Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:58PM

Texas Longhorns (2-1) vs. Southern Cal Trojans (2-1)
Lahaina Civic Center | Lahaina, HI | Tip: Approx. 4 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
LRT Consecutive Game #224

Still smarting from an embarrassing loss to Division II Chaminade, the Longhorns quickly return to action in this afternoon’s consolation bracket game against Southern Cal. Last night, the Trojans were obliterated by Illinois, 94-64. Brandon Paul put on a clinic from long range, dropping six three-pointers on USC en route to a 26-point performance. Although the Trojans looked overmatched and bewildered at times, they pose a very tough test for a Texas team that has yet to impress this season and is still reeling from an ugly loss.

This season, the Trojans are looking to rebound from an injury-plagued 6-26 mark in the 2011-12 campaign. Having lost only Maurice Jones to grade issues and a transfer, Coach Kevin O’Neill now has a full roster, loaded with talented transfers. Through their first three games, the Trojans have improved their adjusted offensive efficiency to .956 points per possession, up from an abysmal .876 PPP in 2011-12.

Keys to the game

1) Control the basketball – Coach O’Neill has long been known as a defensive guru, and even his worst teams have at least focused on that side of the ball. The Longhorns have struggled with ball control so far this season, posting a turnover percentage of 29.7% against their D-I opponents. In last night’s loss to Chaminade, Texas performed slightly better by only coughing it up on 23.4% of their possessions. Points will likely be hard to come by for both teams in this game, so the Longhorns cannot afford to waste their opportunities with careless turnovers.

2) Compete on the glass – Texas was dominated on the boards by a much smaller Chaminade team last night, and will be facing a very formidable USC frontcourt this afternoon. Junior Dewayne Dedmon is one of three seven-footers on the roster, as both Rice transfer Omar Oraby (7’2″) and former Texas A&M center James Blasczyk (7’1″) come in off the bench. Throw in athletic forwards like Eric Wise and Aaron Fuller, and the Longhorns will have their work cut out for them on the glass. Texas already struggles to score, so being shut out on the offensive boards would spell disaster.

3) Get bench production – Both of these teams played in the evening session yesterday, giving Texas about 17 hours of rest between games, while USC will only have about 14. Although Texas used every player in the core rotation and only Javan Felix played more than 32 minutes, both coaches will likely rely on a liberal substitution pattern. In a game that is probably going to be close and low scoring, it could be the contributions of an unheralded bench guy that earns the win for his team this afternoon.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:58PM

Thursday morning, ESPN’s College Basketball Nation gave college hoops fans a brief drink in the vast offseason desert, revealing the brackets of the November and December tournaments that will air on the Worldwide Leader. Now in its 29th season, the EA Sports Maui Invitational is the most well-known of these early-season events, and once again Rick Barnes and his Longhorn squad will take part in the famous tournament this November.

The opportunity to discuss and analyze brackets — even those that aren’t played out in March — is a great distraction from the fact that there are still 102 days until the 2012-13 regular season tips off. With that in mind, we’re stretching our breakdown of this year’s Maui field over two days. It’s up to our dear readers to find ways to occupy the other 100.

Chaminade Silverswords

The Longhorns will open play on the island of Maui with on November 19th against host Chaminade. The Silverswords are just 6-76 all-time in the tournament, with their most recent win coming in 2010 against another Big 12 school, Oklahoma. Chaminade escaped with a narrow 68-64 win over the Sooners, locking up 7th-place in that 2010 tourney. While they are best known for the monumental upset of top-ranked Virginia in 1982, the Silverswords also boast a pair of Maui wins over Louisville and victories against Villanova and Princeton.

Bennie Murray leads a veteran Chaminade backcourt
(Photo credit: Eugene Tanner/Associated Press)

This year’s Chaminade squad has nowhere to go but up, as they wrapped up their 2011-12 campaign by losing eight of their last ten and sputtering to a disappointing 11-14 finish. It was destined to be a rough year for the Silverswords, as they were blasted in their three EA Sports Maui Invitational games last November, losing to UCLA, Georgetown, and Tennessee by an average of 28.3 points.

