What does the Texas basketball program need to do to work their way into the top 25 this season with a manageable non-conference slate?
There’s no doubting that the Texas basketball program has a good amount of talent and depth for the second straight season under head coach Shaka Smart heading into the 2019-20 regular season. But it hurts that Smart couldn’t get this team further than the NIT last season. In fact, it feels like a long time now since Texas was last playing in the NCAA Tournament.
The reality of the matter is that making the NCAA Tournament one time in the last three seasons isn’t good enough for Smart with the expectations that come along with coaching for the Texas Longhorns basketball program.
In the preseason Big 12 standings that released earlier this month, the Longhorns slotted at No. 4. This is yet another deep year in the Big 12 for hoops and the Longhorns could be right in the thick of it behind the likes of the Kansas Jayhawks and Baylor Bears to win the conference title. Kansas started to slip up a bit last season behind the likes of the Texas Tech Red Raiders (who were one game away from winning a National Championship over the Virginia Cavaliers).
Yet, there’s plenty to be excited about with what the Longhorns bring back and signed from the 2019 recruiting class. That list of incoming talents includes four-star shooting guard Donovan Williams and five-star center Will Baker. There’s plenty of talent up and down the rotation to push this Texas men’s basketball team into the top 25 consistently this season. It’s just a matter of Smart converting on this opportunity finally.
In the preaseason AP Top 25 for college basketball this season, the Longhorns weren’t actually ranked but did receive votes. While other Big 12 teams like the Jayhawks and Red Raiders sat high up in the polls, the Longhorns are left on the outside looking in.
As usual, though, there is plenty of potential for this team to make an actual run at the Big 12 this season. Texas has not been able to capitalize on the overall talent and depth they have at their disposal since Smart took over more than four years ago. It seems like a long time since the Longhorns made the move to bring Smart over from the VCU basketball program to replace the departed Rick Barnes (who is ironically having a lot of success at Tennessee).
If all the players the Longhorns are bringing back can actually steady out this starting lineup, this could be a solid run in the Big 12. Texas also has ample opportunity to make headway during the non-conference slate. The non-conference slate will be highlighted by facing teams like the rival Texas A&M Aggies, Providence Friars, and Purdue Boilermakers. There could also be another encounter with the uber-talented Duke Blue Devils through a regular season invitational tournament.
The Longhorns didn’t prove enough yet that they should be ranked in the top 25 heading into the 2019-20 regular season. They finished out last season with a mediocre record and an NIT Championship. At least some of the younger players on the roster last year got valuable postseason experience against still quality opposition. That is at least one positive note about playing so many games in the NIT.