Big 12 Team Previews #3: Texas LonghornsPosted by dnspewak on November 9th, 2012
Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Texas at the #3 position is next on our list.
- 2011-12 record: 20-14, 9-9
- Key contributors lost: J’Covan Brown
- Head coach: Rick Barnes
- Projected finish: 3rd
And now we play the waiting game. Coach Rick Barnes still has no idea whether star point guard Myck Kabongo will play this season after the NCAA began investigating his eligibility. The situation, which pertains to Kabongo’s relationship with an agent, could not have possibly come at a more crippling time for Texas. Already recovering from the early departure of do-it-all guard J’Covan Brown, the Longhorns cannot afford to lose Kabongo for any amount of time. They’ll need to remake themselves after relying so heavily on Brown a year ago, and their new style of offense — as well as any potential for a Big 12 title run — hinges on Kabongo’s presence. To make matters worse, this is a roster consisting almost exclusively of freshmen and sophomores, so there’s not a lot of room for error.
Along with Pierre Jackson, Kabongo is one of this league’s most dynamic playmakers at the point guard position. His world-class speed and explosion, coupled with his innate ability to dish out the basketball and makes his teammates better, is the reason his eligibility concerns are so widely publicized right now. If he plays, he’ll change the entire course of Texas’ season. As a freshman, Kabongo arrived on campus with out-of-this-world expectations, and he struggled to acclimate himself at first. His rookie season wasn’t necessarily “rocky,” but it took him all the way until March for his coach to notice a change in maturity and poise at point guard. After the Longhorns’ critical Big 12 quarterfinal victory over Iowa State all but secured an NCAA Tournament berth, Barnes singled out Kabongo as a major factor in the victory from a leadership standpoint. Apparently, it was Kabongo’s idea to put Jaylen Bond in the final minutes of the game, just so UT could switch on ball screens. “Of all the things he’s done this year,” Barnes said after the game, “I’m telling you. He’s heading in the right direction.”
Hopefully for Texas, that direction lands him on the court in Austin this year — not ineligible and sitting on the sidelines. Let’s assume Kabongo plays, though. He’ll have a heck of a supporting cast and more size and depth than a year ago. There’s just one problem: This team is really, really young. And by “young,” we mean zero scholarship upperclassmen. Think about that. Every single player on scholarship is either a freshman or sophomore. Luckily, though, these aren’t typical freshmen and sophomores. Center Cameron Ridley joins the crew and adds a 6’10” body and scoring presence to this frontcourt, something the Longhorns lacked last season. He is a traditional, back-to-the-basket big man who can change the way this team plays offensively. Fellow frosh Prince Ibeh, considered more of a project at center, should still log a ton of minutes despite his relative lack of polish. Of course, it’d be silly not to mention the return of sophomores Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond, both of whom play that hybrid small forward/power forward position and can draw opposing forwards away from the basket. Freshman Connor Lammert is another big body at Barnes’ disposal, too, so there’s really a lot of depth here.
Kabongo runs this team from the point guard spot, but it’s interesting to note that off-guard Sheldon McClellan is actually the team’s returning scorer after averaging 11.3 points per game a year ago. McClellan and Julien Lewis are the two “veteran” returning shooting guards — and I use the term veteran very loosely — but neither is much of a threat from beyond the arc. That’s an area of concern after losing J’Covan Brown. They’re both big, physical guards, though, and they’ll have a lot of help from freshmen DeMarcus Holland and Javan Felix. Felix needs to be ready to step in at point guard if Kabongo can’t play, and Holland has already drawn praise from Barnes as an “every day” kind of guy. That’s the highest form of a compliment for a freshman, so it appears Holland is going places.
Small forward Ioannis Papapetrou is the final piece of this freshman class, and Andrew Dick and Dean Melchionni are the two lone seniors on this roster.
Why They Might Be Better Than You Think
By February of last season, Texas was already sick of hearing the term “young.” That’s all anybody ever wanted to talk about, and with this underclassmen-dominated team, that’s all they’ll want to talk about again. But it would not be smart to ignore this team’s personnel and obvious potential. They may not have played much college basketball, but Barnes has a solid team on both ends of the floor. The Longhorns will be able to protect the rim with their additional size in the paint, and they’ve got very quick and physical guards who can disrupt opponents on the defensive end. As long as Kabongo plays, he’ll find a way to get his teammates involved and run this offense to perfection. The Longhorns are a step below Baylor and Kansas in the Big 12 race from a preseason standpoint, but they have the horses to compete.
OK, so they are young. We’re talking about a bunch of freshmen and sophomores, people! Plus, it’s a mystery as to how the Longhorns will play without Brown. He was such a key part of this team a year ago and took so many shots — at 15.7 attempts per game, about twice as more as anybody else on the roster — and he was also the only reliable outside shooter. Without him, Barnes must completely remake this team on the offensive end. That’s why he’ll give the ball to Kabongo and let his star go to work.
The Sleeper Candidate
DeMarcus Holland, a former South Florida commit and teammate of Prince Ibeh’s, may have a difficult time competing in a crowded backcourt. Still, Barnes loves this kid. Like McClellan and Lewis, he’s big enough to cause problems for opponents in the backcourt and can get to the rim with his size. He’s not considered an elite perimeter threat, but his attitude and toughness is already catching the eye of Barnes. We may need to wait a few seasons to see this signing pay off, but the early reviews are solid on this freshman.
Good but not terrific. Much like last year, actually. Facing another one of Rick Barnes’ hilariously difficult non-conference schedules, it will not be easy for this team to adjust to Life After Brown at first. If Kabongo is on the court, though, this team will figure something out by the end of the year and sneak into the NCAA Tournament once again.