The Ohio Valley Conference champs will have a tall task in front of them when they face the Texas Longhorns on Friday...literally a tall task. There isn't a single starter for Austin Peay that is taller than 6-5, meaning there will be a decided disadvantage in the post for the Governors.
But Texas head coach Rick Barnes said the Horns' smaller, quicker opponent could use that to its advantage.
"This team is an extremely well-coached team and we know that they will look to take advantage of their, maybe you want to call it lack of size, but their quickness," said Barnes.
While it's true there's no starter who's taller than 6-5, there's also only a single starter who's shorter than 6-5. Austin Peay senior point guard Derek Wright stands at only 5-9, but junior guard/forward Kyle Duncan, senior guard Todd Babington, senior guard Fernandez Lockett and junior forward Drake Reed all stand at 6-5 and the Governors get production from each. Four players are averaging in double-digit scoring, with Reed leading the way at 14.6 ppg.
"Teams look at us and wonder how we've been successful, being undersized," said Reed. "The comradery of our team is one of the best in the country. It helps us to win games. We have five-six guys around double figures (in scoring) and we have seven-eight guys that can come in and produce offensively as well as defensively and we proved that throughout the course of the season. When we fall on hard times, we lean on each other."
Only four times since the Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 has a 15-seed knocked off a 2-seed, but that low figure isn't stopping the Governors from playing to win. Head coach Dave Loos took an opportunity last Saturday to show his team a tape from the 1987 NCAA Tournament, when Austin Peay, a 14-seed at the time, knocked off No. 3-seeded Illinois in one of the biggest upsets in Tourney history.
"I told them this is living proof that anything can happen in this tournament and it depends on whether you believe it can happen or not," said Loos.
But do they believe? Reed says he and his teammates do.
"This is why we play the games," said Reed. "It's March Madness and something crazy happens every year and we just hope that we can be the crazy team this year."
Austin Peay guard Todd Babington noted that his team could actually play even better because the Governors are such big underdogs.
"I guess we're not expected to do too much, so we can go out there and play loose and just have a good time and play our basketball and anything can happen," Babington.
The Longhorns are a 15 and a half-point favorite over Austin Peay in what most are assuming will be an easy victory, but Texas guard Justin Mason said they've got to focus on the opponent in front of them or they'll be out of the NCAA Tournament in a hurry.
"We know everyone in this tournament can play," said Mason. "We've got to make sure we can get up for every game. It's win or go home."
Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. on Friday at Alltel Arena in Little Rock. The game broadcast will be on CBS.
Rick Barnes Apologizes...Again
On Monday, Barnes received some heat for comments he made on a conference call with reporters when he was asked about Arkansas fans potentially being hostile in Little Rock:
"We're scheduled to come play Arkansas next year and if the fans don't treat us well, we're not going to come," said Barnes on Monday. "You can put that out there. I'm serious. We've got enough money here we can buy our way out of it. So, they'd better be good to us."
Barnes later apologized for his comments and said he was only kidding. Thursday at his team's press conference he took another opportunity to clarify that it was a joke.
"I was really kidding about it," said Barnes. "I was on the phone and maybe no one could see that or hear me laughing about it...I hate that it was taken out of the way I meant it to be and, like I said, I apologize if I offended anybody by that."
Texas junior guard A.J. Abrams said Texas will likely hear some boos on Friday, but he brushed aside concerns about the comment.
"They will probably be rooting against us now for what he said," said Abrams. "That's just Coach. That's his sense of humor."
When asked about it, Austin Peay's head coach said he'll appreciate any help from any group of fans his team can get.
"Let me just say that we will be glad to have the support of anybody that doesn't have a favorite team right now," said Loos.
Gary Johnson Still Day-to-Day
Texas freshman forward Gary Johnson, who suffered a lower right leg injury in the Horns' Big 12 Conference Tournament win over Oklahoma State last Friday, has been very limited in practice, but Barnes remains hopeful Johnson will suit up and play when Texas takes on Austin Peay.
"Gary's still day-to-day," said Barnes. "He didn't do anything with us this morning. We're going to need to see what he can do tomorrow, but he's got a chance. At this point I'd say he's a game-time decision."
