|Northern Colorado Bears||11/05/19||Austin, TX|
|Purdue Boilermakers||11/09/19||West Lafayette, IN|
|California Baptist Lancers||11/12/19||Austin, TX|
|Prairie View A&M Panthers||11/15/19||Austin, TX|
|Georgetown Bulldogs||11/21/19||New York, NY|
|Duke Blue Devils OR California Golden Bears||11/22/19||New York, NY|
|McNeese State Cowboys||11/30/19||Austin, TX|
|UAB Blazers||12/03/19||Austin, TX|
|Texas A&M Aggies||12/08/19||Ft. Worth, TX|
|Central Michigan Chippewas||12/14/19||Austin, TX|
|Providence Friars||12/21/19||Providence, RI|
|High Point Panthers||12/30/19||Austin, TX|
|LSU Tigers||1/25/20||Austin, TX|
Texas is dealing with an apathetic fanbase, the last year in an arena known for looking like an instrument that gets louder than the crowds inside, and a coach on the hot seat, and they decide the solution to all of that is to load up on home games against teams most people are unaware of? On one hand I get some of this is due to the good teams getting the ‘away’ part of the home-and-home deals, the Purdue and Providence games were going to be road games regardless. I also get the need to stack some Ws, but almost every home non-conference game is going to have a NIT-sized crowd. If they hadn’t landed a home game against LSU as part of the Big 12/SEC challenge, this might have been the worst slate of home games I’ve seen in 20 years. CDC better be hammering the $5 seats if he wants attendance to Prairie View A&M to crack 2500 people. I know he’ll deflect by pointing to the A&M game as a game of interest, but last I checked Fort Worth isn’t Austin and that game is the day after the Big 12 conference championship game so Longhorns dollars are pointing towards a different stadium in the metroplex.
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.
LSU Tigers (2018 KenPom #19)
This game should be fun on a number of levels, not the least of which is Shaka Smart facing off against yet another former assistant. Last year Smart got bit by Mike Rhoades when the team lost to VCU, but Texas & LSU have scrimmaged against each other in previous preseasons and the games were reportedly very close contests. Will Wade is living proof that the NCAA isn’t really going to hammer any basketball program any more, as the FBI released a hit tune called “Coaches Making It Rain (2019 Remix)” featuring vocals by Will Wade. Wade took a school suspension just long enough to compose a dubstep track titled “Nah, Son” where the drop is a vocoded sample of Wade dragging his testicles across Mark Emmert’s front lawn. The track hit #1 on Beatport and Wade was reinstated, and $omehow he’$ magically $till recruiting wonderfully. Losing Tremont Waters hurts, but quality guard play is not going to be a concern for them. If things fall the right way, the Tigers could come to Texas as a ranked but beatable opponent. Texas should be a bigger team, but guards will probably determine the winner here. This will be the best home game in non-conference play, and it won’t hurt that one of these teams will be looking for revenge from the football season. Yes, I’m writing this the week before the LSU game. Odds I’ll come back and edit it? 3/2 at best.
The 2K Empire Classic Games
Georgetown Bulldogs (2018 KenPom #100) and
Duke Blue Devils (2018 KenPom #4) or
California Golden Bears (2016 KenPom #241)
If I’m being honest, this is only here because of the potential Duke game. If these games were taken individually, I’d put Georgetown in the mid-level section and California probably in the ‘mehhhhh’ section. Many people are hyping up Georgetown this year because something something Patrick Ewing, but I look at his roster & recruiting and think he’s still a year away from potentially putting together something that brushes the top 25. It’s not that I think they’ll be bad, but they seem to only be loading up on centers because something something Patrick Ewing and last I checked having 4 centers and no guards isn’t the best path to March Madness. California was abysmal last year and they brought in Mark Fox, who we all know built Georgia into such a powerhouse that they made the NCAA Tournament twice in nine years. Even Billy Kennedy thinks that’s underperforming. One of Fox’s assistant coaches is Trent Johnson, who you may remember from his epic 0-18 Big 12 run in 2014 at TCU. CDC hired him, by the way. So yea, pretty sure Cal isn’t taking out Duke, which means if Texas takes care of business against the Bulldogs the Longhorns get to face Duke in Madison Square Garden which always ends fantastically oh god oh god oh god no no no nooooooo this isn’t happening again mother said it would never happen again please tell me nobody’s wearing black uniforms. The Blue Devils will come into the game ranked probably top-5, they’ll have a larger crowd, and they will know that I am watching this game under my protective wooby while sucking my thumb because this nexus of terrible circumstances and memories is an unending taser to my C5 vertebrae. If Smart beats Duke in Madison Square Garden, he gets another year on the end of his contract. This is the law, sorry not sorry. Exorcising that particular demon has to be worth something; I don’t care what I have to do to make this happen, I will MacGruber this shit into existence.
