Following a poor second-half performance against the Georgetown Hoyas and a much better all-around performance against the Cal Golden Bears last week in the 2k Empire Class, head coach Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns return to the court after an eight-day break and return home to the Erwin Center on Saturday to face off against the McNeese State Cowboys.
As Smart might say, this game is all about the Longhorns and that’s particularly true because McNeese State has not showed signs of shooty hoops aptitude this season — second-year head coach Heath Schroyer entered this season 31 games under .500 for his career and that margin is only increasing with the Cowboys sitting at 2-5 this season.
It’s a weak 2-5, too, as McNeese State beat an NAIA program and a Division II program. However, Schroyer’s team was able to play a relatively close game against New Mexico, a top-100 team in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metric by shooting well, so there’s an outside shot that the Cowboys could become dangerous if the Longhorns don’t show up defensively. In that game, McNeese State shot 57.7 percent from two-point range and 44.8 percent from beyond the arc, making 13 three-pointers.
Suffice it to say that Texas assistant coach Luke Yaklich could conceivably self-combust with rage on the sideline if the Horns allow the Pokes to hit at that rate or even attempt 29 three-pointers on Saturday.
Beyond that performance, McNeese State has a 30-point loss to Richmond in its most recent games and losses to Western Michigan and Louisiana.
The most glaring issues is that defense is apparently optional this season and the players have largely decided to decline participating in it — McNeese State ranks No. 340 in adjusted efficiency on defense. As a reminder, there are 353 Division I teams.
Why are the Cowboys so bad right now on that end of the court? Basically everything, except for an ability to block some shots. They aren’t forcing turnovers, they aren’t rebounding defensively, and they’re allowing a relatively high free-throw rate, suggesting that they struggle to play defense without fouling. They give up a high rate of assists per made basket.
Offensively, they struggle just to get shots up, ranking No. 340 nationally in turnover rate because they rank dead last in steals allowed — the Texas guards should have a lot of success playing on-ball defense.
If the team can do anything competently, it’s make shots at times. At 6’0, guard Dru Kuxhausen is undersized, but he’s a high-volume three-point shooter who is shooting 43.9 percent. He has 18 made baskets from beyond the arc and no one else on the team has more than five.
Since Texas is undersized, particularly at the five position with junior Jericho Sims, his matchup against 6’8, 220-pound Sha’markus Kennedy will bear watching, as Kennedy is an efficient scorer on offense who finishes around the rim and gets to the line while ranking among the top 30 players nationally in blocked shot rate. He’s also a capable rebounder on both ends of the floor, too.
Like most low-major teams, McNeese State doesn’t have much height. It is experienced, but that hasn’t helped much this season against Division I teams, so this is a game where the focus for the Longhorns will be on developing the younger players, getting sophomore guard Courtney Ramey back on track, and creating the type of early margin to allow the former.
Texas has won both previous meetings, with the last matchup occurring in 2002, a 97-59 win for Rick Barnes and his team. The game tips off at 1 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network, with the Horns holding a 98-percent win probability.