Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/24/2007 11:19:00 PM
The Early Word On ... Texas
Connor Atchley (32) is emerging for Texas in his junior season.
NEWARK, N.J. --Four things we learned about No. 15 Texas from its 97-78 win over No. 7 Tennessee in Saturday's Legends Classic Final -- a game in which a fan, with 7:20 left in the second half, yelled, "Bring the girls team next time, Tennessee!" ...
1. It seems crazy saying this, but A.J. Abrams looks like a better two-guard than Chris Lofton.
Remember last year's Texas-Tennessee game? The one where cold-blooded Lofton was on full display, hitting a beyond-NBA-length 3 over Kevin Durant to keep the Vols alive in regulation -- and finishing with 35 points in an overtime win? That Chris Lofton wasn't at the Prudential Center on Saturday. He hasn't been present all year, for that matter, as he's been averaging just 13.8 points through six games.
Lofton put up 18 on Saturday, but many came during garbage time; he was dogged by Abrams and was barely a factor in a game that saw Texas hold a double-digit lead for all but the first 11 seconds of the second half. Longhorns point guard D.J. Augustin said the neutralization of Lofton began on the offensive end, when he was chasing Abrams: "We wanted to get [Lofton] tired and run him off of so many screens with A.J. that, by the time he got on offense, he wasn't as energized."
Vols forward Wayne Chism explained last week that Lofton was merely "chillin'," or biding his time before acting like the marksman that we've come to know over the past two seasons. He would be wise stop chillin' soon, lest his All-America campaign be shut down. Abrams, meanwhile, is on an amazing long-distance shooting tear to start the season: he's hit 55.6 percent of his 3s thus far, including 12-of-20 in Texas' two wins at the Prudential Center. Apropos of the arena name, a harder-than-normal, composite ball called "The Rock" has been used in Legends Classic games. Of Abrams, Texas coach Rick Barnes said, "He might want to invest in that [ball], because he's had a pretty good week with it."
Abrams scored 31 against New Mexico State and 21 against Tennessee, outshining Lofton, who entered the tournament as its biggest name but walked through the handshake line afterwards with his jersey tugged up over his head, as if to shroud himself from the reality of an ugly, 19-point loss. Augustin was named the Legends Classic's MVP, but he was expected to be the best point guard on the floor. Abrams wasn't expected to be the best two-guard in Newark. "I had [outplaying Lofton] in the back of my mind," he said. "He's an All-American, but I didn't want to come out and just say 'I'm going to outplay him.' I wanted to win this tournament." Abrams managed to accomplish both.
2. This is Connor Atchley's breakout year.
Atchley, a redshirt junior, is the only Texas starter from Saturday who does not appear on the front cover of the Longhorns' media guide. There are a few reasons for this: The other four starters -- Augustin, Abrams, Justin Mason and Damion James -- all started last year, too, while the 6-foot-11 Atchley averaged 17.9 minutes and only 3.9 points off the bench. And Atchley, when the season began, was considered by most to be merely keeping the fifth starting spot warm for five-star freshman Gary Johnson, who was waiting for medical clearance for an undisclosed heart condition.
Five games into this season, Johnson is still on the bench in a V-neck sweater and untucked dress shirt, while an ultra-confident Atchley is the team's third-leading scorer. On Saturday, he poured in a career-high 22 points for his fourth straight game in double-digits. In the first 5:09 of the game, he had one layup and one 3-pointer assisted by Augustin, plus another layup and a dunk on fast-breaks. "His conditioning is off the charts," Barnes said of Atchley. "He runs so well and D.J. trusts him, so if he's open, D.J. will get him the ball."
The timing of Atchley's breakout is impeccable, considering Texas otherwise has a sizable void in its frontcourt; this would be LaMarcus Aldridge's senior season, but he's been in the NBA for two years; this would be Mike Williams' junior season, but he transferred to Cincinnati at the same time Aldridge turned pro. Six-foot-10 sophomore Matt Hill is on the bench in a boot, sitting in street clothes alongside Johnson. Atchley waited four years for his turn, and now, in an offense with a speedy, penetrating point guard (Augustin), and a sharpshooter (Abrams), Atchley should continue to get his fair share of open looks against stretched-out and befuddled transition defenses.