Purdue Boilermakers (2018 KenPom #9)
As much grousing as I did about the schedule at the beginning of this piece, the overall schedule is solid. They have the chance of playing as many as four ranked teams in non-conference with all of them being potential quad-one wins which will be helpful come March. It just sucks that all of these games are outside the state of Texas.
The Longhorns won their home game against the Boilermakers last year despite Carsen Edwards doing Carsen Edwards things and Edwards’ family making more noise than the entirety of the Longhorns fans. (It was legitimately surprising just how much louder they were on TV, it sounded like at best a neutral-site game.) Edwards is gone along with Ryan Cline (you may remember him from his work going 7-10 from three and shoving Rick Barnes’ Tennessee squad in a Greyhound locker) and Grady Eifert, which combined are basically impossible to completely replace. Purdue should still be good, Matt Haarms should be a terror inside for Jericho Sims, Will Baker, and anyone else who decides to try touching his perfectly Dutch hair. This is the second game of the season and the Boilermakers may very well still be figuring things out; last year they left Austin 6-4 before going on a 20-6 run the rest of the way. It’s possible Texas wins this and it continues to look better as the year goes on; I expect Painter to have the Boilermakers contending for a tourney bid by the end of the season.
Providence Friars (2018 KenPom #79)
The Friars should be a solid team this year, perhaps good enough to finish in the top three of the Big East, make the NCAA Tournament and win a couple of games. Alpha Diallo is back after testing the NBA draft waters, which is great news for coach Ed Cooley and terrible news for anyone who watched the Friars beat Texas in Austin last year. Diallo is a great talent and will test Texas in a number of ways; he’s smart, long, and can vex younger players with his playing style. Diallo is also a stout defender, so whoever is playing on the wing or at the four is going to need to be on their game to deal with him. A.J. Reeves is back as well and will be a headache for Texas if he can stay healthy. This is likely to be a better team than Texas lost to last year, and with it being on the road, you can make a case this might be the toughest game on the Longhorns’ non-conference schedule. I mean, other than the MSG Voldemort game, because I’m not an idiot I’m just averse to reliving trauma taser taser taser taser deep breaths it’ll be ok.
Texas A&M Aggies (2018 KenPom #91)
This isn’t going into the litmus test category because frankly, Buzz Williams is having to build the program almost from scratch. His recruiting is going pretty well, but he’s patching so many holes that it’s probably going to be a year or two before the Aggies are talking about a top-half SEC finish. Williams is bringing in six freshmen and a JUCO transfer, which is a lot to synthesize into a cohesive unit less than ⅓ of the way through the year. Savion Flagg and TJ Starks are good players, but this game should favor Texas. The mitigating factor is the game being in Fort Worth and metroplex Aggies descending on the arena turning it into a de facto road game for the Longhorns. Perhaps the enthusiasm gap - though if Texas beats Duke, maybe it won’t be that big a gap - will help the Aggies be more competitive than they realistically should be. I’m generally apathetic on the “should they/shouldn’t they” argument, but the game is happening and if the schools start to play each other more often in basketball it’s a compelling story if they’re both good. The basketball has been more competitive than the football most years, so it has a different feel to it.
Central Michigan Chippewas (2018 KenPom #129)
Central Michigan presents an interesting challenge in that last year they not only hit a high percentage of threes while playing at a high tempo, but their three-point defense was one of the best in the country. This is a team full of upperclassmen who attack the offensive glass despite being one of the shortest teams in the country, for example their ostensible center last season was 6-7’ David DiLeo. There are six players on Texas taller than the Central Michigan ‘big’. Many of the Chippewas are JUCO transfers; as such we may see an uncommonly poised & aggressive team roll into Austin in December. If we’re lucky, they’ll bring their naked shark-humping football coach along with them. Or, maybe if we’re not lucky, I guess, I shouldn’t assume what everyone’s into here.
