Sunday, December 7, 2008

Preview -- Texas

The Wildcats and Longhorns meet up as the overcard for the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden. This is the third time in four seasons the 'Horns and 'Cats face off, as they concluded a home-n-home series in the Wachovia Center back in 2007. The series is tied 1-1, as each team took the home game, so this game, on a neutral court, will be the tie breaker. Until they meet the next time...

What Others Say...
...Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a A-, the frontcourt a A- and the bench/depth a B+. The BRY goes on to note --

"...The job Rick Barnes has done at Texas is impressive because the Longhorns have been consistently good under his watch. He's dominated recruiting in his talent-rich home state and managed to land the occasional out-of-state star...Every year, the Longhorns seem to just reload, despite losing key players to the NBA...And that's more or less the case once again...The Longhorns are one of those teams that will have a chance to win the national championship..."
-- Blue Ribbon Yearbook

ESPN Magazine picked the Longhorns to win the Big 12 Conference. Rob Dauster over at the Ballin is a Habit Blog projected Texas as the #10 team in D1 while noting...

"...The core of this Texas team is very talented - Abrams, Mason, James, and Atchley are as good as anyone. But, like last year's team, depth will be the issue, especially at guard as Mason, Abrams, and Augustin were really the only three guys that played (each averaged over 33 mpg, and Texas blew a lot of teams out)..."
-- No. 10 Texas:  2008-2009 Team Preview

Why Everyone Believes...
...AJ Abrams, Damion James, Connor Achley, Rick Barnes...

So Far...
Texas (Big 12, 6-1, RPI #37) has a number of notable wins & losses so far, including wins -- St. Joseph's (A10, 3-3, RPI #92) and UCLA (PAC 10, 4-2, RPI #94)  losses -- Notre Dame (Big East, 5-1, RPI #77). The game will be a benchmark for Villanova going forward, as the 'Cats will eventually face both St. Joseph's and Notre Dame. Villanova enters the game with an 7-0 record, gathered largely against mid/low major competition. Solid wins against Niagara (MAAC 5-2, RPI #53) and Rhode Island(A10 6-3, RPI #31) are encouraging.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Senior #4/#5 Connor Atchley (6-10, 228lbs), along with juniors #5 Dexter Pittman (6-10, 295lbs) and Damion James (6-7. 222lbs), man the 'Horns front court. Per the Longhorn's pregame notes, Atchley, Pittman and James will get the starting nod. James combines with Abrams and Mason to form a reliable scoring trio for Texas. Pittman starts but tends to get little PT; he averaged about 7 mpg for the last 4 games. Sophomore Gary Johnson (6-6, 233lbs) will be the next guy off the bench. Typically he gets 20 or so minutes and a few shots, manning the #4 he allows Atchley to slide over to cover the center spot.

The Wildcats will start Dante Cunningham and Antonio Pena at the #4/#5. Shane Clark is averaging about 17 minutes a game so far, contributing about 6 points and 3 rebounds per outing. Reggie Redding, the team's "utility man" & may well see time as a #4 if circumstances demand. Senior Frank Tchuisi has provided spot duty in each of Nova's first eight games. Dwayne Anderson may see some court time also.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...The Athletic Department's "complete notes" publication predicts that Coach Rick Barnes will start senior DJ Abrams (5-11, 161lbs), alongside junior Justin Mason (6-2, 194lbs). Sophomore Dogus Balbay(6-0, 176lbs) and freshman Varez Ward (6-2, 190lbs) will see between 8 and 16 minutes apiece, but have not shot or scored (or rebounded or assisted, etc.) much during their time.

Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher will most likely start, with Corey Stokes playing the wing. Reynolds hit his season high in scoring in the Houston Baptist game. Fisher has shown a good deal of progress this season, especially in the Philly Hoops Classic and the games that have followed. Reggie Redding will no doubt get the call if AJ Abrams goes off. Dwayne Anderson saw some court time versus Penn.

