Texas Basketball: Everything you need to know about the Empire Classic

Brock Cunningham, Texas basketball. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Brock Cunningham, Texas basketball. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /

Texas basketball will face its first real test(s) of the season this weekend at the 2023 Empire Classic in Madison Square Garden.

The Horns have jumped out to a 3-0 start in Year 1 of the Rodney Terry with double-digit wins over Incarnate Word, Delaware State, and Rice to open the 2023/24 season. The competition will stiffen this weekend as Texas travels to New York City to compete in the 29th Empire Classic.

The four-team multi-team event (MTE) features the 19th-ranked Longhorns as well as No. 5 UConn, Indiana, and Louisville. Texas won this event in 2014 with wins over Iowa and Cal. They will look to repeat that success in a field loaded with basketball blue-bloods.

When: Sunday, Nov. 19 (2:30 p.m. CT) and Monday, Nov. 20 (TBA)

Who: Texas vs. Louisville, UConn vs. Indiana

Where to watch: ESPN

Breaking down Texas basketball and the 2023 Empire Classic.

Texas vs. Louisville

Texas basketball squares off against Louisville on Sunday inside Madison Square Garden. The Longhorns are just 1-4 in program history against the Cards, though the last matchup between the two teams came back in 1997.

Louisville basketball has been in turmoil since Chris Mack was fired mid-way through the 2021/22 season. Kenny Payne was hired to lead the program in the 2022 offseason, and to say his first 18 months at the helm have been disastrous would be an understatement.

Last season, Louisville finished with a 4-28 record. No, that is not a type-o. Four wins was the fourth-worst mark in Division 1 last season and the lowest win total for the program since 1941.

The Cardinals are off to a 2-1 start this season, but by no means has it been pretty.

They opened up with a 94-93 over a UMBC team that was picked to finish sixth in the America East. They followed that up with an 81-71 loss to Chattanooga at home and are coming off a 61-41 win over Coppin State.

The Cards were picked to finish 14th out of 15 ACC teams in the conference preseason poll, and as the Louisville Courier-Journal writes, “Kenny Payne’s year hangs in the balance in New York.”

Louisville has talent. Four players, including sophomore Michael James, were ranked in the top 100 in their respective recruiting classes.

James is averaging 18 points and six rebounds per game this season. The 6-foot-6 guard can score from anywhere on the court and has the green light to put up as many shots as he’d like. If you can bottle James up, you can completely stymie the Cards’ offenses. They are a poor shooting team that does not share the ball well.

KenPom’s projected score of this matchup is 79-65 in favor of the Horns. He gives Texas a 91% chance to emerge victorious on Sunday, putting themselves in the Empire Classic championship game on Monday night.

UConn vs. Indiana

No. 5 UConn and Indiana get Sunday’s action started with a noon CT tip inside Madison Square Garden.

The reigning National Champion Huskies have not missed a beat to start the 2023/24 season. UConn comes to New York with a 3-0 victory and an average margin of victory of 35.7 points. All five Husky starters are averaging over 14 points per game. This team has so many different ways to beat you and is rightfully ranked as one of the best teams in the country.

Indiana also enters this game with a 3-0 record, but it has not been easy. The Hoosiers opened the season with a six-point win over FGCU, an eight-point victory over Army, and a nine-point win against Wright State. They are rated as the 71st team in the country by KenPom and will likely straddle the NCAA Tournament bubble all season.

The Hoosiers are paced by frontcourt mates Kel’el Ware (18.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG) and Malik Reneau (15.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.0 APG). Senior guard Xavier Johnson is an elite lead man and is surrounded by shooters.

I expect this to be a high-scoring affair, but I would be pretty surprised if UConn did not emerge victorious. KenPom has the projected final as 80-68 in favor of the Huskies.

If UConn and Texas were to take care of business, that would set up a Monday night championship battle between two top 20 teams. That would be a terrific early-season measuring stick for a Texas team still meshing together.

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