The opening tip of the basketball season is a little more than a week away. And even before Shaka Smart's Texas Longhorns start the year against Washington in Shanghai, there will be an exhibition contest. This game is happening in just a few days.
This means that the college basketball season is nearly here. I have already looked at the Big 12 portion of the schedule, but that is still nearly two months away. The non-conference season comes first.
Let's take a quick look at each game of what will be a rather challenging non-conference season.
11/6/15 -- Tarleton State (exhibition -- Austin): I can't remember Texas playing many exhibition games during the Rick Barnes era (he was always more of a fan of the "secret scrimmage"), but exhibition games were a regular part of Texas basketball during the Tom Penders years. And now we have one again.
Tarleton State is a Division II program, but at least it is a good one. The Texans went 31-4 last season and 28-3 the season before. And the last time Texas played a D-II team, it didn't go very well.
11/13/15 -- Washington (Shanghai): Texas opens the regular non-conference season in Shanghai against the Washington Huskies. Lorenzo Romar's team struggled last season, going 16-15 overall, and 5-13 in the Pac-12. Perimeter shooter Andrew Andrews is Washington's most experience returning player, as both graduation and attrition leaves Romar with a fairly inexperienced squad.
So newcomers are going to be important. Fortunately for the Huskies, this recruiting class was really a good one. With so many talented young players, Romar's men may not really gel until later in the season, or perhaps next year. But they should be good eventually.
11/21/15 -- Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Austin): The Longhorns will return to Austin for a game against the Islanders before heading to the Bahamas. Coach Willis Wilson's team was decent last season, finishing with a 20-14 record and doing well in the Southland Conference, a league that has been dominated by Stephen F. Austin in recent years. 6-8 junior Rashawn Thomas is probably the best returning player, and along with Thomas coach Wilson has a number of seniors and multiple guys who can shoot. Texas fans should view the Islanders as a team that likely won't be a complete pushover.
11/25-11/27 -- Battle 4 Atlantis (The Bahamas): Texas will be appearing in one of the more fun early season tournaments. The field this year includes Syracuse, UConn, Michigan, Gonzaga, Washington, Texas A&M, and Charlotte. In principle, Texas could play both UConn and Washington twice prior to the new year, depending on how things play out. The Longhorns will open against Texas A&M.
The Aggies could be frisky this season with some decent returning players (including former Houston Cougar Danuel House) and a top ten incoming freshman class that includes three of the better high school big men from the state of Texas last year. Against the Horns those college freshmen post players will be going against the grown men.
An intriguing potential second round match up with Gonzaga could happen. (As could a second round rematch with Washington.) The Zags are led by former Kentucky Wildcat and current national player of the year candidate Kyle Wiltjer and star sophomore Domantas Sabonis (yes, you may know that name -- his dad Arvydas is one of the greatest players in the history of Soviet basketball).
12/1/15 -- UT Arlington (Austin): Texas' next game will come against the Mavericks, who gave Texas some trouble last season when the Horns only managed to hit 5-26 from three point range.
The three ball will again be important in this game, as Scott Cross' defense generally packs the paint and allows opponents bomb threes -- in fact UT Arlington opponents typically end up with around 40 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. The photo below, taken during last season's game, helps to illustrate why this is.
If Texas hits perimeter shots, this game can be an easy win. If not, it could get uncomfortable.
12/4/15 -- Samford (Austin): This will be the first leg of the Samford/Stanford challenge. Samford's coach, former Kentucky big man Scott Padgett, is in his second year as a head coach. Last year the Bulldogs were boiled garbage. But they did force some turnovers with their pressure defense.
12/8/15 -- UTSA (Austin): The Roadrunners went 14-16 last season, including going 8-10 in Conference USA. Dynamic senior guard Ryan Bowie is the guy to watch. He is only 6-1, but he can put the ball in the hole.
12/12/15 -- North Carolina (Austin): OK, this will be a fun home game. There is a pretty reasonable chance that North Carolina will be the number one ranked team in the nation when this game happens.
Guard Marcus Paige is Carolina's best player, but this is a deep and talented group. Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, and Justin Jackson make up one of the nation's best front courts, and coach Roy Williams seemingly has an endless number of guys who can kill you.
The Tar Heels need to make hay while the sun is shining, as at some point over the next few years some pretty harsh NCAA sanctions are likely, with an ugly academic scandal hanging over the program.
12/15/15 -- Appalachian State (Austin): The Mountaineers weren't particularly good last year. This will be the game squeezed among a run of tough opponents in the second half of December.
12/19/15 -- Stanford (Palo Alto, CA): Texas' only true non-conference road game will be a trip to play Stanford. The Longhorns will be looking to avenge an overtime loss from last season.
This season's Stanford team is probably not as good as last year, after losing the top three players off of last season's postseason NIT championship team. But this is still a true road game against a major conference opponent, meaning it won't be an easy contest.
12/29/2015 -- Connecticut (Austin): Old friend Sterling Gibbs makes his return to Austin. Do you remember Sterling Gibbs? Because I sure do.
Gibbs originally signed to attend Maryland, but enrolled as a freshman at Texas after Maryland coach Gary Williams retired and the school released Gibbs from his LOI. Gibbs showed some potential as a freshman, but he was buried on the bench behind a logjam of perimeter players, and transferred after the season to play closer to home at Seton Hall. (Had he stuck around, there would have been plenty of playing time for him, but no one has a crystal ball.)
After murdering the Big East for two seasons, Gibbs graduated and has again transferred. And now he is at UConn.
It's an interesting what-if scenario for recent Texas basketball: What would the last few years have looked like if Gibbs had stayed at Texas? While he was far from the most highly regarded recruit in his class, he will probably end up with the best college basketball career of any of his Texas classmates. If Gibbs had stayed in Austin, is Rick Barnes still Texas' coach? Perhaps.
1/30/16 -- Vanderbilt (Austin): I can tell you already that this game is going to seem out of place. In the middle of Big 12 play, the Longhorns are going to go up against... Vanderbilt. Because for whatever reason, the Big 12/SEC Challenge is taking place at the end of January.
One thing going for this game is that Vanderbilt is going to be good. Big men Damian Jones and Luke Kornet each present unique challenges. Kornet in particular is an interesting player. Standing at seven feet tall, last season Kornet hit 41 percent of his 123 attempts from beyond the arc.
And Kornet is far from the only guy on this squad who can shoot. Last season the Commodores knocked down 40 percent of their threes, and everyone who was shooting them is back. A trio of sophomores -- Riley LaChance, Wade Baldwin, and Matthew Fisher-Davis -- lets coach Kevin Stallings flood the floor with shooters. They will run through a thousand screens, and will be gunning from the opening tip.
Without spending too much time on it, I anticipate a reasonable win-loss record for Texas during non-conference play would be something like 7-6 or 8-5. It is not an easy schedule, although the Longhorns will get their shots at taking down some top opponents at home.
But hey, I like a tough schedule. It means there will be some interesting games to watch, if nothing else.
What games are you excited for?