By: Brian Hawley
Coming off of another mediocre season, which saw the 20-12 Texas Longhorns eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament, head coach Shaka Smart and his squad open up the 2016-17 campaign with high hopes, ranked 23rd in the nation by the AP Poll. Despite questions surrounding this team’s ability to contend for a league or NCAA championship, Smart seems to have his team prepared another year. Here are five things to watch as the Longhorns prepare to embark on their 2016-2017 campaign:
Very Soft Preseason Schedule
The Longhorns will surely look to benefit from a relatively easy preseason schedule before being put through the rigor that is the Big-12 conference once again. After opening up against Incarnate Word and Louisiana Monroe, Texas should have little concerns until their big matchup with Michigan on December 6th. Look for Shaka Smart to have his team in a very good position come their first league matchup against Kansas State with two or fewer losses.
Defending the Home Court Key in Big-12 Play
Perhaps the biggest knock on the Longhorns last year was their inability to come up with big wins at home as well as steal wins on the road. After finishing a dead .500 at 6-6 in BIG-12 play last year, the Longhorns will need to concentrate their efforts on protecting their home court against the better league opponents:, West Virginia, Oklahoma, in order to be competitive come February.
Staying Healthy is a Must
Although it may be a somber subject for the Longhorns fans reading this, we must note that the loss of Cameron Ridley was a major issue for the club last season. While averaging nearly a double-double every night, the senior big man was the literally the rock that held together the Longhorns defense before his injury. Maintaining a healthy squad will surely be an indicator of Texas’s success this year.
Must-win games in conference
Although other major conferences such as the ACC and PAC-12 may beg to differ, many analysts believe that the BIG-12 is the strongest conference in basketball this year, which puts even more importance on Texas avoiding being upset in league play. Again, in order to be in the picture for a conference championship Texas will have little margin for error against opponents like Texas Tech and TCU.
How does Shaka Smart perform?
The young head coach is now set to enter his second full season as head coach at the University of Texas, his first job at a major university. This encompasses not only the team on the court, but also how he recruits to the university, whether or not he is able to compete for a conference championship, etc. While Smart is surely full of confidence, it will be interesting to evaluate his team in his second full season at the helm, who is currently projected to be a 7-seed in the NCAA tournament according to Joe Lunardi.
Photo Credit: University of Texas