KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Frontcourt fouls. If both Damion James and Dexter Pittman leave their marks on this game, I feel great about Texas' chances to win. If either or both spends extended time on the bench with foul trouble, Tubby's team can and will capitalize. The biggest question I've been thinking about non-stop this week is how the officials will handle Dexter Pittman. Not only do opponents flop like they're auditoning for a role on a Coach K team, but sometimes they literally just bounce off the big fella, through no fault (foul) of his own). Big 12 officials have gotten used to calling his games, but what about tonight's crew? I worry about a group of refs who are seeing him for the first time. As for Damion, though he's not the go-to star we hoped he might become, it's easy to overlook his importance -- particularly on the defensive glass.
2. Know your foe. Texas needs to be defensively aware, treating the Gophers guards much as the Longhorns opponents do our own. Sag off the kids who can't shoot, take away the point guard's penetration, and smother the 2-guard whose value is tied to his three-point shooting. Easy enough, but it requires situational awareness. The most important defender will be Balbay, who in guarding Westbrook needs to do his usual excellent work taking away penetration. Texas wants Minnesota to win this the hard way by taking away penetration, limiting free throws, and forcing the Gophers to shoot their way to a victory.
3. Opportunistic offensive rebounding. Minnesota's not a team which will make you pay for overcommitting to the offfensive glass, which means Justin Mason, in particular, needs to be as active as ever in that regard. When Justin Mason spends too much time floating around the perimeter, he becomes a wasted body and Texas is all the easier to defend. Along with slashes to the basket, he and his teammates should be looking for offensive rebounds without much worry about the quick fast break.
4. Good AJ. From the get-go. Before the half. In the game's final minutes. One exceptional performance aside (OU victory), the stand and watch AJ strategy has been crippling in every instance. When he plays within himself, both he and the team are better for it. We don't need 20 points from Abrams if they come about the wrong way. 10-15 within his role would be just fine.