Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, February 25, 2011

Texas Basketball Preview

My final first-look preview of a Big XII team will be devoted to the school that stands alone behind the eventual breakup of the conference.  Texas is, and has been for a long time, an uncontrollable monster, quickly gobbling up everyone in their path on the way to single-institution dominance.  At some point they have to realize that it takes other schools to help stuff their giant mattress of cash, right?

When UT leaves the Big XII, and it will happen sometime in the next 5 years, it will be the culmination of 2 solid decades of scheming to set out on their own.  I hope its everything they think it's cracked up to be.  And I hope the other 9 remaining Big XII teams have a backup plan.
The conference lead a good life.  From: bleacher report

CU enters Saturday afternoon's home game against the Texas Longhorns fresh off of a gritty win against another of the Lone Star State's Big XII entrants.  Wednesday's 3 point win over Texas Tech may not have been the prettiest of victories, but, afterall, a win is a win, and it keeps hopes of slipping into the 5th seed for the upcoming Big XII tournament alive.  I know the Buffs feel that this game is winnable, and will be fired up come Saturday afternoon.  Not for nothing, but CU is undefeated at home in weekend games this season (6-0)...
CU looks to rise above the daunting Longhorns Saturday afternoon.

Texas, of course, comes in as the #5 team in both polls, and at 24-4 (12-1) they are legitimately one of the best teams in the country.  While #5 isn't bad, they probably would've been #1 if they hadn't stumbled in Lincoln last weekend.  They even beat Kansas in Lawrence this year, and look every bit as strong as their record indicates.  They are a tough, athletic, and quick team, who I think has a damn good shot of wining the national championship in April. 

Gametime is set for 2pm on Saturday.  If you don't already have a ticket, I wouldn't bother showing up in Boulder Saturday as the game has been sold out for weeks.  If you're ticket-less, or just live outside of the area, the game will be televised on the "Big 12 Network" (Altitude 2).

This game will also mark the final time CU plays Texas in the regular season, and is my final chance to say goodbye to the "Good Ol' Boys" from Austin.  Here's where I come clean, I kind of like UT.  Austin is a beautiful city, with a vibrant, dare I say 'liberal,' culture.  UT is a fantastic, almost world-class, institution of higher learning.  One of the best road-trips of my life was to Austin in '05.  If I said anything against UT the institution it would from behind a mask of deceit and jealousy.  If only they could take the 'Texas' out of UT,  but then it just wouldn't be the same...

Now, the UT athletic department?  That's a different story all together.  DeLoss Dodds, the UT athletic director since the early 80's, has built them to the rough collegiate equivalent of the New York Yankees.  National and conference title rain down on the Longhorns in nearly every sport they compete in.  This is directly related to the gigantic pile of cash Dodds gets to play around with.  UT is consistently listed in the top-3 largest athletic department budgets in the country, and has well over $100 million to throw at any problem area.

They have the best facilities, largest recruiting budgets, and most impressive infrastructure around.  Am I jealous, hell yes!  But it's also an example of the financial disparity and its effect in collegiate sports.  Even 3 years ago, UT had 3 times the financial resources (total revenue) of schools like Texas Tech or Iowa State (about 2 times what CU had).  It's absurd to expect other universities to compete against a behemoth like that.  Hell, they've even got their own ESPN-branded network!

To then go about and demand that league revenues are split unevenly only furthers the divide, and ensures that true competition is only an illusion.  I'll say this slowly; more competition equals more money for everyone.  The current business model, driven by greedy Texas, may work for some teams, but it's not sustainable overall, and that's why CU is bolting.
The money just keeps flowing to UT, making it nearly impossible to compete.  From: this random site

When considering the move to the Pac-12, I'm most excited about heading to a conference where even the haves (UCLA, USC) share league revenues equally (relatively) with the have-nots.  Because of this, in 10 years the Pac-12 will be alive and well, while the Big XII will be roadkill on the hood of UT's big Texas Cadillac.

Anyway, I say farewell, Longhorns.  I can't say it hasn't been interesting.

