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Tough schedule should test No. 17 Texas’ early momentum

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A hot start means nothing without a strong finish, and a tough schedule stands in the way of that.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at North Carolina Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Texas was seated at No. 17 in the latest AP Poll, marking the program’s first official ranking since the Legends Classic in November of 2016 and the best throughout the entire Shaka Smart era. To vouch for their national relevance is a premature notion. Still, though, Texas appears ready of crossing a threshold to an era of respectable play after suffering through a 50-50 start throughout Smart’s first three seasons on the Forty Acres.

That said, scheduling could have their potential on a leash.

(Some) Marquee Matchups:

19 Purdue: Sunday - 12/9 - 5:00 - ESPN2

Key Game: Their final non-conference matchup sets the tone for conference play. A win here likely pushes them into the top-15 and validates them as a tournament contender. VCU and Providence each await prior to the Big 12 slate as well.

@ 12 Kansas State: 1/2 - 8:00 - ESPN2

West Virginia: 1/5 - 8:00 - ESPN2

20 Texas Tech: 1/12 - 1:00 - LHN

@ 2 Kansas: 1/14 - 8:00 - N/A

@ Iowa State: 2/2 - 1:00 - N/A

2 Kansas: 1/29 - 6:00 - N/A

Key Game: If Texas should split-the-series with Kansas, this matchup at the Erwin Center will be pivotal.

@ West Virginia: 2/9 - 7:00 - N/A

Kansas State: 2/12 - 8:00 - N/A

Iowa State: 3/2/19 - 1:00 - N/A

20 Texas Tech: 3/4/19 - 8:00 - N/A

In some ways, the schedule is an asset, albeit a rather risky one.

In two weeks, Texas could easily be treading water. A loss to Purdue, VCU and/or Providence leading up to an in-conference bloodbath could mean the Horns are closer to .500 than the top-15. On the other hand, we could also see Texas finally begin to take off under Smart, using key wins and a high strength of schedule to leverage a better seed once March arrives.

Regardless of how Texas finishes, a 5-1 start headlined by a win over North Carolina shows signs of a heartbeat in a static hoops program. After failing to capture that potential momentum-building non-conference throughout each of the previous three seasons, Texas finally has one under its belt, and revealed the very next day that it can trade haymakers with a prominent program such as Michigan State.

With the schedule unlikely to relent, though, can Texas capitalize on its recent momentum and amass some early, resume-building wins?

That chore begins on Friday evening with the 5-1 Radford Highlanders headed to the Frank Erwin Center.