Not many programs have enjoyed the recent run of consistent success as the Texas Longhorns in the NCAA Tournament. Since the 2001-02 season, the Longhorns, under the direction of head coach Rick Barnes, have won their first round game seven of eight years, appeared in five Sweet 16’s, two Elite Eights and the Final Four in 2003.
On Saturday, the Longhorns will get the chance to clear a giant hurdle that has been placed in their path in the Duke Blue Devils (29-6). Texas hasn’t taken on Duke since the 2005-06 season, but has been soundly defeated in the last two meetings to the tune of 97-66 in 2005-06 and 89-61 in 2002-03.
The Longhorns (23-11) advanced to the second round with a 76-62 win on Thursday in front of a pro-UNC crowd in Greensboro. Texas was led by A.J. Abrams with 26 points and eight three-pointers, including four in a row in the key stretch of the game in the second half when Minnesota switched to a 2-3 zone. Dexter Pittman added 17 and 11 and Damion James 18 points and nine rebounds.
The 61 points scored by the trio were the most in a game by three Texas players this season.
Duke is coming off of an 86-62 win over Binghamton. The Blue Devils feature three players that average 15 or more points per game in Gerald Henderson, Kyle Singler and John Scheyer.
Henderson and Singler average 16.5 points each, while Scheyer checks in at 15.0.
When Duke has struggled in their six losses, it has largely been dependent on two key areas: they have shot just 25.5% from three and are -3.8 rebounding.
The Longhorns will enjoy a decided advantage on the interior and on the boards, but Pittman and James have to stay out of foul trouble and be on the floor to take full advantage. Duke starts 6-8 forward Lance Thomas on the inside and plays Singler in a mismatch face-up perimeter four spot. Only junior center Brian Zoubek off the bench is taller than 6-10 as the Blue Devils are a thin interior team.
For Texas, handling the ball pressure and wing denial perimeter defense by Duke will be key. If Texas struggles against the ball pressure as they did against Kansas State (20 and 22 turnovers in those two games), the Longhorns will find themselves on a difficult spot. Duke turns opponent turnovers into transition scores in the paint and from the three-point line.
The availability of sophomore forward Gary Johnson is in question after his lower back tightened up in the second half of the Minnesota game.
Saturday’s team is set to tip-off at 8:15pm eastern time following the North Carolina vs. LSU South Regional game.
The Greensboro Coliseum seats 22,404 and will be filled by Duke and North Carolina fans. There is little doubt that UNC fans will be booing the Blue Devils and cheering loudly for the Longhorns.
The winner of the Texas vs. Duke game will advance to the Sweet 16 in Boston next week.
A Look at the Coaches
Rick Barnes has a career record of 472-238, including 268-104 at Texas. Barnes is 19-16 in NCAA Tournament play, including 17-10 at Texas.
Mike Krzyzewski is in his 29th season at Duke. The Hall of Fame coach has a career record of 832-273, including 759-214 at Duke. Krzyzewski has a 70-21 record in the NCAA Tournament, including three national titles, 10 Final Fours, 11 Elite Eights and 17 Sweet 16 appearances.
A Look at the Numbers
Texas shoots 44.3% overall, 33.0% from the three-point line and 66.9% from the foul line.
Duke converts 45.0% from the floor, 35.1% from three and 72.7% from the free throw line.
The Longhorns hold their opponents to 40.6% from the field, while Duke checks in at 43.3%.
Texas holds a +4.9 rebound margin and turns the ball over 12.6 times per game, while the Blue Devils check in at +3.5 on the boards and commit 12.4 turnovers per game.
The Longhorn Starters
G Dogus Balbay 6-0 So. (3.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists)
G A.J. Abrams 5-10 Sr. (16.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists)
G Justin Mason 6-2 Jr. (6.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists)
F Damion James 6-7 Jr. (15.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists)
C Dexter Pittman 6-10 Jr. (10.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 0.9 blocks)
Key reserves include 6-2 freshman Varez Ward (3.8 points and 2.2 rebounds), 6-11 senior Connor Atchley (4.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks) and 6-10 sophomore Clint Chapman (2.0 points and 1.6 rebounds).
