On the eve of another college basketball season, the time is right to preview the schedule and briefly talk about team expectations. Look tomorrow for more thorough player breakdowns and our second annual Hoops Roundtable.
As during most seasons, Rick Barnes likes to test his teams' skills in an early season tournament, and this year is no different. The Texas Longhorns open their 2010-11 season on Monday night vs. Navy as part of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. After taking on Navy, the Longhorns will also host Louisiana Tech before advancing to Madison Square Garden for championship action on November 18 and 19. The four hosts schools, Texas, Illinois, Pittsburgh, and Maryland, will automatically advance to NYC. Texas will take on No. 13/16 Illinois in the semifinals.
After returning from New York, five of the next six games will be at home for the ‘Horns. Texas hosts Sam Houston State on 11/23, Rice on 11/27, and Lamar on 12/1. At this point, Longhorn fans should hope to see at least a 6-1 squad and one whose freshmen are gaining confidence.
The only road game in this six game stretch comes on 12/5 when Texas travels to Los Angeles for a Big 12 / Pac 10 Hardwood Series game with USC. The ‘Horns then return to the Drum for two more homes game vs. Texas State on 12/11 and North Florida on 12/14. Anything 8-2 or better would be an acceptable mark.
The next two games are monsters-vs. North Carolina in Greensboro on 12/18 and at Michigan State on 12/22. This two game stretch last season made believers out of many Longhorn fans and hoops fans across the country. Texas used a two game sweep of these perennial powers as high notes in a 17-0 song and a first ever No. 1 ranking. Given the make-up of this year's team, where these games are played, and significant improvement by both opponents since last December, a two game slide should be expected.
Carolina is pre-season top-10 and snagged the top high school senior in the country, 6-7 forward Harrison Barnes, as part of last year's recruiting class. There is no way this UNC team misses the NCAA tournament again.
If a "neutral" site game vs. North Carolina wasn't tough enough, Texas travels to East Lansing just four days later. The Michigan State Spartans are ranked No. 2 in both pre-season polls and have the talent for a return trip to the Final Four. Kalin Lucas, Korie Lucious, Draymond Green, and Durrell Summers are all back from a team that lost to Butler in the national semifinals last season. Look out ‘Horns fans, this one could get ugly.
Following some time off for Christmas, Texas plays three home games in nine days before beginning Big 12 play. The Longhorns host Coppin State on New Year's Eve, Arkansas on 1/4, and Connecticut on 1/8. Even though UConn took care of the ‘Horns last season, I expect Texas to enter Big 12 play on a three game winning streak and a record of 11-4.
One of the goals each season is to make the NCAA tournament. Texas has done this in each of Rick Barnes's 12 seasons at Texas. Extending that mark to 13 is a legitimate goal for this year's young and thin squad. History tells us that Big 12 teams that end the season with 9-7 league marks usually make the tournament but not always, but squads that reach 10-6 are almost a lock for NCAA tournament play. So, to me, ten conference wins is the goal. Glancing at the schedule, the opening and closing of Big 12 play appear to be tougher than the middle. Let's take a closer look.
Texas opens conference play on 1/11 with an improved and senior led Texas Tech team in Lubbock. Granted this isn't saying much but Coach Pat Knight called his 2010-11 team his best ever as the Red Raiders' head man. This is a toss-up game.
Texas returns to Austin for two home games on 1/15 vs. Oklahoma and 1/19 vs. Texas A&M. OU will be trying to replace much of their team after a particularly dysfunctional season last year. Gone are Tommy Mason-Griffin, Tiny Gallon, and Willie Warren. The Aggies have been a thorn in the side of Texas in recent years but have yet to break through in Austin. Getting to ten wins involves winning both of these.
Three of the next four are on the road, and all four will be difficult. A four game slide is not out of the question. Texas travels to face pre-season No. 7 Kansas, where the ‘Horns have never won, on 1/22. With or without freshman, Josh Shelby, this is a projected loss. Then, Texas has a mid-week game at Oklahoma State on 1/26. While the Cowboys look to be facing a down year, Stillwater makes this a toss-up game. On 1/29 Texas returns to Austin to host pre-season No. 15 Missouri. If freshman point guard, Phil Pressey, is as good as advertised and freshman Tony Mitchell becomes eligible for the spring semester, a W won't come easily. For now, let's put this one in the win column, though, as Michell's eligibility is questionable at best. The Longhorns close this four game stretch with a trip to Texas A&M, where Texas hasn't won since 2004. This is another projected road loss.
The next six games are where Texas needs to find its rhythm. Texas hosts Texas Tech on 2/5 for a projected win. The ‘Horns go to Oklahoma on 2/9. This will be a great opportunity to steal a road victory but for now, it is a toss-up. The Longhorns then return home to host pre-season No. 14/16 Baylor on 2/12 and Oklahoma State on 2/16. If Baylor is still without LaceDarius Dunn at this point in the season, protecting the Drum becomes a lot easier. Even with Dunn, Texas needs both of these home wins.
The final two in this six game stretch are at Nebraska on 2/19 and vs. Iowa State on 2/22. I'm sure the Huskers will be fired up and looking for redemption but this is another great opportunity for a victory away from Austin. Craig Brackins has departed Ames and the Cyclones were picked to finished last by every coach in the Big 12. Texas should be able to prevail.
The season hasn't tipped yet and I'm already worried about the final three conference games. If Texas doesn't have nine or ten wins by this point, Longhorn fans will be sweating on Selection Sunday. Texas closes this year at Colorado on 2/26, against conference favorite, pre-season No. 3 Kansas State on 2/28, and at Baylor on 3/5. The Buffaloes have a new coach but return two excellent guards, sophomore Alec Burks and senior Cory Higgins. This one goes in the toss-up column too.
Kansas State in Austin on the final day in February should produce the season's best atmosphere at the Erwin Center. An upset win here is not out of the question. However, K State will probably be fighting Kansas for a league title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Call me pessimistic, but this is a projected home loss.
The final game of the regular season is in Waco on 3/5. The Bears have the highest beta of any team in the Big 12. Dunn is currently practicing with the team and could be allowed to return at any point. If that happens plus AJ Walton and Nolan Dennis do an adequate job replacing Tweety Carter, and the Quincy Acy/Perry Jones/Anthony Jones frontline is as good as it could be, Scott Drew's club could make a run at Kansas and Kansas State atop the conference. However, if Dunn never returns and the guard play never develops, then Baylor could easily finish in the middle of the Big 12 pack. For now, let's assume that Dunn does return. Then, this is another projected road loss.
For those of you tallying along, I've got losses at Kansas, at A&M, vs. Kansas State, and at Baylor. Toss-ups would be at Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State, at OU, and at Colorado. If you assume that Texas takes two of their four toss-up games, that gives us the magical 10-6 mark, a probable third or fourth place finish in the Big 12, and an NCAA tournament bid.Texas 2010-11 Schedule