March 20, 2008

Preview: Horns face Peay shooters

The No.7 Texas Longhorns will get their 2008 NCAA Tournament appearance under way on Friday at 2pm central in Little Rock's Alltel Arena against No.15-seed Austin Peay of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Longhorns enter the "Big Dance" as the No.2 seed in the South Region for the second time in three years after advancing to the Elite Eight in 2006.

The Texas Longhorns received the seed and region desired on Sunday with the announcement that the Longhorns had been rewarded with a record setting season with that two-seed in South Region. While the thought of playing in next week's regional at Reliant Stadium in Houston would be a dream come true, there is first a trip to a very hostile environment in Little Rock.

The Longhorns (28-6) will play Friday's first round game at Alltel Arena as the heavy favorite over the Ohio Valley Conference regular season and tournament champion Austin Peay Governors (24-10). While the Longhorns are the landslide favorite, the sold out arena will be full of Memphis and home state Arkansas fans that would love nothing more than to see Texas become the 5th two-seed to lose to a 15-seed since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

If the Longhorns are to avoid the first round upset, they must take care of business against an Austin Peay team that comes in winners of 11 of their last 12 games. The Governors are led by junior forward Drake Reed and senior guards Derek Wright and Todd Babbington. Peay is a balanced squad with five players averaging double figures.

The Governors, like many a mid-major, are dependent on three-point shooting averaging nearly eight makes per game.

The weakness for the Ohio Valley Conference champions is size, as the tallest player on the court will be 6-6 in Babbington and reserve forward Earnest Fields. The lack of height and length shows up in two key areas. Austin Peay allows 46.6% from the field defensively, which ranks 293 out of 328 teams in Division I. The Governors also struggle in the rebounding department with a -2.4 margin good for 263 out of 328 teams.

Austin Peay is coach by Dave Loos, who doubles as the athletic director. Loos has career record of 377-299 in 22 years, including 295-247 in 18 seasons at Austin Peay. Loos has led the Governors to five 20+ win seasons and five Ohio Valley Conference titles.

Friday will be the third NCAA Tournament appearance for the Governors (0-2).

The Longhorns are under the direction of Rick Barnes. Barnes has a career record of 446-226, including 244-92 at Texas. The Longhorns have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in all 10 seasons under the North Carolina native. Barnes has a career record in the NCAA Tournament of 15-15. He is 13-9 at Texas with one Final Four, two Elite Eight's and four Sweet 16's in the last six seasons.

Friday will be the first meeting between the two programs.

Game time is set for 2pm central and will be televised on CBS.

A look at the numbers
Texas shoots 45.3% overall, 38.5% from the three-point line and 68.9% from the foul line.

Austin Peay converts 45.1% from the field, 38.6% from three and 71.5% from the free throw line.

Texas surrenders just 39% from the field defensively, while Austin Peay gives up a lofty 46.6% from the field.

The Longhorns own a +2.5 rebound margin to -2.4 by the Governors.

Texas is second in the nation averaging just 9.5 turnovers per game, while Austin Peay checks in at 12.7.

The projected starters

G D.J. Augustin 5-11 sophomore (19.8 points, 5.7 assists)
G A.J. Abrams 5-11 junior (16.1 points, 2.8 rebounds)
G Justin Mason 6-2 sophomore (7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists)
F Damion James 6-7 sophomore (13.2 points, 10.5 rebounds)
C Connor Atchley 6-11 junior (9.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 blocks)

Key reserves are 6-7 freshman Gary Johnson (6.0 points, 4.2 rebounds), 6-8 freshman Alexis Wangmene (2.3 points, 2.4 rebounds), 6-10 sophomore Dexter Pittman (2.4 points) and 6-10 freshman Clint Chapman.

G Derek Wright 5-10 senior (11.7 points, 4.8 assists, 2.7 steals)
G Todd Babbington 6-6 senior (11.6 points, 2.3 rebounds)
F Kyle Duncan 6-5 junior (6.9 points, 3.3 rebounds)
F Drake Reed 6-5 senior (14.6 points, 5.7 rebounds)
F Fernandez Lockett 6-5 senior (10.9 points, 6.8 rebounds)

Key reserves are 6-3 sophomore Wes Channels (11.0 points, 2.6 rebounds) and 6-6 sophomore Earnest Fields (5.3 points, 4.3 rebounds).

Keys to the game

The Longhorns must bring their "A" game Friday and understand how the crowd will be in Little Rock. There will be upwards of 15,000 fans cheering for a Texas loss, so taking the crowd out of the game is going to be key. Keeping the upset-minded opponent from getting momentum from the crowd is key.

Understanding the opponent and situations is always key, but even more so with a loss ending one's season. The Longhorns have played quite a few teams this year in which fouling the opponents interior players was the desired path instead of giving up easy scores.

Against Austin Peay, Texas must use their size and length advantage to challenge shots and make the Governors interior players such as Drake Reed and Fernandez Lockett work for every basket. Both of the 6-5 forward shot over 70% fro mthe free throw line, so fouling the duo isn't option #1.

Lockett is a very good offensive rebounder and has to be blocked out. Because he is 6-5, he can win leverage battles and dislodge taller players, blocking out and rebounding with bent knees and a solid lower base is a must.

Know who the three-point shooters are and stick to them. Todd Babbington is the top gunner on the Governors team with 99 made three's at 38.2%. Texas simply can't rotate off of him and then must bait him into putting the ball on the floor as that is not his strength.

Senior point guard Derek Wright converts 41.1% from three, while Kyle Duncan connects at a 56.9% clip although he has attempted only 72 three-pointers on the season.

Austin Peay's best chance to beat Texas, as is the case in many a mid-major vs. heavy favorite game, is to have a hot shooting game from three as the line is the great equalizer in college basketball.

When Texas is on offense, be prepared for any type of defense imaginable. The Longhorns will likely have the kitchen sink thrown at them and has to be aware early in possessions and adapt.

If the Governors play man to man, Texas must give the post up game a chance and early in the shot clock as Austin Peay will likely take some chances with quick double downs.

Be aware of where Derek Wright is at all times. The senior point guard plays with active hands and has a knack for jumping passing lanes. He averages 2.7 steals per game.

If the game is close late, the Governors have two players that shoot under 70% from the line and both are guards, which makes the task of putting the the worst free throw shooters on the line easier. Sixth man Wes Channels converts 66.3%, while Babbington checks in at 67.6%.

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