of college hoops. As far as the next three years will shake out for Kansas, they’ll face Kentucky in 2014, Michigan State in 2015 and Duke in 2016. Did I forget to mention that today’s opening day? The news lately has been prettay, prettay, prettay, prettay good.
  2. Good news on the Oklahoma recruiting front as the Sooners received a commitment from top 150 prospect Dante Buford. A three-star prospect from Arlington Country Day in Florida, Buford commanded offers from the likes of Miami, SMU, USC, Memphis and South Carolina. The news of Buford’s pledge comes two weeks after fellow 2014 big man Khadeem Lattin committed to Lon Kruger’s program despite holding offers from Georgetown, Arizona and Memphis, among many others. The Sooners may be stretched thin for big men this year, but fret not, help is on the way to Norman!
  3. Let’s be honest, expectations for Texas this season aren’t very high. But Burnt Orange Nation argues if the Longhorns are to surprise, it will come down to the play of their four big men. Those players — Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert — struggled mightily in certain areas during their freshmen (sophomore for Holmes) campaigns, but the opportunity for growth is still great. Ridley is a physical freak, Holmes led the team in rebounds, Lammert’s shooting ability came to light when he started games late in the year, and Ibeh was second on the team in blocks behind Ridley. If they make serious strides in all of these areas, 2014-15 may look quite a bit better than you think right now.
  4. Kansas freshman Brannen Greene was rushed to Lawrence Memorial Hospital after taking a hit to the midsection during practice. It wasn’t anything serious as Greene was taken there for precautionary reasons and released shortly thereafter. Head coach Bill Self still believes Greene will see action in tonight’s season opener against Louisiana-Monroe. What we learned from this: Self is a tough coach, his players are tough, Kansas is still predicted to win the league, and water is wet. Man they’re so good.
  5. Move over Cameron Crazies: the hottest, coolest and newest student section in college basketball is the Purple Haze at TCU. The TCU Student Basketball Committee announced the name for the student section last week and members of said student section will have opportunities regular students won’t have. Head coach Trent Johnson said “The Haze” (feel free to use the nickname, TCU) will interact and build relationships with players. A point system has also been established that would enable two “Hazers” (you can use that too) who loyally attend home and away games who accumulate the most points will win two tickets to attend the 2014 Final Four at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Sounds like a sweet gig if you can get it.
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Night Line: Even Without Kabongo, Texas Has Hope in Watered-Down Big 12

Posted by BHayes on December 20th, 2012

nightline2

Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Texas defeated a ranked North Carolina team in convincing fashion on Wednesday night, but the good vibes from the win quickly took a backseat to the news that sophomore guard Myck Kabongo had been suspended for the season by the NCAA. Fair or unfair (feel free to lean towards very unfair), it appears that the young Longhorns will be moving forward without their best player and leader. As Texas took their lumps in these first two months, most remaining optimism surrounding this year’s team hung on the presumed return of Kabongo. His comeback will no longer happen, but Texas fans should hold off on writing the year off. It would have been difficult to believe in this notion on November 19, the day that Division-II Chaminade authoritatively beat the Horns, but an improving batch of youngsters and a historically weak Big-12 might enable Texas, even without Kabongo, to make the NCAA tournament and salvage a season that once seemed lost.

Can Texas Overcome The Now Permanent Absence Of Myck Kabongo?

Can Texas Overcome The Now Permanent Absence Of Myck Kabongo?

First and foremost, it’s clear that this Texas team is getting better. They have taken care of business since the Chaminade loss and beaten the teams they are supposed to beat, with respectable losses to USC (in OT), Georgetown, and UCLA sprinkled in there. A late letdown in the UCLA loss prevented the Horns from netting their first win of consequence, but outplaying the Bruins had to be an encouraging sign for Rick Barnes. Throw in tonight’s wire-to-wire victory over the Heels and you have two solid performances against preseason top-25 teams, a definite step in the right direction. The defense has been stingy with a capital S; Texas is best in the country in effective FG% against — a remarkable statistic considering the youth on the roster. Rick Barnes deserves some real credit for the work on that end of the floor, but the offense is still very much a work in progress. Freshman Javan Felix may not have completely erased the longing for Kabongo, but has gained confidence with every outing. The Horns rely on three sophomores for the bulk of the offensive punch, and while McClellan, Lewis and Holmes all had their moments in the win tonight, they must become more consistent for Texas to find any real offensive competence.

