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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Big 12 Team Preview: Texas Longhorns

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 4th, 2013

Over the next two weeks, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Texas.

Where We Left Off: The 2012-13 edition of the Texas Longhorns featured the first losing season in the Rick Barnes era. Barnes’ squad struggled to a 16-18 overall record and a 7-11 conference mark, ending the streak of 14 consecutive years that Barnes had taken Texas to the NCAA Tournament. Texas was one of the youngest teams in college basketball a season ago, and was without point guard Myck Kabongo for all but eight games as Kabongo spent much of the season in limbo awaiting an NCAA eligibility ruling. Perhaps many saw the disappointing season coming after the Longhorns were ran out of the gym by lowly Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. Regardless, it would be fair to classify last year’s Texas season as a disappointment, to say the least.

A disappointing 2012-2013 season leaves Rick Barnes looking for answers (Credit: The Big Lead)

A disappointing 2012-2013 season leaves Rick Barnes looking for answers.

Positives: Unless you’re a Longhorn optimist, this becomes difficult heading into this season. With Kabongo out for much of last year, sophomore point guard Javan Felix earned valuable experience as the Texas floor general. Felix underwent hip surgery on October 1 with no timetable for his return, but showed an ability at times last season to break down defenses and get his teammates open shots. Joining Felix are newcomers Isaiah Taylor, Kendal Yancy, Demarcus Croaker and Martez Walker. Croaker figures to make perhaps the biggest impact this season as the 6’2″ guard is considered a quality shooter, something Texas severely lacked last season. Returning sophomore Cameron Ridley was a highly-recruited player out of high school, but struggled to 4.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season. The 6’9″ center will need to provide a boost to the Texas frontcourt for Barnes’ team to take a step forward this year.

Negatives: You don’t have to look far to identify why many aren’t high on Texas heading into this season. Kabongo decided to enter last April’s NBA Draft but went undrafted and is now a member of the Austin Toros. In addition to Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis and Jaylen Bond all opted to transfer. McClellan and Lewis contributed significant minutes a season ago, averaging 13.5 and 11.2 points per game, respectively. As if that wasn’t enough, former freshman guard Ioannis Papapetrou, who averaged 8.3 points per game in his first season in Austin, decided to leave Texas to play professionally overseas. The plethora of offseason transfers, coupled with an underwhelming recruiting class and the disappointing 2012-13 campaign, and it’s no wonder head coach Rick Barnes finds himself firmly on the hot seat heading into this season.

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Who’s Got Next? Karl Towns Chooses Kentucky Over Duke, Stevie Clark Signs With Oklahoma State…

Posted by CLykins on December 4th, 2012

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player rankings

Kentucky Lands Top Sophomore Karl Towns, Jr.

Right on cue. Tuesday was considered decision day for Karl Towns, Jr. and as expected by virtually everybody that follows high school basketball recruiting, Kentucky was the choice. Previously the nation’s No. 1 sophomore, Towns also revealed that he would be reclassifying into the class of 2014, a move that had been speculated upon for the past couple of weeks. The 6’11″ center out of St. Joseph High School (New Jersey) unofficially visited Kentucky for its game against LIU-Brooklyn on November 23, just days after revealing his announcement, further enforcing the belief that Kentucky was the front-runner in this recruitment. Towns had limited his list down to eight in the coming weeks before narrowing it down to two just prior to the announcement. He chose the Wildcats over Duke, with the likes of Florida, Indiana, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Seton Hall also in the mix. ”The first thing I have to say is that I’m going to reclassify to the year 2014,” the 17-year old Towns said. “The second decision I have to make is my university. The university I’ve decided to play for in the year 2014 is the University of Kentucky.”

Standout sophomore Karl Towns, Jr. becomes the fifth Kentucky commitment in the last two months

Towns has already gained valuable tutelage under his future collegiate head coach John Calipari while he was a member of the Dominican Republic national team over the summer. His participation allowed him the opportunity to hone his skills and to strengthen an ever-growing post game against players at the professional level, including Dominican Republic teammate and Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford. Along with a refined post game, what really grabs the attention of analysts is Towns’ ability to play on the wing. With arguably the best outside skill set of any high school prospect at his position in the country, he is a constant threat from deep. He is consistent from three and is capable of taking opposing defenders off the dribble with either hand and scoring from the mid-range. His all-around game has drawn many comparisons to that of NBA superstar Kevin Durant.He is currently in tremendous academic standing at St. Joseph High with a 4.0-plus GPA and his move to the junior class was discussed at length in the last two weeks.  Towns decision to reclassify will immediately impact the class of 2014 rankings as he will now be slotted behind the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects, Tyus Jones and fellow center Jahlil Okafor.

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