Although Chaminade lost leading scorer and rebounder Matt Cousins to graduation, the squad will be very experienced and eager to return to the NCAA Division II tournament after a one-year absence. Four of last year’s starters are back on campus, including three seniors. All told, the returning nucleus of Bennie Murray, Lee Bailey, Dominique Cooks, and Waly Coulibaly accounted for 65% of last season’s minutes and nearly 63% of the team’s points.

As is to be expected with a D-II squad, the Silverswords will be very undersized when compared to their mainland opponents. Sophomore Casey Oldemoppen and juco transfer Tyree Harrison are the team’s biggest bodies, with both checking in at just 6’8″. Although the experienced backcourt should improve on the ugly 0.91 assist-to-turnover ratio they posted last year, that height disparity will still lead to a lot of second-chance points for the Longhorns and the other D-I teams.

* * * * * * *

After taking on Chaminade in opening round action of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, the Longhorns will face either Illinois or Southern Cal on November 20th.


The 2011-12 campaign was a brutal one for the Illini faithful. Longtime coach Bruce Webber watched his team lose 12 of their last 14 games, ultimately finishing 6-12 in the Big 10. The slow meltdown of a once-proud program spelled the end for Coach Webber in Champaign, but he found a new home at Kansas State before Kentucky had even cut down the nets in New Orleans.

The biggest challenge for the Illini was simply trying to put the ball in the basket. Illinois had a putrid offense that was more efficient than only Nebraska’s in league play. They were one of the 50 worst teams in all of Division I basketball in both three-point percentage and free-throw rate, meaning not only that they couldn’t hit from outside, but that they also weren’t being aggressive inside. If not for a stifling defense that allowed just 0.933 adjusted points per possession, Illinois wouldn’t have even been competitive in the six league games it did manage to win.

So with the entire Illinois roster back, except for lottery pick Meyers Leonard, why is there optimism surrounding the 2012-13 season? There isn’t an influx of new talent headed towards Assembly Hall. In fact, there’s only one new player who will see the court this year, Coastal Carolina transfer Sam McLaurin. A graudate student who is eligible to play right away, McLaurin was so flippant about his move that he announced his transfer destination with the tweet, “Fuck it im going to Illinois. #illinination”

With that hope not being a result of new faces on the court, perhaps the optimism comes courtesy of the new man at the reins, former Ohio coach John Groce. Fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance and a near-upset of North Carolina in the NCAA regional semis, Groce inherits a team full of talent that has yet to live up to expectations. Fans can only hope that he is able to reach a group of players that seemed completely checked out at the end of Webber’s reign.

D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are returning, and will make the Illini backcourt one of the most experienced in the nation. Joining them on the perimeter is junior wingman Joseph Bertrand, who showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season, especially in a January upset of Ohio State. He earned starts in 14 of the team’s 18 league games, and fans are hopeful he’ll truly break out in 2012-13.

The biggest hole was left by Leonard, who went pro after just two years at Illinois. That means there are a lot of expectations weighing on sophomore Nnanna Egwu, a raw 6’10” Nigerian center who appeared in every game last year. With Leonard chewing up the bulk of the post minutes in Webber’s four-guard look, Egwu averaged just under 10 minutes per game. He will have to make a big leap to be competitive in a physical Big 10, but will still likely be going through some growing pains when the team is in Hawaii.

Kevin O’Neill hopes USC will bounce back in 2012-13
(Photo credit: Chris Pizzello/Associated Press)

Southern Cal

USC had an even more disappointing season than Illinois, but Coach Kevin O’Neill and the Trojans should bounce back quickly. Unlike the Illini, the abysmal season in L.A. wasn’t a result of inexplicable chemistry issues. Rather, the Trojans were a walking MASH unit, playing in some late-season Pac-12 games with only six scholarship players. Pro prospect Dewayne Dedmon and forward Aaron Fuller both missed significant chunks of the year, while point guard Jio Fontan sat out the entire season following knee surgery.

