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Get To Know A Marquette Basketball Opponent: #12 Texas

The Longhorns come to Milwaukee for a game for the first time since 1977.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 02 Big 12 Championship Game - Texas vs Oklahoma State Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Name: University of Texas at Austin

Location: Austin, Texas, obviously

Founded: After a nearly 60 year process dating back to Texas’ time as part of Mexico, through independence, through secession from the Union and the end of the Civil War, The University of Texas finally opened their doors on September 15, 1883.

Enrollment: 53,082 students with 80% — about 42,465 — as undergraduates.

The Choo Choo Song: “The Eyes of Texas” is the official school spirit song of the University of Texas, and was written in 1903. You should be able to recognize the melody from I’ve Been Working On The Railroad, which was written in 1894.

The original lyrics of I’ve Been Working On The Railroad are clearly intended for the wildly racist minstrel shows, both in terms of the intended accents to be used and the actual words involved. The Eyes of Texas lyrics refer to then-university president William Prather, who would close speeches to the student body with “The eyes of Texas are upon you.” That language has connections to Civil War era language “The eyes of the South are upon you,” which carries connotation that the secession and ensuing war over slavery was, in fact, a good thing to do. In 2020, UT football players spoke out over the song and its racist history and connotations, and this turned into a major problem for university leadership. Multiple donors, for lack of a better phrase, threw a fit that black football players didn’t want to hear a song that they felt was racist against them. Ultimately, nothing changed, right up to the fact of football coach Steve Sarkisian talking about how Eyes was UT’s song and everyone on the team was going to be proud to stand up for it after every UT football game at his introductory press conference in January 2021.

The Marquette-Texas Connection: Hey, did you know this? Did you hear this? Marquette men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart left the University of Texas’ basketball program in March 2021 to come to Milwaukee. Not many people are talking about this relative to this game, I find it to be a fascinating angle to Wednesday night’s basketball game.

Notable Alumni: Three Nobel Prize winners; Austin Ligon, co-founder of CarMax; Alan Bean, lunar module pilot on Apollo 12 and the fourth man to walk on the moon; Abdullah Tariki, co-founder of OPEC; Three Pulitzer Prize winners; Matt Hullum and Michael Burns, co-founders of Rooster Teeth; Robert Cade, inventor of Gatorade (take that, Florida); novelist Rick Riordan, best known for the Percy Jackson series; Robert Crippen, pilot of the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle; movie directors Wes Anderson, Robert Rodriguez, and Thomas Schlamme; Red McCombs, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications; Former First Ladies of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and Laura Bush; bunches of actors, including Academy Award winners F. Murray Abraham, Marcia Gay Harden, Renee Zellweger, and Matthew McConaughey; Jeannie Leavitt, the first female fighter pilot in the US Air Force; and finally, Rex Tillerson, former United States Secretary of State.

Nickname: Longhorns

Why “Longhorns”? Other than there’s a lot of cattle ranching in Texas, specifically with the longhorn breed of steers that were introduced to the area by Spanish settlers/colonists? Not that I can tell.

Two different mascots, two different names: Texas has two mascots. There’s Bevo, the live Texas Longhorn steer, as seen at the top of the page, and there have been 15 different steers in the role of Bevo since 1916. Why is the steer named Bevo? Literally no one knows. There’s also a traditional Guy In Suit mascot, and I learned through the process of writing this preview that the Guy In Suit mascot is NOT named Bevo. Kind of just presumed it was. The costumed mascot is named Hook ‘Em, an obvious reference to the campus tradition/handsignal of “Hook ‘Em, ‘Horns.” Hook ‘Em has been a part of Texas athletics since November 1977.

And Now: Bevo tries to fight Uga, the live Georgia bulldog mascot at the 2019 Sugar Bowl.

I’m not a smart man, but I’m not stupid enough to try to stand anywhere near a largely speaking unattended steer. Two men holding guide ropes and a third watching intently, and Bevo’s just gonna do whatever he wants. Why? BECAUSE HE’S BIG COW AND HE DOES NOT LIKE YOU.

Speaking of Hook ‘Em: The Hook ‘Em Horns index and pinky fingers up is the official handsign of Texas and Texas athletics. The unofficial handsign of any team that plays against Texas is Horns Down, merely taking Hook ‘Em and pointing your fingers downwards instead. Please note: UT and their fans tend to get incredibly persnickety about this. This includes official UT social media channels making a video to mock Marquette volleyball players last year following UT’s Sweet 16 victory against MU after they felt the Golden Eagles were using Horns Down in a pregame dance. I thought their hand gesture was open to interpretation.

