Hoops Preview: Northwestern State

Shaka Smart. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Shaka Smart. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Texas v. Northwestern State
7:15 p.m.

The 2017-18 version of the Texas Longhorns goes live tonight as UT hosts the Northwestern State Demons at the Erwin Center.

Last season, the Demons finished 13-16 (7-11 in the Southland).

Offense Keys

Matt Coleman running the show. TJ’s first game manning the point for Texas? 4 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds in a loss to Arizona. DJ’s first game manning the point for Texas? 7 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds in a win over Alcorn St. Matt’s first game manning the point for Texas? Fair or not, given his recruiting ranking and the fanfare he came to UT underneath, Matt will likely be judged against his fellow Texas point guard brethren for as long as he’s a Longhorn. Texas doesn’t need a hero, but they do need competent set play initiation, ball handling against pressure and facilitating a roster with plenty of guys who can score, but few who are truly capable of creating for themselves in one-on-one situations.

Bamba/Osetkowski court positioning. After an offseason of rarely being on the floor at the same time in fairness to the other frontcourt options for Texas, Mo and Dylan now begin figuring out how their on-court relationship is going to function game in and game out. For my part, what intrigues me the most is how Shaka and the staff figure out the positional assignments as it pertains to their court positioning. Both Dylan and Mo can shoot from deep. Both Dylan and Mo can be passers/facilitators (Dylan moreso, but still). Both Dylan and Mo need to provide offensive rebounding. Both Dylan and Mo need to function, at least somewhat consistently, on the low block as post offense contributors/release valves on penetration and on lobs. How does Shaka manage all those?

Who’s ready to be a perimeter shooter? Jones and Roach are going to get big minutes. Davis should, too. But how long is the leash for any of them? How about Young? Or Febres? The good part for all five of them is that they will have far less reason to attempt to create quality looks out of nothing with the inclusion of Coleman/Osetkowski. Still, the truth remains that this Texas team will likely only go as far as their perimeter shooting takes them. Let’s see how much being further and further away from last year helps the returnees and whether or not Febres is the outside marksman I believe him to be.

Defense Keys

Attacking Coleman? If I were a coach and my team was opposing the Longhorns, I would instruct my starting point guard to take the action right at Coleman as many times as he could. Matt’s nature as a player is that he wants to be aggressive. It’s one of the things that makes him so capable. But he can’t help to steady Texas’ half court offensive issues if he’s on the bench in foul trouble. Will opposing coaches get that memo? You have to assume they will. Will that have happened already? I wouldn’t doubt it. How Matt shields himself from committing avoidable fouls will be a key all year long.

Roach and Jones. Get after it, guys. Get after it. After a year of playing with a quality interior defender in Allen, Kerwin and Andrew now get to play with arguably the most gifted interior defender to ever put on a Longhorn uniform (which is saying more than a little about Mo’s talent level). Nevertheless, taking chances in passing lanes, attacking with traps and looking to force turnovers is great, but they still need to accomplish those things inside the context of not giving up wide open looks to capable shooters if it doesn’t work. That will be a work in progress, for sure, but it’s exciting to consider the defensive prospects those two bring.

Defensive rebounding. I file this under “Shouldn’t Be a Problem, But Might Be”. There’s no reason that a team with the kind of length and athleticism Texas possesses should be a negative on the defensive glass. But that’s exactly what it was in Australia and against A&M (to varying degrees). Texas needs to figure out its rebounding identity and take that part of the game seriously.

Prediction: Texas 88 – Northwestern State 61