This year, the Trojans are back at full force, and welcome some much-heralded new faces to the locker room. Ari Stewart and Eric Wise are eligible to join the team in 2012-13, having sat out last season after transferring from Wake Forest and UC-Irvine, while former Tennessee Volunteer and hip-hop artist Renaldo Woolridge can immediately play thanks to the graduate transfer rule.

The Trojans also welcome 6’3″ guard J.T. Terrell, who averaged more than 11 points per game for Wake Forest in 2010-11. Following an arrest just two months before the 2011-12 season, Terrell left Wake and played at Peninsula College, where he led the team to an NWAACC playoff berth while averaging over 24 points per game.

Even with a depleted roster, Coach O’Neill was able to make his Trojan squad one of the toughest defensive units in the country. USC allowed just 0.944 adjusted points per possession, 47th-best in D-I hoops. They forced turnovers on nearly a quarter of their opponents’ possessions, one of the ten best marks in the country last year.

Where USC struggled was on the offensive end, and that struggle was a mighty one. The team’s adjusted offensive efficiency was 326th out of 345 Division I teams, thanks in large part to the third-worst three-point percentage in the country. USC also was one of the ten worst teams in offensive rebounding percentage, free-throw rate, and effective field goal percentage. It would be practically impossible for the healthy, reloaded Trojans cannot to do worse on the offensive end this year.

The EA Sports Maui Invitational will be an early indication of just how well this team can perform in 2012-13. O’Neill has been an outstanding defensive coach in his four years as head coach at USC and Arizona, so there’s no question they will remain competitive. The pieces are there for the Trojans to make a remarkable turnaround, but the offense has to at least reach serviceable levels to take advantage of that stingy D.

For a look at the other half of the EA Sports Maui Invitational bracket, check out Part Two of our preview.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:28PM

USC Trojans 73, #20/19 Texas Longhorns 56

Los Angeles and New York City are separated by 2,800 miles. The performances by the Longhorns in those two cities might have been even further apart.

Texas impressed the basketball nation with their gutsy effort against Illinois and Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden. With another national TV audience on hand for last night’s game against USC, the Longhorns immediately erased those memories with one of the ugliest, most uninspired performances in years. The Trojans, coming off back-to-back road losses against Nebraska and TCU, completely shut down the Texas offense and easily dissected their defense, cruising to an easy 73-56 win at the Galen Center.

Texas couldn’t contain Nikola Vucevic
(Photo credit: Jason Redmond/Associated Press)

What needed work

We have to flip the script on this game report and open with all of the bad news. There’s almost nothing good worth noting, so we can save those few shiny nuggets for the end. The bad things, on the other hand, could fill a Dostoevsky-sized novel.

Just four days after their second-best defensive performance of the season, the Longhorns played the worst defensive game all year. USC was shooting 57% from the field in the waning minutes of the first half, and finished the night with a 48.9% mark. Their efficiency numbers were off the chart, as the Trojans scored a scorching 1.129 points per possession.

We’ve wondered all season what would happen when a thin and inexperienced Texas frontcourt met up with a physical, talented team. We finally got a chance to see it, and the results weren’t pretty. Nikola Vucevic matched his season average with 16 points in the first half, and finished the night with 24. Alex Stephenson chipped in a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

It seemed that Coach Rick Barnes was trying to match the USC size in the first half, as most of the time Tristan Thompson was sharing the court with either Alexis Wangmene or Matt Hill. The problem was that it quickly became apparent that Vucevic couldn’t be contained by one Longhorn defender, yet he still ended up isolated on Wagmene or Hill on multiple occasions. Vucevic constantly abused the Longhorn frontcourt, but was almost never doubled when he touched the ball.

On offense, Jordan Hamilton was clearly pressing in front of his friends and family, and said as much in the post-game press conference. It took him fifteen minutes to make a basket, and even that came on a goaltending call. Hamilton heated up in the second half and finished with 12 points, but by then it was far too late for Texas to make a threatening run.

