Texas hoops preview

Texas starts and stops with Kevin Durant. And if you're the Longhorns or their fans, you're probably okay with that. Durant may not win Player of the Year honors, but he's guaranteed to be in the discussion.

He's also guaranteed to be among the top two players in the upcoming NBA draft. His talent is undeniable, his potential seems nearly unreachable, and on Sunday afternoon, the Trojans and head coach Tim Floyd must figure out how to combat all of it.

There's really no telling what the Trojans will try to do with Durant on Sunday. He's obviously not going to outscore the Trojans by himself, hopefully. So if USC lets Durant get what he's going to get and concentrate on shutting down the rest of the Longhorns, maybe they can resist the urge to get caught up in a point fest. If the Trojans focus all their energy on stopping Durant and he still goes for 35 or 40, as he is entirely capable of doing, they run the risk of letting down and giving up cheap baskets to his teammates. In the end, it might be best for the Trojans to forget about the fact that they're lining up against someone who might go down as one of the best collegiate basketball players ever. USC runs a very disciplined and aggressive defense and if they simply concentrate on doing what they do best, the Durant situation could take care of itself.

Even though Texas has become somewhat synonymous with Durant this season, the Longhorns have two guards who are capable of carrying their team on any given night. Point guard D.J. Augustin is just a freshman, but he has matured into a very good ball handler this season. He's averaging 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, but he has the ability to spring for 31 points in a game (as he did against Iowa State) or dish out 13 assists (as he did against Tennessee and Kansas). While Augustin isn't quite yet at the level of UCLA's Darren Collison in terms of running an offense, he has the quickness to give Gabe Pruitt or Daniel Hackett some problems defending him. He's a great dribble penetrator and any point guard can look good when he can simply throw the ball in to Durant. He's still young, so he can be turnover-prone at times, but the Trojans shouldn't count on Augustin simply throwing this game away. They must force him to make good decisions every time down the court and not let Durant bail him out by taking all the defensive attention.

As good as Durant and Augustin are, the guy who might scare the Trojans the most on Sunday is sophomore guard A.J. Abrams. He's second on the team in scoring, averaging 15.4 points per game. But what Abrams does so well is absolutely punish teams that focus their defense solely on Durant. His main weapon is the kickout three, after his man leaves to double Durant down low. He's not shy about hoisting it up either. He's taken 277 three-point shots this season, or 133 more than the Trojans' leading distance shooter, Lodrick Stewart. Abrams also has 11 games this season with ten or more three-point attempts. The Trojans' Gabe Pruitt has USC's only double-digit three-point night with ten in a loss to Arizona State. In fact, Abrams has made at least one three-pointer in every game this season. But for as many shots as Abrams takes, he's extremely successful, hitting from distance at nearly a 42 percent clip. In fact, he's a much better shooter from outside the arc than inside, where his two-point shooting drags his overall field goal percentage down to just over 39 percent. No doubt the Trojans still have memories of Oregon's Bryce Taylor lighting it up from all over the court and Abrams is the kind of outside shooter who can get that rhythm going as well. The Trojans will need to keep Abrams in check, because if he starts pouring in buckets in addition to what Durant is sure to get, USC could be playing catch-up all game long.

After Texas' big three, there's really not too much to worry about in terms of offensive threats. The Longhorns don't exactly look for creative ways to take shots away from Durant. Damion James is the team's fourth-leading scorer, averaging 7.7 points per game, but he does most of his work on the defensive end. He's second on the team, averaging more than seven rebounds per game. At 6-7, he's listed as a guard/forward, but he does just about all of his work inside. He'll most likely draw Nick Young as a defensive match up and could give the Trojan forward some problems.

Justin Mason will most likely start as the third guard in the Longhorns' three-guard, two-forward lineup. He's averaging 7.6 points per game for the season, but he's been below his average for the past seven games. In fact, Mason took just two shots in the opening-round victory against New Mexico State.

When the Longhorns want to go big, 6-9 center Connor Atchley will check in for Mason. He's mostly there to provide a big body, and the four points, four rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots per game come along with that. He will, however, step out occasionally and launch a few three-pointers to keep his defender honest.

Overall, Texas isn't the best team that the Trojans will face this season. They do, however, have the best player. The Trojans don't have anyone on their roster that can play with Durant one-on-one, but when it comes to five-on-five basketball, USC can most definitely play with Texas.

One of the keys will be keeping the big three off the foul line, where they have the ability to make a living. Durant, Augustin and Abrams shoot 82 percent combined from the stripe and have taken 500 of the team's 834 free-throw attempts. The rest of the roster is hitting at just 57 percent. If those three are taking a number of foul shots against the Trojans, not only will USC be fighting from behind, they'll be doing it with guys in foul trouble. That's not a fun prospect for the Trojans.

Texas may have five guys on the floor when they face the Trojans, but truthfully it will be the Kevin Durant show. The Longhorns are such a young team without a lot of depth that they will go as far as Durant takes them. On Sunday, it will be up to the Trojan defense to make sure that doesn't include the Sweet 16.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for WeAreSC.com and he can be reached at erik.mckinney@gmail.com.


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