The No. 19 Texas Longhorns will open the challenging 2020-21 season against the UT-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.
The sixth season under Texas head coach Shaka Smart features 12 returning players who produced all the points, assists, rebounds, and minutes last season — the Longhorns are the only team in the country that can boast that level of returning production. In addition, Smart signed Vandegrift product Greg Brown III, a forward who was ranked as the No. 9 product nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite ranking.
Brown is in the mix to start in his Longhorns debut. On Monday, Smart listed Brown among the top six players in the rotation, but said he doesn’t know which five will start against the Vaqueros. The other players in that group are senior point guard Matt Coleman, junior guard Courtney Ramey, junior guard Andrew Jones, sophomore forward Kai Jones, and senior forward Jericho Sims.
“Those guys have played the best in practice — they’ve made the biggest impact on winning in practice,” Smart said. We’ve certainly had some other guys that have done some really good things, but those are six guys that have had a very good six weeks to start practice.”
One point of emphasis on offense for the Longhorns includes being more aggressive and violent on the offensive glass, rebounding only 26.7 percent of their own misses. Smart believes that if the team hustles to get back in transition, there isn’t a risk associated with sending more players to the glass on offense. Cutting off the ball from the perimeter is another point of emphasis and the other is getting to the free-throw line more often, an area where Brown should help with his aggressiveness.
In addition, Andrew Jones had hip surgery in the offseason and was able to gain 10 pounds of muscle — he feels stronger and more explosive than last year, when he was still receiving treatments before the season. He should improve his free-throw rate this season and Coleman could as well if he looks to create contact more often at the rim instead of driving to kick the ball out to teammates.
A longtime Oklahoma assistant, Lew Hill is the head coach of UTRGV and is entering his fifth season as the head coach. The Vaqueros finished last season on a high note, winning eight of the last 10 games behind the play of senior guard Javon Levi, who scored 11.5 points per game, dished out 7.9 assists per game, and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in the WAC. In a unique development, UT-RGV added another conference Defensive Player of the Year in Stony Brook’s Jeff Otchere, who blocked 127 shots in 66 games.
So the Vaqueros have a strong perimeter defender and a strong rim protector to bolster a defense that finished No. 268 in Bart Torvik’s adjust defensive efficiency after struggling to guard the three-point line or to keep opponents off the free-throw line.
Offensively, UTRGV played fairly quickly last season, with a top-70 adjusted tempo, but didn’t convert on two-point baskets effectively, finishing No. 297 in effective field-goal percentage.
“It’s important for us to prepare the right way — we tell our guys time every game is an ‘us game,’ which means it’s more about us than about the opponent,” Smart said. “That being said, we have to have an understanding for what each opponent does well, and try to take those things away.”