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Longhorns Open Maui Invitational with St. Joe's

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After two easy home victories to start the season, the competition stiffens as the Longhorns head to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. A tournament title will not be easy for the No. 7 Longhorns as No. 1 North Carolina and No. 9 Notre Dame have also made their way to the islands. Texas will take on St. Joseph's in the first round on Monday (2 pm tip on ESPN2) with the winner advancing to take on the winner of Notre Dame and Indiana on Tuesday. Should Texas win their first two games, the championship game would take place on Wednesday. Yep, three games in three days for the ‘Horns on this working vacation.

Texas has played in the Maui Invitational two times before. In 1993, Texas dropped their first game but won their next two to take fifth place, and in 2004, Texas also went 2-1 to snag third place. All teams are guaranteed three games and all games will be nationally broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. So, for those of you may have missed the Longhorns first two wins over Stetson and Tulane, you'll get a chance to see Texas this week.

Details on St. Joe's and what to watch for in Maui after the jump...

St. Joe's

The Hawks enter the Invitational at 1-1 with a home win over Rider and an overtime road loss to Holy Cross. Last season, St. Joe's finished fourth in the Atlantic-10 conference (9-7) and was on the NCAA bubble before making a run to the conference tournament finals only to fall to Temple. Phil Martelli's club grabbed an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament where they lost to Oklahoma in the first round. A return trip to the NCAAs looks to be an uphill battle after losing double digit scorers Pat Calathes (17.5 ppg) and forward Rob Ferguson (11.9 ppg).

The star of this year's club is 6-9 senior forward Ahmad Nivens. Nivens is a load at 235 lbs, has already claimed two double-doubles this season, and was named co-conference player of the week after his 25 point and 13 rebound performance against Rider. He has also led the A-10 in field goal percentage in each of the last two seasons and is shooting an astounding 83% from the floor.

The other two Hawks averaging double figures in scoring are backcourt mates 6-3 senior Tasheed Carr (12.0 ppg) and 6-1 junior Darrin Govens (16.0 ppg).

Ken Pomeroy Statistics

It is certainly early but a look at Ken Pomeroy's statistics for St. Joe's is valuable nonetheless. Through two games, Pomeroy's tempo adjusted statistics reveal a below average team on both ends of the floor. On offense, St. Joe's is struggling to shoot the ball, especially from behind the three-point arc and also having trouble with turnovers. On the other end, St. Joe's has been even worse. Despite holding opponents to a low field goal percentage, St. Joe's is giving up offensive rebounds on 43% of missed shots. This is one of the worst rates in the county and the principle reason the Hawks are near the bottom of the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. For those of you new to Pomeroy's statistics and language, adjusted defensive efficiency basically evens out tempo and number of possessions to determine the strength of a defense.

Things to Watch

  1. Can Texas continue to create turnovers against stronger competition? As impressive as the Texas defense was in the first two games, Rick Barnes and Texas fans will know a lot more about this Texas team after the next three games. Through two games, the Longhorns have created turnovers on 31% of their opponents' possessions. If that keeps up, Texas will have a great chance to win the Maui Invitational.
  1. Can Damion James make jump shots? We've heard that James spent a great deal of time in the gym shooting jumpers over Kevin Durant this summer. To be an elite player, a conference player of the year candidate, and a potential lottery pick, James must prove that he can make mid and long range jumpers both off the bounce and on the catch. DaMo has a tendency to unnecessarily fade away and consequently be off balance with his jumper. As long as James goes straight up and down, he will be fine.
  1. Will Texas knock down free throws in tight games? As a team, Texas is shooting just 51% from the line. That is disgraceful. Barnes could teach a 12 year old girl to shoot 60%. There is no excuse for this, and unless it improves, free throw shooting will cost the Longhorns games this season.
  1. How does Barnes manage his depth? Other than the Big XII tournament, Hawaii will be the only time all season that Texas is forced to play three games in three days. Thankfully, this team is a legit nine deep before we even get to Matt Hill or Alexis Wangmene. Dogus Balbay was suspended for the first game and Varez Ward sat out the second game with an injured ankle. It will be interesting to see how Barnes plays and rotates his guards with all four now eligible and healthy. Also, the Maui Invitational is played in a tiny non-air conditioned gym which holds about 2,400 people. Players routinely suffer from cramps from heat and lack of fluids. If managed properly, the Texas depth could big advantage in Maui.

This will be a fun three days for the players and for the fans. I can't wait to see Rick in a burnt orange, flowery Hawaiian shirt instead of his normal neck-grabbing button ups. Check out Justin Mason's postcard from Maui and some awkward interviews by Matt Hill for a better feel for Maui.

Tournament Bracket with television times