|Eastern Illinois Panthers||11/06/18||Austin, TX|
|Arkansas Razorbacks||11/09/18||El Paso, TX|
|Louisiana Monroe Warhawks||11/12/18||Austin, TX|
|The Citadel Bulldogs||11/16/18||Austin, TX|
|North Carolina Tar Heels||11/22/18||Las Vegas, NV|
|Michigan State Spartans OR UCLA Bruins||11/23/18||Las Vegas, NV|
|Radford Highlanders||11/30/18||Austin, TX|
|VCU Rams||12/05/18||Austin, TX|
|Purdue Boilermakers||12/09/18||Austin, TX|
|Grand Canyon Antelopes||12/15/18||Austin, TX|
|Providence Friars||12/21/18||Austin, TX|
|UT-Arlington Mavericks||12/28/18||Austin, TX|
|Georgia Bulldogs||1/26/19||Athens, GA|
There is a very Texas-centric flavor to this season’s non-conference schedule, what with Texas only venturing outside the friendly confines of the Lone Star State twice before 2019. It’s a stark contrast to the Australia - Portland - Virginia schedule of last season, where the Longhorns put in more frequent flier miles than a football offensive coordinator search. What, too soon? Texas spends a lot of time in Austin this year, and while the two biggest names Texas plays happen in the city where most of us lost a stack of high society and gained a medical situation requiring regular topical cream treatments - yep, alright, definitely too soon - there are still some games of note happening in the Drum. We can get into the consequences of the scheduling at the end, I have...opinions.
The formula is the same as last year; the top tier is composed of the toughest opponents on Texas’ non-conference schedule. These are the teams likely to test the Longhorns’ on both ends of the court and reveal how well (or poorly) this squad will fare against the top of the Big 12 and beyond. The middle tier is a list of teams Texas should match up well against, but are not teams for the Longhorns to take lightly. The bottom tier are the worst of the schedule and games players might use as stat stuffers, highlight reels, and Lance Blanks foreplay.
The Vegas Games
North Carolina Tar Heels (2017 KenPom #8) and
Michigan State Spartans (2017 KenPom #6) or
UCLA Bruins (2016 KenPom #56)
The Vegas games will be the most significant test Texas faces before conference play. No matter which two of these three opponents they face, the Longhorns are going to go up against some of the toughest teams in the country. North Carolina will likely start the season in the top 10; even though they lost Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, Luke Maye is back and Nassir Little is somehow underrated as a freshman because Zion Williamson and the rest of Duke’s 2018 class sucked all of the oxygen out of the room. North Carolina will get out in transition because that’s what Roy Williams loves to do, and it will be interesting to see if Texas chooses to match the pace or slow things down. Maybe a Texas booster can get Javan Felix a seat right in Roy Williams’ field of view so the Amish Fire Hydrant can spend two hours grinning and making splash noises.
Michigan State is the Big Ten favorite, and as long as Tom Izzo can keep his distance from literally every other part of the Michigan State athletic department they’ll continue to be very Izzo-ish. Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson are gone, as well as Lourawls Nairn who I bring up because his first name is Lourawls. One word. Lourawls. How could this story possibly get better, you might ask. Great question, and my we’re-going-full-pregamer answer is that his full name is Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn….JUNIOR. Yup, his father is Lourawls Nairn, Sr. It takes a hell of a name for me to glide past the fact that his mother’s first name is Monalisa, or that his nickname comes from the movie ‘3 Ninjas’. I can not wait for this guy to have kids so I can see the next twist in this family’s naming decision tree. Right, so Michigan State should be pretty good, albeit less colorfully named.
UCLA could have challenged for the Pac-12 title, which makes them the “easiest” opponent of the three, but only in a relative sense. They lost their last Ball brother which is probably not exactly keeping Steve Alford up at night, and their incoming 8-person recruiting class (including Shaq’s son, Shareef O’Neal, who is unfortunately out for the year for heart surgery) features plenty of talent headlined by 5-star big man Moses Brown. However they are going to be desperately young and without two of their best freshmen (the aforementioned O’Neal and Tyger Campbell who is out for the year with a torn ACL) so it may be a bit of a blessing Texas is getting the Bruins in November instead of March. I could go back and forth on who should be favored here, I would tend to give Texas a slight edge at this point.
