This coming basketball season, Texas will face a tough set of opponents in the Big 12. For those of you just now diving into hoops season, we have run detailed looks at each Big 12 Texas opponent. You can catch up by reading BON's take on TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
Before conference play kicks off in January, Texas will spend six weeks playing against a non-conference schedule that contains some challenging opponents. The non-conference schedule will test Rick Barnes' squad, with a neutral site game against Iowa, a neutral site game against either Syracuse or Cal, road trips to face defending NCAA champion Connecticut and defending runner up Kentucky, and a home game against Stanford.
But despite a tough non-conference schedule, there aren't many great non-conference home games queued up for this year. Virtually all of Texas' best opponents will be faced on the road or at a neutral sight far away from Austin. So while this schedule heats up early for those of us watching on TV, Texas fans living in Austin will be faced with a less stellar schedule of live games.
With that, let's take a look game by game at Texas' competition.
11/14/2014 -- North Dakota State, Austin (LHN)
Texas tips off the season at home against the North Dakota State Bison, a team that defeated Oklahoma last year in the NCAA tournament. But this is quite a different NDSU team. Summit League player of the year Taylor Braun was a senior last year, as were Marshall Bjorklund and TrayVonn Wright. Additionally, head coach Saul Phillips left to take the head job in Athens, Ohio. First year head coach Dave Richman does return sharpshooting guard Lawrence Alexander (who dropped 28 on OU) and athletic wing Kory Brown from last season's squad.
11/16/2014 -- Alcorn State, Austin (ESPNU)
Alcorn State heads out on its annual tour as cannon-fodder for teams from conferences higher up the D-I ladder. I think following one or more SWAC teams around for a season would make for a good book, or at least one that I would read. 6-4 junior LeAntwan Luckett will dominate the ball on offense, while Octavius Brown and Marquis Vance are players to pay attention to inside.
11/20/2014 -- Iowa, New York (ESPN2)
Texas heads to New York to take part in the 2K Classic, diving into the toughest stretch of the non-conference schedule. Iowa and Fran McCaffery's run and gun show will be the first opponent in New York. Athletic 6-9 senior forward Aaron White goes from end to end as quickly as any player in the country, and will dunk on anyone.
11/21/2014 -- California OR Syracuse, New York (TBA)
Depending on how the previous 2K Classic games shake out, Texas will face either California or Syracuse. With the retirement of Mike Montgomery, California is now under first year head coach Cuonzo Martin, who got the hell out of Knoxville immediately after taking Tennessee to the Sweet 16. This is what we call a good career decision; Vol fans were calling for Martin's firing only weeks before the NCAA tournament, even collecting 11,000 signatures for an online petition. Martin's replacement at Tennessee Donnie Tyndall is already in hot water with the NCAA, with allegations following him from Southern Mississippi. Tennessee hoops fans continue to perplex me.
Syracuse turns over important parts of its roster, but returns center Rakeem Christmas and perimeter shooter Trevor Cooney as key rotation players from last year. And perhaps this will be the season where talented one time Duke transfer Michael Gbinije finally gets his chance. Highly rated 6-8 freshman Chris McCullough is another player to look out for.
11/25/2014 -- Saint Francis (PA), Austin (LHN)
Saint Francis (PA) of the Northeast Conference is perennially one of the worst teams in Division I, and will provide a home tune-up game in between the trips to New York and Storrs. 6-6 senior forward Earl Brown and 6-7 junior Ronnie Drinnon lead an undersized squad inside. While both are nice players, they will likely have their hands full with the Texas big men.
11/30/2014 -- Connecticut, Storrs, Conn. (ESPN2)
Kevin Ollie's Huskies may have lost Shabazz Napier to the NBA and DeAndre Daniels to Australia, but this will still make for a tough road trip. Senior guard Ryan Boatright is likely to dominate the ball on offense, while UConn's imposing front line of 7-0 sophomore Amida Brimah and 6-10 Phillip Nolan will be an interesting test for the Texas big men. Star freshman Daniel Hamilton, younger brother of former Texas forward Jordan Hamilton, was selected as the American Athletic Conference Preseason Rookie of the Year by the league's coaches.
12/2/2014 -- UT Arlington, Austin (LHN)
Scott Cross' Mavericks gave Texas a game last season, before losing 72-69 to the Longhorns. Lonnie McClanahan and Jamel Outler form a decent backcourt duo, with McClanahan playing the role of quick basket attacking playmaker who lives at the free throw line, while Outler handles the perimeter shooting.
