After a flurry of games to start the non-conference season, the Texas Longhorns' schedule slows down for a two-week stretch with only three games. Two of those games — a contractually mandated road trip to VCU and a home contest against Michigan — are likely to be rather competitive; this first game should not be so long as Shaka Smart's team takes care of business.
Florida A&M, out of the MEAC, comes to Austin with a 1-7 record, with the lone win coming against D-II Albany State. Some of this record is due to scheduling and some is due to the fact that the Rattlers just aren't very good.
Ever since unwisely agreeing to write the SWAC chapter for College Basketball Prospectus, I have always had something of an interest in the teams of the MEAC and SWAC, leagues comprised of historically black colleges and universities that generally sit at the very bottom of the D-I pecking order. There are good teams among these ranks — former Indiana head coach Mike Davis has built a solid program at Texas Southern and North Carolina Central's LeVelle Moton is perhaps the finest D-I basketball coach you have never heard of — but most of the rest of these two leagues exist in a difficult niche.
Florida A&M is currently engaged in the annual process of taking road losses in exchange for cash. The Rattler's sole D-I home game prior to the start of conference play will take place in a few weeks; it is far more lucrative to serve as a tasty snack for programs higher up the hoops food chain — a college athletics program is expensive and that money has to come from somewhere. For Florida A&M, it comes from schools like UNLV, Miami, Mississippi State, Mercer, Georgia Tech, and Texas.
The Rattler's are led by first-year head coach Robert McCullum, who while new to Florida A&M is not exactly new to college basketball. McCullum once served as the head coach at Western Michigan, and eventually at South Florida, before being fired by USF in 2007. Since that time he has taken a series of assistant coaching gigs, most recently at Oregon.
McCullum's team may not have the level of player he worked with in some of his prior stops, but one thing he has going for him is a big man. 7'0 Isaiah Martin is a shot blocking junior college transfer who has started the season strong, scoring 10 PPG while shooting 66 percent from the floor. Starting alongside Martin in the front court is 6'6 Desmond Williams, who is one of the Rattler's key offensive players. He has struggled against FAMU's rigorous schedule so far this year, shooting just 35 percent from the floor, but is capable of putting some points on the board.
On the perimeter, coach McCullum's leading scorer and top perimeter shooter is 6'5 senior Marcus Barham. Through the early part of the season the Rattler's have had a really hard time doing much of anything on the offensive end of the floor, and Barham shooting the three has been just about the best thing going. That and having Martin try to rebound the Rattler's many missed shots.
After the bright lights and top-level competition of the PK80, FAMU is something of a step down. But the Longhorns could probably use a game like this, as the rest of the non-conference schedule for 2017 — with four of the five remaining games against VCU, Michigan, Louisiana Tech, and Alabama — will be difficult.
The game tips in Austin at 7 PM CST, and airs on the Longhorn Network.