Should the entirety of Fiserv Forum use Horns Down during Texas’ introductions on Wednesday night? Maybe!

Last Season: 29-9 with a 12-6 record in Big 12 play. The Longhorns went 22-8 after head coach Chris Beard was arrested on a felony battery charge and subsequently fired for cause and Rodney Terry took over as interim head coach. That includes winning the Big 12 tournament title, earning a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and reaching the Elite Eight before bowing out to Miami, 88-81.

Final 2022-23 KenPom.com Ranking: #5

Final 2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #6

Preseason Poll: Texas was picked to finish third in the 14 team Big 12 this season, landing behind Kansas and Houston, the only two teams to earn a first place vote in the polling of the league’s coaches.

This Season: 6-1 so far, with a neutral site loss to Connecticut in their only KenPom top 150 game so far this year and a skin of their teeth 81-10 escape win over a wretched Louisville team as their only other Major 6 game so far.

Current KenPom.com Ranking and Projection: #30 and projected to finish 20-11 with a 9-9 record in the Big 12. That would put them in a four-way tie for sixth place.

Current T-Rank Ranking and Projection: #29 and projected to finish 20-11 with a 9-9 record in the Big 12. That would put them in a two-way tie for sixth place.

Returning Stats Leaders

Points: Tyrese Hunter, 10.3 ppg
Rebounds: Dylan Disu, 4.4 rpg
Assists: Tyrese Hunter, 2.5 apg

Actual Stats Leaders

Points: Max Abmas, 16.7 ppg
Rebounds: Dillon Mitchell, 8.9 rpg
Assists: Tyrese Hunter, 4.1 apg

Shooters? Max Abmas, best known as the 6’0” guard that led Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16 back in 2021, is the leading scorer and leading shot taker on the Texas roster. Not just from outside, which is our general focus here, but overall as well. More importantly, most of Abmas’ shots are behind the three-point line, as he’s lining up 7.3 triples per game out of his 13.7 attempts. He’s connecting on over 41% of his long range attempts this season and he’s a career 39% shooter. He’s not on a hot streak, he’s not benefiting from playing a level up from ORU and having better talent around him, this is who Max Abmas is.

Now, to be clear, Abmas is benefiting from the talent around him. Ithiel Horton, a 6’5” grad student with stops at Delaware, Pitt, and UCF, is cashing in a borderline insane 48% of his 4.1 long range attempts per game and he’s a career 38% shooter. Brock Cunningham, a 6’6” fifth year Longhorn, is splashing nearly 47% of his 2.1 attempts per game, and that’s right about in line with what he’s done the last two seasons.

If Marquette’s defense can convince Tyrese Hunter that he needs to shoot a lot of three-pointers in this game, that’s potentially a good thing. He’s third on the team in attempts per game at 3.1, but he’s only hitting 27%. Hunter was a 27% shooter in his freshman campaign at Iowa State, and a 35% burst of shooting in Big 12 action last year lifted him to 33.7% for the entire season.

Bigs? Kadin Shedrick has moved into the starting lineup after the first two games of the season, and the Virginia transfer measures in at 6’11” and 231 pounds. He’s going to cause Marquette problems in a number of ways. He’s a good rebounder at both ends of the floor, he blocks a bunch of shots, he doesn’t commit that many fouls, and he draws more than almost anyone else in the country. That’s not an overstatement, as Shedrick ranks #17 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes this season.

At nearly nine rebounds a game, we have to include Dillon Mitchell in the discussion of bigs on the Texas roster. However, he comes in at 6’8” and 205 pounds, which is not exactly what you would call traditional size for a big. The sophomore from Tampa was a top 10 prospect in the Class of 2022, and seems to be showing why that was the case so far this season.

There’s two other guys that warrant a mention here. Ze’Rik Onyema measures in at 6’8” and 235 pounds. He’s only playing 15 minutes a game, but he is averaging 4.1 rebounds in that amount of action. The transfer from UTEP has boosted his rebounding rates from last year when he was top 500 on both ends of the floor according to KenPom.com, and he’s particularly getting after it on the offensive glass. We’ll see how much he plays, as he started against UConn when Shedrick was out of the lineup altogether and racked up 28 minutes but hasn’t topped 14 minutes in any of the four games where he came off the bench this season.

