MBB: Drive for 3
Nov. 6, 2013
UT Arlington (0-0) at Boise State (0-0)
ARLINGTON, Texas - UT Arlington is starting anew again, heading into its third conference in the last three seasons in search of a third straight postseason berth.
The Mavericks have been through this drill before and they're ready for the next adventure.
"I know the Sun Belt Conference is going to be very good this year and we're excited for that challenge," UT Arlington coach Scott Cross said.
The drill begins Friday at Boise State in a nonconference rematch from last season. Tipoff is 9 p.m. CT with the radio broadcast on KKGM 1630 AM. The Broncos beat UT Arlington 64-46 on Jan. 2, 2013 at College Park Center.
The Mavericks are 43-23 over the last two seasons, good for third among Texas' 21 Division I programs in victories. UT Arlington, 19-14 last season, reached the NIT in 2012 as the Southland Conference regular-season champions and the CIT in 2013.
UT Arlington is 17-37 in season openers, but 7-0 in season openers under Cross. The Mavericks notched the only road-opening win in program history on Nov. 9, 2012 at CSU Bakersfield (62-60) with Cross at the helm.
"It's just a great time of year and we're extremely excited and ready to get it started," Cross said going into his eighth season as head coach. "The guys have been working really hard and I think we've got a great group. We've been battling some injuries and that's the main thing that's been holding us back a little bit, but we're starting to get our guys one by one back on the basketball court. I'm expecting a great season this year."
UT Arlington was picked seventh by league coaches in the Sun Belt Preseason Poll. Senior forward Brandon Edwards earned Third Team All-Sun Belt preseason honors.
Two starters return for 2013-14, the first season in the Sun Belt, in Edwards and senior guard Shaquille White-Miller. Other returning letter winners are junior guard Jamel Outler, sophomore guard Drew Charles, senior forward Greg Gainey and junior center Stuart Lagerson. Charles and Gainey are expected to redshirt.
The newcomers are senior guard Reger Dowell, junior forward Vincent Dillard, junior guard Lonnie McClanahan, junior forward Anthony Walker, freshman forward Brandon Williams and freshman forward Jorge Bilbao.
"We'll have a lot of length and a lot of athleticism," Cross said. "I think we'll score the basketball, but I think the key with this team is how well we'll defend and how tough we're going to be. If we can do that, run the defense like we have the last two years, I think we have a chance to have an outstanding season this year."
While Cross teams are traditionally known for defense - UTA finished 25th nationally and first in the WAC in defensive field-goal percentage at 39.1 percent last season - Edwards expects improvement on the offensive end.
"We've got a lot of scoring threats out there with Reger Dowell and Lonnie who can create that for others, and everyone's confidence is getting better," said Edwards, the team's returning leader in scoring and rebounding. "I think the offense is going to flow much smoother this year."
The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a trip to face 2012 national champion Kentucky on Nov. 19 as part of the Keightley Classic. UT Arlington gets Cleveland State at CPC on Nov. 15 for Homecoming.
The Mavericks open their home season Nov. 12 against Samford at College Park Center. The 18-game Sun Belt slate begins Jan. 2 against Arkansas State. The Sun Belt Tournament begins March 13 in New Orleans.
The men's college basketball season is guaranteed to end in Arlington, as the Final Four comes to AT&T Stadium.