2018-19 Record: 17-15 (11-7 CUSA), No postseason
Key Returning Players: Jhivvan Jackson (G, Jr.), Keaton Wallace (G, Jr.), Byron Frohnen (F, Sr.), Adokiye Iyaye (G, So.), Atem Bior (F, Sr.),
Key Losses: Nick Allen, Giovanni De Nicolao (turned pro in Italy)
Key Newcomers: Knox Hellums (G, R-Jr., Pepperdine), Luka Barisic (F, Jr., JUCO)
If you gauge success by overall record, UTSA was relatively mediocre last season. However, there were signs of promise in year three of the Steve Henson era in San Antonio.
The non-conference slate featured losses to a non-D1 and five top-100 teams, but Conference USA play was more in line with what the Roadrunners were capable of. At their best, UTSA was a free-flowing ride capable of pouring on points when they got hot. A top-four finish with the conference’s second-most efficient offense in conference play was reason for optimism heading into the offseason.
The Roadrunners bring back the bulk of their core contributors, including the dynamic backcourt duo of Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace. They’re projected as a top-100 team in T-Rank’s preseason rankings and Blue Ribbon has them projected as the No. 2 team in Conference USA. Contending for the top spot shouldn’t be viewed as a nice surprise this season, it should be the expectation.
Key Non-Conference Games
The Roadrunners will run the gamut of mid-major scheduling tropes this year. There are games against potential Power 5 tournament teams, an MTE, as well as games against other mid-majors that span from tournament teams like Utah State to buy games like Prairie View A&M. It’s a good mix that should allow UTSA to pile up a fair amount of wins while also presenting opportunities to pick off a couple of quality teams if things break right.
Nov. 5 at Oklahoma
Nov. 8-10: Sunshine Slam (Southern Illinois, Oakland, Delaware)
Nov. 18 at Utah State
Dec. 18 vs. Oregon State (Toyota Center, Houston)
Three Things to Watch
Jackson & Wallace, partners in buckets
Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace should be appointment viewing for mid-major fans this year. As our own Cam Newton wrote last week, Jackson and Wallace are one of, if not the most, electric scoring duos in the country. Having multiple guys in the backcourt that can explode with the flip of a switch is a luxury that Steve Henson did not take for granted when speaking with Blue Ribbon during the preseason.
“There’s no question,” Henson says. “Those two guys are phenomenal scorers. They love being in the gym and we know they can get hot in a minute. It takes pressure off when those guys are on the floor.”
It’s not breaking news to say that Jackson and Wallace will ultimately determine how far this team goes. In their Conference USA preview, Three-Man-Weave noted that Jackson and Wallace were second in threes made by teammates to Wofford’s Fletcher Magee and Nathan Hoover while taking almost 70 percent of UTSA’s shots while on the floor. They are options 1a and 1b, and there’s a chasmic gap between them and rest of the roster in an opponent’s defensive gameplan.
Players of their usage level are always going leave something to be desired in terms of efficiency. They can shoot you out of a game just as easily as they can shoot you back into one. For UTSA to reach its potential, both Jackson (38.6% FG, 35.1% 3FG%) and Wallace (42.2%, 38.2%) will probably need to be a little bit more efficient with their workload. Even a small uptick could yield results that lead to a few more wins.
Can anyone, literally anyone, pick up some scoring slack?
So, uh, about that chasmic gap. Aside from Jackson and Wallace, Byron Frohnen is the leading returning scorer at just 6.4 points per game, but his primary role is as an interior player and defender. Atem Bior has also played a pivotal role in the rotation, but he too serves as an ancillary option. Luka Barisic could be an option as a pick and pop big man. The Croatian hit 42 percent from three last year as a JUCO All-American and could provide a little more spacing on the floor for the guards to operate. Adrian Rodriguez, Knox Hellums and Adokiye Iyaye will all have opportunities to contribute and try to carve out a role as a third option.
It’s all about bonus play
Last year, UTSA managed to get into “Group 1” when the Conference USA schedule hit the bonus play portion of the season. That meant the Roadrunners got to finish the regular season with games against the teams in the top five of the standings at the time. If you’re not familiar with the format of bonus play, read up on it here.
Getting into Group 1 presents UTSA with the opportunity to boost its postseason metrics. Last year, the Roadrunners picked up two extra games against Quadrant II opponents. It may not seem like much, but it matters. Any chance to boost their NET rating or add quality wins to the resume could be a difference maker in the end, whether it’s getting bumped up a seed line or even getting into the NIT if the NCAA Tournament isn’t in the cards.
As mentioned above, the third scoring option has yet to be found. Hellums might have the inside track to filling that role.
At 6’5, Hellums has the size to slide in on the wing next to Jackson and Wallace. The Pepperdine transfer has shown to be a capable shooter, too. Hellums hit 44 percent (33-75) from deep in his freshman year and 39 percent (25-64) in his sophomore year. Not a huge sample size, but enough of one to provide confidence in Hellums’s ability to capitalize on open looks. During the team’s trip to Costa Rica last summer, Hellums averaged 13.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in three contests on the foreign tour. If Hellums can be a guy that knocks down roughly 40 percent of his threes and contributes as a double-figure scorer, Jackson and Wallace should have more room to breathe and operate when they have it going.