As a coach, Rick Barnes relishes the opportunity to challenge his players. He has stated time and time again that tough non-conference scheduling better prepares teams to achieve in March. So, even though this team suits up seven freshmen and two sophomores, there was no backing down from a difficult schedule this off season. Let's take a look at the overall 2006-2007 schedule.
Texas is off to a 2-0 start after two wins in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. The other three host schools have also advanced to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and finals later this week. Maryland, St. John's, and Michigan State join the Horns in NYC. While none of other three teams possess the talent Texas does, the two games later this week will provide a better gauge as to where this team really is early in the season.
After those two games, the Horns return home for contests with Nicholls State and Texas Southern to finish out November play. Their first true test of the season will come on a neutral court in Phoenix against Gonzaga. The 2 PM tip on December 2nd will allow Horns' fans to catch both the basketball game and the Big 12 Championship football game later that evening. The Zags lost their two main stars (Batista and Morrison) from last season but are still expected to be a top 30 team.
The following Sunday will offer Texas an opportunity for revenge. The LSU Tigers ended our season last year with an overtime victory in the Elite Eight. The game will be shown on ESPN nationally at 7 PM. LSU lost Tyrus Thomas to the NBA but remains stocked with talent. The Tigers are ranked in the pre-season top 10. This will be our strongest non-conference test of the season.
Texas finishes off 2006 with four of the next five in Austin. The biggest non-conference team to visit Austin will be Arkansas on December 20th. Texas also visits Tennessee on December 23rd. The Vols thrashed the Horns last season at the Drum in a game that Brad Buckman missed and in which Daniel Gibson suffered a concussion.
Big 12 Conference Play
Conference play begins with a visit to Colorado on January 6th. Even with Richard Roby returning, the Buffaloes will be among the conference's worst teams this year. Starting conference play on the road in Boulder is about as kind as it gets. The next two games have Missouri and Oklahoma visiting the Horns. A 3-0 conference start should be expected.
The road gets a little tougher after that. Texas travels to Okalahoma State, Villanova, and Nebraska for three straight road games in the middle of January.
The rest of the conference slate alternates home and away contests for most of the way. The two toughest in conference tests will come when the Horns travel to College Station on February 5th and when they finish the regular season with a trip to Kansas on March 3rd.
For basketball, there are no North and South division distinctions in the Big 12. The divisions do play a part in scheduling though. All teams play their division opponents twice (once at home and once on the road) and the teams from the opposite division just once. Teams alternate home and away season to season for teams not in their division. For example, Texas hosts Kansas State, Missouri, and Iowa State while traveling to Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska.
The consistent success of the program continues to lead to national TV exposure. In addition to the two games this week on ESPN2 as part of the 2K Sports tournament, the Horns will play on ESPN or ESPN2 eight additional times, on ABC twice, on CBS twice, and on ESPN Full Court (regional) five times. The first two games of the year were telecast by ESPNU.
While the non-conference home schedule leaves a little to be desired, overall the schedule is filled with challenges. Michigan State, Maryland, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Villanova, and LSU are all likely tournament teams. Our young Horns will be tested early and often. Much like football, the Big 12 is not expected to be exceptionally strong. Six Big 12 teams begin this season with new coaches. Kansas is the definite favorite with Texas and Texas A&M just a step behind. As predicted last week, BON sees the Horns enjoying a 22-8 regular season with a 12-4 mark in the Big 12.