With 40 days til Texas opens the season against Northwestern State on Nov. 10, it’s time to get excited about the upcoming men’s basketball season. Each day until the start of the season, we’ll give out a starting line up of five things you need to know about Texas basketball.
Texas will play 13 non-conference games with two opponents to be announced and one, the Mississippi State game, will be played in January as part of the Big 12- SEC Challenge.
So what are Texas’ best non-conference games? Let’s take a look.
5. VCU, Dec. 5, in Richmond, Va.
VCU may not be the same type of team that once reached the Final Four in 2011, but this will be a must-watch game for a lot of non-basketball reasons. Will the VCU crowd honor its most famous former coach Shaka Smart? Will new VCU coach Mike Rhoades, a former Smart assistant at VCU, have the havoc on display? This is Smart’s third season at Texas, so there has been some time since he left, but this is an odd game as many coaches like to avoid playing their former programs– especially when some of these players at VCU probably know Smart fairly well.
4. Texas vs. Butler, Nov. 23, in Portland, Ore.
The first game Texas will play in Oregon at the PK80 tournament will be against last year’s surprise Sweet 16 squad Butler led by new coach LaVall Jordan. Butler took some losses in the offseason with the loss of their coach, Chris Holtmann (he took the Ohio State job) and four rotation players leaving the program, but the return of Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin as well as several nice additions make Butler a formidable opponent. Will Butler be a top 25 team to start the season? It’s mixed. ESPN’s way-too-early poll includes the Bulldogs one spot ahead of Texas at No. 23, but CBS’ top 25 and one poll doesn’t. Fun note: the last time Texas played Butler was in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, also known as Rick Barnes’ last game at Texas. Butler won 56-48.
3. Michigan, Dec. 12, in Austin
Texas lost a close game in Ann Arbor last season, 53-50, and now gets the return match up. The Wolverines lost pieces to their 26-12 squad last season, one that reached the Sweet 16, but the return of a possible preseason All-Big Ten player in Mortiz Wagner as well as the tried-and-true system run by coach John Beilein makes this a juicy non-conference matchup. It’s also the best non-conference game Texas will play at home on the schedule — unless Mississippi State is better than what people project.
2. Alabama, Dec. 22, in Birmingham, Ala.
The Crimson Tide scored one of the best recruits in the nation in Collin Sexton this offseason. Sexton will be one of the highest-rated players Texas will play all year as he was the No. 5 recruit in the nation in 247sports’ Composite rankings. Overall all though Alabama landed the No. 8-ranked recruiting class. Coach Avery Johnson has hit the ground running since taking over, and last year some felt Alabama was a borderline tournament team. The Crimson Tide could be, behind Kentucky and Florida, the third best team in the SEC and is ranked No. 19 in CBS’ top 25 and one poll.
1. If they play them: Duke, Nov. 24 in Portland, Ore.
Just the 50-50 chance Texas plays the likely No. 1 team in the nation to start the season is enough to put them No. 1 on the list. The only thing that stands in the way is Butler. If Texas beats the Bulldogs they play Duke the next night, and Duke should be so good this season that they need to be here even if Texas doesn’t play them. The Blue Devils feature four 5-star recruits, including the top player in the class in Marvin Bagley. The 6-10 forward was a late addition to the Duke roster as the had-been No. 1 ranked player in the 2018 class reclassified to become the No. 1-ranked player in 2017. He joins two more top-10 recruits and a recruiting class that has six top 100 players.
Oh and they have Grayson Allen, last year’s preseason National Player of the Year, back along with a top 20 recruit from last year, Marques Bolden.
If Texas doesn’t play Duke, they’ll play Portland State. Then the final game could from a mix that includes Ohio State, Gonzaga, Florida and Stanford. A Texas-Gonzaga/Florida matchup would easily be on this list if there was a more clear chance of that happening.