3. The Texas fastbreak overwhelmed Tennessee's athletes.
The Vols' vaunted press is still effective when they can set it up after made baskets, but the Longhorns thrived off of misses, when Tennessee's transition defense was often all but helpless. Texas had a massive 23-6 advantage in fast-break points, with everyone from Augustin, to Abrams, to Mason, to Atchley streaking downcourt for open layups and dunks. After putting up 97 on the Vols, the 'Horns are now averaging 99.7 points over their past three games. "We were focusing on our transition offense," said Abrams. "We looked on the film and noticed that [Tennessee] sometimes didn't get back on defense, so we wanted to get down [court] on them."
Augustin and Mason were also extremely adept -- in both fast-break and half-court situations -- at drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line. Between them, they shot 17 free throws, making 13, while Tennessee was 10-of-16 from the stripe combined. At one point late in the first half, after Augustin had drawn yet another whistle, Vols coach Bruce Pearl yelled to his less-aggressive guards, "Drive into them one time! Initiate contact!"
4. The Texas portion of the Big 12 is much scarier than we expected at the beginning of the season.
Baylor took down Notre Dame and Winthrop this week to win the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas. Texas A&M slaughtered unranked Ohio State to win the NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday (that beat-down was covered in yesterday's blog). And Texas one-upped the Aggies by dismantling a top-10 team on a neutral floor on Saturday. "I knew we were going to be a great team," Augustin said on Saturday, after being asked about what he expected from the 'Horns in Year 1 post-Kevin Durant. But did anyone think they'd be this good, even before Johnson was added to the lineup? Neither Texas nor A&M began '07-08 in the top 10 of any polls. And Baylor wasn't even ranked. Less than a month into the season, Texas -- and not California, North Carolina, Tennessee or Washington -- looks like the most powerful state in college basketball.
A few photos from the trip to Newark, N.J., on Saturday evening for the Legends Classic final between No. 15 Texas and No. 7 Tennessee ....
The train ride only took 20 minutes from one Penn Station (New York's) to another (Newark's), which was dressed up in New Jersey Devils signage rather than college hoops advertisements ...
Then a four-block walk from the train station to the shiny new Prudential Center, during which I encountered zero fans clad in either Longhorns or Vols gear. It was foreshadowing for the nearly empty arena I'd soon enter ...
That shot was taken with about five minutes left in the West Virginia-New Mexico State consolation game, and the crowd did not swell in size for the nightcap. Although a number of Tennessee fans did vacate the Prudential Center's mezzanine-level bar, where they had been watching the Vols' quadruple-overtime win over Kentucky in football.
Wow. This thing actually worked. If you're late to the party, on Monday I debuted a "Durant Prediction Formula" (and reader contest) that predicted the Texas superfrosh would score 28 points against Texas A&M. Which is exactly what he did.
So the winner of the reader contest is either no one ... or Mike R. from Cypress, Texas, who said 28 points without realizing it was also my pick. Should we still give Mike a prize? Or maybe just some of Todd Bozeman's discarded ham sandwiches?
Freshman forward Kevin Durant is averaging 33.1 points in Big 12 play for Texas.
The Kevin Durant Show, which has produced at least 30 points in six of eight Big 12 games, rolls into College Station tonight for a tasty duel. The nation's best individual offensive player will square off against Texas A&M's top-five defense -- which is sure to give Lil' Kev the most physical challenge he'll face in the Big 12. (Kansas' defense is statistically more efficient than A&M's, but we can't really call the Jayhawks superior to the Aggies at this point.)
Late Saturday night after winning in Lawrence, A&M's Mr. Clutch, Acie Law, was already talking about his team's next test. "You've got Mr. Superstar, Mr. Do-It-All Kevin Durant coming in," Law said. "I really enjoy watching him play, to tell you the truth."
No doubt the Aggies will also enjoy harassing Durant into what they hope will be his lowest point total of the Big 12 season. The current low is 26 against Nebraska on Jan. 24. While it's still unclear which A&M player -- either Dominique Kirk, Antanas "A.K." Kavaliauskas, or Marlon Pompey -- will guard Durant, there is a good chance he won't break 30. And I think there's a good chance Texas won't win, either ... but Vegas has already established that.
