The 2017 Longhorn veterans have been to the NCAA Tournament and have experience competing on the NCAA’s biggest stage. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, especially of late. Texas went 11–22 in the 2016-17 season, ending its season after a loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament.
Now, after snagging a talented recruiting class and training all summer to ensure the 2016-17 result is not repeated, Texas will finally step on the hardwood for a meaningful game Friday night, squaring off against Northwestern State.
“The wait is almost over, and it cannot get here fast enough,” junior shooting guard Kerwin Roach Jr. said. “The wait for me has been long. I’ve been itching for it. Everyone’s been itching for it. We all want to get our first game jitters out, and we want to get the season rolling.”
After a highly productive freshman season where he earned a spot on the All-Big 12 Newcomer Team, Roach’s efficiency took a slight dip in his second year with the program. But the veteran shooting guard — who is referred to as “Snoop” by his teammates and coaches — has set lofty goals for himself to benefit the team as a whole.
“This year you could potentially see the number one defense in the whole nation,” Roach said. “I’m trying to win Defensive Player of the Year, Big 12 and nationally. It’s something that I feel like will help me be really successful and help the team win.”
Texas’ defense ranked No. 81 in college basketball last season, allowing 68.9 points per game. But with plenty of additions to the team’s frontcourt in the offseason and Roach leading the backcourt, the Longhorns have potential to keep opponents’ buckets to a minimum.
“In my eyes, he’s the best defensive player in the country,” junior shooting guard Eric Davis Jr. said of Roach. “I have utmost belief in him, and I know he’s gonna do it. It’s not just on him to get ready to go out and here and say ‘This is my assignment I’ll lock up.’ It’s us too — our guard ego. By helping and even getting him mentally ready to prepare, this is definitely a realistic goal he can get.”
Improving the defense is one important factor in improving this Texas team. Head coach Shaka Smart, now in his third season, has stressed culture and chemistry — elements that will help this team return to contention in the Big 12, and possibly the NCAA tournament.
“Culturally, that is obviously something that we focus on,” Davis said. “I think we’re in a really good place right now. We have culture class every week. We’re in a good place right now but we can always improve.”
With a game against Northwestern State tipping off Friday at the Frank Erwin Center, Texas needs veteran leadership to make sure this season starts better than the last. Texas opened last year beating Incarnate Word by just five points at home and this year Davis hopes for a different result versus the Demons.
“We’re going to treat every game like it’s a big game for us,” Davis said. “We’re going out there to win, to make a statement for us.”