It has been a pretty good week for Shaka Smart. Last Tuesday, the Longhorns ran UTSA off the floor, winning by 66. They followed up this win with an exciting victory over North Carolina on Saturday. And to round out the week, yesterday Smart secured the commitment of guard Andrew Jones.
Tonight, the Longhorns look to keep the momentum going against the 2-6 Appalachian State Mountaineers. It has been a tough start to the season for Jim Fox's team and it isn't about to get easier, as their next seven days include games at Texas and North Carolina.
The Mountaineers are led by 6-2 senior guard Frank Eaves. Through his first eight games Eaves is averaging 20 PPG and leads his team in assists. He shares duty as the team's primary ball handler, and is most dangerous as a perimeter shooter (43 percent three point shooting on 65 attempts). He is also fairly effective in transition, but through the early part of the season has struggled to score around the rim in the half court, although he does have a knack for getting to the free throw line. Eaves should be the Mountaineer who attracts the most attention from the Texas defense.
Joining Eaves in the back court is 5-8 senior Chris Burgess. Burgess is another player who can hurt opponents from the perimeter, and along with Eaves serves as a playmaker for the Mountaineers. His drives frequently produce three point shooting chances for his teammates, including Eaves.
Fox's third primary offensive option is 6-5 freshman Ronshad Shabazz. Shabazz has shot the ball a lot early in the season, but he has struggled to convert, shooting 29 percent from long range and 36 percent from inside the arc. 6-2 turnover prone freshman Emarius Logan will also rotate into the back court.
Along the front line, 6-8 sophomore Griffin Kinney leads a four man rotation that also includes 6-8 senior Jacob Lawson, 6-8 freshman Tyrell Johnson, and 6-8 senior Michael Obacha. All four players are getting roughly the same number of minutes, and none of the four are close to being able to match the strength of Cameron Ridley inside.
Now let's get serious. Next to UTSA, Appalachian State is the weakest opponent on Texas' entire schedule. But after tonight, Texas has no more easy games for the rest of the season. So this will be Smart's last chance to try stuff against a grossly overmatched opponent.
Tonight would be a good night to get some run for Tevin Mack, Kendal Yancy, and Shaquille Cleare, who all more or less were afterthoughts in the game against North Carolina, but who all will be needed to contribute at some point over the next few months. Tonight will also be a good time to get a last look at lineups that pair Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh (or Cleare) to see if these combinations can produce even a semi functioning offense.
And it wouldn't be a bad night to give Connor Lammert a decent chance to rest; if Mack cannot spell him, and playing two of the Ridley/Ibeh/Cleare trio together doesn't work, then Lammert will have to play a lot for Texas this season.