Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Horns Prepare for a Dog Fight

The Longhorns got back on the winning track this past weekend against the Baylor Bears. They will look to improve to 2-1 on a 10 game stretch where they will face the top 5 teams of the Big XII in 9 of 10 games, including, A&M, Baylor, and Oklahoma twice. Tonight they head into Norman, Oklahoma where the Sooners will look to be physical with the Longhorns.

The Longhorns have known all season that their weakness is in the paint. Losses to Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Texas A&M have shown just that. In the most recent defeat, the Aggies abused the Longhorns in the paint and kicked out to three point shooters when the perimeter was forced to collapse.

The Longhorns rely on their guard play to lead them, but have been seeing slightly improved play from the likes of Gary Johnson, Dexter Pittman, Alexis Wangmene, and Clint Chapman. They still have a ways to go to contend with the likes of Texas A&M, but if the Longhorns can become decent to solid on the inside defensively and on the boards, Texas' chances to go deep in the tournament increase dramatically.

Oklahoma will be a difficult test for the Longhorns. Norman is always a difficult place to play and this Capel coached team still carries the physical style of play that it was known for under Kelvin Sampson. Oklahoma is still young and rebuilding, but they still have the talent to give the Longhorns fits. They are led by all-freshman power forward Blake Griffin who is an absolute force in the post averaging 14.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg. He is complemented inside by senior center Longar-Longar (13.2 ppg/5.9 rpg). The Sooners have won 3 of their last 4 in large part to the emergance of Griffin's older brother, small forward Taylor Griffin who has averaged 11.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg in his last four games.

The problem that Oklahoma has had this season lies in the play of their guards. Sophomore Tony Crocker has been a pleasant surprise, as the 6'6" guard is averaging 10.9 ppg and shooting 46% from 3-point range. The disappointment comes from point guard Austin Johnson who is only averaging 2.6 apg and senior guard David Godbold who was supposed to be the leader in the back court this season, but is only averaging 7.9 ppg and 32% from 3-point range, though he did score 22 on 6 of 10 3-point shooting against Texas A&M this weekend.

Texas will need to play strong interior defense if they hope to succeed against Oklahoma. They need to disrupt Blake Griffin early and make the freshman think by coming at him from different angles. I don't know if there is any player on the Longhorns squad that can cover him straight up. If Texas is forced to double down on the interior they must to a better job of it than when they played the Aggies. Texas A&M was able to move the ball with ease out of the double team and get their best shooters the ball wide open. Texas can't afford to leave Crocker or Godbold with wide open looks.

Texas will also need to play with intensity on the defensive end. They have let their opponents jump out to big leads in their last two contests, and were only able to come back from it once. AJ Abrams seems to have come out of his shooting slump just as DJ Augustin appears to be entering one. Texas right now is a team that lives and dies by their outside shooting and needs to work harder at getting Damion James and Gary Johnson actively involved on the interior. The Longhorns also need to get back to attacking the paint early in games and using turning to their outside shooting once defenses have made adjustments to account for driving. DJ Augustin is not getting to the paint as easily as he was earlier in the season and he is not looking to pass as much once he gets into the paint.

This is a game that Texas needs to win and should win. But they need their young front line to play well as this will be a difficult challenge for them against the physical front line of the Sooners. But if the Longhorns didn't figure it out from the Baylor game, they need to for this one. This team has to win basketball games on the defensive end.

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