After a week off for final exams, the Texas Longhorns are back on the court tonight, facing off against the 5-1 Texas State Bobcats. Texas State hasn't played a particularly difficult schedule -- the Bobcats' win total is padded by two non Division I opponents -- but the men from San Marcos have played reasonably well to start the year.
This is coach Danny Kaspar's second season in San Marcos, as he attempts to build the Bobcats into a successful low-major program. Given his track record -- Kaspar took over Stephen F. Austin in 2000 and built it into a winning program -- I suspect Texas State will eventually do well. I don't think that he has the team at this level yet, but in a few more years these guys won't be any fun at all to play. (If you cannot already tell, I think Kaspar is an outstanding coach.)
(Obligatory Nick Offerman basketball coach photograph.)
The focus for any Kaspar-led program is always defense. (In his last five seasons at Stephen F. Austin, he had two teams finish in the top ten nationally in the kenpom.com defensive ratings.) His best defenses were unusual in that they did everything well, rebounding, forcing turnovers, limiting penetration, and making clean looks from three point range difficult. If you want to see a team that crushes opponents' hopes and dreams, go back and find some video of Stephen F. Austin games from the 2012-2013 season.
This season, the Bobcats have done well forcing opponent turnovers, but have been victimized from beyond the three point line. The Texas Longhorns will need to be sharp with their passes.
Texas State's best player is do everything big man Emani Gant. The 6-8 big man scores on the block, creates offense for teammates (he is second on the team in assists), rebounds, blocks shots, and has more steals than any other Bobcat. Gant will have his work cut out for him tonight going against the Texas big men, but he will be one of the better players in the Sun Belt this year. Gant is joined inside by Cameron Naylor and Kavin Gilder-Tilbury, both of whom are 6-7 and provide defense, rebounding, and a little bit of scoring for the team.
In the backcourt, the primary playmaker is San Jose State transfer D.J. Brown. The 6-2 senior takes care of the ball, and is a pass-first player, although he is not afraid to pull the trigger from beyond the arc. He is joined in the backcourt by 6-3 senior and defensive menace Wesley Davis and 6-4 junior JaMarcus Witherspoon, a guard who mostly looks to take the ball to the hole. Ethan Montalvo will also rotate into the game, and will handle the ball when Brown sits.
The Texas Longhorns are of course the better team, and Rick Barnes' squad can avoid looking sloppy by taking care of the ball against a turnover forcing defense. Protecting the rock has been a challenge for Texas without injured point guard Isaiah Taylor, and Texas State will give Texas guards Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland, and Kendal Yancy an opportunity to work against a team that forces opponents to make good passes.
This is your game thread.