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Texas opens critical season for Shaka Smart against Northern Colorado

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The Bears lost the program’s all-time leading scorer, but return the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and the Big Sky Freshmen of the Year.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Colorado at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

An NCAA Tournament or bust season for Texas Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart in his fifth year at the helm in Austin will tip off on Tuesday evening at the Erwin Center against the Northern Colorado Bears.

Head coach Jeff Linder is a Colorado native who is entering his fourth season leading the Northern Colorado program. Last season, the Bears went 21-11 following a rocky start in non-conference play — Northern Colorado lost to programs like Rider and SIU Edwardsville — before finding its footing when the Big Sky slate began, winning 15 of 20 games and finishing second in the conference. So losing to the No. 7 seed in the first game of the Big Sky Tournament was surely a disappointment for Linder and his players.

The issue for Linder is that the conference tournament loss ended the career of Big Sky Conference Player of the Year Jordan Davis, the program’s all-time leading scorer. Now playing in Spain, Davis averaged 23.5 points per game and 4.7 assists per game.

So Northern Colorado will come to the Erwin Center looking to replace Davis, but does have the benefit of two key returning contributors — Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Jonah Radebaugh and Big Sky Freshman of the Year Bodie Hume.

At 6’3 and 185 pounds, Radebaugh will have the task of guarding whichever Texas perimeter player Linder most wants to stop, most likely junior point guard Matt Coleman or sophomore guard Courtney Ramey. Radebaugh finished third on the team in scoring last season and led the team in rebounding, but he’s not particularly efficient as a scorer overall and not particularly good from beyond the arc.

Hume is a rangy wing at 6’6 and hit 37.7 percent of his three-point attempts, so he’s a credible shooting threat — Texas junior guard Jase Febres could draw the assignment of limiting good looks for Hume from deep, but Hume may be the team’s best player, so Ramey could see time on the Colorado native, too.

Defensively, the emphasis for assistant coach Luke Yaklich is to force opponents to take difficult two-point shots, so defending the perimeter is a high priority. Smart expects Northern Colorado to focus on creating shots beyond the arc — the Bears tied for 55th nationally in three-point attempts last season — making the season opener an early test of the extent to which Texas can make those shots difficult without allowing straight line drives to the rim, where the Horns don’t have a shot blocker like Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba, or Jaxson Hayes.

Overall, the rankings for the 2019-20 season have Northern Colorado at No. 235 nationally out of 353 Division I basketball program, so this should be a game that Texas handles with ease.

Game time is at 7 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.