The Texas Longhorns basketball program recently released its non-conference schedule. It is at first glance a strong offering, both from the standpoint of creating an interesting set of games for season ticket holders as well as for building a strong NCAA tournament resume. I think Shaka Smart has scheduled quite well.
One word of caution, with no true road games this time around, it makes for a strong home schedule this year, but also will mean that the 2019-2020 non-conference home slate may be a little lean.
Let’s roll through the schedule and see what is in front of the Longhorns.
Eastern Illinois (Nov. 6; Austin, TX)
The college basketball season gets started on a Tuesday this year, as opposed to its recent approach of tipping off on a Friday night. This is a good move.
The Eastern Illinois Panthers are coming off of a season where they went 12-19. They play in the Ohio Valley Conference, which is a league with some decent teams. The Panthers have not historically been among those decent teams.
Coach Jay Spoonhour’s official photo sports an impressive beard — it is full and neatly groomed — however, sometimes he rolls clean-shaven. Probably the only suspense this game will provide will center around the quantity of facial hair the Panthers’ head man carries when he comes to the Erwin Center. Spoonhour faces some pretty heavy losses from last season, but does return excellent sophomore guard Mack Smith.
Arkansas (Nov. 9; Fort Bliss — El Paso, TX)
The Longhorns and the Razorbacks face off in the Armed Forces Classic. Thank goodness this game is on a military base, because otherwise the attendance would probably be about as dismal as it normally is when the Longhorns play an off-campus game in the state of Texas. Anyway, they will hopefully put on a good show for the troops.
Mike Anderson’s team was very good last season, as one would expect with a team where four of the top five guys in minutes played are seniors, but some talented young guys remain. 6’11 sophomore Daniel Gafford is one of them — he will be one of the best big men Texas faces this season.
Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 12; Austin, TX)
The Warhawks raise the question: what is more menacing than a bird of prey with combat experience? If a team ever let me name a mascot it would be a Murderscorpion with a pithy name like Hank.
The Warhawks were 16-16 last season and haven’t yet released an official roster, and this piece frankly isn’t important enough to me to contact the SID to obtain a preliminary one. The guys you should look out for are senior Travis Munnings, a sharpshooting wing from The Bahamas, and sophomore combo guard Michael Ertel.
The Citadel (Nov. 16; Austin, TX)
Let’s get weird for a minute. The Citadel plays a brand of basketball best described as experimental. If you ever wanted to know what would happen if you played the same style as Paul Westhead-era Loyola Marymount with the type of kids that you can recruit at a South Carolina military college, now you will have your answer.
Up until a couple seasons ago when Savannah State decided to push things even faster, The Citadel was perhaps the strangest team in college basketball. Head coach Duggar Baucom’s “shoot before you turn it over” philosophy is exactly what it sounds like. His teams race up the floor and jack up the first shot they can get; this shot is frequently from behind the three-point line. The result is an absolute mess that can be a little reminiscent of the sort of basketball that was played in the old “Double Dribble” video game, if one team didn’t have many guys who could dunk.
The Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 22 & 23)
No brand quite reflects the Vegas ethos as well as that of a very old tire manufacturer. Texas fans either making the journey to Nevada or watching from home will be treated to several interesting games as the Longhorns face two out of the other three participants: Michigan State, North Carolina, and UCLA. As far as these Thanksgiving events go, that is a damn good draw.
Radford (Nov. 30; Austin, TX)
Radford is a sneaky-good team of the sort that Smart is wise to schedule. If last season was any indication, a victory over Radford could fall into a more respectable category come NCAA tournament time — the Highlanders finished last season ranked 115 in the RPI and 170 at kenpom.com. If you are trying to boost your ratings for the NCAA selection committee, playing a team like Radford makes good sense.
Radford went 23-13 last season and represented the Big South in the NCAA tournament, before quickly being swatted out by Villanova. Coach Mike Jones returns a number of important players from last season’s squad, most notably Ed Polite, Carlik Jones, Travis Fields, and Donald Hicks. The Highlanders are undersized, but they are good defensively and they hit the glass hard. This is a good team.