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Big 12 M5: 11.29.12 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 29th, 2012

  1. Last night, Oklahoma traveled to play Oral Roberts for the first time since 1995. It wasn’t easy for the Sooners as they would have to overcome a 10-point deficit to win, 63-62. Freshman Buddy Hield scored all 11 of his points in the second half while Steven Pledger hit the game-winning bucket with 1:12 left. This game was chock full of noteworthy trivia. OU’s win ended Oral Roberts’ 24-game winning streak at the Mabee Center dating back to 2010 and head coach Lon Kruger won his 499th game as a collegiate coach. Man, how good is basketball in the state of Oklahoma right now?
  2. West Virginia has had a real bad start to its season as currently the only Big 12 team with a losing record. They could really use a gimme game and coming to the Mountaineers’ rescue was Virginia Military Institute. WVU took down VMI 94-69 in its home opener and their transfers took center stage. Juwan Staten led all scorers with 18 and was one of seven guys to score in double figures for WVU despite playing a lighter rotation due to injuries. Matt Humphrey was held out of the game with what Bob Huggins calls a “tweaked shoulder.” Meanwhile, Kevin Noreen and Dominique Rutledge both suffered ankle injuries early and did not return. Nothing is known about their severity. The important thing, WVU fans, is that your ‘Eers aren’t deceiving you: West Virginia won a basketball game!
  3. By now you know the Big 12’s flirtation with Louisville was just that — flirting — and the Cardinals are officially joining the ACC. The always-opinionated coach at Kansas, Bill Self, threw in his two cents on the changing landscape of conference affiliation and what it means for the Big 12 going forward. The fact of the matter is the Big 12 doesn’t need to expand. They have their $2.6 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox signed for the next 13 years, and as far as deals go for 10-team leagues, this is the best they could have gotten. Schools would see expanding as cutting further into each school’s money pie. But I’d like to see them expand in order to stay competitive with bigger leagues like the B1G and the ACC. Whatever the Big 12 does, expand or keep the status quo, they can’t go wrong as long as nobody else jumps ship.
  4. After learning about Rodney McGruder’s struggles in the new Kansas State offense after the NIT Tip-Off, he’s singing a different tune now. McGruder says he’s feeling a comfort level in Bruce Weber’s motion offense after sitting down with coaches and getting to the root of his problem. Teammate Will Spradling said after Wednesday’s practice that during their scrimmage, “he [McGruder] kind of took over as the scorer he was last year. I think he’s getting more comfortable and confident.” Once everyone, not just McGruder, gets a more firm grip on the offense, this Kansas State team will be a dangerous one.
  5. The Texas Longhorns have gotten off to a less than ideal start to the season with Myck Kabongo sidelined, their struggles out in Maui, and their stale, turnover-prone offense. But one bright spot on the team has been the growth of Jonathan Holmes as a player from a year ago. He’s tied for the lead in the conference in rebounds per game (9.2 RPG) and Holmes had a nice stat line vs Sam Houston State: 11 points, eight boards, two blocks, two steals in a season-high 30 minutes of action. Rick Barnes went as far as saying, “You can count on him [Holmes] every night.” Hop on the Holmes bandwagon while there’s still room.
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Big 12 Summer Update: Texas Longhorns

Posted by dnspewak on August 2nd, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writer Danny Spewak (@dspewak) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Texas

2011-12 record: 20-14, 9-9 (6th place, Big 12)

The worst nightmare happened for Texas’ J’Covan Brown: He went undrafted in June. It’s easy to play the role of revisionist historian with regard to Brown’s decision to enter the NBA Draft and skip his final year of school in Austin. In hindsight, though, perhaps he should have stayed in school and tried his luck in 2013. In reality, Brown made the decision with his family in mind. He has a daughter to take care of, and he’ll find a way to make a lot of money playing this game somewhere. After averaging 20.1 points per game as a junior and taking almost all of the shots for the young Longhorns — sometimes earning the team a reputation as a One-Man Show — his decision to bolt for the pros this summer now leaves a major void for Rick Barnes in 2012-13. It would be silly to use the cliched “addition by subtraction” theorem in this situation because Brown was so important and frankly had a terrific junior campaign without much experience surrounding him, but there’s no doubt Barnes will have a different team without him on the court. With heralded point guard Myck Kabongo ready to take a leap in production as a sophomore after growing up considerably by the end of his freshman season, Barnes should have no trouble qualifying for yet another NCAA Tournament. Despite a close call a year ago, he’s still never missed the NCAAs during his tenure at Texas, and even though his team is maddeningly inexperienced, it should certainly make leaps with a stud recruiting class and improving group of sophomores.

