Posted November 18th, 2008 by Mike
Filed under: Basketball, Feature

AJ Abrams will need to more than score this year.

AJ Abrams will need to more than score this year.

Texas enters the upcoming basketball season ranked in the top ten and poised to make another successful tournament run. Rick Barnes wants his team to be tough and physical, winning games on the defensive end. This team may represent that more than any team he has had in Austin. The Longhorns come into the season with nine out of their ten man rotation from last year. The team only lost one player, but it might have been the worst possible one to lose. Point guard [tag]DJ Augustin[/tag] now plays in the NBA and Texas will spend the early part of the year figuring out who will control the ball. [tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] wants to play more point, but the team plays better when he plays off the ball and [tag]Justin Mason[/tag] runs the point. The addition of Turkish slasher [tag]Dogus Balbay[/tag] may provide the answer when it is all said and done.

Here is a breakdown of what to expect from the starters. We’ll look at the bench players in an upcoming feature.

Point Guard

[tag]AJ Abrams[/tag] – Abrams has already become the most prolific three point shooter in school history. In the off season the former McNeil star tested the NBA waters and what he found was that his only chance to make a living in the league is to become a point guard. Abrams is too small to play the two in the NBA, but he fits perfectly into the role at the college level. After thinking about making the jump, Abrams decided to return for his senior year. [tag]Rick Barnes[/tag] has allowed AJ to play more point in the off season, but it is a position that AJ failed to play well at even in high school. It is likely that Texas will rely on a point guard by committee until someone steps up in the role. Expect Abrams to play the point more early in the season than he will as it gets into February and March because Texas will need him to do what is best for this team and not what will give him the best chance to get drafted.

Shooting Guard

[tag]Justin Mason[/tag] – Mason is the classic Rick Barnes guy. He is more junk yard dog than basketball player. Mason is by far Texas’ best perimeter and may end up being the guy that handles the majority of the point guard duty. He isn’t going to “wow” anybody with his ball skills, but he is a solid player that plays his hardest on every possession he is on the court. Mason fits perfectly into the style of play this team is going to have to adopt to be successful. Texas is going to have to dominate on the defensive end, rebound, and fight for points on offense. There is no doubt that the talent level at the lead guard position will take a hit with the loss of Augustin, but the steady play of Mason should provide the Longhorns enough ability to make a serious run at the Big 12 championship. Mason’s stat line isn’t going to blow anybody away, but he does so many things well he is going to be invaluable for this year’s team.

Small Forward

[tag]Damion James[/tag] – James made the transition from inside player to wing player last year and it could end up being the best thing that has happened to this team heading into this season. His freshman year was spent collecting rebounds and scoring put backs as [tag]Kevin Durant[/tag] dominated the ball. When Durant left, UT needed a big player on the wing. James made the transition with ease. He ended up being one of the only players in the country to average a double-double and enters the season on most people’s All-American watch list. James could up being the most important player on the roster. His play will be a huge determinate of where this team ends up. If he can continue to be a force on defense and the boards while keeping his three point percentage up Texas will be a nightmare match up for most teams. James has struggled creating offense off the dribble, but summer reports had him working tirelessly with Kevin Durant on just that, and if he puts it all together he will likely be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.

Power Forward

[tag]Clint Chapman[/tag] – Heading into the season most thought [tag]Gary Johnson[/tag] would start at the four. Against Stetson Chapman got the start. Chapman isn’t a better player than Johnson so the thought must be that Chapman compliments the starters better and Barnes wants Johnson to be his sixth man off the bench. Chapman is going to give you hustle, rebounding, and the occasional bucket around the basket. Barnes is not going to draw up many plays for the sophomore from Oregon, but he does have the skills to score if given an opportunity. The Longhorns need length in the front court and Chapman may give them more of that than Johnson. I wouldn’t think he’d stay in the starting lineup for the whole season as Barnes may look to change who starts at the four depending on practice and game performance on a week by week basis. Texas has a lot of options at the position with Chapman, Johnson, and [tag]Alexis Wangmene[/tag].


[tag]Connor Atchley[/tag] – Atchley was the biggest surprise on last year’s team. He provides match up nightmares because of his ability to step out and nail the outside jumper. Atchley also proved he could provide defensive help by leading the team in block shots. He isn’t the most physical player, but the roster has plenty of those. Atchley just needs to continue to do what he does best. He stretches the defense and has even worked on a sky hook. Barnes may trust Atchley more than any other player on the roster and with the loss of Augustin will look to the senior for on court leadership. Especially in the front court where there are talented, but young and inexperienced players behind him. Atchley is best suited to play at the four, and we may see a little of that if he is paired with [tag]Dexter Pittman[/tag] in the front court. Texas’ most dangerous lineup would be Abrams and Mason in the back court with James, Atchley, and Pittman playing in the middle.


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