November 14, 2008

A Texas-sized preview of the Stetson game

Series vs. George Washington

Texas leads, 3-0. Last meeting: Texas 96-83 (Feb. 25, 1991; Austin)

A Top 10 debut

The Longhorns will begin the 2008-09 season in a place they've grown quite accustomed to - the Top 10. This year's team enters the season ranked No. 7 in the preseason Associated Press poll and No. 8 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches preseason poll. So far during the Rick Barnes era at Texas, the Longhorns have spent a total of 128 weeks in the AP Top 25, with 52 of those weeks having the Longhorns in the Top 10.

The schedule gets much tougher

If the idea of the Longhorns opening up with Stetson doesn't get you fired up, have no fear, the pre-season grinder for Barnes and Co is on the way, as two three ten opponents await the Longhorns in the month, as well as a date with No.25 Wisconsin.

Overall here are the early games of note to scribble down on a piece of paper:

December 4th - vs. UCLA in Austin
December 9th - vs. Villanova in New York City (Jimmy V. Classic)
December 20th - vs. Michigan State in Houston
December 23rd - at Wisconsin in Madison
January 16th - at Arkansas in Fayetteville

Also, keep in mind that Texas could also square off with No. 1 North Carolina and No. 9 Notre Dame during the Maui Invitational (Nov. 24-26).

We'll likely know what this Longhorn team is all before we get to the start of Big 12 action.

Home is where the heart is

In 31 years of action at the Frank Erwin Center the Longhorns have compiled an all-time record of 363-89 (.803). During Barnes' stay in Austin the Longhorns have been even better, racking up a 138-18 (.885) record at home, including a 69-11 (.863) record in Big 12 Conference home games.

If you are looking strictly at the season-openers in those 31 years, the Longhorns have posted a 26-5 record (.839). In the 112-year history of the program, the Longhorns posted an 87-15 record (.853).

The delayed debut

Texas fans have been eagerly anticipating the debut of Turkish point guard Dogus Balbay, but they will have to wait one more game as he finishes off an 11-game suspension that the NCAA forced him to serve for violating amateur rules. The issue at hand was Balbay's participation in a total of 11 games for a professional Turkish team that spanned the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.

Balbay injured his knee last October, but after making a solid recovery he was cleared to participate late in the Big 12 season. Beginning with the game at Texas Tech in early March, Balbay was able to serve 10 of the 11 games as the end of the 2007-08 season.

When Balbay joins the line-up next week in the school's home game against Tulane (November 18th), he'll bring a steady hand to the point guard position because of his International experience. After his recovery from the right knee injury that sidelined him for most of last season, Balbay returned home to Turkey and played for his Under-20 National Team in the European Championships. Balbay led Turkey to a fourth-place, averaging 8.3 points per game (fourth-best on the team), a team-best 4.9 assists per game, and 4.1 rebounds (third-best) in the eight-game tournament.

A.J.'s back for one last hurrah

Much was made after the season of senior sharp-shooter A.J. Abrams' flirtation with the NBA, but after taking a long look at his prospect he made the decision to return to the Longhorns.

In the process, the Longhorns retained the services of one of the nation's top shooters and one of the Big 12's most lethal scorers. The question with Abrams entering the season will center on his ability to handle some of the point guard duties, which is a role that he has not always thrived in. Everyone in college basketball, including Abrams, wants to see what he can do now that D.J. Augustin has left for the greener pastures of the NBA. The makings of an answer to those questions will be on display tonight in the season-opener.

Overall, Abrams is putting together quite a career in burnt orange, as he's played in 109 games through three seasons and is currently on pace to break the school record, which currently is shared by Brian Boddicker and James Thomas with 134. Abrams exploded as a scorer for the Longhorns as a sophomore and took his game to another level as a junior, as he scored 20 points or more in 14 games. Overall, the former Round Rock McNeil star ranked second on the team and fourth in the Big 12 in scoring with 16.5 points per game.

Taking it to the next level?

If junior forward Damion James didn't quite live up to his immense hype as a wide-eyed freshman, he certainly showed everyone last season that he's still ascending as a player and as he enters this season, he ranks as one of the most versatile and dynamic talents in the nation.

As a sophomore, James earned second-team All-Big 12 honors from the Big 12 coaches after averaging 13.2 points per game and 10.3 rebounds. His double-double average in points and rebounds puts him in some pretty exclusive company, as he's one of only six such returning players in the entire nation.

The Longhorns want James to continue to spread his wings this season as a scorer and he'll be expected to add more touch in his perimeter.

An NBA scout on James this week: "James is the straw that stirs that drink. He takes the next step as a player the Longhorns are going to be a match-up nightmare for almost every team in the country. But, James is the key. He's the one guy that can take it to an elite level nationally right now."