Purdue Boilermakers (2017 KenPom #5)
Matt Painter has built Purdue into an upper-tier Big Ten program and the last two seasons his Boilermaker squads have made the Sweet 16. Unfortunately for Painter, he’s coming into this season after losing Isaac Haas and Vincent Edwards to graduation. Unfortunately for Texas, Vincent was the only Edwards to leave the program; Carsen Edwards withdrew his name from the NBA draft and comes to Austin as a legitimate national player of the year candidate. It will be a stiff test for the Texas guards to contain Edwards. Painter has yet another center with extra vowels in sophomore Matt Haarms - yes, he’s from the Netherlands, they love adding an extra ‘a’ in proper nouns - who at 7-3 will be an interesting challenge for Jericho Sims, Jaxson Hayes, and any other big who spends time near the basket. Haarms did shoot a handful of threes last year (he made one….out of seven) so it’s possible his raange is expaanding. Purdue will be a quality opponent, just maybe not quite to the level of last year.
Arkansas Razorbacks (2017 KenPom #44)
I know I’m getting older by any number of metrics; my willingness to mutter about teenagers walking down the street, my inability to tell if a woman is 18 or 28 because all I know is she’s too young, the fact that polling place volunteers are no longer excited to see me “interested in the political process”. One metric that sticks out is the decreasing number of Texas fans who give a damn about hating on Arkansas. In the late 80s & early 90s, Nolan Richardson was Shaka before Shaka. He ran a press he called “40 minutes of hell” that looked a lot like what you see today as Press Virginia, and his teams were constantly a half-step ahead of a burgeoning Texas program led by Tom Penders. The Runnin’ Horns were fun, they were ascendant, they pushed to make their mark in the SWC...but they could never quite get past the Razorbacks. Arkansas wasn’t quite what Kansas is in the Big 12, but they were pretty damn close. I cut my teeth on these Texas/Arkansas battles, and I hold a special place of hate in my heart for guys like Todd Day and Oliver Miller. Oliver fucking Miller, man. That dude lined up so far off center while shooting free throws he was practically in Longview. Fuck that guy. So. Much. Is Arkansas going to be good this year? Maybe; they lost five seniors but have an eight(!) man freshman class coming in with some decent talent. (They have a walk-on named Jonathan Holmes IS NOTHING FUCKING SACRED, ARKANSAS.) All I know is Nolan Richardson is from El Paso and if he shows up at this neutral-site game I might throw something at the TV.
Providence Friars (2017 KenPom #63)
Providence has made the NCAA tournament the last five years but only won one game, which seems like about the best way to level-set for the Friars under Ed Cooley. For Providence that’s a pretty high level as they went a decade without experiencing March Madness before Cooley started this streak. For fans of a certain age, the Friars evoke thoughts of a highly competitive program who made regular trips to the NCAA Tournament in the 1970s and a handful of trips in the 80s, but since then the program has wandered the wilderness more often than not. Cooley has brought the program back to some relevance as a middle of the back Big East team, but the next step has thus far eluded him. It remains to be seen if Providence will be as good as last year; they lost the senior point guard Kyron Cartwright and their best three-point shooter in Jalen Lindsey, but he did bring in a couple of four-star shooting guards in David Duke (no relation, let’s hope) and A.J. Reeves. Ed Cooley can get his team up for big games; they were one of the only schools to beat Villanova last year, and they took Nova to OT in the conference tournament. Don’t count out the Friars.
Eastern Illinois (2017 KenPom #257)
The Panthers are awful; they’ve lost five seniors off a 12-19 squad, their offense is terrible and slow, their defense is worse, and Jay Spoonhour has had one winning record in six seasons coaching Eastern Illinois. The Panthers aren’t even the highest-rated directional Illinois school in Pomeroy. They’re going to come to Austin with a truckload of JuCo players who are definitely going pro in something other than sports, and Texas should beat the brakes off the aforementioned truck. So why am I putting this in the litmus test category? It’s not the litmus test for the team, it’s the litmus test for the fans. This is the season opener and Andrew Jones is going to be suited up. I’m sure tickets will be cheap; you can probably buy them with loose change from scalpers and the dozen Panthers fans who leave during the first TV timeout after Jericho Sims thunderdunks the life out of them. If you can’t make it down to cheer for the guy who beat leukemia in his return to the Drum, baby, what is you doing.
Georgia Bulldogs (2017 KenPom #65)
This game would be a lot more interesting 12 months from now when Tom Crean has a couple of recruiting classes under his belt. Crean got a bit of a raw deal from an incredibly unforgiving Indiana fanbase, he basically walked through the door and they were already kicking him in the dick. He was good enough to take the Hoosiers to a couple of Sweet Sixteens, but that isn’t good enough for a fanbase who still thinks Bobby Knight’s heyday was recent enough it should overcome the demographic & talent pool changes that have happened this side of Netscape’s invention. Georgia decided it needed to kick in on the nascent SEC basketball arms race, so they punted Mark Fox and brought in one of the biggest free agent names available. Georgia has some talent, but losing Yante Maten is going to be a big hole to replace and I’m not sure if 1) the rest of the upperclassmen and/or 2) the incoming freshmen will be enough to pick up the slack. This game will be interesting as a data point to see how Texas is performing two months into the season, if the Longhorns are starting to peak they should be favored in this matchup.