The Blue Devil Starters
G John Scheyer 6-4 Jr. (15.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals)
G Elliot Williams 6-3 Fr. (4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds)
G Gerald Henderson 6-4 Jr. (16.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals)
F Kyle Singler 6-8 So. (16.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals)
F Lance Thomas 6-8 Jr. (5.4 points and 3.5 rebounds)
Key reserves include 6-2 sophomore Nolan Smith (8.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists), 6-1 senior Greg Paulus (5.1 points and 1.4 assists), 6-6 senior David McClure (2.0 points and 3.5 rebounds) and 7-1 junior Brian Zoubek (4.1 points and 3.7 rebounds).
What to Watch For
The Longhorns will face a Duke team that has dished out some major beatings to the Longhorns over the years. The only two players on the Texas roster that were on the team in the 97-66 loss in New Jersey were Abrams and Atchley. That year, Texas advanced to the Elite Eight.
Duke is known for their ball pressure, wing denial defense and expect more of the same against Texas. With Texas looking to get the ball to Pittman more Saturday than any other game this season, the Longhorn’s ability to handle the wing denial and ball pressure will be key. If Texas doesn’t handle the ball pressure well, creating post entry passing angles will be a tough chore.
Dogus Balbay has to attack and then get the ball to the free throw line extended area and throw the ball to Pittman’s hand. Duke will have a very tough time if Pittman catches the ball on the block and the one handed bounce pass that Balbay is making is not what one wants to do against a Duke team that will anticipate and quickly double down.
Justin Mason has a very tough match-up in Gerald Henderson. Henderson is powerful, strong, smart and quick. Mason can’t pressure him out to 25 feet and not expect to have Henderson use his strength to get by and create scrambling situations. Mason has to play, not off of Henderson, but in a position to bait 20 to 22-foot jumpers while being in a position to contest without fly by’s. The more Henderson is attacking off the bounce, the worse it will be for Texas defensively.
Texas can’t rotate off of Scheyer and has to be under control on close outs. Scheyer has a sneaky ability to put the ball on the floor going right and does a good job of getting to the foul line or finding an open teammate when driving right. In the majority of Duke losses, he was help in check by the opponent.
Texas will likely play some 2-3 zone along with man. Duke is going to live and die by the three versus man or zone and the Longhorns may have to play some zone to protect Pittman if Duke goes after him in the ball screen game early and often. Pittman will have a very tough time hedging and not getting into foul trouble against the Blue Devils.
If Lance Thomas or Elliot Williams go up in the paint, they must be fouled hard. Thomas shoots 55.2% from the foul line, while Williams shoots just 48.8%.
Damion James must play a smart game defensively against Kyle Singler. Singler is a very smart player that knows how to get a defender off their feet with a shot fake playing out of triple threat as well as sneaky head and shoulder fakes in the paint. Don’t be surprised if Duke tries to get James in early foul trouble to take the best rebounder out of the game.
Balbay has to put up the 10 to 12 foot jumpers Saturday if Duke plays off and give his teammates a chance to offensive rebound. When he drives into that area and doesn’t get to the rim or take the shot, the Longhorns end up taking bad shots a very high percentage of the time.
Varez Ward must do the same and continue to hunt contact.
Dexter Pittman has to be well aware of Duke big men taking the hit and attempting to draw a charge. The game has slowed down for the junior center and his play has to remain that way. When Texas gets Pittman the ball he should be able to finish against any Duke defender. Zoubek is a slow twitch athlete that isn’t a reactionary player.
Texas has to play off of Elliot Williams. If Williams wants to shoot the 22 footer, that is a win for Texas as he converts just 25.7% from three.
Balbay has to be a one-man fast break. Abrams’ best looks on Saturday will likely come in transition and that means it’s up to Balbay to push and force Duke to retreat and lose Abrams in transition.