January 11, 2009

The BIG Preview: Red River Rivalry

The Basics

After opening Big 12 play on Saturday with an eight-point win at home over Iowa State, the No.7 Texas Longhorns head to Norman to face Oklahoma in one of the biggest games of the season. The opening tip-off is scheduled for 8PM (central) and will televised on ESPN.

Series vs. Oklahoma

Oklahoma leads 45-27; Last meeting: Texas 77-49 (March 15, 2008; Kansas City).

Post-Iowa State Notes

• Senior guard A.J. Abrams was held to eight points against the Cyclones, which represented the fourth time in five games that Abrams has been held below 10 points.

• With the win over the Cyclones the Longhorns have now won 13 straight Big 12 home games, which represents a new school record.

• After a 3-for-14 day behind the three-point line against the Cyclones, the Longhorns are now 4-of-28 behind the three-point line in their last two games.

If only he was a 40-minute man…

Although junior big man Dexter Pittman has often had to battle fatigue and foul trouble this season, there's little question that when he's on the floor, he's one of the most productive players in the entire Big 12.

So far this season, Pittman has scored 139 points in 208 minutes this season, which means that he scores a point for every 1.5 minutes that he's on the floor, which currently ranks second in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma's Blake Griffin.

Here's a look at the top points per minute average in the Big 12 (minimum scoring average required is 8.0).

Scoring

1. Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) - 1.44
2. Dexter Pittman (Texas) - 1.50
3. DeMarre Carroll (Missouri) - 1.57
4. LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor) - 1.66
5. Craig Brackins (Iowa State) - 1.66
6. Trevor Cook (Texas Tech) - 1.76
7. Cole Aldrich (Kansas) - 1.83
8. James Anderson (Oklahoma State) - 1.86
9. Sherron Collins (Kansas) - 1.89
10. Willie Warren (Oklahoma) - 1.89

Here's a look at how the top four scorers for the Longhorns match-up in this department:

1. Dexter Pittman - 1.50
2. Damion James - 1.93
3. A.J. Abrams - 2.10
4. Gary Johnson - 2.26

Abrams keeps gaining ground

A.J. Abrams has fallen to sixth in the Big 12 in scoring this season, but he is still on his way towards becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the program. So far this season, he's averaging 17.5 points per game through the first 15 games, while making 45-of-109 (41.3 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 Monday's game against Oklahoma, Abrams ranks seventh on UT's all-time scoring list with 1,651 points and trails No. 6 Jim Krivacs (1,673) by only 22 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 (11.2) and second in rebounds (7.1).

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 three weeks, as he's averaged 16.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest while hitting 32-of-55 (.582) field goals and 20-of-25 (.800) 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) - 16.1
2. Gary Johnson (Texas) - 11.2
3. Mike Singletary (Texas Tech) - 11.0
4. Keiton Page (Oklahoma State) - 10.3
5. Fred Brown (Kansas State) - 10.2

Rebounding

1. Gary Johnson (Texas) - 7.1
2. Ron Anderson (Kansas State) - 6.0
3. Mike Singletary (Texas Tech) - 5.8
4. Marcus Morris (Kansas) - 5.4
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 5.33 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 nine games, Mason has taken his newfound playmaking ways to new heights, having dished out 52 assists (5.8 per game) and committing only eight turnovers, which translates to a tremendous 6.5:1 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

Kevin Durant poured in 28 pounds and grabbed 12 rebounds, while helping Oklahoma City beat Chicago 109-98 in overtime on Saturday night. Durant was 10-of-20 from the floor and 6-of-8 from the free throw line.

Former All-American Lamarcus Aldridge continues to play well in his third season with the Portland Trailblazers, as he scored 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists on Portland's 113-100 win over Golden State on Saturday. Aldridge is averaging 17.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season.

About Oklahoma…

The Texas Longhorns have had their share of national player of the year candidates in recent years, but they'll get a chance to square off against one on Monday night in Norman, as Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin takes the floor for a second season.

The 6-10, 250-pound Griffin does all for the Sooners, leading the Big 12 in points (22.5), field goal percentage (64.7 percent) and rebounds (14.1), while also ranking first on his team in steals, blocks and free throw attempts/makes.

It wouldn't be accurate to suggest that Griffin is a one-man team because the Sooners have a talented roster, but there's no question that everything Oklahoma does goes through their All-American forward.

Griffin does most of his damage around the rim and the Longhorns' frontcourt will be challenged in ways that it hasn't been challenged all season. While Griffin is not a threat from three-point range, he does have a very strong mid-range game and his ability to play above the rim can cancel out a lot of nights when the jumper isn't working.

So, how will the Longhorns defend Griffin?

Don't be surprised if the Longhorns swallow their pride a little and play more zone defense than they have all season because it's tough to imagine Dexter Pittman, Connor Atchley, Damion James or any of the other low-post defenders having a lot of on-ball success against Griffin. Their best bet might be to swarm Griffin in numbers and hope that the volume of big bodies that the Longhorns can come at him with can get him into foul trouble or somewhat limit his effectiveness.

