With the Big 12 championship tipping tomorrow morning at 11:20, it’s time to kick our coverage into full March Madness mode. First up, some predictions about both the Big 12 tournament and NCAA Tournament. The questions:
- Who will Texas face on Friday, Texas Tech or Oklahoma State?
- Which team from the other half of the bracket will emerge in the Big 12 finals?
- Are you a proponent of the idea that it’s often good to lose in the conference tournament?
- How many Big 12 teams will receive an NCAA bid?
- Predict Texas’ seed and region placement in the NCAA tournament.
- Name two teams you don’t want to see in the same bracket as Texas.
PB: I’m going with Atchley who, at his best, adds a dimension to this Texas team that make us Final Four contenders. If he’s on the bench (or disappearing on the floor), we often become heavily reliant on our guards shooting long jump shots. He’s also got the best rapport with DJ Augustin to help set in motion our dribble drive, and he’s available to pop out for the three pointer or roll to the basket, where his inside game continues to improve. Throw in his remarkable shot blocking ability, and he’s my guy to watch.
AW: Connor Atchley. When Connor gets in foul trouble or plays poorly, the 'Horns usually have to just survive. The offense turns stagnant, DJ's driving angles are less available, and AJ isn't able to get open as easily off baseline screens. Texas also becomes much more susceptible to offensive rebounds. When he is able to stay on the floor, the Longhorns typically dominate (see Tennessee, Kansas, Kansas St.). Connor is the best shot blocker on the team and one of the best in the conference. He also sets solid screens and is able to stretch the defense with his long-range jumper making the 'Horns' offense much more difficult to defend.
BZ: AJ Abrams. If DJ is doing what DJ does unfettered, Texas can and almost always will beat anyone. If DJ is frustrated by the opposing defense, Texas can still beat just about anyone, as we saw during half of that 8-game winning streak, but someone has to step up offensively. The person that makes both of those things happen the best is AJ Abrams. He spreads the defense to allow DJ room to penetrate while locking up a defender, and he's by far the most capable of any of the other Longhorns of lighting up the scoreboard in a flash. If he's in foul trouble or bricking everything he throws up, Texas is in for a fight.
Horn Brain: AJ Abrams. I chose AJ because I'm betting most of the other guys will say anyone else, but if he has a horrible shooting night, I do not have full confidence that we can let our big men win the game. It almost happened against OSU, and if that exact scenario had played out against quality opposition in the NCAAs, we'd have been toast. Like, Michigan State toast. If AJ's canning the three, or at least being productive, I think we'll be able to go as far as our D will take us into the tournament.
54b: "The Other DJ" - If Damion James averages a double-double each time out, even if he does it without his usual lack of flare, we’re going to be in good shape. His PPG will be important to take some of the scoring burden off of AJ and Augustin, but not nearly as important as his defensive rebounding. Texas cannot afford to let its opponents score second-chance points.
Jeff: This may be the easiest question to answer, because it's clearly Connor Atchley. Connor is averaging nearly ten points per game this season. In Texas' five losses, Connor averaged 6.6 points per game, but in the four biggest wins (UCLA, Tenn, Kansas, Kansas St) Connor has averaged 15.3 points. Accident? I think not. Throw in his blocking (2.1 per game) and defense, and it becomes pretty obvious that Connor playing well is critical for Texas to make a deep tourney run.
Abram: Justin Mason. Yes, we need production from Damion James, Connor Atchley, and AJ Abrams - but Mason is the difference between the Sweet 16 and the Final Four. Justin is invaluable on the defensive end, and if he scores 10 points a game in the tournament and creates plays off the dribble it takes much of the pressure off of Augustin and Abrams to carry the entire backcourt load. Giving defenses an unexpected threat to worry about, Mason can also free up the big men inside - the portion of the Longhorns' game that has been most sorely lacking over the past couple of weeks.
Please weigh in with your own thoughts below...