Myck Kabongo is The Man On This Team

Summer Orientation: Barnes welcomes six new scholarship freshmen to his roster, headlined by one of the Big 12’s presumed top newcomers in center Cameron Ridley. Say goodbye to last year’s woes of lacking a true post presence. Ridley’s 6’10”, 245-pound frame speaks for itself. So does his game. He’s a traditional center with back-to-the-basket post moves, a rarity in this age of Kevin Durant and European-style hybrids. The Texas native’s decision to stay home changes the dynamics of Barnes’ roster, and so does fellow freshman big Prince Ibeh. He’s considered more of a project than Ridley and has a leaner body type, but he’s another true center who could become a monster if he develops his offensive game. Barnes told ESPN’s Andy Katz this summer that both Ridley and Ibeh are right on track to contribute as freshmen, but that article actually mentions another freshman as the biggest surprise of the off-season. That’s DeMarcus Holland, a 6’3” shooting guard noted by Barnes as performing like an “every day” kind of guy. That’s some of the highest praise a freshman can achieve before stepping on the court, and it’s the kind of comment that leads us to believe Holland could be a valuable reserve in his first season. Point guard Javan Felix will need to grow up quickly in order to backup Kabongo, and three-star small forward Ioannis Papapetrou finds himself in an interesting role as one of the only true wings on this roster. To round out the class, Connor Lammert will fight for minutes in a crowded frontcourt. The 6’7” power forward had a decent outing in a summer All-Star game by scoring 14 points. As is the case for every single team in America with rather large freshmen classes, the Longhorns’ Big Six will have to sort themselves out by the end of the offseason and October practice. Ibeh and Ridley are early bets to see a ton of playing time, but there’s no telling who else will emerge in their rookie campaigns. Overall, though, this appears to be a good group with a lot of potential down the road, and 2012-13 should serve as a solid foundation for this class.

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Insider’s Practice Report: Texas

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage from the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak

Unlike Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma, which ran loose, light-hearteded practices Wednesday morning, the Texas Longhorns looked like a team in desperation mode. Rick Barnes had no time for nonsense this afternoon, not with an NCAA Tournament at-large bid hanging in the balance this week. He screamed at Myck Kabongo several times for not finding the open man in the post (“He’s wide open! Find him!”) and got on walk-on Dean Melchionni for a mistake later in practice (“Shoot it! It’s not that hard!). For almost 40 minutes, the Longhorns scrimmaged with focus, intensity and a mission in mind: beat Iowa State and solidify its spot in the NCAA Tournament. “We’re taking it one game at a time this tournament. Tomorrow is the most important game of the season,” freshman Jonathan Holmes said after practice.

Texas worked on defending Scott Christopherson and the dribble handoff for several minutes

All practice, Barnes repeated over and over again that the team must take away the three-point shot. When J’Covan Brown politely mentioned that harassing shooters on the perimeter would leave defenders one-on-one, Barnes did not care. “You’re playing against the best three-point shooting team in the conference,” Barnes said.  Royce White may be Iowa State‘s leading scorer and star this season, but Barnes and assistant Rob Lanier seemed more concerned about Scott Christopherson and his ability to burn their defense from beyond the arc. “Christopherson, we’re not giving him anything. Anything,” Barnes said during practice. In preparation for Christopherson, Lanier prepped his team on how to defend Iowa State’s dribble handoff. Sheldon McClellan stood in as Christopherson, and Lanier ran drills for about 10 minutes to make sure his players knew how to shut this down. He told his team to hedge hard on the handoff, making sure the help defender “had it under control” before he retreated to cover his own man.

Later in practice, Barnes’ guys ran full court and worked on defending the dribble handoff in a more realistic setting. Take a look at the video below, where McClellan receives a handoff and runs into a help defender.

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Previewing Wednesday Night’s Big 12 Doubleheader

Posted by dnspewak on December 21st, 2011

Although college football bowl season will occupy the Four Letter Network’s main channel for the next several weeks, we have to express our holiday gratitude to ESPN for still managing to show as much college hoops as possible. Tonight, Big 12 hoopheads get a bit of a treat with two league games on ESPN2, including a rematch of a buzzer-beater from December 2010.

