Saturday College Basketball Preview: North Carolina-Texas Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 12/18/2009
North Carolina has been struggling to live up to the respect that they have earned as the defending national champions. This weekend Texas is looking to earn a little respect for itself, at UNC's expense, as they try to make a run at a National Championship.
At 2 p.m. on Saturday No. 10 North Carolina (8-2) heads to Arlington to face No. 2 Texas (9-0) at Cowboys Stadium in the biggest non-conference game of the weekend. At the time of publication, no line or total has been released. However, I believe that the Longhorns will be somewhere around a 6.5 or 7.0 favorite and that the total will be installed in the high 150s.
This will be yet another marquee test for North Carolina. They have already faced four teams that have spent time in the Top 10. They scored a neutral court win over Ohio State and a home romp over Michigan State. But they were also embarrassed by Syracuse and lost a tight one at Kentucky.
Texas has earned its nine wins by an average score of 85-54. However, this contest against the Tar Heels is their first game this season against a team ranked in the Top 50. To date their best wins of the season have come against fringe tournament team Pittsburgh and Big West contender Long Beach State.
This is a considerable step up.
The Tar Heels are still experiencing some growing pains while breaking in five new starters and a host of new contributors. Eight of UNC's Top 10 players are either freshmen or sophomores and their overall results have been spotty. Carolina started the season just 2-5 against the spread and is averaging nearly 20 turnovers per game.
But they have since raised their play. They have covered a pair of games in a row, against Kentucky and Michigan State, and are now No. 11 in the country in scoring and No. 6 in field goal offense. They boast the best frontcourt in the country and have five McDonald's All-Americans that stand 6-10 or taller. They dominate the post on both ends and still get up and down the floor as quickly as any team in the country.
But Texas is one of the few teams that can match North Carolina's athleticism and one of the few groups that may be able to counter UNC's size down low. The Longhorns roll out powerful forwards Gary Johnson and Dexter Pittman and have several other 6-7 forwards (Damion James, Jordan Hamilton, Alexis Wangmene) that can play big. Texas is No. 2 in the nation in rebounding, including a solid No. 88 in defensive rebounding.
Further, Texas is the No. 8 scoring team (and No. 3 in field goal percentage) and the No. 1 scoring defense (and No. 1 in field goal defense) in the nation.
But the caveat to Texas' success remains: they have gaudy stats against terrible competition. So how good is this team, really?
James, Pittman and Johnson and Justin Mason form the backbone of the Longhorns because of their experience. Yet no player on the roster averages more than 21 minutes per game and coach Rick Barnes has been mixing and matching those four players and sophomore Dogus Balbay with a talented trio of freshmen. I think that this team is ready for a breakout performance on a national stage. But the fact of the matter is that this group of players still has relatively little experience playing together and they haven't faced the type of talent and pressure that North Carolina brings to the table.
Yet another subplot to this game is the fact that Texas will be adding Florida transfer Jai Lucas. Lucas will be the teams best pure point guard but he has yet to play this season or take the court with any of his teammates.
Texas will benefit from over 30,000 fans packing Cowboys Stadium. And North Carolina's young group has lost each of its previous tests in hostile environments, falling in a pro-Syracuse Madison Square Garden and in Lexington.
But to be the champs you have to beat the champs. And even though Texas has tremendous talent and has been playing dominating basketball at both ends of the court they still have yet to prove themselves against a fellow elite team. Remember: Texas was a fringe tournament team last season and lost its leading scorer. After Jan. 1 their only significant victories - wins over teams in the Top 40 - came against disappointing Baylor and at home against Oklahoma State. Other than that they haven't beaten a Top 40 team since a nine-point win over Villanova on a neutral court in early December.
Don't overlook North Carolina's pedigree or the fact that even though they are young they have more experience than Texas' freshmen. We know what the Tar Heels are bringing to the table. But by about 4 p.m. on Saturday we're going to know what Texas is capable of as well.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and he has gained around +170 Units and $14,000 for his $100 bettors since mid-February in college basketball. You can purchase his college basketball picks here.
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