NBA Longhorn Notes

Rookie point guard D.J. Augustin has come off the bench in seven games so far this season and is averaging 9.3 points and 3.4 assists in slightly more than 22 minutes per game. He tied a career-high with 14 points against Toronto on November 9th.

Former Naismith winner T.J. Ford is currently a career-high 17.1 points and 6.4 assists per game in his new stint as the starting point guard in Indiana. Ford has a season-high 24 points and 10 assists in a win over Oklahoma City on November 10th.

Speaking of Oklahoma City, former National Player of the Year Kevin Durant is averaging 22.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He exploded for a season-high 37 points earlier this week in a loss at Indiana.

About Stetson ...

Are you sure you really want to know?

Actually, there's a lot of optimism heading into the year, especially after the Hatters (yes, I know you were wondering), finished one of their most successful seasons in the program's history last season. Stetson completed its season with an overall record of 16-16, and they were 11-5 in Atlantic Sun Conference play.

That might not sound like much, but the 11-5 mark was the third-best conference finish in the school's history.

This a veteran team with expectations of competing for the Atlantic Sun Conference championship. The player to keep an eye on is probably senior guard Garfield Blair, who averaged a team-best 16.1 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game as a junior. While he will be their go-to-guy on offense, he has been a liability for the Hatters on defense in the past and that is the biggest hole in his game. Look for Justin Mason to challenge the 6-5 Blair considerably.

What Mason is to Blair, Hatters senior point guard Kris Thomas might be to Abrams tonight. The 6-2 Thomas is the team's sixth man and is considered the team's best defender, as they feed off of his defensive energy to lead them. If the Hatters are going to have any chance tonight of keeping this game close, Thomas might be the key. Like Abrams, he's not a natural ball distributor and the Hatters are looking for him to carry a bigger load in that area this year.

In their exhibition opener on November 6th against Warner University, it was junior point guard A.J. Smith that gave the Hatters their biggest lift, as his three-point shot with three seconds remaining in the game lifted the team to a 60-59 win.

Stetson enjoyed a 10-point lead in the second half (43-33), but they eventually gave it away when Warner took a three-point lead with 55 seconds remaining in the game. However, that was when Smith stepped up by hitting a couple of free throws with 17 seconds left and then after Warner missed one of two free throws, he raced the length of the court and knocked down the winning three-point shot.

Blair led the team as expected with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Thomas finished the opener with a 11 points, while the hero of the night (Smith) finished with 10 points.

The Texas line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Abrams - 5-10 senior - (16.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists)
Guard - Justin Mason - 6-2 junior - (7.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists)
Forward - Damion James - 6-7 junior - (13.2 points and 10.3 rebounds)
Forward - Gary Johnson - 6-6 sophomore - (5.6 points and 3.7 rebounds)
Forward - Connor Atchley - 6-11 senior - (9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Varez Ward - 6-1 freshman - (16 points, 8.0 assists and 8.0 rebounds)
Forward - Alexis Wangmene - 6-7 sophomore - (2.1 points and 2.3 rebounds)
Forward/center - Dexter Pittman - 6-10 junior - (2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds)
Forward/center - Clint Chapman - 6-10 sophomore - (1.3 points and 1.4 rebounds)
Forward/center - Matt Hill - 6-10 sophomore - (Redshirted in 2007-08)

Note: All stats are from the 2007-08 season, except for Ward (high school stats shown)

The Stetson line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Smith - 6-0 junior - (11.4 points and 2.5 assists)
Guard - Mark Lohuis - 6-4 junior (6.2 points, 2.9 rebounds)
Forward - Garfield Blair - 6-5 senior - (16.1 points and 5.7 rebounds)
Forward - Sheldon Oliver 6-5 junior - (6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds)
Center - Tim Lang - 6-9 senior - (4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Brandon Williams - 5-10 junior (2.2 points and 1.0 assists)
Guard - Kris Thomas - 6-2 senior - (7.4 points and 1.3 steals)
Guard - Shawn Bowen - 6-3 sophomore - (0.9 points and 0.9 rebounds)
Forward - Eric Diaz - 6-6 senior - (7.1 points and 4.5 rebounds)
Forward - Oliver Dupiton - 6-7 sophomore - 1.1 points and 1.5 rebounds)

Note: All stats are from the 2007-08 season.

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…

The Longhorns averaged a paltry 9.4 turnovers per game last year, which ranked first in the nation. As the team made its post-season run, they took care the ball even better than they did in the regular season, averaging 8.3 per game. Overall, Texas has more turnovers than assists in 32 of its 38 games from a year ago.

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