While Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley and the rest of the Texas football team wind down their to-date undefeated season and a possible berth in the National Championship in Pasadena, Calif., in January, the #3-ranked ‘Horns basketball squad have taken the court in the Drum in 2009 with one goal in mind: make the Final Four in Indianapolis in March. The Burnt Orange faithful don’t need reminders of Texas’ painful early second round exit in last year’s tournament against the Duke Blah Devils and Mike Wizzuwooski. Mark Eyes Of TX’s words, this year will be different and here’s why:
After flirting with the possibility of entering the NBA draft, both Dexter Pittman and Damion James decided to stay for their senior year. With Pittman’s 6’10”, 290-pound frame clogging the middle and James’ Energizer bunny playing style, Texas already has two deadly weapons who can dominate the game on both offense and defense.
Adding to the experience Pittman and James bring to the Longhorns, head coach Rick Barnes used his Wil’ E. Coyote super genius recruiting prowess to sign the third best freshman class in the nation, which includes guards Avery Bradley and J’Covan Brown and forward Jordan Hamilton. These three frosh are instant impact players and their contributions were witnessed in Texas’ first win of the season against UC-Irvine. Don’t count out forward Shawn Williams this season either, another top recruit brought in as a scorer but who will also provide a strong rebounding and defensive presence.
There’s an old saying in basketball, “Deep benches, deep in the tournament.” Well, maybe that was made up on the couch, but it definitely applies to the success of past 25-win teams with multiple Final Four appearances. With nine returning players from last year’s team and the additions of junior guard Jai Lucas from Florida and six freshman (four of which could start any game), Barnes has one of the deepest, most talented teams in his tenure at Texas. It will be interesting to see how Barnes uses the veteran leadership from Gary Johnson, Dogus Balbay, Varez Ward and Justin Mason – all starters at one point last year – in combination with Pittman, James and the four freshman phenoms. This might lead to various starting lineups during the season, but at least Barnes has those options and can call on anyone from the bench for an immediate impact.
Although Texas has the coach, the talent and the fan base to get through the season with more than 25 wins and advance deep into March, there are a few roadblocks in the way. Oh, just the #1 Kansas Jayhawks, #2 Michigan State Spartans, #6 North Carolina Tar Heels, and #12 Connecticut Huskies to name a few – all viable, NCAA championship-caliber teams, giving the ‘Horns the most difficult schedule in the Big 12 Conference this year. Of course, those aforementioned games don’t even count the two tip-offs against #17 oklahoma this year in the hardwood version of the Red River Rivalry. Who knows what Barnes was thinking when he made the 2009 schedule, but there’s something to be said for challenging his team this year – not a bad move considering Texas might face these teams again in the NCAA tournament. If Texas can escape those top 25 match-ups with a 4-2 record and stay healthy the rest of the season, the Horns are on their way to a 25 wins or more season and a Big 12 Championship matchup against Kansas in March.
Let’s hope Texas’ season-opening 89-42 victory against UC-Irvine is a tell-tale sign of how the rest of season will pan out. With five players scoring in double digits (Pittman 21, James 21, Brown 13, Hamilton 12 and Bradley 10) and 13 total players getting minutes during the game, the ‘Horns showed they can score from every position and Barnes demonstrated his willingness to keep the team fresh. Check out these highlights from the game, which includes a sweet alley-oop dunk from Brown to James and a few moments of greatness from Bradley and Hamilton.
The Horns will try to keep the momentum in the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic tournament against Western Carolina Wednesday (11/18) at 8 p.m. CT on ESPNU and Iowa next Monday (11/23) at 8:45 p.m. CT on ESPN2. Stay tuned for more updates throughout the season. Keep your ‘Horns up!
Thanks to BigBopper for his Texas Longhorns basketball contribution!