I did a far-too-elaborate analysis today to attempt to predict how Durant would fare against A&M. First I took his point totals in Big 12 play and, thanks to the possession data on midmajority.com, came up with a "DPPTP" (or, Durant Points Per Texas Possession) score for each game. The DPPTP score was then divided by the opponent's overall defensive efficiency (or Defensive Points Per Possession, from kenpom.com), to get a final "DRatio" (Durant Ratio) that factored in his efficiency versus the relative strengths of the defenses he's faced.
By plugging the average DRatio for the eight Big 12 games (.499) into a formula with Texas A&M's defensive efficiency (.827) and the projected number of possessions for a Texas-Texas A&M game (67.0), Durant's projected point total for Monday night is 27.7. I'll round it up to 28, and make it my official pick.
Readers: To what point total will the Aggies hold "Mr. Superstar, Mr. Do-It-All Kevin Durant"? Leave your picks (as well as your NAMES) in the comments before tip-off. There will be a prize for the winner, and additional nods to anyone who can come up with a more absurd Durant-prediction formula than mine.
This is the third expansion of The Style Archive, which opened on Dec. 4, 2006, and has since grown to 26 exhibits. It's a blog-museum of sorts, dedicated to the most interesting stylistic elements of college hoops, from hairdos, to flair, to YouTube-worthy moves. Below are the six most recent additions; the complete Archive can be found here.
(Readers are encouraged to make archive nominations either in the blog comments or by e-mailing email@example.com, and will be credited on the site for any successful suggestions.)
>> Jan. 23 Exhibits <<
Yo, Vanilla! Levon Kendall, 6-10 forward, Sr., Pitt Classification: Retro Vanilla Ice 'do Spotted: Jan. 16 vs. UConn by The Blog Notes: Big ups to Kendall for bringing back the cut worn by Robert Matthew Van Winkle in the early '90s. Kendall is stopping, collaborating and listening on the hardwood (as well as averaging 5.7 points per game).
The No-Tie Look Tony Bennett, head coach, Washington State Classification: Semi-formal coaching attire Spotted: Jan. 16 in Seth Davis' Hoop Thoughts Notes: The 37-year-old Bennett took over the Cougars after his father, Dick, retired in March 2006. Will Tony's instant success -- he's led Wazzu from the Pac-10 cellar to the top 25 -- start a sideline style trend?
The Vault II Deron Washington, 6-7 forward, Jr., Virginia Tech Classification: Posterizing layup Spotted: Jan. 6 at Duke by the Blog Notes: The Blue Devils' Greg Paulus would like to forget what Washington did to him at Cameron -- a crotch-in-the-face vault for a clutch layup -- but this play will be immortalized on YouTube.
The Clarence Clemons Warren Carter, 6-9 forward, Sr., Illinois Classification: Messy, spiked-out hairdo Spotted: Jan. 14 at Michigan State by the Blog Notes: We're calling Carter's look the Clarence Clemons -- rather than the Ernie (from Sesame Street), as one friend suggested -- because it looks exactly like this photo of the E Street Band saxophonist.
The Frizzled Frosh Robin Lopez, 7-0 center, Fr., Stanford Classification: Unkept curly 'fro Submitted by: Stanford student Michael Lazar Notes: Lopez is, to our knowledge, the second player (after Wazzu's Derrick Low) who keeps his mane in check with an accessory running over, rather than around, his head. It's a good way to tell him apart from his twin.
The Dangling Mouthpiece D.J. Augustin, 5-11 guard, Fr., Texas Classification: Constantly visible mouth flair Spotted: Jan. 20 at Villanova by the Blog Notes: Augustin, Kevin Durant's partner in crime on the Baby 'Horns, is bringing back a look that Illinois' Dee Brown was known for in 2003-04: He uses a mouthpiece, but never keeps it completely inside his mouth.
UPDATED: The Polynesian Revival Derrick Low, 6-2 guard, Jr., Wash. State Classification: Hip-to-ankle tattoo Spotted: Dec. 28 at UCLA by the Blog Notes: Originally we called this a knee-length tat -- but in the process of writing this story we learned the real details on the traditional Hawaiian tattoo Low got in the summer of 2006.