The other guy is Dylan Disu, who averaged 8.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season for Texas, but he was a monster in the postseason for the Longhorns: 17.8 points and 9.0 rebounds in three Big 12 tourney games and two NCAA tourney games. I’m talking about last year because he suffered a foot injury early in UT’s Sweet 16 game against Xavier...... and has not played since. A foot injury that’s not 100% after six months for a guy who is listed at 6’9” and 225 pounds is not good news. It’s clear that the Horns would be better with him in the lineup because they haven’t looked great in their only two high major tests of the season so far, but it’s up to the doctors and what Disu tells them about how he feels to determine whether or not he can play.

Wisconsin Connections? Texas guard Tyrese Hunter attended St. Catherine’s High School in Racine before enrolling at Iowa State as a freshman and then transferring to Austin. I’m sure there will be UT fans at the game that aren’t in one way or another connected to Hunter, but if you see someone at Fiserv in burnt orange and white, there’s a solid choice it’s because of Hunter.

Head Coach: Rodney Terry, in his second season in charge at Texas, but his first full season after replacing Chris Beard as the interim midway through last year. He’s 28-9 with the Longhorns both as interim and full time head coach, but 191-165 for his career as a Division 1 head coach after a seven year tenure at Fresno State and a three year run at UTEP before joining Beard’s staff as an assistant.

What To Watch For: Here’s my big question for this game: Why is Marquette favored by eight points by the KenPom.com algorithm and by 6.7 according to the T-Rank computers? It would seem to me that mere home court advantage in Milwaukee isn’t that much of a deal between two teams in the top 15 of the Associated Press poll.

Part of it is that Marquette is better than expected, climbing from #11 to #6 in the KenPom rankings and from #16 to #11 in the T-Rank numbers. Part of it is that Texas is worse than expected, falling from #16 to #30 and #19 to #29 in KP and T-Rank respectively. Part of it is that Texas isn’t the team that the computers expected because Dylan Disu hasn’t played for them yet this season.

Part of it is that Texas is mediocre at valuing possession of the basketball on both ends of the floor. Marquette is elite when it comes to turnovers, both refusing to give it up easily on offense (#11 in the country) and demanding it from you on defense (#22). Texas is right around the middle of the country in both departments. If Texas isn’t interested in taking it away from a Marquette team that generates a lot of efficiency from making sure a shot goes up, that’s in MU’s favor. If Texas is going to struggle to hold on to the ball against a MU defense that is using turnovers to balance out flaws that they have on that side of the ball, that’s in Marquette’s favor. If we’re looking at who Marquette might want to focus on pressuring, Tyrese Hunter (22.5% turnover rate) and Brock Cunningham (26.0%) are the two prime targets on the UT roster.

Creating problems for Texas before they get a shot up on offense is probably going to be crucial for Marquette in this game. It’s not a secret that the Golden Eagles are not a great rebounding team. They’re about the same after their own misses as they were a year ago, and after allowing Wisconsin to grab 48% of their misses on Saturday, Marquette is a couple of percentage points worse at defensive rebounding rate than they were last year..... when they were one of the 60 worst teams in the country. This brings us to the Horns, who are grabbing one-third of their misses this season, which ranks #78 in the nation. That’s a potential problem for Marquette, but again: It’s only a problem if Texas gets a shot in the air in the first place.

Where shots come from could have an impact on this game. While Texas is a good three-point shooting team (37%, #71 in the country) and Max Abmas is a game changer in that regard, they don’t like shooting threes as a team. A little more than one-third of their shots come from behind the arc, and that has them ranked #261 in the country right now per KenPom. They’re adept at scoring off the pass (#60) even without that long range shooting to help prop that up, so perhaps the Golden Eagles can affect the game by getting in passing lanes.

On the other end of the court, Texas is one of the best teams in the country at getting you to stop shooting three-pointers. They’re top 20 in the country in that regard, and since Marquette’s offense can be easily summarized as “don’t shoot anything that’s not a three or a layup,” that’s particularly interesting. Is it because teams are trying to challenge Kadin Shedrick in the middle to get him out of the game because the Longhorns are a little bit thin in terms of backups behind him? Is it a concerted effort to drive opponents off the line? What’s Marquette going to do here? MU is a little bit shaky on that whole three-point shooting thing right now with Sean Jones, Stevie Mitchell, and Chase Ross all sub-par at best from behind the arc and David Joplin running hot and cold from game to game. The Golden Eagles are one of the best inside scoring teams in the country even without a physically imposing big man (Oso Ighodaro’s in great physical condition, but he’s not going to get confused with Zach Edey walking down the street), so this could come down to whether or not MU can take advantage of what the UT defense is letting them have.

All-Time Series: Marquette leads 1-0 after a 65-56 victory on December 27, 1977.