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Tourney Talk: The Longhorns Head To Houston

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PB: Wooooooo!

AW: I just got home from the lake house. Unbelievable.

PB: Terrific. I was thrilled with our performance today, late Miami rally and all.

AW: We were unstoppable in the first half - we would have led at halftime against any team in the country. I thought we took our foot off the gas some in the second half. It wouldn't have even been close, though, had we sunk our free throws.

Now, first off, did you get to see the game on TV or via computer?

PB: Funny you ask. I thought long and hard about whether to settle for MMOnDemand or to hit the local Buffalo Wild Wings. I went with the latter, which was a good decision, but I have in my notes several rants about the experience. Like, the 80s power rock playing in the first half instead of basketball announcing. Or the douchebag sitting two seats down from me who - get this - claimed one of the big screen TVs for... snowboarding! I had to watch TN-Butler out of the corner of my eye so that this tool could watch some meaningless trick show on ice.

AW: Wow. I was at the Y last Sunday for work. After escaping from what I was supposed to be doing, I settled in the weight room on top of a bike directly below two TVs. (I wasn’t exercising, of course -  just watching.) One TV had Texas vs Kansas and the other had Wisconsin vs Illinois. And one of the guys in the gym changed the Big 10 final to the Rockets vs Lakers game. I appreciate all basketball lovers, but a regular season NBA game over any conference tourney final is just wrong. I don't care how many in a row the Rockets had run off.

PB: I submit that there's nothing less exciting than a regular season NBA game. At least MLB has a fantasy format that invites attention.

AW: I agree. I don't have a favorite NBA team and never will. The only reason I ever watch is when I have a bet riding on the outcome and I don't even do that until late in the playoffs.

PB: Agreed. Let's move on before we become irrelevant.

AW: Okay, I’m pausing to read your postgame notes on BON.

Ok. Done. Not surprisingly, I agree with everything.

PB: We've co-blogged for four years now; the mind-meld is complete. So let's look forward to Houston. The big question is how to defend Stanford. Man or zone?

AW: Both, I guess. You’re right in your post about Miami getting back in the game when we went zone. I’m still traumatized by what Kansas did to our zone in Kansas City as well. Let me submit this: one defense isn't going to do it. One point about each though. When we play man against Stanford, we must double down on both of the Lopez boys. If Stanford beats us from the perimeter - so be it, but we can't let them school us man-on-man. When we play zone, I'd like one of our three guards to be on the bench. I hate our 2-3 when Mason is on the backline. I think we are WAY too small both in terms of defense and rebounding. The best zone is Mason and DJ up top and Johnson, James, and Connor down low. Barnes can use Wingman as well. I just hate our zone when we play all three small guards at the same time.

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PB: I think that's exactly right. With our starting five, let's play man, work hard on keeping the Lopez kids from catching it too deep, and double as appropriate. If we intend to play zone, it needs to be with the bigger group. I get the feeling we'd be really, really well served by a big game from Dexy. Can he give us 15 big minutes? I'd imagine an ideal game would involve him frustrating those tall Stanford kids a bit, who aren't used to someone their size.

AW: No, Dex is not the answer. My brother said the same thing before the Miami game. Then, I proceeded to point out every poor defensive possession that Dex had for the game. As you mentioned in the postgame write up, they were numerous. He is incapable of providing ball screen defense. His feet just don't move fast enough. He is also incapable of moving his feet against anyone who can dribble the basketball. I love Dex. He has worked his ass off and will someday, maybe even next year, be able to contribute 15 minutes. But, sadly, he is not the answer. I think we need a big defensive game from WingMan and at least 15 minutes from Johnson. Gary will be giving up a ton on inches but he is solid on defense. He knows how to use his body, is constantly harassing his man, and can rebound with both hands.

It would also be nice if Connor could draw an early foul or two on either of them.

PB: Not sure I agree here. Though I agree with your assessment of Dex, he struggles with teams who use their big men in motion. Stanford runs as close to an NBA offense as you'll see in the college game. The ball goes in to the block, where the twin towers go to work. In that capacity, I think Dexter's going to have to be used as a stopgap at times. I also shudder a bit thinking about Gary Johnson guarding a 7'1" center who can finish around the rim.

AW: I shudder too, but those Lopez boys are going to eat Pittman alive if we leave him on an island down low. He will pick up a foul on just about every touch. I have no problem trying it. Maybe he can block a shot or draw an offensive foul. I just wouldn't count on Dex as the solution to the Lopez problem because he isn't going to be in the game for very long.

PB: I think the battle with the Lopez kids is a war of attrition of sorts. And from our side, winning the war means not being forced to use Connor/James to defend them too much. Because we can't afford either in foul trouble. So to the extent Dexter can give us 15 minutes - imperfect though they may be - I think we need them. Even if he fouls out. Those fouls have to go to him instead of the guys we absolutely must have on offense. What's more, he's a good rebounder. We can't ask Damion/Connor to carry that whole load.

