Texas begins its season ranked No. 21 in the AP preseason poll, which was released Monday. But head coach Shaka Smart isn’t buying into the hype yet.
The Longhorns make their return to the Frank Erwin Center on Wednesday for an exhibition game against Angelo State. Smart said he wants his players focused on each other and what it takes to win more than preseason expectations.
“To be completely honest with you, we’re a long way away from being in the Top 25 right now,” Smart said at a press conference on Monday. “Whoever votes on those polls, they have their opinions, but we all know in the preseason what that can mean. I do think this is a team that can grow and develop and become all the things that we want to become, including a team that’s talked about and voted in that area.”
Texas will feature a limited roster against the Rams due to personnel issues.
Graduate transfer Mareik Isom will be out for a few weeks after having his ankle scoped due to a bacterial infection. Sophomores Kerwin Roach and Tevin Mack won’t play against Angelo State due to a violation of team rules. Smart said both Roach and Mack will return to action soon.
With those three veteran players unavailable, Texas looks to its talented big men to get a win over the Rams.
“It’s far from ideal, that’s for sure,” Smart said. “[We only have] seven scholarship guys dressed out. Those guys better be ready to play a lot. It’ll be good experience for them.”
Freshman forward Jarrett Allen highlights the group after missing the intrasquad scrimmage with a hamstring injury. Allen, fellow freshman James Banks and senior Shaquille Cleare will split responsibilities in the paint for Texas.
Cleare didn’t get significant playing time in his first year as a Longhorn. Smart said he worked hard during the offseason and dropped 40 pounds in an effort to increase his production this season.
“I’m happy with the guys we’ve brought in,” Smart said. “Shaq’s had a terrific offseason. I really, really am hopeful that he can take advantage of the work he put in. I think Shaq is ready to take a big step.”
Texas’ bigs look for a tune up against Angelo State’s senior forwards Thomas Tshikaya and Gustavs Puhvos. The Rams lost three of their top five scorers from last season, but the senior-heavy roster still brings some talent to the matchup. Senior guards Prince Foster and Quay King will manage the floor for the Rams and provide most of the offensive production.
Tip-off for the exhibition game is set for 7 p.m. at the Frank Erwin Center.