November 25, 2008

The REALLY BIG preview: No.8 Notre Dame

Series vs. Notre Dame

Series tied, 1-1. Last meeting: Notre Dame 98-92 (December 8th, 2002; Washington D.C.)

Horns moving on up.

By way of an early-season loss by future Texas opponent UCLA last week, the Longhorns moved up one spot in the Coaches poll (No.6) and in the AP Top 25 (No.7).

Post-St. Joseph's Notes Notes

• The Longhorns swarmed the Hawks in the first game of the Maui Invitational, forcing 18 turnovers and limiting them to 29.3% from the field, including 21.1% from three-point range. Texas has held two of their three opponents under 30% shooting and none of their first three opponents have cracked the 25% mark in three-point shooting.
• Gary Johnson recorded his first-career double-double with a 14-point, 10-rebound performance.
• Alexis Wangmene set a new career-high in scoring with eight points on Monday afternoon and he was one rebound (seven) shy of a career-high in rebounding.
• A.J. Abrams and Damion James have each scored 10 points or more in the first three games of the season.
• The Longhorns had four dunks in their win over the Green Wave.

Aloha mans "Let's play some basketball"

The Longhorns match-up with Notre Dame tonight in the second game of a three-game, three-day stretch at the Maui Invitational. If they beat Notre Dame, they'll play the winner of the No.1 North Carolina/Alabama match-up that will be played at 8:30pm on Wednesday (ESPN). If they lose to the Irish, they'll play the loser of the No.1 North Carolina/Alabama at 3:30pm on Wednesday (ESPN2).

Defense leading the way

There's still much we don't know about this year's Texas Longhorns squad, but if there's one things we can probably take to the bank, it's the fact that the Longhorns are going to be very salty on defense. In the first three games of the season, the Longhorns have held their opponents 46.3 points per game, 28.9% FG shooting and 21.9% from three-point range. Through those first three games, the Longhorns have also recorded 32 steals and 18 blocks.

UT's Microwave

Although his adjustment to the point guard position is still a work in progress, but one thing that's not a work in progress is his ability to put the ball in the basket.

The Big 12's top returning scorer picked up where he left off last season, averaging 17.7 points per game through the first two games, while making 12 of 24 (50.0%) from three-point land. Overall, he's hit the 20-point mark on 24 different occasions for the Longhorns during his career.

Heading into tonight's game, Abrams ranks 14th on UT's all-time scoring list with 1,442 points and trails No.13 Gabe Muoneke (1,456) by only 14 points. If Abrams can average a minimum of 20 points per game this season, he will almost certainly move into the No.3 slot all-time among Longhorn career scoring leaders and would have Terrence Rencher (2,306 points) and Travis Mayes (2,279 yards) in his sights.

Currently, Abrams has 1,428 career points. If he averages 20.0 points per game this season, he'd be on pace to finish with 2,030 and that does not include any potential post-season games. Even if he only averages the 16.5 points per game that he averaged last season, he'd still be on pace to finish the regular season with 1,921 points, which would put him within 37 points of Reggie Freeman for the No.3 spot.

NBA Longhorn Notes

Rookie point guard D.J. Augustin played 40 minutes on Monday night against the Philadelphia 76ers and scored 25 points, dished out 11 assists and grabbed five rebounds in a 93-84 win. So far this season and is averaging 12.5 points and 3.9 assists. In his first-career start on Friday against Atlanta, Augustin scored a career-high 27 points and dished out seven assists.

Former Naismith winner T.J. Ford is currently a career-high 15.6 points and 5.3 assists per game in his new stint as the starting point guard in Indiana. Ford had 22 points and six assists in a loss to Orlando on Friday night.

In Oklahoma City's first season as a full-time NBA city, the hard-luck lessons of having a losing team are starting to sink in. Through 13 games, the Thunder has racked up a 1-12 record and already gone through a coaching change. Former National Player of the Year and UT star Kevin Durant is averaging 21.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 46.2% from the floor and 42.1% from three-point land. Durant scored 30 points in his outing against New Orleans on Saturday night.

Portland forward Lamarcus Aldridge is off to a strong start this year, averaging 15.4 points per game and 6.6 rebounds through the first 14 games of the season.

About Notre Dame ...

There's a lot to like about this Notre Dame from a non-biased standpoint, as the Irish bring a team to the table that starts three seniors and two juniors, returns the reining Big East Player of the Year and has a splendid mix of inside/outside strengths.

In their dominating 88-50 win over in-state rival Indiana, the Irish simply took the Hoosiers to school by shooting better than 50% from the floor and nearly 40% from three-point range, while recording 15 steals and forcing 20 turnovers on defense.

Although he didn't lead the way against Indiana, the heart and soul of this team is 6-8 junior Luke Harangody. The first-team all-Big East selection is a hard worker on the offensive end up the floor and will not only try to set up shop on the low block because of an outstanding low-post game, but he's a magnet to the free throw line and knocks down the shots once he gets there. Harangody is averaging 23.7 points and 12 rebounds per game this season and he's almost an automatic double-double guy in every game he plays.

