It’s rare that one point in a season-opening 12-point victory means so much. Andrew Jones went 0-2 from the field and 1-2 from the free throw line in Texas’ 71-59 win over Eastern Illinois on Tuesday night. However, just getting Jones back on the court meant the world for the Texas Longhorns. He was the team’s leader last season until he was diagnosed with leukemia in January. Jones immediately stepped away from the team to undergo treatment, and he battled the disease all through the spring and summer. Shaka Smart and company loved seeing him back, and Jones will look to do more against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Friday night.
This is Arkansas’ season opener, and the Razorbacks have no injuries or suspensions to report ahead of this game. However, Texas may be without reserve Royce Hamm Jr. who is dealing with a knee issue. Guard Kerwin Roach II looks set to return too after serving a one-game suspension.
Texas opened as a 6.5-point favorite on the CBB betting line, but that has since dropped a full point to 5.5. The total has come down even further since the college basketball betting odds were released, moving from 152.5 to 151.
What’s at Stake?
Early season non-conference wins against name schools are important come Selection Sunday. Even though the games took place four months ago, many teams don’t play more than two or three quality non-conference opponents in a season as conferences have gotten bigger and bigger. A win here could eventually be huge for a Texas team that seems to perennially be on the bubble under head coach Shaka Smart.
These two old Southwest Conference rivals will be playing on Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas in the Armed Forces Classic. It will be a nice gesture to all the men and women in uniform throughout the United States.
Since the game is being played on a military base, it will not have the partisan crowds we are used to even with neutral site games. Additionally, the game will be played in a small recreation center that seats about 1,200 people. That could mess with players sight lines as we have seen in the past.
Only three scholarship players return from last year’s Arkansas team, and coach Mike Anderson will be using a lot of new faces in this one. They do have Daniel Gafford back though, so look for the team to rely on him early on.
Gafford averaged 11.8 PPG and 6.2 RPG, and he is a force down low with his 6’11 frame. He averaged just 22 minutes per game as a freshman last year, but he is ready to become the leader the team needs. He was one of 25 college players selected to work out at the Nike Skills Academy with NBA players this offseason, and that should have helped mold him into a better player.
This will be an early indication to see how far he has come. Texas is known for its defense and Dylan Osetkowski and Jericho Sims are two athletic big men that will look to shut him down. Sims has a lot of raw talent, and he will be a tough match-up for Gafford if he stays out of foul trouble.
Another thing to watch in this one is how Arkansas’ young guards hold up. Jalen Harris is the only guard with any sort of collegiate experience in the backcourt, and that didn’t come at Arkansas. He transferred in from New Mexico and sat out last season, and he didn’t get to build up much of a rapport with this team as so much of last year’s team departed.
Smart’s HAVOC defense has rattled young guards throughout his coaching tenure, and the Longhorns could force a lot of turnovers in this one. Arkansas’ coaches have been trying to get them prepared for just how much Texas presses, but there is a big difference from what you see in practice to what you see on the floor.
I love the under in this game. Unique environments like what we’ll have tonight trouble players. Outdoor games or games in cavernous stadiums like the Alamodome and Ford Field are generally lower scoring, and this will be something out of the ordinary. Additionally, I see Texas’ pressure being too much for Arkansas, and the Longhorns will pick up the cover.