Injury to Cameron Ridley Throws Wrench Into Texas Plans

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2015

Texas suffered a big setback in practice over the weekend when Cameron Ridley broke his foot. The injury requires surgery — scheduled to take place today — and will place the senior out of action indefinitely. While Texas’ press release on Monday gave no specifics on a timetable for his return, the general amount of time needed for recovery from such an injury reportedly tends to fall in the range of 6-8 weeks. What this ultimately means is that Ridley will miss most of Big 12 play but could be on track for a return near the end of the regular season and into postseason play. In the meantime, though, his absence down low creates a major challenge for Texas’ immediate future.

Texas will be without its best big man for most of the Big 12 season. (Eric Gay/AP)

Texas will be without its best big man for most of the Big 12 season. (Eric Gay/AP)

Hailed as a top-10 recruit by ESPNU when he arrived in Austin in 2012, Ridley had endured an up-and-down career under Rick Barnes but had really started to take off this season. The senior big man capitalized on his improved physique to become one of the nation’s leading shot-blockers as well as a more reliable finisher, converting 75 percent of his shots at the rim, per Through 11 games, Ridley ranked second on the team in minutes played (26.0 MPG) and scoring (12.7 PPG), and led the Longhorns in rebounding (9.7 RPG). Apart from possibly Isaiah Taylor, he was the most important player on the Longhorns’ roster. While it’s always tough to see anyone sidelined for an extended amount of time, it especially hurts when it happens to a senior like Ridley who had finally started to turn potential into production.

The Longhorns don’t have time to sulk, though, as they will host UConn tonight in Austin before embarking on the gauntlet that is the Big 12’s round-robin conference schedule. The good news for Shaka Smart‘s club is that it is a well-rounded group with several players who can fill in for the loss of Ridley; on the other side of the equation, however, there are legitimate reasons why those players were initially cast in supporting roles. Senior Prince Ibeh is athletic for his size and has been productive in short spurts, but foul trouble generally tends to limit his availability. He is also an offensive black hole, having cracked double-figure scoring just three times in 113 career games. Texas also has 6’9″ Maryland transfer Shaquille Cleare available for interior depth. The junior has been active on the glass and in setting screens for Texas’ potent backcourt scorers, but much like Ibeh, he struggles to stay on the floor because of foul issues.

While it would make sense at first blush for Smart to simply lean more heavily on Ibeh and Cleare as well as 6’10” senior Connor Lammert, it’s worth wondering if a better solution for his team may be to roll the dice with a smaller lineup and only marginally increase Ibeh and Cleare’s roles. The Longhorns are shooting 37.9 percent from three-point range on the year, which is good for third in the Big 12 behind only blistering Oklahoma and Kansas. While relying more heavily on three-point shooting could cause Texas’ game plan to become somewhat predictable, stretching the floor could ultimately lead to wider driving lanes for slashers like Taylor, Kerwin Roach and Tevin Mack. This could also provide Ibeh and Cleare with more room to operate within the time they’re given, a helpful hand given their limitations in creating their own shots.

Texas’ current winning streak, which includes thrilling finishes over North Carolina and Stanford, injected new life into Smart’s Longhorns. While Ridley’s injury is disappointing, it isn’t impossible to overcome. But the Longhorns’ climb to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, and the first under new management, just got considerably steeper.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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