The versatility of the Irish team was in full bloom against Indiana, as the backcourt duo of 6-0 senior Kyle McAlarney and 5-11 junior Tory Jackson combined to score 39 points on 16 of 29 shooting.

Jackson is the straw that stirs the drink for the Irish on offense. Although he's turned the ball over too many times (11) this season, he gets everything going for this team and when the offense is really clicking, Jackson's dribble-penetration and slick passing sets the table for everyone.

While Jackson is trying to distribute to others, McAlarney is a pure shooter that cannot be left alone along the perimeter. In the win over Indiana, McAlarney was six of 12 from the field and 1 of those shots came from downtown, with all six of his conversions being from behind the arc. Until Monday afternoon, McAlarney has been struggling to find his shot (two of 13 from the floor coming in), he's the kind of streaky shooter than can carry a team if he gets hot.

With the addition of steady 6-7 guard Ryan Ayers, (9.7 ppg and 3.3 rpg), the Irish have the guards needed to win in March.

The thing that makes this team such a difficult match-up is their depth in the front court. In addition to Harangody, the Irish have 6-11 senior center Luke Zeller (11.3 ppg and 6.0 rpg) and 6-9 senior Zach Hillesland (6.3 ppg and 5.7 rpg) to provide enough size to match-up with anyone. If the Irish have a weakness, it's a lack of athleticism with their frontcourt.

The battle between the two teams in the paint will likely tell the story of the game, as the Irish will look to turn the game into a slugfest and the Longhorns will want to out-quick, out-jump and out-run Notre Dame up and down the court.

Overall, the Irish play a steady seven-man rotation. Like the Longhorns, they aren't great from the free throw line, as five of their top seven players have shot less than 63% from the charity stripe. Outside of that, this is a rock solid team that does everything well, but can get caught in match-up problems with teams that have the depth and athleticism to run them for 48 minutes.

The Three Keys

1. Don't let Harangody get comfortable. This will be a big test for Dexter Pittman. The big fella doesn't have to give the Longhorns more than 17-20 minutes, but while he's in there he needs to lean on the Irish star and take everything he can out of him physically. Make all five fouls count and don't give an inch. With the quickness of the Texas defenders, it'll be important to get him off the block and out of spots that can get him to the free throw line. If Pitman can't match-up or gets into early foul trouble, the Longhorns are going to have a one-on-one match-up problem and switching to zone creates all kinds of issues with McAlarney heating up last night. Pittman has to give Texas 20 solid minutes and the Longhorns have to make Harangody sweat.
2. Push the tempo. The Longhorns have really been able to get their transition offense going in the last two games. The Longhorns cannot let the Irish turn this into a half-court game because they currently run a better half-court offense that Texas does. That means Texas has to create turnovers with their pressure defense and turn those into scoring opportunities.
3. Hit those free throws. The Longhorns got the job done on Monday, but this figures to be the season's first competitive game and those charity shots will loom large.

The Texas line-up

The starters

Guard - A.J. Abrams - 5-10 senior - (17.7 points, and 2.3 assists)
Guard - Justin Mason - 6-2 junior - (3.7 points and 3.7 assists)
Forward - Damion James - 6-7 junior - (14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds)
Forward - Connor Atchley - 6-11 senior - (11.0 points and 3.3 rebounds)
Forward/center - Dexter Pittman - 6-10 junior - (8.0 points and 5.0 rebounds)

The next five

Guard - Dogus Balbay - 6-0 sophomore (1.0 points and 0.3 assists)
Guard - Varez Ward - 6-2 freshman (1.0 points and 2.5 assists)
Forward - Gary Johnson - 6-6 sophomore - (10.3 points and 7.7 rebounds)
Forward/center - Clint Chapman - 6-10 sophomore - (1.7 points and 3.0 rebounds)
Forward - Alexis Wangmene - 6-7 sophomore - (4.0 points and 4.0 rebounds)

The Notre Dame line-up

The starters

Guard - Tory Jackson - 5-11 junior (14.3 points and 5.7 assists)
Guard - Kyle McAlarney - 6-0 senior - (9.3 points and 4.3 assists)
Guard - Ryan Ayers - 6-7 senior - (9.7 points and 3.3 rebounds)
Forward - Luke Harangody - 6-8 junior - (23.7 points and 12.0 rebounds)
Forward - Zach Hillesland - 6-9 senior - (6.3 points and 5.7 rebounds)

The next four

Guard - Tyrone Nash - 6-8 sophomore - (1.0 points and 4.3 rebounds)
Guard - Jonathan Peoples - 6-3 junior (2.0 points and 2.7 rebounds)
Forward - Luke Zeller - 6-11 senior - (11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds)
Forward - Carleton Scott - 6-4 senior - (4.0 points and 1.0 rebounds)

And finally…

In our quest to provide you with a tidbit in each preview that teaches you something you might not have otherwise known, we give you this…


That's the most points ever scored by a Longhorn in a neutral site game. That occurred on March 16th, 1990 when Travis Mays lost his mind in the NCAA Tournament and dropped a 44-spot on Georgia.

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