At last, the Shaka Smart era is here!
With a seemingly never-ending offseason of hype, speculation, and anticipation now behind us, the Texas Longhorns and their new head coach kick off the 2015-16 season against the new-look Washington Huskies in China’s first ever college basketball game at 9 p.m. CT on ESPN in Shanghai.
Texas enters the season boasting one of college basketball’s deepest and most experienced units, headlined by five seniors and three juniors amidst what should prove to be a 12-man rotation. The addition of three four-star freshmen in Tevin Mack, Kerwin Roach Jr, and Eric Davis Jr – the nation’s No. 15 recruiting class -- serves as further evidence of the talent-rich getting richer. But talent isn’t the question at hand in Austin this season, but rather, how smoothly Smart’s coaching style will translate to the rigorous Big 12 and nightly national stage.
In his first opportunity to prove such, Smart and Texas are pitted against Washington in a match up that appears considerably favorable for the Horns. The Huskies that will take the court tonight it China are a shell of the unit we last saw in 2014-15, as head coach Lorenzo Romar is tasked with replacing 72 percent of last season’s scoring with six of 2014-15’s seven leading scorers now departed. The only noteworthy returner is senior Andrew Andrews, who chipped in 22 percent of the scoring load from last season – the remaining returners scoring a whopping 136 combined points.
Outside of Andrews, the bulk of the responsibility will fall on the shoulders and eight newcomers yet to play a meaningful D-1 game, and playing away from home on national television in China against a more talented, experienced, and deep Longhorns squad won’t do much to simplify their debut. But this isn’t to imply Washington is devoid of talent, by any means. It’s just experience-less talent. Among the eight new Huskies are four four-star freshmen, three of which ranked within the top 60 of ESPN’s 100, including four-star power forward Noah Dickerson, who took his talents to the great Northwest over Austin.
Four-star wing DeJounte Murray headlines Washington’s youth movement as a walking mix tape-in-the-making. Along with the aforementioned Dickerson, 6’8 freshman forward Marquese Chriss will be someone to watch for amidst a Huskie roster that boasts six guys standing 6’8 or taller. Unfortunately for the youthful Washington, it’s frontcourt is pitted against 6’9, 285-pound senior Cameron Ridley, 6’10, 260-pound senior Prince Ibeh, 6’9, 240-pound senior,Connor Lammert, and 6’9, 265-pound junior Shaquille Cleare – a match up that will favor Texas’ overwhelming girth and experience.
Much of the same can be said for the perimeter. While Andrews looks to enter perennial 20-point per game territory this season, the Longhorns backcourt is headlined by a likely first-round NBA talent in floor general Isaiah Taylor, who is accompanied by seemingly countless capable scoring options in Javan Felix, Kendal Yancy, Demarcus Holland and the three freshmen.
Ultimately, Texas quite simply has the strength in numbers advantage in this match up, and that’s speaking to boththe proven options on the hardwood and the experience necessary to avoid being overwhelmed by the moment of playing in the first game of its kind.
Prediction: Texas 86, Washington 67