Sunday, March 18, 2007

vs. USC (24-11) - Sunday, 5:15 pm ET, Spokane, WA

Not looking pretty at any point in particular, Texas advanced past New Mexico State with a 79-67 victory. Texas got a glimpse into how most tournament teams will attempt to attack them. New Mexico State forced the ball inside with their two centers Martin Iti and Passos. While neither player had played a huge role for the Aggies this season, both were extremely effective scoring inside and on the offensive and defensive glass. New Mexico State also effectively slowed down Texas' offense and disrupted their rhythm by denying DJ Augustin the ball throughout the game. Finally, the Aggies attempted to limit Durant's touches and frustrate him when he got the ball by keeping an off the ball defender in the vicinity of Durant. This forced Justin Mason, Connor Atchely, and Craig Winder to beat NMSU more often than any Texas fan would like.

Texas will most likely continue to face these problems from every opponent the rest of the way. Texas will probably not have as many problems getting Augustin the ball as USC is not a team that will press as much as NMSU did. But USC will probably find different ways to deny Augustin the ball as Texas doesn't operate as effectively without the ball in DJ's hands. The weakness that we've been worried about all season showed up with Damion James in foul trouble, as New Mexico State had their way inside against Connor Atchely and Matt Hill. Texas will need Damion in the game and playing larger than his 6'7" stature. As for team's trying to limit Kevin Durant, I think it's foolish to hope that Justin Mason will find his early season form, and we will need to continue to rely on solid, confident play from Craig Winder and Connor Atchely making himself a presence on offense and defense. Though we could benefit from Kevin Durant demanding the ball a bit more offensively and figuring out his spots in the game to attack.

USC comes into the game off a solid 17 point win against Arkansas, in a game that they controlled from start to finish. USC is led by their junior small forward Nick Young. Averaging 17.4 points a game shooting 45% from 3 point range, Young is an inside-outside threat that will be a challenge for Mason, Winder, and Durant who should draw the defensive call against him. Also, Texas will have its hands full inside against freshman forward Taj Gibson (12.0 ppg/8.4 rpg) who had a great first round game against Arkansas. Matching up for Texas shouldn't be too much of a problem as USC will run three to four guards at all times. Point guard Gabe Pruitt (Jr. 12.5 ppg/4.1 apg) and Lodrick Stewart (Sr. 13.9 ppg/3.5 rpg) are the backcourt for USC. Pruitt runs the show and Stewart is dangerous from long range where he shoots 45%. While USC is a team that does not shoot a lot from outside they do shoot it well and will take advantage of open looks. The rest of USC's roster is made up of youth and athleticism as guards Daniel Hackett (Fr) and Dwight Lewis (Fr) play important roles. USC also has a lot of size off the bench as they will use Rousean Cromwell (So. 6'11"), Keith Wilkinson (So. 6'10"), and Abdoulaye N'Diaye (Sr. 6'11").

The one area that Texas will really have to deal with is the size of USC. With Pruitt and Stewart at 6'4" and Hackett and Lewis at 6'5", Augustin and Abrams will have to deal with more size then they are used to offensively and defensively. Though Augustin and Abrams should be able to cause problems with their quickness. Also, Damion James should be able to cause some problems with his size and quickness on the offensive end. Really, this game will come down to Kevin Durant and how USC is able to defend him. They will have to be creative in how they defend him as any of the guards will not be able to handle him inside or contest his shots on the perimeter. Also, USC will not want Young covering Durant because of the potential foul trouble, and any of the front court players will not be able to handle Durant inside or out. USC will most likely try to run a lot of players at Durant and use their guards to try and deny and use their quickness to harass him, and try and double team and make the other Texas players beat him.

Texas matches up well with USC and as long as Texas doesn't let USC get hot from the 3 point line and stays out of foul trouble, they should be able to handle USC and move on to a match up with North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.

Prediction: Texas 81-77.

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