Game #2: Western Carolina Catamounts (1-0) at No. 3 Texas Longhorns (1-0)
8:00 p.m. * Frank Erwin Center * Austin, TX
TV: ESPNU / Radio: 98.1 FM, 1300 AM
The Catamounts visit the Drum four days after opening their season with a 65-41 victory over St. Catharine College and on the heels of a 16-win season in 2008-09, good for the North Division crown in the Southern Conference. The Catamounts are entering their fourth season under head coach Larry Hunter, returning their entire starting lineup and a deep, experienced roster overall--five seniors and four juniors, all recruited by Hunter during 2005-06.
Seniors Brandon Giles, Brigham Waginger and Jake Robinson compose the core of the experienced returnees, but the team's leading scorer a year ago was freshman Harouna Mutombo (14.5 points, 4.6 boards per game), last year's Freshman of the Year in the Southern Conference. And yes: that Mutombo (nephew), although he's a 6-4 guard with a smooth set jumper and an emerging ability to pop it off his own dribble.
The Catamounts are far more capable of matching up with Texas' imposing physical strength than was UC-Irvine, though their top frontcourt players -- Jake Robinson (6-8, 205), Richie Gordon (6-8, 240), Kendall Russell (6-6, 205), and Blake Gallagher (6-8, 245) -- still lack a true center who can deal with someone Dexter Pittman's size. What they lack in brute strength they make up for in athleticism and excellent length among their guards, which enabled Western Carolina to pull down offensive rebounds on 37% of their own misses a year ago (37th best, nationally).
Which brings us to the other thing the Catamounts do well with their athleticism and length on the perimeter: create turnovers. Last year's squad forced opponents into turnovers almost one out of every four possessions (23.1%, 29th nationally), and in this year's opener versus St. Catharine's they forced 25 (8 steals). Starting at guard alongside the 6-4 Mutombo are Brandon Giles (6-6, 200) and Brigham Waginer (6-2, 175), making for a long, athletic backcourt that does a great job getting into passing lanes and forcing bad angles and tough passes.
Keys to the Game
- Foul control. As a freshman Dexter Pittman fouled 10.3 times per 40 minutes. As a sophomore he cut that down to 6.3; last year it held steady at 6.5, even as his minutes shot up. If tonight's game is going to be a competitive contest, the Catamounts absolutely must have Richie Gordon out there for 25-30 minutes, but last year the sophomore hacked a troubling 7.6 times per 40 minutes, and racked up 4 fouls in 12 minutes in the opener versus St. Catharine's. If Big Sexy can keep up his excellent work of late with fouls, while getting Gordon into trouble, Texas is going to present overwhelming frontcourt problems for WCU. If, however, it's Pittman who hits the bench with foul trouble while Gordon stays on the floor, things could stay interesting.
- Guard compsure. Tonight's game presents a great little test for Texas' young guards, as they'll face a long, athletic perimeter that will test their ability to play smart, composed basketball, using timing and spacing -- rather than dribbling -- to create a nice flow in the offense.
- Don't settle. Texas has a decided edge in frontcourt strength and overall talent, but WCU is an experienced team with a backcourt comfortable playing a sloppy, up-and-down game. It'll be interesting to see how Texas' guards react to a team that wants to run-n-gun and whether they'll have the patience and discipline to stay within what's there, willing to slow things down and make the extra passes to ensure Texas gets a good look in each halfcourt possession. If Texas is throwing up long jumpers early in the shot clock, we'll be playing WCU's game, rather than them ours.
Prediction: Texas 76 WCU 55