Saturday, December 19
2:00 p.m. ET
In what is building up to be one of the biggest games in recent Texas basketball history, the unbeaten and #2-ranked Texas Longhorns will face off on Saturday afternoon with the storied #10-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the new Texas Stadium in Arlington.
#2 Texas Longhorns (9-0)
The ‘Horns have yet to face an elite opponent in the 2009 season, yet after starting off the year ranked #3, they’ve quietly crept their way up to #2 right behind Big 12 Conference foe Kansas. As you may know, the 2009 squad is loaded with talent, including returning seniors center Dexter Pittman (13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds/game) and forward Damion James (15.4 points and 10.1 rebounds/game), not to mention a swath of talented freshman from across the country that allow Texas to go deep in to games with fresh players. All told, the ‘Horns have five players averaging double-digit points per game, but they will need to rely upon the experience and leadership of the seniors on the big stage, and lay off the 3-point shot, which has been their go-to shot selection early in the season.
To be successful in this game, and down the stretch, head coach Rick Barnes has to get more production out of his players at the free throw line, where they have been miserable to-date with only two players shooting better than 70 percent from the line. Those “free” points will help Texas extend and hold a lead late in games, and it will be critical not only to Saturday’s match-up, but to their long-term success in 2009.
Coming in Saturday’s game, the ‘Horns have a few key injuries including guard J’Covan Brown (who has been cleared to play) and forward Shawn Williams (who will not play) – both sustained left ankle injuries in the game against Texas State last week.
#10 North Carolina Tar Heels (8-2)
The Tar Heels are young and talented as well, and despite two early season losses to #24 Syracuse and #4 Kentucky, they have knocked off #15 Ohio State and #9 Michigan State. In addition, the Tar Heels have experience on the bench against the ‘Horns by way of former Kansas coach Roy Williams, who led his Jayhawk teams against Barnes in year’s past. Williams’ current squad is led by two strong forwards in Deon Thompson (averaging 17.1 points and 8.1 rebounds/game) and Ed Davis (14.0 points and 9.5 rebounds/game), but also get strong play from their point guards Marcus Ginyard and Larry Drew II. All told, those four players average about 28 minutes a game, and the Tar Heels are capable of playing deep in to their bench just like the ‘Horns. Without a true center, however, it will be interesting to see how they match-up against Texas’ Pittman in the paint, not to mention guard/forward James who can play inside or out for the Longhorns.
For a full preview, including strengths and weaknesses of both teams heading in to Saturday’s match-up, check out this article on ESPN.