Big 12 Season Preview: Texas Longhorns

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 12th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Texas. 


Hey look, Rick Barnes magically became a good coach again! Some may have actually had this thought, but no, he didn’t become a terrible coach after one bad season. Those calling for his termination have to remember that Barnes has taken the program to heights not seen since the midway point of the 20th century. It’s hard to believe the same Texas team picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches Poll last season won 24 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32. Now with virtually everyone back on board for another year, the Longhorns are primed to jostle with the Jayhawks atop the Big 12 standings. Just like old times.

Did we mention Rick Barnes won Big 12 Coach of the Year? No? Well yeah, he did. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Did we mention Rick Barnes won 2013-14 Big 12 Coach of the Year? No? Well yeah, he did. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Strengths: A team full of freshmen and sophomores at key positions a year ago grew up rather quickly. Most can point to their December win at North Carolina as a turning point in the season. Then you throw in some tournament experience, a blue-chip recruit and a largely intact rotation, this has the makings of a colossal year in Austin. Myles Turner is the blue-chip center out of the Dallas area. The center and forward spots are in capable hands even without Turner but there’s little reason to believe a player of his talent will not have a role carved out for him by Barnes. The fascinating thing about Texas is that they don’t beat you with a star or two. At any time, all five guys on the floor for the Longhorns can beat you in a multitude of ways. Isaiah Taylor showed great polish as a freshman driving and dishing. Jonathan Holmes successfully took on the role as top scorer, rebounder and big shot-maker (see buzzer beater vs Kansas State). A slimmed down Cameron Ridley still clogged up the paint scoring easy buckets, improving at the free throw line and altering shots on the defensive end. Aside from Taylor, Holmes and Ridley, guys like Demarcus Holland, Connor Lammert, Javan Felix and Prince Ibeh were hustling after nearly every rebound (ranked fourth nationally; sixth nationally in offensive rebound percentage per Kenpom) and block (ninth nationally in block percentage per Kenpom). I could understand if a fan of another team became annoyed watching them. They were like a fly that would buzz past your ear every few seconds but you could never find and destroy. It would not be a stretch to expect the same effort this time around.

Weaknesses: The Longhorns, through no fault of their own, have the dilemma of replacing guard Martez Walker. Walker withdrew from Texas in October after being arrested twice on misdemeanor assault charges. What the Horns lost in Walker the ball player was a terrific on-ball defender and one of the team’s better outside shooters (tied a team-best 35.3 percent from three). Because everything transpired during the semester, Barnes will have to look at guards already on the roster to fill that spot. It could be Kendal Yancy‘s time to shoot up the depth chart. Yancy improved his defense towards the end of the season and happened to be the other Longhorn to shoot 35.3 percent from the perimeter. Another problem with this team is when they are matched up against teams with up-tempo offenses. Think back to Michigan game in the Round of 32. The first timeout of the game occurred at the 11:25 mark of the first half. Ridley and other Longhorn players weren’t able to catch their breaths but the quicker Wolverines ran past them and controlled pace the rest of the way. Another team, Oklahoma, shoots well from outside and runs the floor well; they also swept the season series from Texas a year ago. If they get an up-tempo shooting team in the NCAA Tournament, Texas would appear to be a likely upset candidate.

Non-conference tests: Next to Bill Self at Kansas, Rick Barnes might be the most ambitious in terms of scheduling in non-Big 12 competition. The Horns are participating in the 2K Classic where they are guaranteed to play an Iowa team poised for their best year under Fran McCaffery. After Iowa, Texas will have to contend with either California or Syracuse who certainly have name recognition. On November 30, they travel to Storrs to play Connecticut fresh off their fourth national championship and five days after that will trek to Rupp Arena to face Kentucky, this season’s favorite to win it all. That’s a nice slate if the quality opponents stopped there. But nope, Barnes is giving us one last heavy hitter: Stanford. A Sweet 16 participant in 2013-14, the Cardinal, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, returns a stout backcourt led by Chasson Randle. Quality games at home, away and neutral sites? Check, check and check. That’s how scheduling should be done.

Toughest conference stretch: February 17 through February 28 appears to be our winner. Oklahoma in Norman and Iowa State in Austin are the first two games. Given their contrasting style to Texas, facing them back-to-back on the schedule could be a rough task for the Horns. Then the next two games are at West Virginia and at Kansas, two places that are nearly impossible for opponents to go in and win. It’ll be perfect pre-March tests before the conference or NCAA tournaments begin.

If everything goes right… The Longhorns will likely be headed for a #2, #3 or #4 seed. A one-seed isn’t out of the question but they’d have to win the Big 12 regular season and conference tournament to even be in the conversation. That seems unlikely. A top-four seed would give them travel priority and might place them in the South Regional where this year’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be played in Houston, Texas, less than 200 miles from Austin. I would be intrigued if Barnes decides to go with a Ridley, Ibeh and Turner frontcourt in the game at once. Remember, Turner was a guard before his eventual growth spurt. He shoots mid-range jumpers and can drive to the hole from there. Good heavens that’d be amazing to watch.

If everything goes wrong… The Longhorns plateau as a team. You know what to expect from each player and no sense of growth from last year to this year is discernible. Barnes is unable to fit Turner into the rotation and so a potential first-round pick in June barely shows his skills in his one and only year of college basketball. Perhaps they do just enough to earn a single-digit seed and get a bad draw in the Tournament. If this happens, which coach would fire up the rumor mill again? In previous years, Buzz Williams-to-Texas rumors were constant but he’s found a new home at Virginia Tech. Would he leave so suddenly? I hope we don’t have to go down that road again.

Projected starting lineup:

* G Isaiah Taylor (So., 6’1″, 170 pounds, 12.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.1 SPG)

* G Demarcus Holland (Jr., 6’2″, 190 pounds, 7.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 SPG)

* G Javan Felix (Jr., 5’11”, 195 pounds, 11.6 PPG, 2.8 APG)

* F Jonathan Holmes (Sr., 6’8″, 240 pounds, 12.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 50.5 percent FG PCT)

* C Cameron Ridley (Jr., 6’9″, 285 pounds, 11.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 54.5 percent FG PCT)

Key reserves

* F Myles Turner (Fr., 6’11”, 240 pounds)

* C Prince Ibeh (Jr., 6’10”, 260 pounds, 3.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 50.5 percent FG PCT)

* F Connor Lammert (Jr., 6’9″, 240 pounds, 5.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 49.1 percent FG PCT)

* G Kendal Yancy (So., 6’3″, 200 pounds, 3.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 35.3 percent 3 PT FG PCT)

I have Texas finishing with a 24-7 regular season record including a 12-6 mark in the Big 12. Their lone defeat in non-conference play will come at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats which is quite a feat. Say Texas wins either the regular season or Big 12 conference tournament, I assume these credentials would be good enough for them to end up as a three or four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Ultimately, the Longhorns season ends in the Sweet 16, Barnes’ first since the 2008 Tournament. All in all, it would be a successful season.

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