Expectations are on the upswing for No. 12 Texas, and visiting UTEP is the first hurdle in the quest for success when the teams battle on Monday in their season opener in Austin, Texas.
It will be the first official game for the Longhorns in the new Moody Center, a lavish multi-purpose arena that will seat under 11,000 for basketball.
Texas went 22-12 last year and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
The Longhorns return five rotational players from coach Chris Beard’s inaugural season in Austin. Two of the five returners earned All-Big 12 Preseason honors, including leading scorer Timmy Allen and Marcus Carr, the team’s second-leading scorer. Christian Bishop and his 7.0 points per game also returns.
“With the returners, so many benefits from that,” Beard said. “This year specifically it’s not just about those guys returning and as guys that played and won in the NCAA Tournament last year. It’s more about the exact guys that we wanted back. Each of them chose to come back to Texas for the right reasons.”
Added to the mix for the Longhorns this season are a pair of transfers in Tyrese Hunter (Iowa State) and Sir’Jabari Rice (New Mexico State), who both led their former teams to wins in the NCAA Tournament last year. Hunter made All-Big 12 Preseason Honorable Mention.
Texas also welcomes a four-man freshman class that is ranked as the No. 6 recruiting haul in the country, according to 247Sports.
Texas’ 22 victories last year marked the most it’s had since 24 in 2013-14. Based on that performance and their returning players, the Longhorns were picked to finish third in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches’ Poll, behind Baylor and Kansas.
“This time last year we were busy working at building a culture, building a team,” Beard said. “Year 2, it’s more about defending the culture and executing it daily.”
The Miners roll into Austin after a 20-14 season in their first year under coach Joe Golding. The season ended with an appearance in the Basketball Classic, marking UTEP’s first 20-win campaign and postseason showing since the 2014-15 season.
The only carryovers from last season are sophomore forwards Jamari Sibley, Kevin Kalu and Ze’Rik Onyema.
Golding said the preseason practices have been “two steps forward, one step back, but that’s the way it should be with 10 new guys,” which makes him appreciate his three returnees even more.
“The defense is ahead of the offense right now,” Golding said. “We spent a lot of time on defense more than we have offensively. We have so many new pieces that we don’t want to put stuff in just to put it in. We just are trying to figure our team out to what fits us best.
“I think our offense is a work in progress, it will be a work in progress probably through the first month of the season.”
The Miners were picked in the Conference USA Preseason Coaches’ poll to finish eighth in the 11-team league.
This is UTEP’s first matchup against Texas since the 1991-1992 season; the Miners lead the series 3-1.
–Field Level Media