After going going 15-17 with an experienced squad a season ago, UT Arlington is breaking in a lot of new players this year, and the results have been a mixed 3-3 record. The best win was a road victory over Bradley. The Mavericks also have wins over Grand Canyon and Houston Baptist, as well as a close loss against a solid Buffalo squad.
Those were the good games. The bad ones include a 92-44 loss to Kentucky, and 23 point defeat at the hands of the Montana State Bobcats.
Coach Scott Cross' goal for Maverick basketball is to push the tempo on offense, and force the issue on D. His team extends its defense over 94 feet, and plays in passing lanes looking to deny ball reversal and force turnovers. On offense UT Arlington looks to attack quickly, and will hunt three-point shots. To support this approach, Cross uses his whole bench, routinely giving minutes to 11 guys.
Playmaking duties have been split so far this year among three players. Illinois State transfer Johnny Hill has led the team in minutes, and is as much a playmaker on the defensive end of the floor as he is on offense, averaging more than three steals per 40 minutes.
Lonnie McClanahan will likely come off the bench, and when he is in the game tends to dominate the action on offense. McClanahan is a player who lives at the free throw line, and who attacks the rim hard, particularly in transition. He has not, and never has been, much of a perimeter shooter, but his penetration frequently has a way of creating open looks from three for his associates.
The third primary ball handler for Cross is 5-11 freshman Erick Neal, who is the most prone among the three lead guards to pull up from beyond the arc.
If a perimeter player from UT Arlington gives Texas trouble, it is most likely to be 6-2 senior Jamel Outler, the Mavericks' best long-range shooter. Outler played well against Texas last year. Frankly he played well against everyone, connecting on over 40 percent of his 191 threes. This season, he continues to shoot the ball well, having connected on 15-36 of his shots from long range.
6-2 Drew Charles, 6-2 Kaelon Wilson, 6-5 Julian Harris all will get minutes on the perimeter, and will shoot from deep when given the chance.
Consuming the bulk of the minutes inside are two young big men. 6-7 freshman Kevin Hervey is Cross' best rebounder at both ends of the floor. So far this season, Hervey has attempted more than half of his shots from three-point range, and one-third of his two-point attempts are put backs of offensive rebounds. He is joined in the front court by 6-8 Jorge Bilbao, who doesn't take a big role in the UT Arlington offense. If Cross wants to better match Texas' length in the front court, he can give minutes to 6-10 Brandon Williams. 6-9 senior Anthony Walker should also see a few minutes off the bench.
The Mavericks will not be able to contend with the size inside of Texas. Very few teams can, but the Mavericks are exceptionally small. Don't be surprised if one or more of the Texas big men has a big night.
But what Scott Cross' team can do to keep things interesting is pressure Texas' guards. This will be a good opportunity for Rick Barnes to see how Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland, and Kendall Yancy handle themselves against a ball-denying defense.
UT Arlington games generally feature a lot of possessions, and a lot of running up and down the floor. Sometimes the result of this is a lot of points by the opposition, as happened last week when the Mavericks gave up 104 points to the previously winless Montana State. (That is a perplexing result. Seriously. Montana State isn't good. The Pomeroy ratings have them in the bottom ten percent of Division I.)
The best chance of a close game comes if the threes are falling, and if the Mavericks manage to turn Texas over. But I would not bet on that.