In a city whose basketball love is completely thrown towards the local, oft-victorious professional team, it’s understandable why a program that only has four NCAA Tournament appearances to its name would be overlooked.
Admittedly, I was one of those people until January 26, 2019, when what seemed like an uneventful rout in Conference USA play was completely torn asunder.
It’s safe to assume that for many of you who aren’t UTSA (or Old Dominion) fans, that date won’t ring many bells. But if you dig deep enough into the recesses of your mind, you just might recall coming across highlights of this matchup — one in which UTSA erased an 18-point deficit with under five minutes remaining to emerge victorious — on your Twitter timeline. And then you’ll remember exactly how stunning an outcome it was.
In case you unfortunately don’t remember, here’s a little refresher:
That night, Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace weren’t born as stars; in reality, they were finally given the attention they deserved for quite some time.
Since stepping on campus in 2017, the pair of junior guards has proved its worth from the outset. That the team relies upon Jackson and Wallace to consistently carry them is evident in their 2018-19 usage rates, as the tandem were involved in 35.4% and 25.9% of UTSA’s total possessions, respectively.
Of course, when learning that usage rates like that belong to the two best players on a team that finished with a 17-15 overall record, it can be surmised that the duo’s scoring efficiency isn’t the greatest set of numbers. Indeed, Jackson’s propensity for scoring is propelled by the sizable amount of shots he puts up, culminating in a field goal percentage of 38.6%. Wallace didn’t fare much better — he made 42.2% of his shots from the floor last season.
Now, much of this can be owed to UTSA’s spirited style of play, which is all about quick possessions, few turnovers, and a plethora of long range shots. In this sense, the Roadrunners do their Looney Tunes namesake justice. But in a more serious sense, this offensive philosophy is well-attuned to benefit skilled scoring guards like Jackson and Wallace, two men prone to hoisting plenty of shots with a good amount of them falling on any given night.
In the past, when we have examined and exalted players like Chris Clemons, Justin Wright-Foreman, and Kendrick Nunn — guards who never shied away from heaving up shots in droves — we always lamented how they were all part of one-man-shows. Despite the astonishing amount of talent each possesses, not one of those guys ever made even a single NCAA Tournament.
Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace have each other.
Forget for a moment the fact that a great deal of talented teammates also surround those two. Consider instead Jackson and Wallace averaged 22.9 and 20.2 points per game last season, respectively. Each time the Roadrunners stepped out onto the court, it was a guessing game regarding who would outscore whom. Sometimes they’d comfortably hit their averages. On other nights they’d alternate 45+ point performances.
Understandably, hype has been built around this team headed into this year, thanks largely to the realization that Jackson and Wallace have not yet stopped improving. Even in a Conference USA field headlined by a star-studded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers team, the Roadrunners have been able to grab their share of preseason attention, a feat that is pretty remarkable for a team that most people weren’t thinking about before last January.
My advice for next season is this: Watch every UTSA game you can put in front of you. Then watch the highlights afterwards. And then tell your friends who exclusively watch ESPN Big Monday games to watch them. There’s nothing more fun than viewing high-octane teams with prolific shooters who love nothing more than doing that very act; it’s not ordinarily the case that we get to see two guys like that working together, either.
Mid-major programs will often go their entire existence praying for a single player with this kind of scoring ability to one day suit up in their locker room.
UTSA has two of those guys.