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Texas Basketball Report

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It's time for another Texas basketball report. Since our last report, Texas has beat LSU in overtime and cruised past Texas State to improve to 7-2 on the season. The Horns now get two interesting SEC tests - tonight against Arkansas (AW Game Preview here) at the Drum and Saturday morning in Knoxville to take on Tennessee - and would position themselves tremendously well for conference play if they could win both games.

Revenga! Texas gets the best of Big Baby this time.
The last Texas basketball report focused on Texas' poor interior play through seven games of the season, but some of those concerns have been assuaged due to the improved play from Damion James and Connor Atchley. James, in particular, asserted himself in a very physical way in the LSU game, and has bucked a troubling early trend in which Kevin Durant was Texas' leading rebounder each game. James has now grabbed 13 and 10 rebounds in the last two games - both team highs - and is putting his immense physical talent to better use. As he gets more and more accustomed to his role on the team, as well as his own strengths and limitations, he should sustain double digit rebounding totals, while providing some much-needed interior defense.

Perhaps the most interesting development we saw this last week, though, was the unveiling of a new 3-2 zone that features Kevin Durant at the top of the key. Durant, who sports a ridiculous 7-5 wingspan, is an interesting choice at the top of a zone; his length and athleticism shut down passing lanes and put pressure on the perimeter. Putting him out on the top also has the added advantage of getting Durant out on the front of fast breaks, and as Texas' best scorer in the open court, that's certainly an appealing idea. One wonders, though, whether Durant's rebounding presence won't be needed as Texas gets into conference play.

Lastly, we can't conclude this report without talking about DJ Augustin's eruption over the past two games - 25 points 5 assists against LSU, 24-5 against Texas State. This development, more than any other, is the one I'm most excited to see. Through seven games, Texas' offense revolved around AJ Abrams jump shots or watching Kevin Durant audition for NBA teams. Defenses have adjusted, of course, tightening the vice on Abrams on the perimeter while throwin the kitchen sink at keeping Durant uncomfortable. That's opened up driving opportunities for Augustin, and he's taken advantage in a big way.

The key now, of course, is for Augustin to be able to counter-adjust as teams start to factor in stopping his penetration. As the strategy for defending the 'Horns evolves, Augustin must evolve, too. What's exciting, though, is that there are only so many defensive elements you can cover in one gameplan. Pack things in to cut off Augustin and you leave Abrams and Durant room on the perimeter. Play tight man and Augustin can get to the hoops. What's the best strategy?

My guess is that we'll see some aggressive perimeter zone play from Texas' more athletic opponents. Both Abrams and Durant, though, are good zone busters - Abrams for his shooting and Durant for his ability to score anywhere on the court. I suspect that containing KD with a zone will be a real challenge.

We haven't even mentioned Jay Mason yet, who's flashing NBA athleticism combined with elite basketball instincts. Mason's got a nose for the ball, tremendous anticipation, and continually improving decision-making. Throw in Texas' best perimeter defense, and it's getting tougher and tougher to take him off the court. He's the best-most-least-talked-about player in college hoops right now. No joke.

For now, everything's looking up for the 'Horns, but we'll find out a lot more tonight and (even more so) on Saturday. I like Texas to handle Arkansas at home tonight, but winning in Knoxville would be, in my estimation, an upset.

--PB--