Why They Can Surprise:
Texas always seems to have its leader. Two years ago it was Kevin Durant, last year it was D.J. Augustin and this time around it is A.J. Abrams. Abrams, the Big 12 career leader in three-point field goals, is averaging 16.6 points per game during his senior campaign. Obviously he is a superb outside shooter, but he does more than just shoot the long ball. Abrams has developed into a solid slasher and will score in just about every way possible.
Speaking of scoring, forwards Damion James and Gary Johnson know how to put the ball in the basket. James is a versatile wing who can occasionally knock down the long ball to go along with his ability to get to the basket. He is also the best rebounder on the team. Johnson is probably the most improved player on the squad, going from averaging 5.6 points per game as a freshman to 11.2 this year as a sophomore. Johnson also does a fine job on the glass and it is never easy for the opposition to effectively hit the glass when those two are on the floor along with one of the 6-10 centers.
Why They Can Disappoint:
Abrams is a great shooter, but nobody else on the team is much of a threat from long range. Justin Mason has struggled to find his shot all year long after moving to the point guard position this year and that leaves absolutely nobody else. If Abrams’ shot is not falling or the opposition employs a defense like the box and one to keep an eye on Abrams on the perimeter, the defense can simply pack it in and stop the interior play of Texas. The lack of outside shooting also puts a lot of pressure on Abrams. Three times this year he has attempted ten or more three-point shots. The Longhorns have lost all three of those games.
Who To Watch:
It is possible that 6-10 centers Dexter Pittman and Connor Atchley will both start. That would move Johnson to the bench. Coach Rick Barnes has tried different starting combinations throughout the year, but it will likely come down to match-ups during the tournament. Either way, the Longhorns have a couple capable centers. Dexter Pittman has turned into a great scoring option in the paint, averaging 9.1 points per game. He will effectively use his big, 298-pound body to get great position under the basket and get some easy buckets. Atchley has had a disappointing senior season. He has only scored in double-digits three times all year and two of those were during the first two games of the season. For a player who averaged 9.5 points per game during the 2007-2008 campaign, that is quite inadequate. The Longhorns will need him to get back to last year’s form in March or Texas could make an early exit.
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008, Elite Eight loss to Texas
Coach: Rick Barnes (18-16 in 16 NCAA appearances)
Justin Mason, Junior, Guard
A.J. Abrams, Senior, Guard
Damion James, Junior, Forward
Gary Johnson, Sophomore, Forward
Connor Atchley, Senior, Center
Dogus Balbay, Sophomore, Guard
Dexter Pittman, Junior, Center
Varez Ward, Freshman, Guard
+ Following final Bracket announcement, more team info will be added, including final RPI, final team statistical rankings, Joel's prediction, and more!