VCU Rams (2017 KenPom #144)
Mike Rhoades comes from the Shaka Smart coaching tree, having served as an assistant to Smart for several seasons at VCU. Rhoades is continuing the HAVOC style of play as well; VCU pressed on 30.7% of their defensive possessions last year per Synergy. To put that in perspective, Texas pressed on 7.7% and West Virginia pressed on 35.7%. So it’s fair to say Rhoades is likely to try to press Texas when the Rams come to Austin; I don’t know that I think they’ll be very successful on account of Texas having plenty of experienced ball-handlers and, you know, Shaka being the coach on the other side. VCU plays uptempo and if they’re going to press it will give Texas opportunities to push the pace as well. This could be an up and down the court game, especially if Texas’ superior depth starts to wear down the Rams. If Texas handles the VCU HAVOC, it could signify that the Longhorns are ready to tussle with the likes of the Mountaineers in conference play. If they can’t, forget I typed that last sentence. In fact, forget I typed any of these sentences. You really shouldn’t be reading any of this, it’s the drunken ramblings of an aging misanthrope who uses his internet megaphone as a distraction to fend off thoughts of the pointlessness of everything. I’ve really got to stop reading @Nihilist_Arbys before bed.
Grand Canyon Antelopes (2017 KenPom #122)
Grand Canyon is coached by former NBA player Dan Majerle, who you might know as Thunder Da-I’M SORRY WE’LL HAVE TO SPEAK UP SO WE CAN HEAR EACH OTHER OVER THE SOUND OF BLOOD RUSHING TO JEFF HALEY’S GENITALS HIS NICKNAME IS THUNDER DAN. NO, THAT’S DAN MAJERLE’S NICKNAME, IT’S NOT THE NICKNAME OF JEFF HALEY’S GENITALS. THAT’S MY BAD, PRONOUNS CAN BE TRICKY SOME-oh, there, that’s better. What I was saying was that sometimes the placement of pronouns can be tricky, I’ll try to be better going forward. Anyway Dan Majerle is really starting to oh christ I SAID DAN MAJERLE IS REALLY STARTING TO RECRUIT WELL; INCOMING FRESHMAN TIM FINKE WAS A FOUR-STAR RECRUIT WITH OFFERS FROM KANSAS STATE AND IOWA STA-oh there we go, I forgot Steve Prohm programs have that effect on Jeff. Yea, so Tim Finke was a good get for Grand Canyon, the type of player you don’t often see head to the WAC any more. If Dan Majerle can I SAID IF DAN MAJERLE CAN CONTINUE TO RECRUIT LIKE THIS YOU KNOW WHAT LET’S MOVE ON.
The Citadel Bulldogs (2017 KenPom #315)
There are a couple of games I’ll miss this season because I’m heading into international waters to cross-pollinate as many vices as possible. Years ago I was reluctant to try a cruise as my mental image of cruises consisted of senior citizens playing shuffleboard, several thousand kids scream-vomiting, or the Poop Cruise. It turns out, they’re all kinda right and all kinda wrong, but if you pick the right times of the year - like, say, the week before Thanksgiving week - you can usually find a cruise at a discount and the number of children rioting from a combination of Ritalin and sugar overload numbers in the hundreds instead of the thousands. Also, I don’t think shuffleboard is still a thing; the elderly prefer to gamble these days, and I’m happy to hang out with them as they toss their Social Security check into a metaphorical fire next to my terrible attempt at gaming the system. What I really enjoy about the cruise is the quiet; thanks to an irrational cheapness that lets me buy bike parts but not pay for internet, I’m offline for most of the trip. There’s something to sitting on the fourth deck of a cruise ship, feet stretched out into a faded shuffleboard triangle, drink in one hand, staring at the water and listening to the waves. Sometimes it’s OK to let life slow down in front of you. The one downside to this electronic abstinence is that I won’t get to see The Citadel game. I’m not going to try to stir up some sort of fake drama, Texas should win this game handily if they’re playing up to their ability. What makes this game fun is that The Citadel loves to run; in the three seasons Duggar Baucom has been the coach in Charleston, the Bulldogs’ D-I adjusted tempo rank has been 1st, 2nd, and 2nd. Their three-point attempt percentage in those same three years: 3rd, 5th, and 3rd. Baucom’s favorite shot is the first available shot, preferably from deep. They don’t shoot the three particularly well, but they try to make up for it with sheer volume. Imagine a team full of guys with the conscience of Trae Young and the shooting ability of Jacob Young, that’s The Citadel.
