Sam Houston State Vs. Texas Longhorns Basketball Preview
The level of competition just took a huge step up. The wins over Mary Hardin-Baylor and Northwestern Oklahoma State were nice to start the season, but this game is a whole different animal.
Not only are the Texas Longhorns supremely talented, but they have been playing as if they are in mid-season form.
Texas has three wins this season, including an early resume-building win against the University of Illinois. They also gave the fifth-ranked Pitt Panthers a scare before falling 68-66.
The Longhorns boast a solid mix of veterans and incredibly talented, high-profile freshmen.
Statistically, the Longhorns are led by sophomore Jordan Hamilton. The 6'7" swingman out of Compton, Calif., leads the team in scoring, averaging 24.5 points per game. He is shooting 42.3 percent from the three-point line and pulls down 7.3 rebounds per game just for good measure.
Leadership also comes from the steady hand of Dogus Balbay at point guard. Balbay is coming off a tough junior year where he struggled to fit in to the offense and he missed a large portion of the season with a knee injury.
This season, he has focused on being a facilitator and distributor. He leads the team in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Balbay splits the point guard duties with senior Jai Lucas and freshman Cory Joseph. Lucas is more of a shooter while Cory Joseph gives the Longhorns an explosive guard who can attack the rim.
Cory Joseph is one of the two aforementioned high-profile freshmen. The other is Tristan Thompson. Even as a freshman, there have been times when it appears that Thompson is a man among boys on the court.
Thompson is averaging 15 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He also leads the team in field goal percentage, which gives you an idea of where he is getting his shots. Thompson spends a lot of time above the rim.
Beating the Longhorns isn't about stopping any single player. They have depth that any team would love to have. They have four seniors in their rotation, including their leading rebounder, Gary Johnson.
Nine players are averaging over 11 minutes per game, which speaks to how confident head coach Rick Barnes is in spreading out his minutes.
Texas is going to try to get the ball into the paint at all costs. There is no doubt about that. As a team, they are shooting 29.3 percent from the three point line. Only Jordan Hamilton is shooting it well, and even he tends to shoot an ill-advised three from time to time.
The Longhorns also boast a rather large, deep frontcourt. They have five players in their rotation who stand at least 6'6" tall.
The size difference is going to be the first, and probably most important, challenge the Bearkats will face. Gilberto Clavell is the only post player who is big enough and physical enough to stand up to any of the Longhorns big men.
With the overall skill level of those bigs, though, foul trouble for Clavell will be something to watch. Clavell has to find a way to defend Texas' post players without hacking them. The athletic ability and style of players like Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson make it easy to rack up fouls quickly.
As such, Antuan Bootle has to have a good game. He has all the tools needed to go toe-to-toe with the Longhorns and could play a huge role if the Bearkats are going to keep this one close.
Kelly Lawson and Aaron Thompson have the height to defend the paint, but they likely don't have the strength. If they are going to be effective defensively, they have to find a way to keep the ball out of the post completely and push the Longhorns post players toward the perimeter.
Likewise, the Bearkats will need to look to the post for their points. While the Longhorns have a lot of tall players inside, they don't have a real defensive post presence who they look to do to the dirty work.
Clavell, Bootle, and Josten Crow may be able to have success by posting up with their back to the basket without much fear of having their shot blocked.
Look out for Tristan Thompson, though. He leads the Longhorns with 11 blocks and many of those come from him making freakish athletic plays coming out of nowhere. You have to know where he is on the court at all times.
If the post play isn't getting it done, the Bearkats will have to have crisp ball movement. You don't want the guards handling the ball in a one on one situation against Balbay.
He is a physical defender who drapes himself over opposing guards like a jacket. He can effectively trap a point guard without having to have help.
The Longhorns are talented and athletic, but they are just like any other basketball team. If you have good ball movement and hit the open man, there isn't a defense in the world that can stop you.
The bottom line is that the Bearkats are going to have to be ready to play a near-perfect game. You can't give the Longhorns anything.
If you turn the ball over, they will convert. If you get into foul trouble, they will target you and foul you out. If you miss shots, they will get long rebounds and turn them into transition baskets.
The Bearkats can keep this game close. We've seen them play above their heads before. One only needs to remember the game against Kentucky last season. That team had five NBA draft lottery players on their roster and the Bearkats gave them all they could handle.
Three seasons ago, the Bearkats flat-out beat a Texas Tech team coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance.
That being said, the Longhorns are just playing too well. They already seem to be comfortable playing with each other and they can beat you in a number of different ways.
This game is a good measuring stick for the Bearkats. The environment will be hostile and it will be good to see how the team responds when they are put under pressure.
Will the team respond positively when and if they fall behind big or will they have the look of a defeated team? Will they be in awe of the atmosphere? How will they compete when they are out-manned?
These questions will all be answered come Tuesday night. How they answer them will go a long way toward figuring out what exactly this team will be this season.
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