Rick Barnes' young Texas basketball team gets another early season chance to impress. The Horns (5-2) travel to Houston to meet #11 LSU (5-1). Tip time is 7 PM CST and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN. (Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale on the call, enjoy.)
Texas is coming off a ten point neutral court loss to Gonzaga, while LSU handed #6 Texas A&M their first loss of the season 64-52 at home on Tuesday night. LSU's only loss of the season came at home to overachieving Wichita State in late November.
Sunday's game will follow a full week off for the Horns. In fact, they will have only played once in the last eleven days. After two tough losses to Duke and Tennessee last year, Texas played just once over the following two weeks. By all reports Rick Barnes rebuilt his club making them focus heavily on team defense and on sharing the basketball better. Basically, they became a team instead of a group of individual talents. Their early December transformation paved the way to a Big 12 conference title and deep run in the NCAAs. Hopefully, Rick Barnes will be able to mold this year's team into winners as well.
This could be marketed as an Elite Eight rematch from last season but it is really not. For those of you who don't remember, the Tigers knocked the Horns out of the NCAA tournament in a 70-60 overtime game that prevented Texas from reaching the Final Four for a second time in four years. The only Longhorn on this year's team to even play in last year's contest was AJ Abrams. The other six players who saw action for Texas have departed. LSU is also missing starters Tyrus Thomas and Darrell Mitchell from last year's game.
This year LSU is led by 6'9" 289 lb junior Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Davis killed the Horns in last year's Elite Eight game and is off to a great start this season (19.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg) after losing weight in the off season. He looked much quicker laterally and more in control with the ball against A&M. Davis also showed a consistent ability to knock down the mid range jumper. Our interior defenders are going to have their hands full. Slowing down Davis is definitely a key on Sunday.
John Brady's club has three other starters averaging in double figures. Tasmin Mitchell (6'7" 230) is another matchup problem in the paint for Texas. While not an excellent back to the basket player, Mitchell (13 ppg, 7 rpg) scores with his athleticism on put backs or in transition. Darnell Lazare (6'8" 240) averages 12 ppg and 5.6 rpg from his forward spot and Garrett Temple (6'5" 176) averages 11 ppg, 3 rpg and 3 apg from his guard spot. LSU also has two other 6'5" guards who receive significant playing time. AJ Abrams and DJ Augustin will be challenged on the defensive end if Rick Barnes elects to play man to man.
As PB mentioned, Texas is severely lacking an interior presence. It doesn't look like Connor Atchley or Matt Hill are going to develop enough this year into consistent starters. Our last hope is Dexter Pittman. He has shown flashes of brilliance off the bench. While I don't expect Pittman to start, he should receive more than a dozen minutes (his season high so far). Pittman's size and length will hopefully cause Big Baby some difficulties.
This marks the third straight time these two teams have met on neutral courts. LSU has won each of the last two, both of which were in the NCAA tournament. Remember Stromile Swift vs. Chris Mihm? Yeah, me too. In both of those meetings as well as in this one, LSU has a significant advantage in athleticism. They also have the size advantage at the guard positions. Last, the Tigers are more experienced than the Horns.
Texas has already missed two opportunities to secure a major win this season. Sunday night offers one of the last ones before conference season begins. Rick Barnes said on Longhorn Sportsline on Wednesday night that he was all for learning lessons like the team did in their losses to Michigan State and Gonzaga, but that at some point it would be nice to learn a lesson by winning. I haven't predicted a Texas loss so far this year and won't now either. I will only say that winning this one will be extremely difficult but could be season changing.