Believe it or not, we're just 48 hours from tip off against Stanford. Morning Coffee has had to play second fiddle to school duties this week, so I'll take this opportunity to dive into some game week notes and links:
From the diaries, we get this very interesting interview with Rick Barnes on 'Mike and Mike' this morning. Though most of the chatter is the usual fluff, Rick made one comment that made me sit up and grab a pen.
Upon being asked what, if anything, he was doing to prepare the team for tournament games, Barnes noted that the team's routine over the past six weeks hadn't changed at all. It wasn't just coachspeak, either, as Rick added that Texas throughout February and March was involved in Saturday-Monday game weeks over and over, thanks to playing on ESPN's Big Monday.
I'm literally shocked that the thought had never occurred to me, but it honestly hasn't. Texas played games on 1/19 and 1/21, 2/9 and 2/11, 2/16 and 2/18, 2/23 and 2/25, and 3/1 and 3/4 (Tuesday game against Nebraska). Though I always wondered during the season whether that kind of schedule was a disadvantage, as we sit in the thick of the NCAA Tournament, it looks quite the opposite, doesn't it? The Longhorns have been playing two games in three days for the last third of the season, which can't hurt in preparing a team for the NCAA Tournament format. Very interesting to think about.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room for Texas is what to do with Stanford's size inside. Do we zone? If so, with whom? Do we play man? If so, how often do we double? Thinking about that today, I wondered what Texas ought to do if nothing was working well. If, in other words, we just don't have the horses to slow down the Lopez kids inside. In that doomsday scenario, do you start playing Hack-A-Tree?
The data suggests not. Looking at Stanford's schedule, three of their losses (including Siena) came in affairs in which they severely struggled to get to the line. However, a look at their seven losses also reveals that it's worth throwing the kitchen sink at defending the post (without fouling), forcing the Cardinal to shoot from the perimeter. The Cardinal don't shoot particularly well from three point range to begin with, and in their seven losses shot just 32.1% from downtown (12-31 against Siena).
The scary thing about Stanford, of course, is that you can be in big trouble if they're dominating you inside or if they're shooting well from the perimeter. In a way, you have to pick your poison and hope for them to fail a little bit. That, or play out of your mind on offense yourself. For Texas, the best bet is probably to pack things in, double when in man-to-man, and see how Stanford's guards are feeling in Reliant.
Pat Forde has a featurette on AJ Abrams' terrific start to the tournament, which got me to wondering about AJ's performances in our losses and big wins (TN, UCLA, KU, A&M, KSU).
In Texas' six losses, AJ averaged 16.7 points, including 20-61 (32.8%) from three point range (10.6 3PT FGA/game). In our five big wins, AJ averaged only 12.8 points, including 12-32 (37.5%) from three point range (6.4 3PT FGA/game). Probably two lessons here:
- If AJ's shooting as well as he did in Little Rock, the more the merrier.
- If he's shooting less than 40%, though? We're at our best when he's not shooting it too much.
Be scorching hot, or be efficient, Mr. Abrams.
Wondering what Texas' chances are of reaching the Final Four? Going with the straight numbers, about 22%. Winning the whole thing? Less than a 3% chance.
Doesn't sound too good, does it? Not at all, and given the special problems that Stanford presents, I'm trying to temper my expectations. We do, however, have a couple aces up our sleeve. For starters, we played our way to Houston, and in a tournament as competitive as this one, every little edge you can muster is important. As I'm sure many of you were, Andrew and I saw first hand the sea of orange that descended on San Antonio in 2003. We expect the same in Houston, and there's no telling what kind of boost that atmosphere might give the team.
More than that, though, we've got DJ Augustin, who Fran Fraschilla appropriately calls "The Closer." These games so often come down to the very end, and having a special player like DJ Augustin is especially critical in close games in the final minutes. This team has already proven it can play with anybody. We're impossible to count out until someone actually does it.