Non-conference foes pose danger for team searching for identity

Nick Cremona

With the recent departure of three key players, the Texas basketball team will have to bolster its ranks quickly in preparation for next season.

The recently announced non-conference schedule for the 2011-12 campaign is highlighted by early season tests from UCLA, Temple and North Carolina.

The Longhorns will head west to take on the UCLA Bruins Dec. 3 to take on a team that, like Texas, is looking to build upon last season’s shortcomings. The Bruins have an experienced team, and will hold a considerable advantage with the game being held in Los Angeles. In the Longhorns’ most recent trip to the City of Angels, they fell to a USC team that was far less talented than the Bruins will be. This will be the first real test for Texas, as the Bruins’ Reeves Nelson and the Wear twins — David and Travis — are all solid players. The focus in this game will be on the big men of Texas and how they respond to physical play from the Bruins’ frontcourt.

Nine of Texas’ 13 non-conference games will be played at the Frank Erwin Center, including a Dec. 17 meeting with Temple, a team rising in the national ranks. The Owls are another experienced team that is extremely well-coached.

They were bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by San Diego State this past year, but that should only make them better this season. Led by Argentinian Juan Fernandez, the Owls’ guard play will be another test for the Longhorns. In the end, Temple may prove to have a lack of size to close out Texas, but the game should be close regardless.

The week following the match-up with Temple, the team will head to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face Harrison Barnes and the Tar Heels. The last time the two played, Cory Joseph hit a mid-range jumper with 1.4 seconds left to give Texas a 78-76 win. Two years ago, the Longhorns came out with a 103-90 win. Safe to say, the Tar Heels and their home crowd will be looking for revenge. Texas will have to contain the likes of Barnes, as well as Tyler Zeller, a seven-footer who knows his way around the basket. By this time of the year, the Longhorns should be beginning to figure out where they stand as a team, and that could make for an exciting match between these two powerhouse teams.

Fans will have plenty to watch in the early goings of the season. These types of high-profile games do a lot to build confidence in a team, as well as gauge how well the team is maturing. The Longhorns have grown accustomed to playing tough games early on in the season, it has been a key factor in their success in recent years. How will the Longhorns rebuild after losing three starters from a year ago won’t be known until the season begins in November.

Whatever the answer, it will have to be quick, because these games are coming — fast.