D.J. Augustin Not Getting Much of a Break
D.J. Augustin is averaging 37.2 minutes per game this season and 39 in Big 12 play. Given the rigors of the Tournament, Texas could use the Austin Peay game to give its starting point guard a rest if the Horns can build a big enough lead.
"That would be a big help," said Augustin. "We'll take that, but we've just got to go out and play hard. Whatever happens, happens. We're prepared to play as many minutes as Coach Barnes wants and do what we've got to do to win."
The '87 Upset
The Governors spent last Saturday watching the aforementioned tape of Austin Peay's 68-67 win over Illinois in the first round of the 1987 NCAA Tournament. Loos said it inspired his team, but the great play of the '87 Governors wasn't the first thing his players made note of in the film session.
"The first thing they noticed was how short the pants were," said Loos with a chuckle. "After we got over the initial shock of the difference in the way people wear their uniforms, I think they responded. We had a great practice that day, I know that."
Austin Peay Is Not in Austin
The Governors of Austin Peay hail from Clarksville, Tenn., but not everyone is aware that the small school (8,650 undergraduates) is not located in Austin.
"Some people have asked, 'Are they a small school in Austin?' They are from Tennessee," clarified Abrams. "They're a pretty good school. They wouldn't be here if they're not a good team."
The school is named after former Tennessee Governor Austin Peay, who governed the state from 1923 until his death in 1927. Austin Peay State University was founded in 1929 and the basketball team played its first season just three years later.
Afternoon Practice Breakdown
Texas went through a private walk-through in the morning. According to Barnes, Johnson did not participate in the morning session, but he did come out onto the floor when the team practiced in its open session in the afternoon.
When the PA announcer introduced Texas and the Longhorns trotted out onto the floor, they were met by a chorus of boos and a big "Pig Sooooie!" from the roughly 150 Arkansas Razorback fans who apparently only came out for the purpose of booing the Longhorns as they practiced and performing the "Hook 'ems down" sign to any passing camera operator. This made up probably about half of the people who'd come to the open session to watch Texas practice.
Johnson was the last one out onto the floor and he walked out as opposed to jogging. Barnes spent the first part of practice talking with Johnson as the 6-7 freshman took some light jump shots. Johnson didn't have any brace or wrapping on, but never did any serious moving around the entire time.
Johnson left early to head back into the locker room and reappeared later in the session, but just stayed on the sideline and went up in the stands, briefly, to sign a few autographs for a group of kids. Johnson took a few shots later the session, but Texas strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright was at his side the entire time, constantly checking on him.
Texas didn't show anything in terms of plays in the session, obviously, and only had some minor organized drills. Those even began to break down, though, as the lay-up drill turned into a dunk contest, with the crowd ooing and ahhing as Dexter Pittman rocked the rim with a monster reverse jam...and then laughing when Ian Mooney bricked a dunk off the back iron (he later redeemed himself with a successful attempt). One of the more impressive dunks was actually by Clint Chapman, who threw down a two-handed windmill.
The practice itself had a very light-hearted feel to it as the players loosened up and didn't do anything too strenuous on the last practice before the Tournament.
Pittman and Mason used it as an opportunity to square-off one-on-one after the lay-up drill. But Mason beat the big man handily in their miniature dunk contest when the 6-2 guard threw up an ally-oop to himself off the back board after Pittman's attempt at a high-arching bounce ally-oop went wild.
The guards spent much of the time working on three-point shooting and after their drill was over, Augustin and Abrams held a contest of their own. It wasn't so much an organized game of HORSE, but rather a simple "see if you can do this" shooting contest: Half-court shots, three-pointers from beyond out-of-bounds, running out-of-bounds threes from the corner, you name it. They matched each other well, but the clear winner was Abrams when his three-pointer that he heaved while leaping out-of-bounds at the baseline hit nothing but net.
Afterwards, the whole team went over to sign autographs (except for Johnson, who was already in the locker room). There were organized shooting drills, but it was more of a free-form practice designed to loosen the team up before Friday. The players were obviously having a lot of fun and they look confident heading into their opening-round match-up with Austin Peay.