Texas By the Numbers...
Over the past 5 years Texas' RPI has been as high as #4 and as low as #109. Four of those seasons has seen the 'Horns ranked #34 or higher (3 in the top 10). Texas runs at very close to average on pace this season. The 'Horns take about 68 (68.1 actually, adjusted) possessions, according to Ken Pomeroy's Texas Scout Page, the D1 average is 68.2, which ranks the Longhorns #145 out of approx. 343 D1 teams. Texas's Offensive Rating (adjusted...), 106.6, ranks them at a respectable (but not elite-level) #83. The defense however, at 77.3 (good for an elite-level #5 ranking...) should make Coach Wright, no defensive slouch himself, very envious. Comparing each team's Four Factors...

When Texas has the ball...
'Horn O51.219.939.420.9
'Cat D43.323.827.436.6

While Texas is a bit more efficient with their 3 point shooting, their offense takes about 75% of their FGAs inside the arc. With a set of 6-10 front court players complemented by Damion James, makes the decision to go inside a no brainer. Abrams takes about 55% of his FGAs as 3s, so this will be a test for the Wildcat's perimeter defense. Historically 'Cats shot defense has been suspect. This year's improvement may well be confirmed (or disproved?) by the 'Horns. Given their tendency to go inside offensively, they most likely will try to exploit their size advantage versus Cunningham and Pena.

When Villanova has the ball...
'Cat O53.917.942.034.7
'Horn D40.823.332.529.2

The profiles for the two teams is virtually the same. Their strengths are nearly identical. The Wildcats have compensated for poor shooting by maximizing possessions (limiting turnovers) and second chance opportunities (offensive rebounding). Those are two strong points for Texas defense. And Texas' shot defense is a bit better than Villanova's. Interesting.

...This game will match two teams with similar approaches to winning -- value the ball, force turnovers and grab rebounds. On a poor shooting night that will increase the team's odds for winning. Which team will execute their game plan better?

Coach Wright has typically used 9 - 11 players in his rotation, but has shortened the rotation (and bench) to allocate double digit minutes to the first 7 players when the game has been competitive. This may well be the case against Texas. Whether Dwayne Anderson sees time will most likely depend on the condition of his foot and the progress of the game.

Both team's offensive/defensive ratings and pace numbers suggest this will be a virtual tossup game. They will play for about 65 or so possessions (a bit lower than Texas may like?), with the scores, favoring Texas, about a point apart.

Roster Notes, etc.
1. Dwayne Anderson appeared briefly in Villanova's game with Penn. Spectators noted post game that he was limping noticably after the game. No word on his availability for Texas.

1. The Longhorns provide a game preview at their web site.


Rob Dauster said...

I see two keys to this game for Villanova. The first is that one of the Corey's (or someone else on the perimeter) is going to have to step up and knock down some shots. You can't count of Scottie Reynolds getting you 20 points in this one as Justin Mason is a great defender (Darren Collison did have 22 and 5 dimes against him on Thursday, but it took 22 shots and he turned it over 6 times). The second is the rebound battle. Texas is a very big team this year, but the reason UCLA was able to make a comeback against them was that the Bruins (specifically Alfred Aboya) were able to get second and third shots.

I'm looking forward to seeing Villanova play some real competition this year. I like their squad this year, and think that they have the horses to make a lot of noise in the Big East.

GreyCat: What have you heard about this whole Casiem Drummond transfer? Is it really just a playing time/injury type deal?

greyCat said...

I think your keys are on target Rob, though I would add turnovers as a third factor. Per Ken Pomeroy's Texas Game Plan Page. When Texas' opponents limit their turnovers the 'Horns tend to struggle, which suggests they get a few points off of turnovers. These are two top notch defensive teams, so I do not anticipate a shootout.

Given Villanova's lack of a big "big", Drummond's transfer would seem a bit puzzling for all parties. Drum saw limited action his freshman year largely because he was not in game-playing shape (and he was unfamiliar with Villanova's defensive schemes). Last season started well, but a foot injury in early December put him on the shelf for January and much of February. Though rehabilitated starting the season, he saw little time, which had to be extremely frustrating for him. Schools rumored to be involved with him to this point include Iona, Marist and St. Peters, MAAC teams all. In the end Casiem may well have wanted a smaller program, closer to home (he hails from Bloomfield, NJ) where he would have had an opportunity to play more and have greater access to the coaching staff.