Record: (26-5, 13-3 Big 12)
Key Wins: Tennessee, @ UCLA, Kansas, @ Oklahoma
Key Losses: @ Michigan State, Wisconsin, @ Missouri, @ Texas Tech
Key Stat: 7.7. That is the average number of three-pointers the Longhorns take per game. The number puts them second behind Baylor for most attempts in the Big 12 Conference.
Biggest Strengths: The guard play. Go ahead and take a good look at Rick Barnes this season. I mean a really good look. Those dark circles that used to be a staple on his face in March? Gone. The worry and frustration? Things of the past. While both of those points might be debatable based on Barnes’ work and dedication during the season, there’s no question that the maturation of D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams have led to some peaceful nights for the 2008 Big 12 Coach of the Year.
Augustin currently leads the ‘Horns in points (19.8) and assists (5.7), while also taking over the role of floor general after Kevin Durant departed for the NBA. Augustin did consider leaving for the pros after his freshman year, but considered against it after realizing that another year in school would do him some good. Boy was he right. Augustin is now considered one of the best point guards in the country, and is on his way to being a top pick.
A.J. Abrams, on the other hand, is the Robin to Augustin’s Batman persona. The sweet-shooting guard is averaging (16.2) points per game, while also taking over 7+ three-point attempts per game. Abrams can sometimes be a streak shooter from the outside, but when he’s on, Abrams can be one of the best sharpshooters in the country.
With Augustin and Abrams running the game from the outside, the Longhorns should be pegged to go deep in the tournament.
Biggest Weaknesses: Depth. Go ahead, name the sixth and seventh players coming off the bench for Texas this season. Chances are pretty good that unless you’re a huge Longhorns fan, you probably don’t have a clue. The Texas starting five have all averaged more than 28 minutes per game this season, with Augustin, Abrams and forward Damion James logging more than 31 minutes per game. Only one bench player (Gary Johnson) has averaged double-digits in minutes the entire year. That stat has to scare Rick Barnes if he finds himself in a tight game with a couple of his starters facing foul trouble.
It’s a known fact that the deepest teams in the tournament always have the best chance when tournament time comes around. If Augustin, Abrams or James gets into foul trouble, then Texas could be in deep trouble.
Most Important Player: D.J. Augustin. It’s no surprise that as Augustin goes, so goes the entire Texas Longhorn basketball team. In a game where a single player can change a game, Augustin is the kind of talented guard that can bring a team back from defeat when it seems like all hope is lost. Nevermind the fact that he leads the Big 12 in assists and ranks second in points. What makes Augustin such a gem is the fact that he knows knows how to run the entire floor. It might be a stretch, but Augustin has a Chris Paul-like ability to know when it’s time to shoot or distribute the ball. With 23 points in a win earlier this year against Tennessee in the Legends Classic, and 19 in a win against UCLA, there’s no doubt that Augustin has the pedigree to lead the Longhorns up against the toughest competition in the country.
X-Factor: Damion James. He IS the post presence for the Texas Longhorns. At 6-7, James is undersized in the post, but what he lacks in size he makes up with a venus flytrap-like ability to secure rebounds. James has posted double-digits in rebounds on 16 different occasions this season, while averaging a respectable 10.2 for the center-less Longhorns. When he’s snatching rebounds, the Longhorns are usually coming out on top. To put in plainly: He is the main reason the Longhorns have been able to keep most teams guessing with a balanced inside-out game for most of the season. The mantra for Texas in the tournament should be: Remember Damion James.
Might Lose When…D.J. Augstin scores over 14 points. No this isn’t a joke. In games this season that Augustin has broken the 14 point mark, the Texas Longhorns have gone on to lose all five games. It might sound silly, but allowing Augustin to “get his” seems to be the best way to shutdown the rest of the Longhorn offense. Augustin seems to thrive on making his teammates better whenever he’s on the floor. With that in mind, teams would be best off keying on Abrams, James and Conner Atchley instead of Augustin. I’ve always heard that basketball is a team game, so I guess this stat isn’t too far fetched.
Might Surprise You With…their youth. Texas might have two juniors in the starting five (Atchley and Abrams), but other than that, the teams still remains all about the youth movement. Augustin, James and Justin Mason are sophomores — Gary Johnson is a freshman. Those players make up the nucleus of the Longhorn basketball team. Most of those guys went to the NCAA tournament last season, however, very few of them really understand what it takes to make a deep run. Here’s hoping that A.J. Abrams can use some of his experiences from the 2005-06 run to the Elite Eight in the event the Longhorns have another magical March.
Predicted Finish in the NCAA’s: Elite 8. Texas has the guards to make a run in the tournament, but sooner or later they’re going to hit a team that will be able to exploit their lack of depth and size in the post. If the Horns expect to make the Final Four, then Rick Barnes better hope that Gary Johnson or Alex Wangmene turn into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in the next week.
Editor’s Note: Texas has beaten three No.1-caliber seeds this year in UCLA (without Darren Collison, but at Pauley Pavilion), Tennessee in New Jersey, and Kansas at home. So this team clearly has the chops. I wasn’t sold on Augustin last year, but he’s improved dramatically. He’ll need to stay out of his shooting slump that crept in mid-season, but few guys can get to the rack when it matter better than D.J. Texas will have a great chance to reach the Final Four, as I think they’ll be placed in the Houston region as the #2 seed.