Louisiana Monroe Warhawks (2017 KenPom #230)
Ed Orgeron gets a lot of well-deserved press about being a human incarnation of Louisiana, what with the fact that he has a face that looks like he goes noodling with his forehead and everytime he talks it sounds like he’s shucking crawfish with his tongue. Ed Orgeron doesn’t have shit on the head coach of Louisiana Monroe, Keith Richard. Orgeron was born in Larose, LA? Richard was born in Baton Rouge. Orgeron played at LSU and Northwestern State? Richard played at Northeast Louisiana, which is now known as Louisiana Monroe. Orgeron spent 8 out of 33 years coaching in Louisiana? Pffft, Richard spent 30 out of 34 years in Louisiana, and those four years were at Marshall in West Virginia which is Louisiana but with coal mountains. He was even an assistant at LSU before Orgeron. Orgeron isn’t Louisiana, Keith Richard is Louisiana. Listen to this glorious southern accent. I bet he pronounces butter ‘buuuuuutahr’.
Radford Highlanders (2017 KenPom #170)
Did you know Radford won one more NCAA tournament game than Texas last year? Sure, it was a First Four game against another 16-seed (LIU-Brooklyn, who as it turns out is not married to Andy Roddick) and their reward was getting throttled by Villanova, but it was a win. Radford has some talent, most notably Edward Polite, a 6-5 senior small forward who shot 42% from three in conference play after going *checks notes* two for thirty in non-conference games. Maybe he realized he was left-handed over winter break. Anyway, Texas should win this game. Radford may want to win, but there can be only one winn-DAMMIT I couldn’t stop myself. I really tried, I swear.
UT Arlington Mavericks (2017 KenPom #128)
The geniuses at UT Arlington decided to part ways with Scott Cross because he won too much I guess? Rumor has it the UTA AD wants to be the Gonzaga of the Sun Belt Conference but at a fraction of the cost of actual Gonzaga; internal friction over facilities and budgets ended with Scott Cross being let go, which sucks for UT Arlington but also sucks for UT Austin because Cross is now an assistant for Jamie Dixon at TCU. Dixon’s gain is everyone’s loss. The Mavericks went out and hired former Rick Barnes and Chris Beard assistant Chris Ogden to his first head coaching job. Ogden is a quality recruiter and likes living in Texas, so he’s motivated to make his mark in Arlington. Unfortunately for him, Arlington is a soul-devouring hellbeast of a city, it’s like if they made a city out of Nicolas Cage bloopers from the Ghost Rider sequel. Arlington is what happens when you give God curry from a restaurant with a 1.5-star Yelp review and tell him how much money Adam Sandler makes. Before Adrian Beltre came to Arlington, he let everyone rub his head for luck. Arlington is the worst. UT Arlington probably won’t be a lot better than the city they live in on account of their entire starting roster graduating. Ogden has brought in a number of JuCo players to fill the void, but this year is likely to be a couple steps below what we’ve seen recently.
How the Non-Conference Shakes Out
On one hand, scheduling a non-conference with more patsies than not makes sense; the Big 12 is enough of a crucible that doing well in conference play is usually enough to get Texas into the big dance. On the other hand, it limits the chances for Texas to build its resume outside of conference play. If Texas is sitting at 9-9 or 8-10 at the end of the Big 12 regular season, they might wish they had a win or two in the early going that looked good in the NET rating system. Just ask Oklahoma State and Baylor; they had the same 8-10 conference record but missed the cut in part because of their non-conference schedule.
Having said this, Texas has opportunities to make their mark. Winning one or more games in Las Vegas will carry a lot of weight, as will wins against Purdue, Georgia, and/or Providence. If Texas manifests a squad that tests the upper edges of what I think is plausible, that Litmus Test group will be at worst 3-2 and anything above that means Shaka Smart’s staff is cooking with gas. If Texas goes to Vegas, gets torched twice, and drops the Litmus Test record to 2-3 or worse, the season could spend a lot of time on the bubble. The Mid-Level group results being any lower than 4-1 should be cause for concern, and dropping a single game in the Mehhhhh group will put us all on notice. If Texas can come out of their non-conference schedule at 11-2 or better, their non-conference resume is likely fine. 10-3 is where context starts to matter; does Texas beat the patsies but lose to North Carolina, Michigan State, and Purdue, or do they hang a W on someone like Michigan State but fumble a match against a lower opponent? However, if Texas can enter conference play with a 11-1 or better record and the Georgia game yet to play, it’s time to get excited.