If there's a saving grace for the Longhorns in this game, it might center on the fact that there's not a lot of depth or elite-level talent playing in the frontcourt with Griffin and this has been a team that has stood around and watched Griffin a little too much at times. While the Sooners rank right there with Texas at 40.5 rebounds per game, their rebounding defense (35.5) ranks among the worst in the Big 12. In their only loss this season, Arkansas was able to post a +12 advantage in the rebounding department, including 15 on the offensive end. Yes, Griffin nearly reached his average with 13, but the rest of the team combined for only 20 that night.

Senior Taylor Griffin tips the scales at 6-7, 240 pounds and is a high-effort guy that does most of his damage as the team's resident trash man, averaging 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While those numbers are solid, Griffin too often allows himself to get into foul trouble (leads the team with 45 this season) and there's just not a lot of depth once you get past the two Griffin's.

If either of these two players get into foul trouble against the Longhorns, it could be their undoing because there's not another big man on the Oklahoma roster that averages more than five points or three rebounds per game. It really is desert city after that.

Of course, if the Sooners lack depth in the frontcourt, they do have a high volume of contributors in the backcourt with senior point guard Austin Johnson, emerging freshman sensation Willie Warren and versatile junior swingman Tony Crocker.

A key match-up in this game might be Texas guard Justin Mason's battle with Warren. If you believe that Blake Griffin is going to get 20/10 no matter what you do, then the job Texas does in keeping Warren under control will be key. Like Mason, Warren is a strong, physical player that can thrive offensively inside or out. As far as the games inside of the game, this match-up will be as good as it gets.

Warren and Crocker are both legitimate threats behind the three-point line (.390 and .337, respectively), while Johnson has struggled from long distance this season. Still, he's the straw that stirs the drink offensively, as his dribble-penetration and playmaking skills with the ball open up clean looks for the rest of his teammates.

The Sooners don't sport a deep or highly effective bench, but sophomore guard Cade Davis is the team's sixth man and he's made (23) the third-most three-point shots on the roster this season.

The Three Keys

1. Swarm the Sooners in the paint. The Longhorns don't have anyone quite like Blake Griffin, but the sum of all Texas' parts in the frontcourt might give them an advantage in this game. Every time the ball goes in the air, Damion James, Gary Johnson, Dexter Pittman and Connor Atchley need to be working for the rebound, especially on the defensive end. Griffin is going to get enough points without getting second and third opportunities at point-blank range because of his own offensive rebounding. If the Longhorns win the battle on the glass in this game, they'll have a good chance of winning on the road.


2. Limit Warren's contributions on offense. That's easier said than done because Warren is a legit NBA prospect, but this is a game where Justin Mason needs to prove his defensive reputation by making him work hard for everything he gets. Oklahoma is a team that is at its best when Warren is in the flow of the game offensively.

3. Win the foul battle. Both teams have frontcourt driven teams, but both teams also have players that can easily find themselves on the bench in foul trouble. If the Longhorns can get either of the Griffin brothers in trouble early, it'll be real trouble for OU.

The Texas line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Abrams - 5-10 senior - (17.5 points, and 2.3 rebounds)
Guard - Justin Mason - 6-2 junior - (7.1 points and 5.3 assists)
Forward - Damion James - 6-7 junior - (14.9 points and 8.7 rebounds)
Forward - Connor Atchley - 6-11 senior - (6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds)
Forward/center - Dexter Pittman - 6-10 junior - (9.3 points and 4.9 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Dogus Balbay - 6-0 sophomore (1.0 points and 1.8 assists)
Guard - Varez Ward - 6-2 freshman (3.4 points and 2.6 rebounds)
Forward - Gary Johnson - 6-6 sophomore - (11.2 points and 7.1 rebounds)
Forward/center - Clint Chapman - 6-10 sophomore - (1.6 points and 1.9 rebounds)
Forward - Matt Hill - 6-10 sophomore - (0.7 points and 1.0 rebounds)

The Oklahoma line-up

The starters

Guard - Austin Johnson - 6-3 senior - (6.6 points and 4.3 assists)
Guard - Tony Crocker - 6-6 junior - (10.4 points and 3.2 rebounds)
Guard - Willie Warren - 6-4 freshman - (15.8 points and 1.7 rebounds)
Forward - Taylor Griffin - 6-7 senior - (9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds)
Forward - Blake Griffin - 6-10 sophomore - (22.5 points and 14.1 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Cade Davis - 6-5 sophomore (5.9 points and 2.3 rebounds)
Guard - Ray Willis - 6-6 freshman - (4.8 points and 1.9 rebounds)
Guard - Omar Leary - 5-10 senior (1.8 points and 0.8 rebounds)
Forward - Ryan Wright - 6-9 junior - (2.6 points and 2.6 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…

36.7

Texas senior guard A.J. Abrams is tied with Colorado's Cory Higgins for the highest averages of minutes played per game in the Big 12. No other Longhorn ranks in the top ten.


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