Big 12 Team Preview: Texas LonghornsPosted by Taylor Erickson on November 4th, 2013
Over the next two weeks, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Texas.
Where We Left Off: The 2012-13 edition of the Texas Longhorns featured the first losing season in the Rick Barnes era. Barnes’ squad struggled to a 16-18 overall record and a 7-11 conference mark, ending the streak of 14 consecutive years that Barnes had taken Texas to the NCAA Tournament. Texas was one of the youngest teams in college basketball a season ago, and was without point guard Myck Kabongo for all but eight games as Kabongo spent much of the season in limbo awaiting an NCAA eligibility ruling. Perhaps many saw the disappointing season coming after the Longhorns were ran out of the gym by lowly Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. Regardless, it would be fair to classify last year’s Texas season as a disappointment, to say the least.
Positives: Unless you’re a Longhorn optimist, this becomes difficult heading into this season. With Kabongo out for much of last year, sophomore point guard Javan Felix earned valuable experience as the Texas floor general. Felix underwent hip surgery on October 1 with no timetable for his return, but showed an ability at times last season to break down defenses and get his teammates open shots. Joining Felix are newcomers Isaiah Taylor, Kendal Yancy, Demarcus Croaker and Martez Walker. Croaker figures to make perhaps the biggest impact this season as the 6’2″ guard is considered a quality shooter, something Texas severely lacked last season. Returning sophomore Cameron Ridley was a highly-recruited player out of high school, but struggled to 4.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season. The 6’9″ center will need to provide a boost to the Texas frontcourt for Barnes’ team to take a step forward this year.
Negatives: You don’t have to look far to identify why many aren’t high on Texas heading into this season. Kabongo decided to enter last April’s NBA Draft but went undrafted and is now a member of the Austin Toros. In addition to Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis and Jaylen Bond all opted to transfer. McClellan and Lewis contributed significant minutes a season ago, averaging 13.5 and 11.2 points per game, respectively. As if that wasn’t enough, former freshman guard Ioannis Papapetrou, who averaged 8.3 points per game in his first season in Austin, decided to leave Texas to play professionally overseas. The plethora of offseason transfers, coupled with an underwhelming recruiting class and the disappointing 2012-13 campaign, and it’s no wonder head coach Rick Barnes finds himself firmly on the hot seat heading into this season.
Best-Case Scenario: In an ideal world for Longhorn fans, Barnes will rekindle the type of success that led him to 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances. It’s clear Texas has enough talent on its roster to compete with the middle tier of Big 12 teams this season, but fulfilling that potential will be Barnes’ biggest challenge. Outside of Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Big 12 is expected to be a bit down, providing Texas with a perfect opportunity to push into the upper echelon of the league. A ticket to the 2014 NCAA Tournament would probably be a bit of a stretch for this team, but we’ve seen crazier things happen before. If the Longhorns can show some promise that they’re headed in the right direction, a solid season with a young team can set up favorably for the next season.
Worst-Case Scenario: If things unfold this year like many anticipate, the Longhorns’ recent slide will continue with a team that is arguably less talented than a season ago. While Texas returns some experience in Felix, the departures of McClellan, Lewis, and Papapetrou leave a massive scoring void for a team that already struggled putting points on the board. If this season does unfold in less-than-ideal fashion, will Barnes begin to look over his shoulder as his coaching future in Austin comes into serious jeopardy? The announced departure of athletic director DeLoss Dodds next fall casts a light of uncertainty over the Texas athletic program as a whole, and it will be interesting to see what, if any, impact this has on the 2013-14 Longhorn basketball season.
Projected Starting Lineup:
- C – Cameron Ridley (So., 6’9″, 285 pounds; 4.1 PPG)
- F – Jonathan Holmes (Jr., 6’8″, 240 pounds; 6.4 PPG)
- F – Connor Lammert (So., 6’9″, 235 pounds; 4.5 PPG)
- G – Demarcus Croaker (Fr., 6’2″, 185 pounds)
- G - Javan Felix (So., 5’11″, 195 pounds; 6.8 PPG)
Reserves: Demarcus Holland and Prince Ibeh are sophomores who saw a fair amount of playing time a season ago and will be leaned on to provide depth for Rick Barnes this year. Freshmen Isaiah Taylor, Kendal Yancy and Martez Walker are expected to come in and compete for minutes this season. With such a young team, there is a fair amount of uncertainty as to how the starting lineup will shake out throughout the year.
Set Your DVR
Despite the youth and inexperience on this team, Rick Barnes has again assembled a challenging non-conference slate. Had Barnes known that he would be without much of his top talent from a year ago, perhaps he would have opted for a slightly easier schedule. That being said, if Texas fancies itself as a potential NCAA Tournament team, match-ups with Michigan State and North Carolina will provide a good barometer for where this team is in December. A win in the first round of the CBE Classic in Kansas City could potentially set up a showdown with a Wichita State team that made the Final Four a season ago.
- 11/25-11/26 CBE Classic: Texas will look to do what its football program couldn’t in knocking off BYU in the first round in Kansas City. If the Longhorns are to get past BYU, they could see Wichita State in what should be a very pro-Shocker crowd in Kansas City. The Shockers would provide a nice test for Texas early in the season.
- 12/7 at Temple: A visit to Philadelphia against Temple always proves a difficult task, as will be the case here in early December. The Owls will look to exact revenge from a 2011 loss at the Frank Erwin Center.
- 12/18 at North Carolina: A trip to Chapel Hill in mid-December against a top 15 North Carolina team will provide a stiff test for this group. If there’s any question as to how Barnes’ squad will handle adversity, you can bet we might get an idea in this contest as the Dean Dome will certainly feature a fairly raucous crowd. Remaining competitive in this one would be a start, and dare-we-say a road win would be a massive achievement for Texas this early this season.
- 12/21 vs. Michigan State: How’s this for a early Christmas present? A visit from one of the top two teams in the nation heading into the season. Tom Izzo’s squad will test Texas in both the frontcourt and backcourt as the inside-outside duo of Andreian Payne and Gary Harris will be perhaps as good as they’ll see all year.
Outlook: Given that head coach Rick Barnes figures to be coaching for his future this season, the amount of pressure in Austin this winter will create quite a bit of tension between fans and program. Considering just how much talent and experience Texas lost in the offseason, it’s hard to envision a scenario where this season would play out significantly better than that of a season ago. As bad as Texas under-performed last year, perhaps Barnes can flip the switch to get his squad to overachieve in equal proportion this year. The biggest challenge for his team will be finding a way to score enough points to win games. The Longhorns will have to hang their hat on their defense and try to win games late, something they haven’t been proficient in doing in years past. In a down year in the Big 12, we still think Rick Barnes has some coaching talent and could finish in that middle tier of the conference. Expect Texas to fight for its head coach this season and end up somewhere between fifth and eighth in the Big 12 when it is all said and done.