Unlike many other sports, the college basketball season doesn't really try to make much of a splash on its opening weekend. Things open on a Friday night in November with mostly forgettable games that feature a mix of big schools smashing small schools interspersed with a couple of interesting but jet-lag altered contests.
It usually isn't until the following week when things get compelling. Tonight things pick up significantly, with a double-header pairing Michigan State vs. Duke and Kansas vs. Kentucky. It almost makes the rest of the games on tonight's slate seem irrelevant and stale.
One of those games on the staler end of the spectrum features the Texas Longhorns, who are gradually easing into the new season by playing successively more difficult opponents each game in the buildup to the PK80 later this month. Next on the agenda is the New Hampshire Wildcats of the America East Conference, a team that should provide a bit more resistance for Shaka Smart's team than what it encountered in its opener against Northwestern State.
The Wildcats come into the game 1-0 after destroying D-III Wheelock College in their season opener. Coach Bill Herrion's team is coming off of a solid year that saw it win 20 games and finish the year tied for third in the AEC. However, Herrion is going to have something of an adjustment this season, as he will no longer run a team with two senior perimeter scorers.
Stylistically, New Hampshire could not be more different from Northwestern State. The Wildcats generally play games at a slow pace, and can be stingy defensively in large part because they work to take away open catch-and-shoot opportunities and limit opponents to one and only one shot; Coach Herrion's team has led the nation in defensive rebounding percentage for the past two seasons, after finishing second in Division I on the defensive glass in the 2014-2015 season.
Want to have a great rebounding team? It helps to start out with a strong front court. New Hampshire has one with a trio of seniors. 6'6 Tanner Leissner, 6'7 Jacoby Armstrong, and 6'9 Iba Camara all will rotate through the interior for the Wildcats. Leissner is the team's offensive focal point, working as an effective and efficient low post scorer and passer. He also has the ability to play facing up to the basket, and will take the occasional perimeter shot. Armstrong was a key rotation player and sometime starter in the 2015-2016 season, but sat out all last year after being suspended for a violation of team rules. Camera is a Senegal native who is one of the most productive rebounders in the country; last season he pulled down 32 percent of opponent misses while on the floor, which was the fourth highest rate for qualifying players per kenpom.com. This group of big men won't roll over against a strong Texas front court in the way that their Northwestern State counterparts did.
The situation looks much more grim in the back court for Coach Herrion after watching his two best perimeter players complete their college eligibility last year. 6'0 freshman Elijah Jordan looks to be the likely starter at point guard, while 5'11 Jordan Reed, who started his college career at Rice before transferring, will mostly play off the ball but will be asked to participate in distribution on occasion. 6'1 sophomore John Ogwuche, 6'4 senior Keon Burns, and 6'5 freshman Josh Hopkins will rotate through the lineup as well; none have seen all that much action yet as D-I players.
New Hampshire should test the ability of Texas to execute half-court offense; the Wildcats should be at least competent defensively, and will likely limit easy second chance opportunities for Shaka Smart's big men. One thing that they are less likely to do is to challenge the Longhorns with perimeter pressure as their defensive approach focuses more on containment than it does on forcing the action. If the Longhorns guards turn the ball over a bunch in this game, then it will be on them, and not likely due to the approach of the opponent.
On the other end of the floor, Herrion's inexperienced guards are likely to struggle against the defensive pressure of Kerwin Roach and Matt Coleman, and it is entirely possible that New Hampshire will be short on consistent perimeter shooters.
Leisser, Armstrong, and Reed are all from Texas, so this presents a chance for them to play in front of their families, some of whom will surely be in attendance. The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT, and airs on the Longhorn Network. You should be able to catch all of the first half of Duke-Michigan State beforehand, and nearly the entirety of Kentucky-Kansas afterwards.