After starting off the season 3-0, the Texas Longhorns face the Northwestern Wildcats tonight in the Legends Classic, leaving one to wonder who are the legends and what makes them classic?
The Longhorns are no strangers to this glorious event. Behind strong play by D.J. Augustin, Rick Barnes’ squad took home the coveted trophy, plaque, ribbon, or whatever the hell they give the winner of this silliness back in 2007. An added bonus — they spent a couple days in beautiful Newark, New Jersey.
After bouncing around various mostly empty arenas in New Jersey, the Legends Classic moved across state lines in 2012, landing in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. This allows weird hipsters to take time off from their pastimes — barrel-making, blacksmithing, brewing beer with the wild yeasts that accumulate in one’s beard, and various 19th century trades reconstituted as hobbies — and watch some basketball.
For the last two weeks, Shaka Smart’s team has been feasting on weak teams from single-bid leagues. The competition over the next two days will be better — Texas plays a decent Northwestern squad tonight, and will match up with either Notre Dame or Colorado tomorrow. It will be our first chance to see how this iteration of the Longhorns fares against major conference competition.
The Wildcats have been steadily improving under coach Chris Collins over the past four years; it is plausible that this season the Wildcats will finally break through and earn the first NCAA tournament bid in school history. Collins’ team is 2-1 after taking a close loss on the road at Butler last week. Through the early part of the season Northwestern has shown the ability to put some points on the board.
Much of the early effectiveness of the Wildcat offense has come from strong perimeter shooting. The player that the Texas defense will absolutely need to mark is 6’7 sophomore Vic Law. Law has been coach Collins’ most effective weapon so far this season, mixing excellent perimeter shooting (he is 11-14 from long range so far this season, after connecting on 36 percent of his threes last season) with effective scoring from close range.
Law is part of an effective, if somewhat undersized, Northwestern front court. 6’8 Derek Pardon, 6’6 Sanjay Lumpkin, and 6’8 Gavin Skelly have started off the season well inside. Pardon, who is only a sophomore, is an active rebounder and shot blocker with some talent. He and Skelly are not major parts of the Wildcats’ offense, but are good enough that it should make for an interesting test for the young Longhorn big men.
Collins’ back court does more of the scoring. Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey are both effective perimeter shooters, and through the early part of the season McIntosh seems equally adept scoring inside the arc. Collins will also bring in freshman guard Isiah Brown off the bench; when in the game Brown has tended to shoot the ball a lot.
Northwestern’s rotation through the first three games of the season has been tight, with only seven players claiming most of the minutes. the Wildcats have been strong defensively, particularly on the interior and on the glass. They have mostly taken care of the ball and have shot well from deep.
The game tips off shortly after 8:30 p.m. CT, and airs on the Longhorn Network.