At A Glance:
North Carolina: 8-2. AP: 10 ESPN: 10 BP: 7 RPI: 71 BPI: 47
Texas: 9-0. AP: 2 ESPN: 2 BP: 2 RPI: 15 BPI: 6
If only every game were against the likes of Presbyterian for Larry Drew II, where he had nine assists to only one turnover. Against two Final Four candidates (Syracuse and Kentucky) he still had a decent assist-to-turnover ratio (12 assists to seven turnovers) but only shot 3 for 11 from the floor and scored a combined six points. What’s more disturbing is his lack of free throw attempts – in five games he didn’t get to the charity stripe at all.
Dogus Balbay is quite happy to distribute the rock to his teammates rather than shoot it himself. He actually shoots it fairly well unless he’s trying to get a thing called radar love (11 percent from three) but it’s more important that he conduct the orchestra. His assist –to-turnover ratio of four-to-one suggests he does that quite well.
Advantage: Texas. It’s not like Drew is a scoring machine so that’s not a big strength against Balbay and Balbay will take care of the ball like its crude at Ewing Oil.
Since Marcus Ginyard will sit this one out with an injury (the unfortunate story of his career) expect Justin Watts to get the start again. He’s coming off a season-high nine points in his first career start so there’s obviously a significant drop-off in production. He’s keeping this spot warm until Ginyard can get back.
Avery Bradley is the best freshman guard not named John Wall (and perhaps Matt McConaughey and Co. might debate that). He has proven the promise in his last three efforts (16.7 ppg, 2 spg, 1 bpg, 3 apg). Since this kid loves to play defense Watts had better eat his Wheaties, Lucky Charms – basically, whatever breakfast cereal it takes.
Advantage: Texas. Ginyard would have been an interesting matchup for the young turk but against Watts this isn’t even close to call.
Six for 22 from the field. Four total rebounds. Those are telling numbers from Will Graves against the Orange and the Wildcats. Presbyterian would have been a good get-well card for most players but Graves went zero for six and only played 12 minutes. Tyler Zeller’s productivity might inspire Roy Williams to go big.
Justin Mason is basically keeping this spot warm. Until the Texas-Pan American game he hadn’t attempted more than three shots in any game this year. Superfrosh Justin Hamilton offers much more at the position.
Advantage: Even. Neither Graves or Mason are likely to be determining factors.
Deon Thompson hasn’t had a double-figure rebounding effort since his best game of the year against lowly Gardner-Webb (22 points, 10 rebbies). He put up decent numbers in the two losses (12.5 ppg, 8 rpg) but considering his teammates’ struggles with big-time opponents the Heels will need a similar performance to the Gardner-Webb game.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Damion James a fourth guard until you notice that he’s averaging a double-double this season. He doesn’t take many shots from beyond the arc but hits them when he does (46 percent). Like Thompson, he is his team’s leader and is a prime candidate to take the shot down the stretch.
Advantage: Even. Both of these guys have really stepped it up in their last trip on campus.
Ed Davis has put the best numbers against the Orange/Cats combo (12.5 ppg, 10 rpg, 2.5 bpg). Considering his opposite number has been known to eat small walk-ons in preparation for the game Davis needs to use his footwork and game smarts to get the best of this matchup.
Rick Barnes may have been saving Dexter Pittman for this matchup (only 13.7 minutes per game in the last three blowouts). However, Pittman’s stamina has to be questioned. He’ll easily have his toughest test of the season and has to stay on the floor in what will be a fast-paced game.
Advantage: North Carolina. Davis is a likely lottery pick if he comes out. Pittman could be mid-first round but it remains to be seen how long he’ll be able to go.
Even though Justin Watts steps into the starting lineup the reserves still come out in droves. Tyler Zeller continues to average near double figures in points while John Henson, Dexter Strickland and the Bobsy twins (aka Travis and David Wear) provide solid minutes. If Watts or Graves falter look for Zeller and Strickland to get some key time.
As Jay said in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, “They’re gonna be coming at you in waves!” J’Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton both average double figures in points. Gary Johnson and Alexis Wangmene help out inside to combine for double figures. That’s over thirty points a game from these four. Now add Jai Lucas to the mix. Yikes.
Advantage: Texas. It’s one of the few games where North Carolina doesn’t hold the ace cards but that’s a big reason why the Longhorns are Final Four candidates.
Not only has Roy Williams consistently proved his coaching acumen he can also play enforcer. For some reason, a fan yelled during complete silence while Deon Thompson was attempting a freebie in the Presbyterian and Williams had security throw the guy out on his keister. His charges can expect a little more noise in Cowboys Stadium, especially when poor college kids scream about being charged ten dollars for cheap American light beer.
Rick Barnes belongs in any conversation about the best active coaches who have not won a championship. Indeed, Barnes could end that “honor” this year and not win the Big 12 while also giving his employer a chance at the football-basketball title combo. His teams play fast, play tough defense and are loaded for bear.
Advantage: North Carolina. Simple math. Williams has two rings, Barnes zero.
I guess there’s something neat about building basketball courts in expensive football stadiums but I’m old school and prefer the allure of campus gyms reeking of stale beer and popcorn. Regardless, the Longhorns face their first tough test of the year with the benefit of a partisan crowd and an untimely injury to a key Heel. Expect to be entertained and if you’re a Longhorn fan expect to be pleased at the end.
Final Score: Texas 86, North Carolina 79.