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Texas faces UT-Arlington in final tune-up game before Big 12 play

The game tips at 7 PM CST, and airs on the Longhorn Network.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Texas basketball takes the floor tonight for the final time in 2018, and in its last game before the start of the conference season. The Longhorns will face 4-8 UT-Arlington, a team that in past seasons has given Texas trouble, but is not currently remotely close to the level it was in those years.

Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns haven’t had the non-conference season they were hoping for. Texas is 7-4, with some head-scratching losses — but also a couple of very impressive wins. It has been a mixed performance so far this season where game results have largely been determined by if Texas perimeter shots are falling. Texas is 5-0 in games where it connects on ten or more three point attempts, and 2-4 when it does not. The Longhorn defense has been consistently strong, but offensive performance has to date been rather tightly coupled to whether or not shots from the perimeter fall.

Shooting was the story for Texas in its most recent game, a loss to Providence where the Longhorns were without their best player and shot 6-24 from beyond the arc. Shooting is going to continue to be the story for the rest of the season.

So a little about who those shots will be taken against tonight. In the spring, UT-Arlington made one of the more perplexing coaching changes in college basketball in recent memory, firing long-time head coach Scott Cross. Cross was the man who had built the Mavericks program into one of the better teams from single bid leagues in America, but the UTA administration apparently had grown frustrated with a lack of NCAA tournament appearances, and decided to move on. Cross’ record over the previous three seasons was 72-33.

I am going to be really straightforward — this is a stupid way to run an athletic department, and a good reminder that loyalty to a basketball program only goes one way and is not rewarded. Cross surely had many chances to move up to a better paying gig over the years, but he stuck with UTA until they wouldn’t stick with him. Cross did land on his feet, getting a gig on Jamie Dixon’s TCU staff, and will have an opportunity to become a head coach again pretty much as soon as he wants to.

None of this is Chris Ogden’s fault, of course. The first-year UTA head coach is a man familiar to Texas. Ogden was a 6’7 perimeter shooter who played four seasons for the Longhorns, appearing in 85 games and scoring 144 points. After his career ended, Ogden got into coaching, working on Rick Barnes’ staff at Texas and Tennessee, before joining Chris Beard as an assistant at Texas Tech. UTA athletic director Jim Baker, who had worked at The University of Texas prior to taking over the program in Arlington, fired Cross and gave the job to Ogden.

Ogden has his work cut out for him at UTA. All five starters on last season’s team were seniors, as well as three other players of consequence; Kevin Hervey and Eric Neal aren’t walking through that door. This means that Ogden is in a difficult position as a coach, trying to catch a falling anvil out of the air by replacing a popular coach with few returning players.

Faced with this situation, Ogden brought in four junior college players, three of whom — Brian Warren, Tiandre Jackson-Young, and Radshad Davis — are now in the starting lineup. Breaking in a new coach and a bunch of new players has led to a rocky start to the year. The Mavericks have struggled with turnovers and poor shooting, but did manage to break a seven-game losing streak with an overtime victory over Cal Poly just before the Christmas break.

It is probably going to be a long season for Ogden. The game tips at 7 PM CST, and airs on the Longhorn Network.