12/5/2014 -- Kentucky, Lexington, Ky. (ESPN)
The magic word this fall out of Lexington is "platoon." Not since last winter's "tweak" has a single word meant so much for hoops in the Commonwealth. Mitch McConnell somehow overlooked the platoon question his numerous campaign ads, missing a chance to accuse opponent Alison Grimes (who's commercials frequently portrayed her firing a rifle) of supporting the platoon when old Mitch would just as soon see Willie Cauley-Stein play 30 minutes a game.
And maybe Mitch is right. But by the time Texas comes to town, John Calipari will likely still be committed to his intended approach to finding minutes for all the future NBA players on his roster. Because here is what happened this off-season in Lexington. Unlike the last few years, only two UK stars jumped to the NBA, leaving a pileup of two high school All-American classes vying to see the floor. In no particular order, Calipari is going to try to play Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Dakari Johnson, Derek Willis, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, and Dominique Hawkins all for significant minutes.
With all due respect to McConnell, it is a good thing that Calipari is the smoothest politician in the state.
12/13/2014 -- Texas State, Austin (LHN)
With the excitement of Kentucky now past, Texas will enter a mostly boring three week homestand leading into conference play. First up is Texas State, with second-year head coach (and Texas hoops/moustache legend) Danny Kaspar. It will be interesting to check in and see where Kaspar is in his building of the Texas State program -- and let me be clear, Kaspar is one of the finest college basketball coaches in the country. Last year the Bobcats struggled, but still played tough defense. 6-8 junior Emani Gant is probably Kaspar's best returning player.
One other fun note: former UT standout Terrence Rencher is an assistant coach at Texas State. His Texas State bio lists his email and phone number, so go ahead and give him a call.
12/16/2014 -- Lipscomb, Austin (LHN)
Last season Texas tipped off against then Atlantic Sun member Mercer, winning a tight game against an underrated mid-major opponent. This season's Atlantic Sun opponent is Lipscomb, who is unlikely to be as good as last season's Mercer squad, one of the better low major teams of the last few years. But the Bisons won't necessarily be a pushover, with the return of sophomore guards J.C. Hampton and Josh Williams, who can both fill it up from beyond the arc, as well as forwards Martin Smith (another shooter) and Malcolm Smith (more of an inside scorer). One thing Lipscomb lacks is size, but perhaps 6-11 Chad Lang, a graduate transfer from nearby Belmont, will help.
12/20/2014 -- Long Beach State, Austin (LHN)
I've missed you, Dan Monson. Once, you were the Gonzaga wonder-boy, taking your team to the Elite Eight before jumping to the first major conference job that came along. That job, at the University of Minnesota, turned out to be a total disaster. You had to struggle to keep your team afloat after the scandal of Clem Haskins wrecked the program. I remember you, standing on the sideline, watching helplessly as Zach Randolph tore your former walk-on big man to pieces, coliseum-style. Now there is a word for what happened to your career, when you left Gonzaga to take the Minnesota job; they call it "getting Monsoned." Minnesota was a death trap that no man could survive.
But you didn't let that get you down, and you have done well for yourself at Long Beach State. You just signed an extension; I am happy for you. And this year you have a decent squad full of seniors, including a gifted playmaker in Michael Caffey.
12/23/2014 -- Stanford, Austin (ESPN2)
Thank God Stanford is on what will mostly be a dull non-conference home slate of games. And the Cardinal will break up an otherwise monotonous stretch in December. Too bad the game plays two days before Christmas, when students will be at home, and most people will be focused on other things.
Stanford will give Texas one final serious test prior to conference play. 6-2 senior guard Chasson Randle, 6-11 Canadian Stefan Nastic, and 45 percent three point shooter Anthony Brown are joined by a strong freshman class led by McDonald's All-American Reid Travis.
12/29/2014 -- Rice, Austin (LHN)
Rice has a new coach. Shaka Smart assistant Mike Rhoades has been named to replace Ben Braun after six mostly unsuccessful seasons. Rhoades isn't exactly a kid; he spent ten years as a head coach at Randolph-Macon (D-III), rattling off a 197-76 record, prior to joining the VCU staff five seasons ago.
Rhoades has stated that he will be implementing Smart's pressure defense, and I am eager to see how the full-court match-up press will work at Rice. Rhoades will have his work cut out for him. Last season's star freshman Sean Obi has already transferred to Duke, while Keith Washington has left the program as well. With such a young roster recruited by his predecessor, more transfers are likely to follow. Guards Max Guercy and Marcus Jackson are the best returning Owls, and Rhoades has added a six man freshman class.
With the two toughest Longhorn opponents coming on the road, a toss-up game against Iowa, and a potential de facto road game against Syracuse in front of a very partisan crowd, Texas is likely to come out of non-conference play with a few losses. Texas fans shouldn't let that get them down.
There is also nice upside in all of this. Even if Texas will be an underdog in three non-conference games, the Longhorns have enough talent to compete with these opponents, making a nice resume building victory possible.