KNOW THY ENEMY: Texas Longhorns

Texas

Come Jan. 18, the Cats will host quite possibly the best team in the nation.

Despite how well we're playing now, we'll still have to step our game up to a new level -- and possibly the best game we will play all season -- to defeat the Texas Longhorns.

To scout the team that I think has the best chance to beat us in Bramlage, hit the jump. For more information, visit Burnt Orange Nation -- assuming, of course, that you can drag them away from BCS National Championship talk.

The Story So Far

Texas is 11-0 and sailed into Christmas after dominating wins over both of last year's title game participants -- Michigan State and North Carolina.

In fact, Texas apparently is so good that the loss in Cowboys Stadium did not affect North Carolina's ranking at all. How's that for respect?

Additionally, early wins over Western Carolina and USC didn't appear too impressive at the time, but since then, WCU whooped Louisville at Louisville and USC dominated Tennessee in Los Angeles. Both teams look like they could contend for their conference championships, which just makes Texas look even better.

Yes, it seems all but certain that the Kansas at Texas game in Austin this February will decide the No. 1 seed in Kansas City -- unless, that is, K-State has something to say about it.

Current Texas RPI: 5

 

The Coach

RickBarnes

Rick Barnes
12th Season

281-105 (129-47) at Texas
483-239 (213-134) overall

 

The Departures

 

Starters

  • A.J. Abrams (37.7 minutes per game | 16.6 points per game | 2.2 rebounds per game)
  • Connor Atchley (18.2 minutes per game | 4.6 points per game | 3.1 rebounds per game)

Reserve

  • Harrison Smith (7.2 minutes per game | 1.9 points per game | 1.6 rebounds per game)

 

The Veterans

GaryJohnson

#1 Gary Johnson
Junior Forward
6-6 | 238
Houston, Texas

Bio

17.4 minutes per game | 6.4 points per game | 3.8 rebounds per game

DogusBalbay

#4 Dogus Balbay
Junior Guard
6-1 | 175
Istanbul, Turkey

Bio

23.1 minutes per game | 4.6 points per game | 3.9 rebounds per game

DamionJames

#5 Damion James
Senior Forward
6-7 | 225
Nacogdoches, Texas

Bio

27.7 minutes per game | 17 points per game | 10.8 rebounds per game

AlexisWangmene

#20 Alexis Wangmene
Sophomore Forward
6-7 | 241
Maroua, Cameroon

Bio

11.1 minutes per game | 3.5 points per game | 2.6 rebound per game

MattHill

#21 Matt Hill
Junior Center
6-10 | 240
Lincoln, Neb.

Bio

4.5 minutes per game | 1 point per game | 1.1 rebounds per game

JustinMason

#24 Justin Mason
Senior Guard
6-2 | 195
Amarillo, Texas

Bio

16.5 minutes per game | 2.4 points per game | 2.1 rebounds per game

DexterPittman

#34 Dexter Pittman
Senior Center
6-10 | 290
Rosenberg, Texas

Bio

18.9 minutes per game | 13.6 points per game | 6.5 rebounds per game

VarezWard

#50 Varez Ward
Sophomore Guard
6-2 | 192
Montgomery, Ala.

Bio

23* minutes per game | 6.7* points per game | 3* rebounds per game

*Ward played in three games before being lost for the season with a leg injury.

ClintChapman

#53 Clint Chapman
Junior Center
6-10 | 239
Canby, Ore.

Bio

5.8 minutes per game | 2.6 points per game | 2.4 rebounds per game

 

The Newcomers

AveryBradley

#0 Avery Bradley
Freshman Guard
6-2 | 180
Tacoma, Wash.

Bio

24.9 minutes per game | 11.6 points per game | 1.5 rebounds per game

ShawnWilliams

#2 Shawn Williams
Freshman Forward
6-6 | 215
Duncanville, Texas

Bio

5.6 minutes per game | 1.6 points per game | 1.7 rebounds per game

JaiLucas

#10 Jai Lucas
Junior Guard
5-10 | 150
Houston, Texas

Bio

9* minutes per game | 2.5* points per game | 0.5* rebound per game

*Lucas did not become eligible to play until the North Carolina game.

AndrewDick

#22 Andrew Dick
Freshman Guard
6-2 | 180
Sherman, Texas

Bio

3 minutes per game | 1.7 points per game | 0.7 rebound per game

JordanHamilton

#23 Jordan Hamilton
Freshman Forward
6-7 | 226
Los Angeles, Calif.

Bio

19.2 minutes per game | 10.2 points per game | 4 rebounds per game

DeanMelchionni

#25 Dean Melchionni
Freshman Guard
6-4 | 185
Lancaster, Pa.

Bio

4 minutes per game | 0 points per game | 1 rebound per game

JCovanBrown

#50* J'Covan Brown
Freshman Guard
6-1 | 185
Port Arthur, Texas

Bio

23.6 minutes per game | 12.5 points per game | 2.8 rebounds per game

*Brown switched to this number in honor of Ward, after he was injured.

