Last November, Texas opened up its season with a loss to Washington in Shanghai, China. This year, the Longhorns hope to get started on a better track.
No. 21 Texas tips off its season with a matchup against Incarnate Word at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Frank Erwin Center. The home opener won’t provide the same spectacle as a trip overseas, but head coach Shaka Smart is happy to start the season in front of a burnt orange crowd.
“We’re glad to be opening up [at home],” Smart said. “It gives us a level of normalcy in terms of routine as we start the year. I’m excited to see how our team responds.”
The meeting will be the first between the two programs. The Cardinals finished last season with a 17–12 record but lost their four leading scorers this offseason.
Junior guard Shawn Johnson highlights the team’s returning lineup after averaging 9.5 points per game and racking up 34 blocks last season. He’s expected to carry the load on both sides of the floor for the young
With sophomore guards Kerwin Roach Jr. and Tevin Mack suspended for the opener, Texas turns to sophomore Eric Davis Jr. and freshman Andrew Jones to man the point guard responsibilities. Davis and Jones scored 12 and 17 points, respectively, in Texas’ exhibition game against Angelo State.
Davis has expressed his eagerness to be Texas’ go-to option late in games. And although Smart said the Longhorns probably won’t have one player who always has the ball in his hands, he said Davis has the potential to be the “big moment guy.”
“Eric can be as good as he wants to be,” Smart said. “But Eric needs to understand there’s a set of things that go into being the best you can be, and he also needs to know that to whom much is given, much is expected.”
The Longhorns also hope for big performances from their freshmen. Guard Jacob Young led the team in scoring against Angelo State with 21 points, followed by Jones and forward Jarrett Allen, who scored 14. Allen was named to the 50-player 2017 Naismith Award Preseason Watch List on Thursday, an award given to the best player in college basketball.
Smart said he’s excited about his freshmen’s progress so far and thinks they’ll continue to get better as they gain experience. With three games slated for the next week, the Longhorns will be tested early. Still, they’re ready for the challenge.
“We’re definitely at the point where it’s time to start playing some games,” Smart said. “That’ll give us a chance to gain experience and learn. I’m sure there’ll be some things that we feel we need to really get better at in a hurry and we’ll continue to address those things.”