Click below for my preview

Opponents season so far - Other than the loss last weekend to Nebraska, UT has breezed through competition relying on an efficient, star-powered offense combined with one of the best defenses around.  24 wins and only 4 loses have Texas as the #5 team in the nation, and I feel they should be ranked higher.  Specifically in conference, where they are currently 12-1, they've been ripping through teams, winning by an average of 16 points per game.
You let this happen, Texas.  You!  Look at them, they're all happy now.  I can't stand to see a Husker happy.  From: ESPN

Offensively, their only true weakness is free throw shooting (64%).  They shoot well from 3 (38%) and overall from the field (46%).  They also grab an impressive 13.1 offensive rebounds/game. There's a great article in this month's ESPN the magazine (article starts on page 39).  It talks about how, in the wake of last season's collapse, where the 'Horns lost 10 of their last 17 games, Rick Barnes went out an completely revamped the UT offense.  Borrowing from the complicated offense of the Utah Jazz, the once easy to defend Longhorn offense now features a plethora of screens for screeners and flex cuts.

That's all well and good, but it's the defense that's been carrying these guys.

Kenpom has them as the most efficient defense in the nation, and they have the stats to back it up.  Through their first 13 conference games they've held opponents to 55 points a night, and only one opponent, Nebraska, has scored more than 63.  They do this by limiting made baskets and locking up the rebound (40.9/game, best in the conference and 6th in the nation).  UT is also best in the nation in opponent 2-point field goal percentage (39.5%), 5th in 3-point shooting (28.1%), and 1st in effective field goal percentage (40.2%).  It's just a grind to score, and they're even more difficult than Nebraska to face as they only give up 0.86 points per possession (another best in the nation).
The Longhorn defense is oppressively good. 

You really have to bring it to score on these guys.

Coaching - Rick Barnes has been a fixture on the UT bench since 1998.  To be more specific, in 13 years at Texas he's been to the Tourney 13 times with 8 trips past the first round.  He's brought the Longhorn program 3 conference titles, and has turned them into one of the premier programs in the nation.  Overall he's 318-119 in Austin with an outstanding 150-55 in conference record.
Coach Barnes is a master of the game.

To simplify: he's one of the best coaches in the country.  To have so thoroughly succeeded in one of the premier basketball conferences in the country speaks volumes about the skill of Coach Barnes.  Sure he's had a lot of talent, but it's not by accident that he keeps finding himself in the later rounds of the Tournament.  That's where the good coaches end up, and that's where he ends up nearly every March.

Key Players - I'd be foolish to begin this section with any player other than 6-7 super forward Jordan Hamilton.  The sophomore from LA does it all, adding 19/8/2 every night, while carrying the 'Horns.  He is the Longhorn offense, and as one of the best talents in the nation, he's destined for the NBA lottery.
The superlative Hamilton can do it all.

The rest of the team is lead by the freshman Canadian duo of Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph.  This pair of 5-star northern imports have provided the offensive support for the talented Hamilton.  The 6-8 forward Thompson provides 13 point 8 rebounds and 2 blocks per night while the 6-3 swing guard Joseph can shoot the lights out and provides 11 points/night.

The final player I'd like to highlight is the 6-1 Turkish senior point guard Dogus Balbay.  He's runs a great point, committing few turnovers, sharing the ball well, and playing great defense on the other end.  2.5 Assist-to-turnover ratio is the main line stat, but don't look for him to score too much (only 4.7 points/game).
Balbay is a feisty bastard who excels at making his teammates better.

Prediction - I'd love to be able to predict the Buffs to win this game.  The crowd should be spectacular tomorrow, and the team feels real good about using this game to make up for some of the stumbles from earlier in this season.  The problem is that UT's defense is just too damn good.  If they can hold high-scoring KU to 63 points in Lawrence, I just can't imagine them allowing CU to outscore them in any situation.  Home court can only do so much for a team, afterall.

Look for the game to "feel" closer than it actually is, and for CU to scratch and claw just to remain within 10 for most of the afternoon.  UT 71 - CU 59


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