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Ben Ball Roundup: Preparing For A Big Game

How big is the game against the Longhorns tomorrow night? Per Coach Howland Bruins are taking on a squad that is talented enough to win the Big-12 conference and end up in the Final-4:

"They're a team that would not surprise me at all if they were playing in Detroit (in the Final Four) in April," Bruins coach Ben Howland said. "They'll win the Big 12, in my opinion."

In my last post on Texas, we talked about the matchup nightmares against Damion James (now I know what our opponents must have felt like when they were scheming against LRMAM). According to the LA Times today Howland will start the game with JS guarding James:

Coach Ben Howland said his team would begin the game at Frank Erwin Center with Shipp guarding Damion James, a 6-foot-7, 222-pound junior who is averaging 14.5 points and eight rebounds.

"We can't simulate Damion" in practice, Howland said. "This guy's like a pogo stick. He stops and goes up on a dime."

Shipp, who is 6-5, 220 pounds, did not seem overly concerned, saying that it's all about sticking to principles. Not like compassion and honesty. The basketball kind.

"Stay in front of your man," he said. "Box out. Contest shots."

James isn't the Longhorns' only scorer. Speedy guard A.J. Abrams is averaging 15.8 points and guard Justin Mason adds almost 10.

"It's going to be a real matchup for our defense," forward James Keefe said. "It'll show how well we can come out and play against a ranked team."

As I have said before I am not confident about JS’s ability to handle James. It will be interesting to see whether JS can stay with James or how long Howland stays with JS. I think what might be a good solution is to try out JK on James, put JS on Atchley (who likes to operate out of the peremeter), and have AA2 cover the interior against Pittman and Johnson. Should be interesting to see how it plays out but if I were to give a team an edge heading into Thursday night, it would be Texas.

Meanwhile, we also noted how at least by early pre-season numbers it appears that the Longhorns have a better defense compared to what they had in previous years. Howland noticed the improvements in their defense:

When the Longhorns beat UCLA 63-61 last year at Pauley Pavilion, Howland said Texas played plenty of zone defense. In scouting Texas this season, Howland said they have not played zone.

"They're a much more defensive team in terms of getting pressure (on the ball), switching everything, doubling ball screens, doubling the post," Howland said. "Their defense is way different than it has been in the past. I think it's made them really difficult to try and score on because they're so athletic, so long."

Texas' opponents are shooting 34 percent from the field and averaging 55.5 points per game.

On the offensive side of the ball, Longhorns are a work in progress. Trips Right, who follows his Longhorns on Barking Carnival, noted the following issues re. the Texas offense after their tough loss against Notre Dame:

Lack of a true point guard. There are solutions to this problem. Hell, look at most Big 10 teams, and their lack of a truly dynamic lead guard. Texas has Mason, the ability to get out and run, a hybrid forward in Damion James, and some viable post options that can be solutions to half court woes. It’d be nice to have Chris Corchiani, but we don’t NEED him.

Lack of a true identity. This problem will solve itself before conference play. Barnes is a great coach, and he’ll push the right buttons. Finding it sooner rather than later can be the difference between a 5 seed and a 2 or 3 seed. Are we going to press and run? Or are we going to hammer people with our bigs and offensive rebound? Should we do both? Do we trust our kids to know when we’re doing which?

AJ Abrams. Quite frankly the kid is killing Texas’ continuity on offense. The obvious fallout from his quick catch and shoots are, well, quick catch and shoots. They bail out inferior defenses and rebounding teams, play away from Texas’ strength on the interior, fail to get other good offensive players involved, and generally hurt team chemistry which leads to another concern which I like to call the blackhole or magic trick affect.

Right now, AJ is playing for a contract. And as a teammate, I know everytime Abrams touches the rock, it’s going to disappear. That’s tough enough on patient, unselfish players like Justin Mason and Connor Atchley, but for another player in a contract year like Damion James, it’s downright killing him. It’s the sole reason he’s taking so many horrible midrange shots or out of rhythm 3’s. Damion knows he’ll never get the rock back if he gives it up. And in Damion’s mind, he’s got to get his. Throw in the fact that our talented bigs don’t get but one or two entry passes a game, and you can see how AJ’s lack of involving other players is killing this team.

Well we have all been there in terms of experiencing frustrations after a tough loss. Texas is definitely working to develop team chemistry, just like our team with 5 freshmen (and without all those departing upperclassmen) during this non conference season. FWIW, Trips was happier with AJ’s performance in the Oregon game, in which he was “bit more selective” in his attempts.

I think for the Bruins to defend against the Longhorns, it will be mission critical for DC, JH and rest of our guards to clamp down on Abrams and Mason. If our guards can disable the triggers for Longhorns offense, perhaps that would be our best shot to prevent the Longhorns from getting their inside game going via James et al.

Can’t wait to see how this game unfolds. It should be a fun chess match between Howland and Barnes.