On Saturday, the new Cowboy Stadium hosted their first ever basketball game, with #2 UT squaring off against #10 UNC. There were many questions about the venue (Would the stadium be a noise trap, even with a crowd expected to reach 35,000? Is fifty dollars for a level two ticket worth the price of admission for a regular season non conference game?), all of which were nullified by a great game with an even better atmosphere.
First, let's get the basics out of the way. The Texas Longhorns defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 103-90 to improve their mark to 10-0, dropping UNC to 8-3. Next, let's be honest with ourselves; Texas just dismantled the Carolina. It wasn't nearly as close as the score would suggest. Consider the following:
UNC was favored by many analysts because of their assumed insurmountable depth in the frontcourt. They have Dion Thompson (6-9 250), a fundamentally sound big man with possibly the best turnaround jumper of any forward in the country. They have Ed Davis (6-10 225), the super soph and presumptive top five pick in next years draft (should he decide to leave). They also have Tyler Zeller (7-0 240), a towering big with solid fundamentals and an adept ability to get a clean look in the paint. Beyond those consistent contributors to the frontcourt, they also have John Henson: The human personification of "Flat Stanley," but at 6 foot 10. He may not get a bevy of playing time, but when he is in the game, he constantly alters shots. Add in the bonus 6-10 perimeter oriented Wear twins and you have one of the biggest frontcourts in the nation.
What happened to that frontcourt? That group of big men were outscored in the paint 52-42 by a 6-10 C, Dexter Pittman, who for the first time in his career can play 20 minutes plus without feeling like he just completed an iron-man competition. To be sure, Damion James also dropped 25 on the Heels, but that's hardly an excuse considering he's 6 foot 7. Also, the Tarheels were out-rebounded by a staggering total of 60 rebounds to 41. Pittman and James alone had 30 boards by themselves; in short, two Longhorns almost had as many boards as the entire Carolina roster. Carolina also got dominated in the second chance points department 27-11.
Coach Williams seemed to echo these sentiments when taking stock in the loss, "My teams have always been good rebounding teams, but Texas killed us on the boards." He also said that "Dexter Pittman kicked our tails by himself." The entire time he's talking in the locker room, he seems somewhat shocked by the shellacking the Texas big men put on the Heels front line.
After a few more questions about the jarring difference in rebounding, Roy revealed more of their game plan and how he felt it was executed in the course of the game: "Dexter, you've got to be proud of the youngster to do what he has done. We wanted to get him in foul trouble and run him so he wasn't in there as much and he played 34 minutes. We didn't run him, we didn't get him into foul trouble and now he's there and he's a load inside." Another reporter asked what they could do to improve on their rebounding (more specifically, if it was mental or about technique), Roy somewhat dismissed the principle behind the question, but relented "We can do a better job of boxing out. We can do a better job in the weight room. I mean I wish John [Henson] could get as big as Dexter, but that's not going to happen."
Now for some very telling post game quotes from a few Tarheels:
UNC Guard Marcus Ginyard:
On where Texas ranks with who UNC has played thus far: "I don't think there's any doubt in my mind that this is the best team we've played so far this year. They did a fantastic job attacking us on the perimeter, and obviously inside, so that just kept us down all game."
On being more assertive offensively in the second half, whether or not he felt he needed to take over: "I was just trying to show some more effort out there and get the team to compete a little better. It's just a decision we have to make individually to go out there and give our best effort. And obviously it's something we need to work at. It's something we've been saying to the team all season, and it's going to kill us later in the year if we still have to be saying it then. We just got to do it."
On whether or not he was surprised by the rebounding disparity between the two teams: "I'm not very surprised… I was watching it the whole game. Myself and the rest of the guards could have done a much better job helping them [the UNC big men] out. And they bullied us inside, there's no doubt about that. There's no question that physically they were just pushing us around. The fact that they were wanting it more than we did is only going to help them."
UNC Center Tyler Zeller:
On the difference in the game for Texas: "Offensive rebounds. We didn't get them off the boards. I believe Pittman had 12 offensive rebounds, Damion had too many; those too players had way too many offensive rebounds which gave them extra possessions and that killed us."
A pattern that could be a problem for the Tarheels this year is that too many players have acknowledged the fact that their effort level isn't where it should be and that they've been noticing that all season. I counted at least five Tarheels that mentioned it during post game. Maybe this is my pessimism coming to surface, but if a top 10 team feels they need better effort against a top two team in the country, they are going to have some problems this year. North Carolina is far too talented to be having problems summoning enough team effort and excitement for games of this nature.
Looking to the Texas side of the ball, the Longhorns have to be pleased with this win. They had four players score 20 points, and for their first test of the season they respond by hanging a C-note and some change on a top ten team in the biggest sports venue in the entire United States. After the game, many analysts and writers in the building (myself included) were abuzz about the opinion that Texas is probably the best team in the country and to say they're the deepest goes without saying. Texas unmercifully came at the Heels with wave after wave of fresh, athletic ballplayers. Avery needed a breather? Put in J. Brown, he'll drop 20. Now Brown needs a minute? Balbay, get your ass in the game, we need you to stifle Larry Drew II. Even if Balbay isn't effective, they can go to Justin Mason. Justin Mason started on the UT team that had Kevin Durant, DJ Augustine and Damion James on the roster and he's relegated to third string point guard now. THAT is how deep the Longhorns are this year.