J’Covan Brown scored early and shot often
(Photo credit: Jason Redmond/Associated Press)

The offensive struggles extended to the entire team. USC was one of the best defensive squads in the country last season, and they will likely finish near the top of those rankings again in 2010-11. The Longhorns were clearly frustrated by that excellent defense and forced up a ton of bad shots. J’Covan Brown was hot early on, which unfortunately meant that he continued to shoot all game long, even when good looks weren’t there. Although he led the team with 17 points, J’Covan shot just 33% from the field, including a 1-for-9 performance in the second half.

One of the most puzzling things we saw from our seats in section 112 was the lack of playing time for Dogus Balbay. The Longhorns were being picked apart on defense, yet their best defensive player only saw the court for nine minutes. If there was an injury limiting his playing time, it wasn’t apparent from our vantage point.

What looked good

The only thing that the Longhorns did well on Sunday night was shoot free throws. Coming into the game, the team’s percentage at the line was hovering around 62%, but they knocked down 80% of their attempts against the Trojans. Thompson, who has been battling mental demons at the stripe all season long, still only made two of his four attempts, but the rest of the team was excellent.

In addition, concession prices were incredibly reasonable. At a sparkling arena located across the street from one of the priciest universities in the country, you wouldn’t expect to find a 33 oz. soda for just $3.50. And the free Coke Zeroes being handed out as we left the arena went down a lot easier than the 17-point drubbing we had to sit through. So, there’s that.

Next up: vs. Texas State (2-4); Saturday, 3 P.M.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:18PM

#20/19 Texas Longhorns (6-1) at USC Trojans (4-4)
Galen Center | Los Angeles, CA | Tip: 9:30 P.M. CT | TV: FSN

In late October, the Big 12 and Pac-10 announced the end of a four-year series pitting teams from the two conferences in an annual basketball grudge match. With all of the shuffling and re-alignment going on this summer, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the two leagues parted ways. Colorado was bolting the Big 12 for the greener pastures of the soon-to-be Pac-12 Conference, while last-minute deals kept the remains of the Big 12 intact and ended Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott’s dream of a 16-team league stretching from Seattle to College Station.

During the first three years of the conference alliance, the Texas Longhorns have tallied three wins. That perfect mark includes a momentous upset, when the Longhorns secured the first-ever road victory over a No. 1 team in school history with a last-minute win at UCLA. Three years after that upset, Texas finally returns to Los Angeles, this time to face off with a struggling USC squad.

Tonight’s game at the Galen Center will be the first true road game for the Longhorns, although their two neutral-site games at Madison Square Garden had crowds that were certainly skewed in favor of the Texas opponents. USC’s home arena isn’t a loud, intimidating place to play, but one can imagine that the prospect of another USC-Texas battle — even if it isn’t on the gridiron — could fill a few more seats.

The game will also be a homecoming for sophomore Jordan Hamilton, who played his high-school ball in Los Angeles. Jordan will be looking for a breakout game, as he struggled in the last two Texas wins. Of course, for a scorer like Hamilton, “struggle” is a relative term — he still chipped in 29 points in the two games despite only hitting 32% from the field.

Kevin O’Neill wants you to read the text over there
(Photo credit: Associated Press)

By the numbers

Head coach Kevin O’Neill inherited a difficult situation when he arrived at USC, with the team mired in an investigation surrounding former Trojan O.J. Mayo. The Trojans have gone through a litany of roster changes over the past two years, but have emerged with a small, tight-knit group of players who hang their hat on in-your-shirt defense. Last year, USC was tops in the Pac-10 in scoring defense, and 2nd nationally in defensive efficiency. Trojan opponents managed just 0.849 points per possession on the year.

This season, defense is still a strength for USC. While this year’s numbers aren’t quite as impressive, the Trojans are still holding opponents to just 0.920 points in each trip down the court. A big part of their defensive success comes from limiting opponents to just one shot, as the Trojans are giving up just one offensive board in every four opportunities.