My thanks to the Texas sports information department for the photos.

 

The Analysis

More than any team I have seen in a long time, Texas took a long, hard look at the flaws of last year's 9-7 team in the offseason -- and fixed all of them.

The Longhorns suffered from point guard play, so they added Jai Lucas and J'Covan Brown -- which in turn forced Dogus Balbay to step up his game.

Their defense failed them on several occasions -- most notably against an out-of-his-mind Denis Clemente -- so they rededicated themselves to shutting down opponents and becoming a more physical, defensive team.

They were overly dependent on streaky shooter A.J. Abrams, so they found some freshman sharpshooters to replace him. Not only did they find a new guy to average double figures, they found three. Simply astounding.

They needed Dexter Pittman to be the sort of inside force who could challenge Cole Aldrich, and Rick Barnes found the right combination of physical exercise and mental motivation to push Sexy Dex's buttons and raise his game to a new level.

And they needed Damion James to keep doing what he was doing, but he still found ways to improve -- and now he virtually can do everything.

Add it all together and you get the most impressive team in the nation, at this point in the season.

Texas' frontcourt almost is unassailable. Losing Connor Atchley was an improvement. In addition to the slimmed-down Pittman and the do-everything James, the Horns bring a player off the bench who rivals Jamar Samuels in terms of total impact. Gary Johnson can score, rebound and defend with the best of them, and if you saw him in that Michigan State game, he basically ignited Texas' decisive run single-handedly with his stellar play.

Meanwhile, Alexis Wangmene is giving the Longhorns more in his minutes than he did last year. The net effect of the bench duo's play is that Clint Chapman, who I thought was in the verge of a Darren Kent-like breakout, largely has been relegated to a tertiary role, along with Matt Hill. Those guys could start for many teams in the Big 12, but at Texas, they're pretty much afterthoughts. Yikes.

As far as guard depth is concerned, all you need to know is that the loss of Varez Ward, while emotionally disheartening, barely registered on the Longhorn's radar regarding the distribution of minutes. How many other teams can shrug off the loss of a starter and not suffer because of it?

Although Brown adopted Ward's number in honor of his fallen teammate and can play the point some, he's stronger as an off-guard. The person who rose up to fill the void was Balbay. Although he still is a liability shooting the ball in any situation and teams regularly play five feet off the guy, he's doing all the other things the Longhorns need.

Balbay rebounds and distributes the ball well, and his defense of Kalin Lucas on Tuesday was nothing short of smothering.

Like Balbay, Justin Mason serves as an underrated glue guy who, while not as gifted a scorer as Brown, is a potent rebounder and defender, and as one of three seniors on the team, he provides invaluable leadership, as well.

The jury still is out on Jai Lucas. He became eligible just in time for Texas' two hardest games of the young season, and as a result, didn't have much opportunity to make an impact. His experience from starting as a freshman at Florida is substantial, and he has all the athletic ability you could want and an excellent pedigree, but as long as Balbay keeps playing at this level, Lucas will be no more than a change-of-pace guy at the point position.

Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton have completely redefined the wing position for the Horns. Not since Kevin Durant has Barnes had a player, let alone two, who can score from all points on the floor as effortlessly as these two. Bradley is on track for potential first-team All-Big 12 honors, and if you want to know why UCLA sucks this year, look no further than the Bruins' failure to keep Hamilton in-state.

Due to Texas' bevy of upperclassmen, don't look for Andrew Dick, Dean Melchionni or Shawn Williams to have much impact as freshmen. They're there mostly for depth's sake, but the future looks solid at Texas.

 

Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup

DogusBalbay JustinMason AveryBradley DamionJames DexterPittman
Dogus Balbay Justin Mason Avery Bradley Damion James Dexter Pittman
1 2 3 4 5

 

Projected Top Big 12 Reserves

JaiLucas JCovanBrown JordanHamilton GaryJohnson AlexisWangmene
Jai Lucas J'Covan Brown Jordan Hamilton Gary Johnson Alexis Wangmene
1 2 3 4 5

 

The Final Verdict

Clearly, I'm high on the Longhorns. When your biggest problem is figuring out a way to shorten your bench, you're going to have a good season.

Texas has all the potential in the world, but dethroning Kansas as the king of this conference is about more than the players. There's a mental block that has to be overcome. Luckily for the Horns, the Jayhawks have to visit Austin in February -- a crucial battle that could serve as the tiebreaker between first and second place.

While I think the Cats are near-unbeatable in Bramlage, if I had to point to one game I think is extremely tough to win there, it's Big Monday against the burnt orange. Seems like we always beat each other on the road and fail to defend the home court, at least since Huggins arrived. I see no reason for that to change this year or the next.

Big 12 preseason prediction: 2nd

My predicted finish: T-1st (with Kansas)

Best-case scenario: National champion

Against K-State?: Win in Manhattan

 

Previously on KNOW THY ENEMY...

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  2. ???
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  4. Texas A&M
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  10. Missouri (T-9th with Iowa State)
  11. ???
  12. Colorado
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