Every Monday during the basketball season we give you five things Texas men’s basketball fans need to know about the week to come.
A Big Ten team is coming to town as Texas begins a three-game home stand. Here are five things.
5. The Big 12 begins on Dec. 29, or in 18 days
The Big 12 is shaping up to be as competitive as ever as some have even suggested that all 10 teams look like squads that’ll play some type of postseason basketball. And now after a horrendous week from the overwhelming preseason favorite, Kansas, the league’s championship looks like it could go to anyone.
What about Texas?
Well, the Longhorns will be the first Big 12 team to get a crack at Kansas, who lost back-to-back home games (although one of those “home games” was played in the Sprint Center in Kansas City) for the first time since 1989 last week. Kansas played terrible on offense in one game (against Washington) then played terrible on defense (against Arizona State) in the next game. I’m guessing Kansas will probably stop playing like a Mid-American Conference team and start looking like a Blue Blood power, but Texas appears as poised as any squad to beat the Jayhawks in basketball and in the conference race.
With depth, a talented front court and athletic guards, Texas could be the worst nightmare for Kansas — watch Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk struggle to dribble against Arizona State’s guard, now imagine him against Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis and Texas’ press. There’s just one problem: Kansas’ two losses came as Arizona State (14-for-28, 50 percent) and Washington (9-for-21, 42.9 percent) drained threes from start to finish, exposing Kansas’ 3-point defense weakness. Texas doesn’t shoot 3-pointers all that well, so something has to give in this one.
4. Stat I love from last week
Sophomore Andrew Jones continues to be the force the Longhorns were hoping for, and he’s coming off a game where he hit 4-of-6 3-pointers.
Jones shot 60 percent from the floor and scored 19 points. Imagine what he could have done if he hadn’t got hurt against VCU?
As a team, Texas made 5-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half against the Rams and for the game shot 43.8 percent. If Texas starts making 3-pointers and free throws, it’ll quickly catch the eye of all national college basketball writers and land in the AP Top 25.
The Longhorns led by eight at halftime on the road but had to fight for their life in the second as VCU roared back and even took the lead at one point. Texas found a way to win despite Jones suffering a wrist injury.
It’s a good win for Texas over a team that will likely compete for its conference’s championship. At 6-2, Texas doesn’t have a bad loss and the win over VCU, coupled with a win over Butler, are two quality wins over teams with likely NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Where does Texas’ win over VCU rank among Big 12 wins overall? Probably in the top 10. Oklahoma (Oregon, Alabama, USC), Texas Tech (Northwestern, Nevada and Boston College), TCU (Nevada, St. Bonaventure and SMU) and West Virginia (Virginia) have landed massive wins. And despite all the above talk of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 run’s obit, Kansas still owns the league’s best non-conference win with a victory over Kentucky at the Champions Classic.
If Oklahoma can beat Wichita State (2-0 against Big 12 teams already) in Wichita on Dec. 16, that would be the best win for any team in the Big 12 in non-conference play.
But back on track: Texas has the 12th strongest schedule in the country according to CBS. Only Baylor has played a tougher schedule among Big 12 teams according to Jerry Palm.
2. Texas plays Louisiana Tech on Dec. 16
The Longhorns end the week with a home tilt against the Bulldogs with a 1 p.m. matchup at the Erwin Center.
The Louisiana Tech elevator pitch: Don’t sleep on the Bulldogs. LaTech enters the week with a 7-2 record and nearly knocked off Alabama last month before losing 77-74 in Tuscaloosa.
Louisiana Tech won two games in Cancun at the Cancun Challenge in November, beating George Mason and Evansville. Outside of the Alabama game, the Bulldogs haven’t play the toughest schedule (246th overall). Watch out for Texas product Jalen Harris, who is the team’s leading scorer at 16.1 points per game. The former Duncanville standout teams with Jacobi Boykins and DaQuan Bracey (both average more than 14 points per game) to give the Bulldogs a potent offense.
Interesting fact: Head coach Eric Konkol is in his third season after coaching under Miami (Fl.) coach Jim Larranaga at both Miami and George Mason from 2007-2015. He was hired to replace Mike White who became the head coach at Florida. On Konkol’s staff is Tony Skinn who was one of the stars on George Mason’s 2006 Final Four teams. Skinn is also an Olympian as a member of the Nigerian national team that qualified for the 2012 summer games. He was on the losing end of team USA’s historic 156-73 win.
1. Texas plays Michigan on Tuesday
One of the biggest non-conference games on the schedule in the preseason, Michigan is coming off a massive 78-69 overtime win against UCLA.
The Michigan elevator pitch: The unranked Wolverines started 6-1 but have gone 2-2 in their last four games, including losing on the road to hated rival Ohio State, 71-62.
Michigan’s preseason predictions were mixed. One could see the Wolverines emerging as a possible Big Ten contender, but after a 15-point loss to North Carolina, that followed a two-point loss to LSU a few games earlier, Michigan hasn’t fared well against good teams and its loss to a transitioning Ohio State team is a little puzzling — even if it is a rivalry game. Michigan’s Moritz Wagner is, predictably, leading the team in scoring with 16.1 per game and rebounding with eight per contest. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews is second on the team in scoring at 14.6.
Matthews began his career at Kentucky for a reason. He is the former No. 42-ranked recruit in the nation and No. 2 player from Illinois in 2015.
Last year Michigan held serve at home and beat Texas in Ann Arbor, can Texas do the same? The Longhorns are no doubt the favorites in this one (ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Texas a 69.5 percent chance of winning as of Monday).
However, this game becomes completely different if Jones can’t play or is still feeling the effects of a wrist injury he suffered against VCU.
Interesting note: Shaka Smart has played Michigan every year at Texas and is 0-2. The Wolverines beat Texas in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in 2015, 78-72, and last year 53-50. This may be only interesting to me (a proud Kent State alum), but Michigan’s new assistant coach this season is DeAndre Haynes — the all-time leader in assists, steals and minutes played for Kent State and helped lead the Golden Flashes to the 2006 NCAA Tournament…. what’s that? That’s not interesting? Well, OK, but you’ve not lived until you’ve experienced a Mid-American Conference…. oh, who am I kidding, it’s not interesting.
Interesting fact: Tuesday is Star Wars night at the Erwin Center. What does this mean? Well, the first 5,000 fans get a free “May the Horns be with you” T-shirt. You’ll also get a ton of great “Star Wars” themed basketball puns, tweets and phrases from the broadcast crew. Just read the press release on the game.
But it does seem like a great cause is at hand as well. If you’re going to the game, make sure you bring canned food items to help people in need. If you do that, you could get some Whataburger coupons.