UPDATED: Great Oden's Beard Greg Oden, 7-0 center, Fr., Ohio State Classification: Old-man facial hair Spotted: Jan. 17 vs. Northwestern by The Blog Notes: Oden began the season with a 40-year-old's grizzly beard, but shaved it in advance of the Buckeyes' Jan. 17 date against Northwestern. He's no longer being asked for his birth certificate prior to games.
David Monds and the Cowboys avoided a potentially devastating loss to Texas.
I just finished reviewing Texas and Oklahoma State's three-overtime epic on my DVR and ... wow. Move over, Kansas-Florida. We have a new leader in the clubhouse for Game Of The Season, and this one is going to be difficult to top. ESPN2 was waiting, and waiting ... and waiting to jump to its previously scheduled Aussie Open coverage, but as blog favorite Rick Majerus appropriately said, "This game is so good, [Roger] Federer is probably watching it in Australia."
Mario Boggan scored 37 points and committed just one turnover in 54 minutes against Texas.
It took nearly three hours of real-time (and even two hours of DVR-time) to reach the final score of Cowboys 105, Longhorns 103, just a few ticks before 11 p.m. in iced-over Stillwater, Okla. And it managed not to get sloppy, even when most of the players on the floor had been out there for more than 50 minutes. Oklahoma State's Mario Boggan delivered a tour de force, logging 54 minutes as a center (only Texas two-guard A.J. Abrams, with 55 minutes, had more), scoring 37 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. The maneuvering Boggan did to get off his final bucket was stunning; the guy is still a load at 235 pounds and he's spinning, dribbling behind his back in the open floor, and ducking under defenders to swish the game-winning 3 with 3.2 seconds left. Bravo, Mario. Bravo.
Some quick thoughts in the aftermath of a thriller that ended too late to make most of your morning newspapers:
• Boggan's 3 -- and all of his clutch buckets before that one -- will overshadow yet another absurd performance from Texas' Kevin Durant. The super-frosh matched Boggan with 37 points and at times single-handedly kept the Longhorns in the game. In case anyone hasn't been catching the highlights, in his first four Big 12 games Durant has scored 37, 34, 28 and 37 points.
• How devastating would it have been for the Cowboys had Boggan's shot not gone in? They were coming off a horrid, 30-point loss to Kansas and were in danger of starting 1-2 in the Big 12. Dropping an exhausting marathon to Texas at Gallagher-Iba could have potentially sent their season into a tailspin, with a difficult date at Texas A&M looming on Saturday.
• How may times did ESPN2's cameras cut to Durant during breaks at crucial, high-stress junctures of the game, and catch him smiling like ... well, the 18-year-old that he is? Whereas Boggan looked like he was leaving every last ounce of energy on the floor, Durant was scoring at will without appearing tired -- and laughing along with the audience about just how wild the action was. Durant and fellow frosh D.J. Augustin, who had 19 points and nine assists, have come incredibly far since I saw them at Madison Square Garden against Michigan State in November. They're already a scary-good duo, and if they buckle down in the NCAA tournament, they could take the 'Horns to the Final Four as a four or five seed.
• Favorite field-goals of the game:
1. Byron Eaton's incredible, falling-out-of-bounds, end-of-shot-clock, no-look 3-pointer from 40 feet in the second half (my only complaint being that an Oklahoma State fan's head got in the way of the TV camera at the key moment, which limits the shot's YouTube-ability).
2. Cowboy walk-on Tyler Hatch's lone bucket, in the second overtime. The gelled-up Hatch -- who can be found under the heading "Using Product" in our Style Archive -- was forced into action after two Oklahoma State starters fouled out. Texas made the decision to not even guard Hatch, and he managed to score on a feed from Boggan, plus get fouled, to put the Cowboys up two with 41.0 seconds left. Hatch missed his free throw ... but that was probably asking too much.
• Top four finishes of the year so far (that I've seen): Texas-Oklahoma State, Kansas-Florida (Brandon Rush's layup), UCLA-USC (Arron Afflalo's hanging jumper) and Tennessee-Texas (Chris Lofton's bomb). One is inclined to feel for the Longhorns, who've come out on the heartbreaking end twice. You don't need sympathy, though, when you have Durant.