AW: Agreed. He’s part of the solution - just not the whole solution. Every foul that is on Dex and not on Connor is Advantage Texas, regardless of whether Stanford gets two foul shots. Connor must stay on the floor. He was my answer in the BON roundtable and even though AJ is shooting lights out, it’s Connor that remains the second most important player on the floor. When AJ sits, Connor and DJ can still do their thing. If Connor is forced to sit with foul trouble, our offense usually grinds to a halt. AJ won't be getting those open looks if Atchley is watching from the bench.

PB: I don't disagree with that at all, though I'd suggest that Damion's perhaps the second most important player in this game, just barely ahead of Connor. As important as Connor is to our offense (and I think you're exactly right in your analysis), our defensive rebounding in this game absolutely requires Damion James on the floor.

AW: I think you sort of made this point in your post game observations, but I’ll go ahead and say it very clearly: This is the best team that Rick Barnes has ever put together. The ‘6 team certainly had more talent and the ‘03 team went to the Final Four, but this team, collectively, is the best I've ever seen at Texas.

Agree?

PB: I only raised the question in the postgame wrap, but I do agree. If I had doubts before today, they were erased watching this group play the best help defense I've seen in at least two years, in conjunction with an offensive fluidity that simply never existed with the TJ team. This is a real Team, capital T. Whatever happens in the Houston Regional (which has quite the final four, huh?), I think this is Rick's best team ever.

AW: Yeah, I can't wait for Friday. I’ll certainly enjoy the games on TV on Thursday, but Friday is going to be something special. Calipari vs. Izzo. The Stanford Trees vs. the Texas guards.

PB: We've made a big issue all season of the home court advantage Texas would enjoy in Houston. Now that we're here, what are you expecting on Friday night?

AW: A sea of burnt orange. I don't know how many Reliant holds for basketball, but it will definitely be filled to the brim. Memphis travels well but I can't wait to see Longhorn fans everywhere. UCLA certainly benefited this weekend from their fan support in Anaheim. Texas should have that kind of support times ten. It is going to be very, very difficult to beat the 'Horns in Houston.

PB: I wonder if our advantage won't be greater in the Elite Eight - should we advance - than on Friday night. I watched Stanford play at Pauley Pavilion and they're such a methodical team that I wonder how much effect, if any, the hostile crowd might have. I think the two things I'll be looking for are: 1) the extent to which our own players are energized by/more confident because of the home crowd and 2) how comfortable our guards are shooting the long jump shot at Reliant. There's always a concern when you play basketball in a football stadium that the depth perception is out of whack. We need our guys to be shooting on the mark.

AW: I think you bring up a good point. Pace will definitely be something to watch on Friday. I know that we don't have much of a bench, but with extended TV timeouts and four days off, stamina for our starters isn't going to be a factor. We'll get what we can from our bench but the starting five are going to determine the outcome. Early in the Miami game, Texas was able to push the ball and get some good looks both near the rim and from three. As you've mentioned from your own observations about Stanford, Texas will hold a clear quickness advantage on Friday. The more up and down we can play, the better. Not only does Texas have the ability to score in transition, but it will also be easier to score in the paint if the Lopez boys are still running back on defense.

PB: Watching Stanford-UCLA a couple weeks back, I kept asking myself, "When's Howland going to start pushing the damn ball? This Stanford team is slow." When UCLA erased a 14-point second half deficit, the catalyst was (unsurprisingly) Collison, who I believe scored 11 straight points during one stretch. I think it's critical we maximize our advantage in that regard. And, of course, stay out of foul trouble on the other end. It's tough to imagine us surviving a long stretch with one of our key starters on the bench.

AW: One more point about defending the Lopez twins: Ball pressure is often an overlooked element to defending the post. Yeah, it's going to be important for our bigs to keep them out of the lane. But our guards can help tremendously if they are able to harass the passer out front. In the Marquette game, the Stanford point guard, Johnson I think, had 16 assists to 1 turnover. That is simply insane. If he’s able to calmly and effectively feed the post, there won't be much our bigs can do. It starts with ball pressure and solid pre-catch post positioning.

PB: I completely agree. I think Texas has as much work to do before the Lopez kids ever touch it as they do once the ball's in their hands. We either need to be denying the entry pass (from inside and out) or we need to be battling hard to ensure they're not catching it with a foot in the paint. If they get the ball that close, it's over. It's also tough because when one twin shoots the other is waiting for an offensive rebound. This is why I'm so focused on Damion James being out on the floor. Without his rebounding, we're in a scary, scary position.

Does all this talk make you think the officials may have a say in the outcome of this game?

AW: Somewhat. I typically think that as the tournament goes on the players, the teams, and the officiating get better. I think the officials will let the players play . At least I hope they do. If we get ticky-tack BS calls early, then its going to be a long game.

PB: Let's hope you're right. Although the fan in me won't shed a tear if one or both of the Lopez twins gets sidelined by foul trouble. It's going to be a fun, fun Friday night. The one we've been anticipating all year...