  • Texas at North Carolina, 6 PM CT (ESPN2)
Roughly 368 days ago, Texas guard Cory Joseph stunned a partisan UNC crowd with this shot, earning the Longhorns a defining 78-76 victory. After tumbling from number one in the polls to an early exit in the NCAA Tournament the previous season, Joseph’s game-winner marked a turning point in Texas’ year, which eventually resulted in a top-five seed in the NCAAs and a successful second-place finish in the Big 12. After losing all five starters from that team, Rick Barnes now has a team in transition, and this rematch this time at the Dean Dome could once again signify a turning point in the 2011-12 season. So far, Barnes’ new-look team has experienced mixed results with guard J’Covan Brown taking a leadership role. He’s played terrific basketball, but his young teammates are still a little inconsistent. Myck Kabongo will be a star at the point soon, but in UT’s two losses to Oregon State and N.C. State in the Legends Classic in November, he finished with more turnovers (eight) than assists (six). Kabongo gained a little confidence with 18 points in a win over Temple this weekend at home, and maybe that victory will get this team on track. The big key is how Texas’s forwards perform against one of the top frontcourts in the country. On paper, Brown’s matchup with Kendall Marshall looks like must-see TV — and it is — but the Longhorns can’t win unless Clint Chapman, Alexis Wangmene and Jonathan Holmes show up to play. UNC has a significant size advantage with Tyler Zeller and John Henson on the interior, so it’s especially important for Chapman to use his 6’10” frame to try to lock them down. The Tar Heels are the obvious favorite here, but Texas will at least have a shot to pull the upset if Brown outplays Marshall and displays some heroics.

Rick Barnes Knows His Team Has a Golden Opportunity Tonight

  • Oklahoma State at Alabama, 8 p.m. CT (ESPN2)

In the nightcap of this Big 12 doubleheader, a struggling OSU team will look to remake itself in Birmingham against Alabama, which has tumbled a bit itself recently. Most of Oklahoma State’s problems have stemmed from shaky point guard play. To complicate matters, Fred Gulley transferred this week, leaving Cezar Guerrero and Reger Dowell to man the point. The Crimson Tide, which have lost three of four games, are actually having similar offensive problems. Against Kansas State last weekend, Alabama never recovered from an ugly start offensively, turning the ball over 18 times and making just two three-pointers. Anthony Grant’s team isn’t built to shoot threes or light up the scoreboard, though. As one of the better defensive coaches in the SEC, Grant’s guys will smell blood if the Cowboys’ offense isn’t clicking. That’s the problem here for Travis Ford. He needs better play out of Dowell and Guerrero, and they need help from freshman LeBryan Nash, who still looks like he’s acclimating himself to Division I basketball. Keiton Page is OSU’s top offensive option right now, but he’s more of a catch-and-shoot guy that does not carry an offense. So that’s something to keep an eye on: Will Ford’s team execute better offensively, and can it use its athletes to get up and down the floor as Ford would prefer? Also, Alabama brings a ton of size to the table in this matchup, something OSU cannot match. The Cowboys need to use their team speed to overcome that — after all, they’re as fast and athletic as any team in the nation. They’re just not sure how to use it at this point in the season.

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Big 12 Team Previews: Texas Longhorns

Posted by cwilliams on November 9th, 2011

Projected finish: 4th

2010-11 record: 28-8 (13-3)

Head coach: Rick Barnes, 14th season

Key losses: Jordan Hamilton (18.6 PPG), Tristan Thompson (13.1 PPG), Gary Johnson (11.5 PPG), Cory Joseph (10.4 PPG)

The 2009-10 season started out with high hopes and even higher poll rankings for the Longhorns. As we all know, after peaking at #1 in the nation for two consecutive weeks, the Longhorns collapsed in spectacular fashion finishing the season as a one-and-done NCAA tournament team. The 2010-11 campaign was quite the opposite. Expectations were not nearly as high yet the Longhorns thrived without the pressure, reaching a #3 AP poll ranking in February, defeating Kansas in Lawrence, and finishing 2nd in the Big 12. Did I mention that the Longhorns were not even ranked in the preseason AP poll? However, Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson both opted to leave school early to enter the NBA draft so now Rick Barnes has a revamped roster and will have to show that the Longhorns are reloading this season and not rebuilding.

