For the Texas Longhorns, the non-conference schedule winds down this week. Shaka Smart's team faces Tennessee State today and Alabama on Friday. It gives the Longhorns two more chances to pick up wins before heading home for Christmas break.
The Longhorns get to experience the thrill of the rare buy-game national telecast — an honor usually reserved for Duke and Kentucky — as Monday's slate of games features a Creighton vs. UT-Arlington match up on FS1 and little else. So the Longhorns land on ESPN2, because after all they have to put something on all of these channels, terrible bowl games don't start to fill airtime until Tuesday (it's Akron vs. Florida Atlantic in the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl — this isn't even a joke), and Texas vs. Tennessee State surely gets better ratings than show jumping. (Please don't come at me horse Twitter. I don't have any beef with you.)
The Tigers come into Austin with a 5-4 record after finishing last season with 17 wins and landing in the middle of the pack in the Ohio Valley Conference. Head coach Dana Ford is in the middle of his fourth season as the Tiger's head coach. Ford was a good basketball player for Illinois State a little more than a decade ago, and after making a brief run at a pro career he got into coaching. His first job was as a grad assistant on Gregg Marshall's staff at Winthrop. After that, Ford followed the typical path of an assistant basketball coach, spending some time as an assistant Tennessee State before later landing again on Marshall's staff at Wichita State. He would return to his alma mater for his final two years as an assistant before hiring on as head coach of the Tigers shortly before his 30th birthday. That isn't too bad of a career progression.
Ford has a reasonably experienced team that is perimeter-oriented and thin in the front court. 5'10 junior Armani Chaney functions as the team's point guard. He will shoot, but plays more as a facilitator. He has been somewhat up and down this season, with a few high turnover games (including giving the ball away 9 times in an OT loss to Lipscomb) that he would just as soon forget. Matt Coleman is likely to cause Chaney some heartburn.
6'3 senior Delano Spencer is the Tiger's best offensive player. He has a nice stroke from three, and has been good this season at creating contact that he uses to earn trips to the free throw line, where he is 30-34 on the season. Also rotating through the perimeter will be Darreon Reddick and Kamar McKnight.
On the interior, Tennessee State gives most of the minutes to 6'9 junior Christian Mekowulu and 6'9 senior Ken'Darrius Hamilton. Mekowulu is more of a traditional big man, and is pretty tough on the glass, while Hamilton will occasionally step out away from the basket to shoot from the perimeter. As a pair, this duo isn't too bad, but there isn't much depth to speak of backing Mekowulu and Hamilton up. The Longhorns will likely be looking inside to Dylan Osetkowski early in this game, following the pattern that they established in a win over Louisiana Tech.
The Tigers are a team that have a lot of trouble scoring, but they have been pretty solid defensively. They get after opposing ball handlers, force a few turnovers, and are good on the glass. If the Longhorns are sloppy with the ball, the Tigers will be more than willing to take said ball away. But in the end it isn't likely to matter.
The game tips in Austin at 8 PM CST, and airs on ESPN2.