VCU (Dec. 5; Austin, TX)
This is the second part of the home-and-home series between Texas and VCU that was scheduled as a part of buying out Shaka Smart’s VCU contract. A year ago these teams competed in front of a raucous crowd in Richmond (complete with a Shaka Smart impersonator). This game will be contested in a more placid environment.
Last season was a down year by the high standards of VCU — an 18-15 record was the Rams lowest win total since the 2002-2003 season. Coach Mike Rhodes will look to a strong junior class led by De’Riante Jenkins to get things back to the way people have become accustomed to in Richmond.
Purdue (Dec. 9; Austin, TX)
The Boilermakers lose a lot of seniors off of last season’s highly-ranked team, but they do return All-American point guard (and Texan) Carsen Edwards. The 6’1 point guard is perhaps the best returning player in all of college basketball.
While Edwards’ team is something of a reboot, the guys he will be playing with aren’t scrubs. Senior wing Ryan Cline is a dangerous perimeter shooter, and 7’3 sophomore Matt Haarms could be in for a breakout year; few programs do better work with big men than Matt Painter’s Purdue.
To season ticket buyers, games like this make me feel happy for you. This is exactly the sort of game you should want on the schedule — a name program that Texas rarely plays and that features one of the season’s biggest stars.
Grand Canyon (Dec. 15; Austin, TX)
Put Grand Canyon in the Radford category. GCU is a solid program that may help Texas’ NCAA tournament resume. That is provided that the Longhorns can win.
The Antelopes made the move to D-I a few years ago, and they have quickly turned into one of the better programs at the single-bid league level. Coached by Thunder Dan Majerle (the SB Nation style guide dictates that we must add the word “Thunder” at the first mention of Majerle’s name), GCU has won at least 20 games in each of their past three seasons and has never had a losing record in the WAC.
GCU has high-major size, and could give some trouble to a more perimeter-oriented Texas team. 6’10 grad transfer Michael Finke (Illinois, he transferred to play with his younger brother Tim) and 6’10 sophomore Alessandro Lever give Majerle both size and skill along the front court. 6’7 Oscar Frayer is a big scoring wing.
GCU will punish a team having a let down between Purdue and Providence.
Providence (Dec. 21; Austin, TX)
Go the other way.
UT Arlington (Dec. 28; Austin, TX)
No offseason coaching change was more universally condemned than the decision of UTA administration that sent head coach Scott Cross packing. Cross found a soft landing nearby on Jamie Dixon’s TCU staff (it likely came with a pay raise) and will be able to entertain good head coaching offers as soon as this coming spring, assuming he is interested.
While Scott Cross got a raw deal, Longhorn alumnus Chris Ogden gets to benefit from it. Rick Barnes’ former player and long time assistant has spent the last two years helping out Chris Beard at Texas Tech. Now Ogden gets to run a decidedly healthy UTA program.
Georgia (Jan. 29; Athens, GA)
The SEC/Big 12 Challenge is so far in the future, and we will have a chance to learn so much more about the Bulldogs between now and then. Given this it doesn’t make much sense to dwell too long on this game right now.
Instead, I want to point out two things: Georgia hired Tom Crean as a head coach this spring, and Texas is facing Georgia for the second time in three seasons as a part of this inter-conference event. The Tom Crean hire I can account for — it makes a lot of sense — but the scheduling is kind of weird.
I give the Texas non-conference schedule high marks for fun, for selling season tickets, and for setting the Longhorns up for the postseason. It is not necessarily the sort of schedule that the Longhorns should expect to put up a gaudy record against.
If we scroll through, we find six likely wins, a probable win against VCU, toss up games against Arkansas, Purdue, and Providence, and big challenges in Las Vegas and on the road against Georgia. Coming out of this with 10-12 wins would set the Longhorns up nicely for the rest of the season, but 10 wins is far from a guarantee.