For the first time since March 18, the Texas Longhorns will play a meaningful game and will do so at the Frank Erwin Center Friday night against the University of the Incarnate Word. Much like the Cardinals, Shaka Smart's Longhorns replace the bulk of 2015-16's production and will spend the early portion of the season ironing out the wrinkles that come with a vastly different rotation. Fortunately for Texas, its debut performance will come against a Southland Conference program that will be lucky to remain within 20 points of the 'Horns after the final buzzer.
In addition to the clear talent discrepancy that favors Texas, Incarnate Word enters the season after losing 67 percent of its point production from 2015-16, including three starters and its top four leading scorers. Mitchell Badillo, the Cardinals all-time assists leader, is among last season's four leading scorers that are now gone so putting points on the scoreboard could prove problematic against the ‘Horns.
Incarnate Word does return two starters in guards Shawn Johnson and Sam Burmeister. At 6’5 and 6’4, respectively, the two have great size on the perimeter and Johnson is the likely candidate to emerge as the Cardinals best player after leading the team in rebounds and blocks as a sophomore. Johnson is also Incarnate Word’s leading returning scorer after adding 9.5 per game last season, as well as the leading returning three-point shooter following his 40 percent success rate in 2015-16.
Miles Banks (6’9, 250) and Jarred Kite (6’11, 215) provide Incarnate word with solid size down low, which could prove problematic for Texas, while sophomore Tyler Singleton and junior Jalin Hart and will assume ball handling duties with Badillo gone. Hart was high school teammates with Kerwin Roach Jr. at Houston North Shore, which won the state championship in 2014.
Frankly, though, tonight isn’t about Incarnate Word nearly as much as it’s about the new-look Longhorns. Smart’s starting lineup will be completely different than it was during the NCAA Tournament and five fresh faces will have a significant say in how 2106-17 plays out — freshmen Jarrett Allen, Andrew Jones, James Banks and Jacob Young, along with graduate transfer Mareik Isom. As far as that relates to Friday night’s season opener, Jones and Young will see additional minutes with Roach and Tevin Mack suspended for one more game, while Allen and Banks will enjoy the same with Isom out with an ankle infection.
Despite the suspensions and injury, Texas shouldn’t have much of an issue moving to 1-0 to begin the season. Both teams lost and a lot from 2015-16 and inserted a slew of fresh faces in less experienced talent, but Texas’ talent is quite simply better and much like the ‘Horns 40-point victory over Angelo State, that talent disparity will result in a happy crowd leaving the Erwin Center.
Texas - 81, Incarnate Word - 49