While we all have our mind set on Monday, we do have a huge game this week, that we haven't talked about much. I am talking about Ben Ball warriors matchup against number 8 ranked Texas Longhorns.
Longhorn fans are certainly geeked about this game. They have talking about matchup since early this week. Here was their first look at our team. Despite HornsFan's acknowledgment that his observation on Coach Howland's capability as an "offensive coach" were exaggerations, I still find the take some what amusing. It is still funny to me how people around the country reach conclusions on Coach Howland's ability to coach offense based on what he did in Pittsburgh (where he didn't have a lot of talent to work with while adjusting to a rugged Big East game) and his first four years at UCLA (where he also didn't have the kind of elite talent to work in his first couple of years compared to kind of athletes that he is brining into Westwood based on his last two years of success), than what he did in Northern Arizona. Anyway, so the Longhorns do not have a lot of respect for us on offense and that is fine with us.
Let's take a quick look at the numbers of a Rick Barnes squad that has made a pretty good early season impression without all world Kevin Durant:
Numbers courtesy of ESPN. If you want to take a look at our team stats go here. HornsFan also had a good post on BON on who have stepped up to replace Durant's scoring. They have four guys averaging in double figures, but no question who are leading the way:
DJ Augustin No fluke here. In fact, Augustin's scoring average may go up as the season goes on. Unlike Abrams, DJ has the ability to get himself a look almost any time he wants it. Those running floaters he's hitting are Steve Nashesque. And I suppose it's worth saying that if AJ Abrams does score 23 a game? It'll be because of what Augustin can do to break down a defense with his penetration.
Abrams has been on fire early this season. And I imagine it will be Shipp matching up against him (if Westbrook doesn't start). As HornsFan mentioned, these guy has that classic quick fire strike, who can light it up from anywhere. But both Shipp and Westbrook has the ability to play lock down defense. The question whether they will come in with the intensity right from the get go and take a little while to get going. They may not have that luxury against the `Horns, who are capable on going on a huge run.
As for game strategy here is the BON view on how they can pull out a victory at Pauley:
There remains the issue of rebounding, where UCLA absolutely cleans house, snatching a good 40% of their own misses for second looks. That's a scary number for Texas, which ranks a cool 243rd in the nation in disallowing opponents from grabbing offensive rebounds. Zone defense, advantageous as it is in other regards, makes for poor defensive rebounding. Equally worrisome is that if Rick does commit to cleaning the defensive glass, he's taking away Texas' greatest strength - its transition offense.
It's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation for Rick right now, and there's no clear answer as to what Texas should do. (As mentioned at the beginning of this report, if this sounds familiar - it should.) Going to a Jumbo lineup puts Texas into a half court game with a team that's far, far better suited to win it than we are. Sticking with our lineup of run-n-gunners leaves us vulnerable to poor rebounding and easy outside jump shots.
Is there any good news? Sure. Rick's in year two of this run-n-gun system and has a better feel for what his kids can and can't do, where we're vulnerable, and how to manage a gameplan with this kind of team. To be perfectly honest, my instinct is to suggest Rick Barnes orchestrate a balanced, solid, keep-things-close first half before seeing if UCLA is ready to run with us for the final 20 minutes. I think I'd be more generous with my big man play early, play at UCLA's pace for a while, and work through the first half of the game. I'd rest DJ where it was at all possible, sit Abrams immediately if he's being smothered on the perimeter, and focus on not letting UCLA get the best of us with their size and physical play. Then I'd open things up in the second half, run, gun, and see if the Bruins could keep up.
And I am not all that worried about what kind of temp Horns want to play. If they want to slow it down that's fine. MSU tried that. And if they want to get in a shoot out, I don't think DC, Russell, Shipp, Love, Luc et al. will mind all that much.
Speaking of Luc, it will be very interesting to see whether Howland still has him at the 3 spot on Sunday night. I wouldn't be too surprised if he goes with DC, RW, JS in the back court and then have Luc at 4 and Love at 5 to start the game, and bring Mata and AA2 off the bench. That way they can come out on an attack mode on both sides of the court right off the gate. Sportsline.com has more numbers n this game:
Full page here. Again note their eye popping 3 point shooting percentage. You think Coach Howland has shared that with our perimeter guys? Not just on perimeter our interior guys need to be on high alert mode. I know they always are on that mode but they cannot have the lapses on defensive rotation they were having against in the first half of the MSU game. These guys are quick and if we relax for a minute they are going to blow right by us. This is going to be a fun game. There is also a lot of national interest around this game. It is the center piece of ongoing Pac-10/Big-12 mathcups and it will be on lot of folks radar as this weekend's marquee national matchup. [See Sportsline.com and Rivals Preview].
Longhorns are a deadly team. We are not going to be able to get away with having any kind mental lapses at any point on Sunday night. We will have come out with total focus and tournament intensity, and do not let up all night. This game couldn't come at a more opportune time because we will either be in a pick me up or celebratory mood on Sunday night.