J'Covan Brown Is Expected To Lead This Young Longhorn Team.

The Stars: With Thompson and Hamilton gone, all eyes will be on J’Covan Brown. Brown will be the leader of this young, but talented Longhorn team. Last season, Brown averaged 10.4 PPG. I expect this number to nearly double, as he will be the focal point of this Texas squad. Brown is considered one of the better all-around basketball players in the nation as he can play aggressive defense, has great court vision, and can score in bunches.

The Veterans: Often times, when you see a team with six freshman, you don’t expect there to be much upperclassmen leadership. The Longhorns, however, have a nice balance of both. There are no sophomores on the team, and there are five upperclassmen. The pair of seniors, Clint Chapman and Alex Wangmene, have not exactly put up stellar numbers in their team in burnt orange as neither averaged more than 2.3 PPG. While the juniors and freshman will do the majority of the scoring (a heavy, heavy majority), expect both of these players to be vocal leaders for the youngsters, a task that often goes unappreciated.

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Analyzing the Top Ten Recruiting Classes of 2011

Posted by zhayes9 on October 7th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

In this era of one-and-done, where every touted freshman and blue-chip prospect must lace up the sneakers in college for at least a season, recruiting has never been more important.

As recently as a decade ago, programs were built, legacies were formed and trophies were hoisted on the basis of developing and grooming four-year players. In 2003, freshman Carmelo Anthony bucked that trend by carrying his Syracuse team to a national title. When David Stern instituted an age limit to participate professionally, impact players such as Greg Oden, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose may have only dipped their toes in the collegiate water, but the Final Four berths won’t soon be forgotten.

This upcoming season, college basketball hasn’t been gutted as dramatically as in the past. Assumed lottery picks passed on the immediate NBA riches whether in fears of a prolonged lockout or simply to accomplish goals left unmet. A plethora of battle-tested seniors also make their dramatic return. Despite this welcomed development, freshmen will still have their say in who grabs the four all-important #1 seeds and who ultimately graces the hardwood in Indianapolis next April.

Here are the ten teams primed to receive a substantial contribution from their talented newcomers this upcoming season:

1. Kentucky- Brandon Knight is the latest Calipari-coached freshman to bolt early for the pros. Luckily for Big Blue, their coach’s recruiting skills hasn’t eroded in the least bit. In pretty much any other freshman class in the country, Kyle Wiltjer would top the list; in Lexington, he’s easily the fourth-best rookie on the squad. The headliner is center Anthony Davis, the early favorite to be selected first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft.  The Chicago native reminds many scouts of a young Kevin Garnett with his tremendous versatility, remarkable athleticism and exceptional rebounding abilities. Formerly a lightly-recruited guard prior to a timely growth spurt, Davis is more than comfortable handling the ball around the perimeter. Taking over at point guard for Knight is Marquis Teague, a lightning-fast lead guard and the younger brother of former Wake Forest and current Hawks reserve Jeff Teague. Teague is a better fit for Calipari’s preferred dribble-drive motion offense than the ball-screen dependent Knight. The third potential freshman starter is St. Patrick’s own Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Gilchrist is an intense competitor and will be absolute joy for Calipari to coach. Witjer should prove a valuable backup big man with a refined perimeter game.

Anthony Davis/kentuckysportsradio.com

2. Duke- Losing your three most productive players – two face-of-the-program seniors and a point guard that just happened to be chosen #1 overall — would result in a multi-year rebuilding process at most schools. Most schools aren’t Duke, and the Blue Devils are once again expected to compete in the top ten. The biggest reason why is Austin Rivers. Easily the best scoring guard in the freshman ranks, Rivers is a legitimate threat to average 17-20 PPG during his first (and likely only) season in Durham. Rivers does possess the ability to create his own shot, but could struggle to get opportune looks until Seth Curry develops a comfort level at point guard. Oak Hill’s Quinn Cook is expected to compete for minutes at the point once he recovers from a knee injury. He appears destined to be Duke’s floor general of the future. Cook is a born leader that has one priority: to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. How deep Coach K opts to utilize his bench will determine the playing time of wings Michael Gbinije and Alex Murphy, along with the third Plumlee brother, Marshall Plumlee. All three will be regular contributors down the road. Once Murphy develops some strength, he could be the best of the lot as a scoring threat with sneaky athleticism.

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