USC is also very disciplined on defense, committing very few fouls for such a solid D. The team averages just 15.5 fouls per game, which is an important number for a team that has just six players accounting for 92% of the team’s minutes.

Meet the Trojans

The USC team that takes the court tonight will be a very different one from the team that tackles the Pac-10 conference slate. That’s good news for Texas, because the Trojans will welcome Fordham transfer Jio Fontan on December 18th when the team faces Kansas. Fontan offers experience and leadership at the point, something USC is lacking at the moment.

Right now, the leadership comes from the frontcourt, where Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stephenson anchor the team. Vucevic is averaging a double-double so far, with 16 points and 10.9 boards per game. He’s a good midrange shooter and can knock down the three, so he spreads the defense out and opens up the lane for the team’s tiny, slashing guards.

Stephenson, meanwhile, is making a big impact after transferring from North Carolina. Last season, Stephenson often found himself in foul trouble, which limited his production. This year, he’s posting 8.3 points and 7.6 rebounds a night, despite playing the entire season with a fractured bone in his left hand. The injury is limiting his offensive game to putbacks and easy lay-ins, but even that doesn’t stop him from contributing down low.

Maurice Jones isn’t afraid to drive the lane
(Photo credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

In the backcourt, freshman Maurice Jones is filling the void at point until the arrival of Fontan. At just 5’7″, Jones isn’t a guy who typically creates his own shot. However, the Trojans work hard setting high ball screens with Stephenson and Vucevic, so Jones is often able to speed to the rack for easy buckets.

Although Jones is only a freshman, he’s proven to be a heady point guard so far. He doesn’t press the issue when the shot isn’t there, which saves him from a lot of embarrassing blocked shots. If he’s driving the lane and the defense shuts things down, Jones has no problem backing it out and resetting the offense.

Another freshman in the starting five is Bryce Jones, a 6’5″ off guard who is second on the team with 12.8 points per game. Although he’s only made 36.6% of his threes so far this season, his three-point prowess was well-documented in high school, and he could certainly give Texas fans a headache if he gets hot from long range tonight.

Senior Marcus Simmons is taking on a larger role this season, having started all eight games so far. He’s doubled his scoring output from last year’s three points per game to more than six this season, but more importantly he is grabbing 4.5 boards a night. On a team that only has two players taller than 6’7″ earning significant minutes, the 6’6″ Simmons has to be active on the glass.

The Trojans have another senior leader coming off the bench in Donte Smith. Just 5’11”, he’s another quick guard at Coach O’Neill’s disposal, and he’s another three-point threat to compliment Bryce Jones. It’s also worth nothing that Smith is 9-of-10 at the line this year, a very impressive number on a USC team that is shooting just 64% at the line.

Garrett Jackson is the only other Trojan who has played in every game this year, although he’s averaging just 13.5 minutes a night. He was Gatorade’s Player of the Year in Oregon as a high-school senior last season, and he seems to be adjusting quickly to the college game. He’s still very thin for a college player, but he’s athletic and knows how to score inside against bigger players. He also has a smooth midrange jumper, the threat of which allows him to pump fake opponents off the floor before he slashes to the rim.

Lance Stephenson dominates the boards
(Photo credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

Keys to the game

While we’ve talked about the lack of depth for Texas all season long, this Trojan team has it even worse. USC is well-known for its excellent half-court defense that pressures the ball well past the perimeter, so Texas would be well-served to push the tempo. This serves two purposes, as it wears out the Trojans’ core rotation, and gets Texas easier points in transition before the tough USC defense can get set.

In addition, Texas can exploit the lack of depth by attacking inside. Beyond Vucevic and Stephenson, there is very little experience or size on the Trojan bench. At 6’9″, freshman Curtis Washington is the only other forward with any size on Coach O’Neill’s bench, and he’s played a grand total of seven minutes in the team’s first eight games. Getting Vucevic and Stephenson in foul trouble will not only take a bite out of USC’s scoring threat, it will also give Texas an even bigger size advantage.

