Coming off of their worst performance of the year — a sad and lifeless loss at home to Michigan — Shaka Smart's Texas Longhorns hope to come out a bit stronger and get back on track against Louisiana Tech. And if they don't, La Tech can absolutely beat them.
When you casually glance at a basketball schedule, it is natural to focus on games against major conference opponents, and just sort of assume all of the other games are easy. The problem is that this framework misses teams like the 7-3 La Tech Bulldogs. Coach Eric Konkol's squad is not the toughest opponent Texas faces during its non-conference schedule, but it is also far from the worst; kenpom.com ranks La Tech just outside the top 100 teams in D-I basketball, and just a few weeks ago the Bulldogs gave Alabama all it could handle before falling just short of a win. Right now while the Longhorns are learning to play without leading scorer Andrew Jones, any top 100 team presents a potential problem.
One of the first noticeable features that you will pick up on watching coach Konkol's team is that they have length and athletic ability spread out across the court. 7'0 Joniah White and 6'9 Jy'lan Washington are your likely starters in the front court, with 6'7 Anthony Duruji and 6'8 Oliver Powell rotating in off the bench, and the four combine to form a pretty strong defensive interior. Some of Texas' more flaccid attempts around the basket against Michigan will be similarly unsuccessful against the Bulldogs. None of these four big men are major components of the Bulldog offense, although they do make some trouble for opponents on the offensive glass.
La Tech gets most of its offense from a group of solid perimeter players. Collectively as a unit this group has shot the ball well from the perimeter over the past few seasons, and will force Texas defenders to account for everyone. 5'11 DaQuan Bracey and 6'4 Jalen Harris are both effective guards, sharing play-making responsibilities and knocking down shots. 6'6 wing Jacobi Boykins can score going to the basket, but more significantly is an absolutely deadly perimeter shooter (he is a career 40 percent three point shooter on 476 attempts — this is good). 6'2 Derric Jean is another solid shooter who rotates off the bench.
For the Texas defense, guarding without fouling will be an important concern. La Tech's guards, in particular Bracey and Harris, are effective at driving the basket and earning trips to the free throw line. And as a team the Bulldogs shoot 76 percent from the stripe, meaning that when they draw fouls they generally make teams pay.
The Bulldogs are a good team that as of yet lack a big win on the season. The Texas Longhorns will need to put in some work to make sure that they do not become the team that coach Konkol's men finally take down.
The game tips off in Austin on Saturday at 1 PM CST, and airs on the Longhorn Network.