The last time the Texas Longhorns (24-10, 9-7 Big 12) had double-digit wins within their conference was in the 2007-2008 season. That year they made it to the NCAA’s Elite Eight. The past two years they have accumulated identical Big 12 records of 9-7. Last year, after finishing tied for sixth in the conference, the team went two deep in the Big 12 Tournament and lost to Baylor 86-62. In the NCAA Tournament, they were out in the first round, losing to Wake Forest 81-80. This season the Longhorns should do better than last year record wise and against the college basketball point spread but they are still a good season or more away from being the top team in their league.
Texas will go with two in the front. Gary Johnson (6-6, 238 lbs., SR, #1, 9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.7 apg, 23.8 mpg, .547 FG, .100 3PT, .691 FT) will be the starting power forward. Last season, he was one of the most consistent contributors on the team. This season, he’ll have to make up for the loss of center Dexter Pitman and swingman Damion James. Pittman averaged 10.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 1.9 BPG, while James had an average of 18.0 PPG, 10.3 RPG and 1.7 SPG. Johnson is a lunch pail guy who plays bigger than his size. How many more points and rebbies he can average is debatable. He’ll play hard and to the hilt, but he is not a star player.
Starting center goes to freshman Tristan Thompson. What this team needs from the 6-9, 230-pound center is rebounding. The McDonald’s All-American is the 17th ranked player in the nation. He can block, rebound and take it to the rim. His jumper is still being refined. Even of he does not start, Thompson will be asked to contribute immediately and chances are that he can. He’s very athletic and strong and those two attributes will go a long way in ensuring he sees plenty of minutes.
The backcourt will have a new guy at the point. Freshman Cory Johnson, a McDonald’s All-American, is said to offer a fine balance of passing skills, shooting chops and defensive moves. If Johnson can take a leadership immediately that will be a big help. The Longhorns lacked someone who could take command at the point last season. He’s the fourth-rated point guard in the country and although he’s not a shoe-in for starter, he is the leading candidate. Johnson will have to help makeup for the loss of guard Avery Bradley, who averaged 11.6 PPG, 2.1 APG and 1.3 SPG.
There’s a wealth of guards on-hand to provide points, including swingman Jordan Hamilton (6-7, 266 lbs., SO, #3, 10.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 19.9 mpg, .410 FG, .365 3PT, .578 FT) and shooting guard J’Covan Brown (6-1, 185 lbs., SRO, #14, 9.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 21.7 mpg, .354FG, .288 3PT, .883FT). Both will see action and be expected to accumulate points.
Hamilton seems to be capable of tossing in 25 or 30 points a game but has fallen well short of those totals. One thing is for certain—he is definitely a three-point shooter as last year half of his shots were from beyond the arc. Although he hit a sound 36.5% from downtown with the number of threes he tosses you’d like to see fewer shots and a higher percentage connecting. If he selects fewer but better shots that will help this bombs away player.
Brown, who was a freshman last season, played in 33 games and started in nine. There were times when he simply launched shots and they dropped in and other times this player could not buy a basket. With a year behind him, the young guard should not only be more accurate but he should also be able to make better decisions regarding shot selection. The thing is with a little more discipline he can be a massive contributor.
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The Texas bench is long and there’s plenty of veteran experience rotating in from the bench. Forward/center Clint Chapman (6-10, 239 lbs., SR, #53, 1.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.1 apg, 5.1 mpg, .583 FG, .000 3PT, .286 FT) and forward Alexis Wangmene (6-7, 241 lbs., JR, #20, 2.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.1 apg, 7.8 mpg, .458 FG, .000 3PT, .600 FT) will both see important minutes. Expect to see more of Chapman than Wangmene. Chapman couldn’t hit a free last season, and he seemed discombobulated. If he can find his game, that will ensure him a wealth of minutes. Wangmene may see action when the team needs someone at garbage time and when the Longhorns require some decent rebounding chops.
Texas finished 25th in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. On offense, their grade was 113.5. The Horns were ranked 20th in rebound percentage as they took down 38.4%. That was good enough for 3rd in the league. They were +5.9 in rebound margin.
Overall, their scoring percentages were fine with the club hitting 50.9% of its twos, ranking them 59th. It was from the foul line that the Longhorns struggled, putting in just 63.3% (326th) of their free throws. That was dead last in the Big 12. They made another bad showing from beyond the arc as they were 11th in three-point baskets. Texas earned a large majority of its points, 58.7%, by sinking twos.
With a defensive efficiency of 90.2, the Texas “D” was ranked 28th in effective field goal percentage, as teams hit 44.9%. Their 13.0 block percentage rated them 24th nationally and teams were forced to shoot the three due to this club’s stern frontcourt defense. Defensive two-point shooting percentage stood at 43.6% (24th), which is low.
Head coach Rick Barnes (496-249 in 23 years, 294-115 in 12 years with Texas) managed to inspire underachievement in last year’s team. Somewhere along the line the Texas Longhorns lost confidence and they were unable to connect on offense. Barnes stressed defense to the point where it might have actually gotten in the way of scoring. The coach accepted blame for last season and has met with each and every player to discuss team chemistry and leadership. He’s optimistic about this club and feels that they certainly have a chance of going deep into the tournament.
But that ability to go deep will come down to the play of some very fine freshmen and a bunch of vets. Some of those veterans have years of experience while others are back for their second season. This edition of the Texas Longhorns is good, but it’s hard to tell exactly how good they will be. This isn’t just about individual effort; it’s also about playing as a team. It may be good that they have a recruiting class of just two. That means they return a bunch of guys who have all played together before, increasing their chances of playing as a unit.
It’s doubtful that the Texas Longhorns will finish any higher than third in the Big 12. They’ve got Kansas State and Kansas ahead of them. But a third place finish and a winning conference record will certainly get them another invite to the Big Dance. Expect this club to be two and out in the tournament. If they go any further, that should be considered a major victory for the Longhorns and coach Barnes. The Longhorns start the season ranked 12th in the nation.