No. 5 Texas, with a new coach and a handful of different players cobbled from the transfer portal and the prep ranks, will open its season against visiting Houston Baptist on Tuesday while looking to put the disappointment of last season’s first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament in the rear-view mirror.
Gone from the bench is coach Shaka Smart, now at Marquette. Into the fray in Austin is Chris Beard, the former uber-successful Texas Tech coach who once was a student manager for the Longhorns.
Beard and his staff have assembled a roster of talent that has transferred from Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Utah, UMass, Vanderbilt, and Creighton to join four high-profile holdovers from the Smart regime.
This marks Texas’ highest preseason AP poll ranking since the 2009-10 season, when the Longhorns were No. 3. It also marks the first time in program history that Texas has been ranked in the AP preseason poll under a first-year head coach.
If there was ever a Texas team built to win, and win now, it’s this one.
“In my mind, you’ve got to have depth, you’ve got to have a great roster, and you’ve got to have some NBA guys,” Beard said. “You need some tough guys, some unselfish guys. Said it before – we’re proud of the first team we’re putting on the floor.”
Senior guard Marcus Carr, who has played in 92 games (87 starts) for Pittsburgh and then Minnesota in three previous seasons, is the Longhorns’ new leader at the point. He has been named as the Big 12 Conference’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year as well as to the watch lists for both the NABC Division I Player of the Year Award and the Bob Cousy Award.
Senior guard Andrew Jones, a holdover from last season’s Texas team, and junior forward Tre Mitchell — 44 games, 43 of them starts for UMass the past two seasons and a first-team Atlantic 10 All-Conference pick last season — were named preseason honorable-mention All-Big 12.
The Longhorns, who finished 19-8 last season, swamped Texas Lutheran, a Division III team, 96-33 in an exhibition game on Nov. 1 in Austin, shooting 56 percent from the floor and forcing 25 turnovers. Texas started five players, and had three more coming off the bench, who were double-digit scorers last season.
“We look forward to building this thing,” Beard said afterward. “(The win over Texas Lutheran) was a start, and we’re going to get it done here.”
Into that daunting gauntlet ventures Houston Baptist of the Southland Conference, a squad that went 6-19 last season and lost in the second round of the conference tournament.
“We couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming season and the start of a new journey with this team,” said Houston Baptist coach Ron Cottrell, who will begin his 31st season at the Huskies’ helm.
Houston Baptist lost its leading rebounder and scorer to the transfer portal, but returns its next five top scorers, including sophomore guard Za-Ontay Boothman, who was named second-team preseason All-Southland Conference.
Boothman finished second on the team in scoring last season (10.2 points per game) while making seven starts. He scored in double figures in 11 contests.
Expect the Huskies to be a tough out once play begins in the new-look Southland Conference – they lost 11 league games by single digits last season.
–Field Level Media
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