The Texas Longhorns basketball season gets under way tonight at the Erwin Center where the Longhorns will host the Boston University Terriers in the first round of the Legends Classic tournament. After hosting the Terriers tonight, Texas will play Rhode Island here in Austin at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Irrespective of the outcomes of those games, the Longhorns will travel to East Rutheford for the championship round of the Legends Classic, taking on Oregon State in the semifinals and either NC State or Vanderbilt in the finals or third-place game.
As we get closer to tonight's tip, I'm filled with the same excited anticipation as in November 2006, the last time Texas debuted a team this young. Six of the nine Longhorns who will play significant minutes this year will be freshmen. If you missed my four-part season preview, you can brush up on the team here:
Part 1 - The Freshman Guards (Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis, Sterling Gibbs)
Part 2 - The Freshman Forwards (Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond)
Part 3 - The Returnees (J'Covan Brown, Alexis Wangmene, Clint Chapman)
Part 4 - How It All Fits Together
Tonight's game against Boston University will be televised live exclusively on the Longhorn Network, which is streaming online free this weekend to give fans a preview. I switched cable providers to Grande Communications earlier this week, and let me tell you: the Longhorn Network is absolutely fantastic. I'll write up some thoughts on it soon; in the meantime, you can watch tonight's basketball game free online.
After the jump, a brief preview of Boston University and a Q&A with the bloggers from UnrankedAE, SB Nation's blog covering the America East conference, of which the Terriers are reigning champions.
More than anything else this game is exciting and interesting as our first opportunity to see this young Texas team play, but let's spend a few minutes talking about the team they'll be facing.
Boston University won both the America Easy regular season and conference championships last season, but lost their leading scorer and head coach, who left BU to take the job at Penn State. Last year's undersized team played at one of the slowest paces in the country, working the ball around through the offense methodically until getting the shot they wanted -- usually a jump shot. A full 40% of BU's shots last year were launched from behind the arc, and they appear poised to pick up where they left off, shooting 28 of their 67 field goal attempts from downtown in Friday night's 82-74 loss to Northeastern in overtime.
The Terriers are once again a small team, which is a welcome site for this Texas team and its frontcourt questions. The Terriers' starting forwards go 6-7 and 6-6, and BU got crushed on the glass on Friday night, outrebounded by Northeastern 52-32.
I had a chance to ask our America East bloggers about Boston University in advance of tonight's game:
Texas is in transition this year, but Boston University may be even more so. The Terriers not only lost America East Player of the Year John Holland to graduation, but also head coach Patrick Chambers to Penn State. Tell us about BU's new coach Joe Jones and how he's trying to pick up where Chambers left off.
UnrankedAE.com: Joe Jones brings an impressive resume to the Terrier's program. After being an assistant to both Steve Lappas and Jay Wright, Jones turned around a Colombia basketball program that had been 2-25 the year before he came. He joined Steven Donahue's staff last year at Boston College and was in the right place at the right time when Chambers took off for Penn State. Expectations are still very high (BU was picked to repeat by the coaches), so Jones may encounter some turbulence as the team adjusts to life without Holland -- but he's already earning slack by reeling in an incredible recruiting class for 2012. He's locked up Reece Watson, a tough Philly guard and twitter extraordinaire (https://twitter.com/#!/ReeceWatson10), already one of the most hyped AE recruits in recent memory.
The Terriers relied as heavily on John Holland for scoring as any team in the country did on one player. Who is BU counting on to step up and be a scorer for this year's team?
UnrankedAE.com: Darryl Partin. And you can underscore that now that the offensive minded Jake O'Brien is out for another season. Partin's game mirrors Hollands: 6'6" athletic wing man who can fall in love too much with the three despite the athleticism to get to the bucket. He's a very high volume shooter (26.7 %Poss), came into his own during the AE season and earned 1st team honors while averaging 14.5 ppg last year. The question mark with Partin is consistency: last season he 0-6 from the floor and had 0 points in a win against Nevada. The next game he 10-14 for 32 points against Cornell. It remains to be seen whether he can improve consistency without having John Holland to deflect the focus of the defense.
I'd be remiss (or devious) if I didn't mention DJ Irving. I'd argue his speed is the single best advantage any America East player has (I went as far as to rank him the best player in the league --http://www.unrankedae.com/2011/10/31/2523254/sauers-watch-list-preseason-top-10-america-east-players--). Last year in an OOC game, he didn't appear outclassed when matched up against Novas esteemed guards. He's the prototypical mite-sized, heady mid-major point guard that always gives his team a chance (if some hot shooting is involved).
Boston shot (and made) a ton of three point shots last season, but were absolutely dreadful shooting it inside the arc. What's the explanation for the disparity, and will the Terriers be taking the same offensive approach this season under Joe Jones?
UnrankedAE.com: The short form is that the top 3 Terriers were in love with the three-ball. Here are the field goal percentages of their top 3 usage rate players, listed as 2 pt FG% first and then 3 pt FG% second: Holland, 43%, 33%, Partin, 44%, 36%, Jake O'Brien, 45%, 39%. All three of those guys range from 6'5" to 6'8"-- which is big enough in America East to be a bona fide forward -- yet they jack threes like six footers. You can expect that trend to continue this year. Sixth man Matt Griffin is a three point specialist who epitomizes the Terrier's 2 point woes and 3 point strength: 29% inside the arc, 46% from outside. Now those are some numbers to scratch your head at. The key to reversing this trend will be whether DJ Irving can break into the paint and create opens for a fairly talented core of big men.
The Terriers add a pair of true freshmen in combo guard Zach Chionuma and power forward James Kennedy, as well as two redshirt freshmen in 7-1 center Matt Piotrowski and lanky wing Malik Thomas. Will BU be looking to any of these newcomers to play significant roles early in the year?
UnrankedAE.com: The smart money expects more from the former batch of true freshman than the redshirts. Chionuma is a super-athletic 6'4 guard who will challenge for the minutes that are opened up by the departure of Holland. I'm more intrigued by Kennedy, who played with 2013 #1 recruit Nerlens Noel, and at a solid 6'8 has the frame to be an instant contributor down low. Malik should have an opportunity to earn minutes, especially if he can provide energy on defense, but I would wager Piotrowski is a project that takes well longer than one year to catch up to speed.
What kinds of players/teams/games are likely to give this Terriers team trouble? Where are they vulnerable and how would you game plan to play them?
UnrankedAE.com: Height and suffocating perimeter defense. At 6'6 Patrick Hazel is probably the best interior defender in the America East with his great shot blocking instincts, but that just doesn't hold up against other teams. Right now, there's talent at PF (Kennedy, Dom Morris), but there's not proof the interior defense can withstand a tough attack. And as you pointed out, BU lives or dies by the three -- especially early on while the team is trying to gather itself without Holland to bail them out I expect them to be especially susceptible to a bad shooting night.
Texas and Boston University tip tonight at 6:00 p.m. at the Erwin Center. The game is being televised live on the Longhorn Network.