This year’s Empire Classic features the reigning national champions, a Big 12 powerhouse and two other programs rich with basketball history. That’s a lineup we can all be thankful for.
- Indiana (3-0)
- Louisville (2-1)
- Texas (3-0)
- UConn (3-0)
First Round (Sunday, Nov. 19)
- UConn vs. Indiana – 1 p.m. (ESPN)
- Louisville vs. Texas – 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Indiana Hoosiers had a pretty defeating postseason to top off their 2022-23 campaign. Losing in their conference tournament to a 10-seed Penn State, and shortly after losing to Miami in the second round of the NCAA Tournament was not the way Indiana was planning on going out. This season, they’ve started out hot at 3-0, winning tight games against teams such as Florida Gulf Coast and Wright State. This tournament will test the Hoosiers’ ability to win against a higher level of competition.
Sophomore transfer Kel’el Ware leads the Hoosiers in scoring, averaging 18 points per game. He’s followed by fellow big man and sophomore Malik Reneau who puts up 15 points per game on average. Their inside game might be strong, but they’ll play teams (like UConn) this week that are also strong inside. If they can pick up their three-point shooting, Indiana has a chance of taking home a trophy.
Louisville’s previous season is one that fans would probably like to forget about. A 4-28 overall record isn’t something that they should be proud of. This season, they’ve already won half the amount of games they did last season, meaning their might be better days ahead for the Cardinals. In an ACC Conference full of blue bloods, they’ll have to prove themselves this week in order to see if they are on track to a winning season.
Redshirt Sophomore Mike James leads the Cardinals in points per game, averaging 18 this season so far. James leads the team in every scoring category, leading one to ask if anyone else on the team is putting up a substantial amount of points to help him out. This could be an issue for Louisville this week; the other teams in this tournament are no joke. Someone else will have to step up if they plan on winning.
The Texas Longhorns are coming off of a dramatic season of events. An early departure of former skipper Chris Beard thrusted assistant Rodney Terry into the spotlight. While some thought this would deter the Texas program, it did anything but that. Terry went onto coach the Longhorns to a Big 12 conference title and a NCAA Tournament run that led them all the way to the Elite Eight. This season, Terry returns without “interim” in his title and we’ll see if he can have the same success in his first year as official head coach.
5th-year seniors Max Abmas and Ithiel Horton lead the team in points per game, both averaging 14.7. Junior Tyrese Hunter chips in 14 points per game, proving that the Longhorn guards are the offensive meat of this team. Scoring may not be an issue for this team, but turnovers most certainly are. Texas has averaged a whopping 16 turnovers among their first three games this season. That number will not win games against more competitive teams.
All eyes will be on the Huskies and Coach Dan Hurley this week as they face their best competition thus far this season. The reigning national champions have an undefeated season so far, winning the last three games by a convincing margin, but the competition in the Empire Classic will be the first real test to see if this year’s team has a chance to repeat history.
Redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban has led the team so far in scoring with an average of 17 points per game. He is joined by Tristen Newton and Donovan Clingan who both average 15 points per game respectively. While the team has a strong field goal shooting percentage, their three-point percentage is lackluster. This could be a problem against teams with a strong inside presence.
Empire Classic Predictions
First Round: UConn vs. Indiana
This matchup is one that everyone should be watching. Both are storied programs with a rich history cemented in college basketball. The similarity in these two teams is something that I find of interest though. These two teams are both led by post players on both sides of the ball. The matchup inside the paint will be an important factor of who will ultimately win this game.
Both teams will have to make some adjustments outside the arc, meaning the three ball will become an asset in scoring with so much going on inside. This game will prove who has really been working on their three’s because both teams have struggled so far this season in that category. UConn has more experience overall and a better three-point percentage, making them the favorites in this matchup.
First Round: Texas vs. Louisville
Based on prior success, Texas is the obvious winner in this contest. They have multiple playmakers, more depth and more experience than Louisville. However, the Longhorns haven’t been able to take care of the ball this season against teams that were easy opponents. The Cardinals will be the most competitive team they’ve faced on paper, and they could give them some trouble on defense if they’re not careful.
Because Texas has more depth, Louisville will have to rely heavily on Mike James to play lights out. This is a big ask against a team that won the Big 12 title last season, which is arguably the most competitive basketball conference in recent years. If other players on this Louisville team can step up to the plate, they might just be able to pull off an upset.
Championship Game: UConn vs. Texas
You could make a strong argument that this is one of the most exciting match ups thus far this season. While UConn is a highly talented team who proved that last season, one team that they didn’t have to face was the Texas Longhorns. I’m not saying that Texas would have knocked UConn out of the tournament last season, but it would have came down to the wire.
On paper, this Texas team has less flaws that UConn; they’re only real issue so far is the amount of turnovers they’ve committed. It’s awfully hard to count UConn out though with the star power in the paint and experience they bring from last year’s national championship team. Ultimately, the Longhorns play in a conference with the top competition where there is little margin for error. The games they play weekly are as competitive as any March Madness game.