Finally, the Longhorns have to erase the mistakes tonight. Against Lamar, Texas played one of the sloppiest games we’ve seen in years, turning it over 23 times. The Longhorns also struggled early against Sam Houston State, coughing it up 11 times in the first half. USC’s defense is much, much better than what Texas saw against the Cardinals and Bearkats, so the Horns simply cannot afford to be that careless with the basketball tonight. Giving up possessions and easy, fast-break points is a recipe for disaster.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:11AM

The University of Texas released the non-conference schedule for the men’s basketball team yesterday, and the Longhorns once again have a top-flight list of opponents before Big 12 play. Use the drop-down menu at the top of the page to check out the full season schedule, or simply click this handy-dandy hyperlink.

Texas opens the season with the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament, which culminates in a pair of games at Madison Square Garden against two of the tournament’s other three regional hosts — Illinois, Maryland, and Pittsburgh. The Terrapins and Panthers were both NCAA tournament teams in 2010, and both advanced out of the first round. While the Illini did not make it into the Big Dance, hopes are high for their 2010-11 campaign, and ESPN’s Andy Katz even ranked them 15th in his first preseason poll.

Roy Williams and the Heels host Texas in December
(Photo credit: Gerry Broome/Associated Press)

The Longhorns also face a trio of perennial powers in this season’s non-conference slate. Texas first travels to Greensboro, North Carolina to tangle with the Tar Heels on December 18th. As we reported on Twitter last week, the two schools were in talks to move this year’s game to the Bahamas. With this year’s contest staying Stateside, it fulfills North Carolina’s “semi-home” game in the current contract and now leaves the two schools free to revisit the Nassau option in future seasons.

While the Tar Heels were sent reeling following their loss to the Longhorns last December, they seemed to put the pieces together in the post-season and surged to the NIT finals, where they lost to Dayton. With another year under the belts of the young and talented Carolina team — plus the addition of freshman stud Harrison Barnes — the Tar Heels are set for a solid 2010-11 campaign.

Just four days later, Texas heads to East Lansing for an on-campus match-up with Michigan State. The Spartans are coming off their second-straight Final Four, and return all of their key players outside of Raymar Morgan. Although the Longhorns escaped with a victory against MSU in Austin last December, they have historically had trouble with Tom Izzo‘s teams. A true road game against a preseason-Top 5 squad will certainly be a challenge for the Horns.

In early January, Texas hosts Connecticut at the Frank Erwin Center. Like the Tar Heels, the Huskies had an abnormally mediocre season last year. Unlike North Carolina, however, Connecticut managed to knock off the Horns in the midst of their struggles. The Huskies are bringing in a pair of 4-star guards and return Kemba Walker, so expect coach Jim Calhoun to have his team ready for another exciting match-up.

The Longhorns will also face two more major conference opponents in Southern Cal and Arkansas. Texas knocked off both of those teams in 2009-10, and are looking for another clean sweep this year. The Trojans are still embroiled in NCAA drama, as their school’s lawyers are fighting sanctions that were handed down earlier this month. Coach Kevin O’Neill certainly has his hands full rebuilding the program, but his squad matured nicely at the end of last season.

The Razorbacks, meanwhile, will be without star guard Courtney Fortson, who declared for the NBA draft and signed with an agent in April. Arkansas fans are lamenting the decision, as Fortson went unselected in Thursday night’s draft. They can take solace in the fact that sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke will still be on the court for Coach John Pelphrey, though.

In addition to the major names, the Longhorns filled the remainder of their non-conference slate with a slew of mid-major opponents. Navy and Louisiana Tech are Texas’ opening round opponents in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, while in-state foes Lamar, Rice, and Sam Houston State are all making trips to the Frank Erwin Center. North Florida and Coppin State round out the non-conference sked for the Horns with match-ups in December.

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