Northern Colorado Bears (2018 KenPom #193)
Texas Tech played Northern Colorado last year and were NCAA Tournament runners-up, so go ahead and book your tickets to Atlanta everybody. Fun fact: the host for the Final Four is Georgia Tech. Why Georgia Tech and not another Atlanta school like Emory or Mercer? I don’t know, maybe the NCAA is a big fan of Bobby Cremins. Northern Colorado shoots a lot of threes and lets others shoot a lot of threes, so this one could get way out of hand if the Texas guards are hot. I spent a good amount of time trying to remember why Greeley, CO - the home of Northern Colorado - was stuck in my brain as a place I knew. Then it dawned on me: Northern Colorado used to be known as the Colorado State College of Education where Sayyid Qutb spent a couple of years before returning to Egypt and his experiences in Greeley were heavily referenced in what is now considered one of the primary documents for the Muslim Brotherhood and later Al-Qaeda. Way to go, Northern Colorado, you basically did 9/11. If it wasn’t for your loose women showing their shins in public, we wouldn’t be in Afghanistan right now. I hope you’re happy.
California Baptist Lancers (2018 KenPom #197)
There’s no way this is a real basketball team. Wait, is this an Overwatch team? I bet this is an Overwatch team and they’re playing a match on Godzillatron. That should be fun.
Prairie View A&M Panthers (2018 KenPom #209)
Nobody hits the JUCO market harder than Panthers coach Byron Smith; 10 of his 13 scholarships are going to JUCO players. Smith has this program pointed in the proper direction, they went to their first NCAA Tournament in 21 years last year where they were one of the ‘First Four’. They beat up on the SWAC, going 17-1 in conference play and winning the conference tournament. Still, their Pomeroy rating is likely to be in the 200s when Texas plays them, and as long as Texas takes care of the ball - the Panthers were 10th in the nation in steal rate last year - they should come out with a win.
McNeese State Cowboys (2018 KenPom #331)
Every year when I do the non-conference section, I end up going down a wormhole on the various towns and schools Texas schedules. I learn all sorts of random facts, and invariably the oddest ones deal with Louisiana schools. For instance, did you know that the McNeese State football stadium holds around the same number of people as the Erwin Center? How about that Lake Charles is tied for the most humid town in the continental US? I know everybody has their own metrics for deciding which school to go to so I’m not judging people who love living in mosquito soup, but the primary reason I ruled out following my sister to the University of Houston was that it took five weeks after leaving campus for my butt crack to stop sweating. I spent three days in Houston and my body internalized so much gulf moisture that I was a walking humidifier for a fortnight. By the tenth night, I thought my spleen had become a secret launching point for elderly Galveston-area mosquitoes looking for affordable housing in a drier climate. Houston is what happens when a mop spends a year in a bucket of lean. But on the bright side, at least Houston also gets hurricanes.
High Point Panthers (2018 KenPom #223)
TUBBY SMITH ALERT. High Point is the latest stop on one of the weirdest coaching careers in recent memory; Tubby Smith has won an NCAA Tournament, been to three Elite Eights, and worked every year since his first head coaching gig in 1991. The last 22 years have been weird as Smith has gone from Kentucky to Texas Tech to Memphis to High Point, which is the exact opposite you would expect. Smith has Benjamin Buttoned his coaching career. Smith is 68 years old and coaching in the Big South; I’m not saying it’s a bad conference, I’m just saying you can probably *at most* name one other coach in that conference and only because he has Texas ties. It’s an odd place for a guy who cut down the nets to be without being caught up in a scandal involving a fake trip to hike the Appalachian Mountains or an incident with a married woman at an Italian restaurant. I realize he played there, but that was during the Nixon Administration. Any way the Panthers aren’t great.
How the Non-Conference Shakes Out
In my eyes, the non-conference breaks down as 9 games Texas should be favored in (most heavily) and four games - Purdue, Providence, LSU, and (potentially) Duke - where Texas will give us some clue who they are this year. If Texas can take care of business against the 9 (I did say *if*) then they have a chance to start their NCAA Tournament resume before Big 12 play begins. I think the most likely outcome is a 2-2 split. If I’m going to rank the games from most to least-likely wins, I’d put it down as Purdue, LSU, Providence, Duke. If Texas goes 0-3/0-4 against this group, something I wrote last year still feels very applicable: “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”. Yep, still true. Texas can forge its own path, the question is which one.