Big 12 Burning Questions: Texas Longhorns

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 6th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s Big 12 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will Texas ride the additions of Mo Bamba and Matt Coleman to an at-large bid?

Last Thanksgiving had barely passed when it became clear that something wasn’t right with Texas basketball. The young Longhorns were supposed to get back on track after losing two games to Northwestern and Colorado in the Legends Classic, but instead of licking their wounds and coming out with fire in their next home outing, they were embarrassed by Texas-Arlington. Bad games happen, certainly, and the Mavericks went on to win the Sun Belt last season, but considering the resources at Texas’ disposal and its accomplished coach patrolling the sideline, there was no excuse for such an effort. We all know how things went from there: The Longhorns tried unsuccessfully to play the entire season without a legitimate point guard, ultimately finishing dead last in the Big 12 standings despite having a first-round pick on the blocks in Jarrett Allen. Shaka Smart certainly isn’t on the hot seat in Austin on the heels of one forgettable season, but now that his team has been restocked with a level of talent that he didn’t have in his first two campaigns, it’s time for him to produce.

All eyes will be on Mo Bamba, but Texas needs more than just him to avenge a woeful 2017. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

Freshman center Mo Bamba will definitely help, perhaps as much as a one-and-done player can to change the direction of a program. There’s no player in the Big 12 who can match Bamba’s physical gifts of a 7’9″ wingspan on a 6’11” frame, and with great agility to match. He can block shots, run the floor, finish down low and face up his man in space. Allen and Cameron Ridley before him had their legitimate big man strengths, but Bamba provides a completely different skill set. In high school, he was able to produce offensively with his sheer athleticism, but how he develops his game in the face of more physical Division I competition will be worth monitoring. Additionally, Bamba’s presence on the roster may lead Smart to revive his patented “Havoc” defensive system now that he has a center who can get up and down the court.

As alluded to above, a true point guard in freshman Matt Coleman should also be a saving grace for the Longhorns. His presence will allow backcourt returnees Andrew Jones and Kerwin Roach to move off the ball where both are more natural fits. Coleman’s impressive court vision and ability to deliver the ball in the right spots was missing from this team last season, as exhibited in Texas finishing 251st nationally in offensive turnover percentage and 301st in assist-to-field goal ratio. Aside from Coleman, however, the backcourt will look very similar to that of a year ago, although Smart also lost Tevin Mack, who transferred after a suspension resulted in his missing the final 17 games of last season.

The freshmen Bamba and Coleman will lead the charge of turning the Longhorns around, but they aren’t the only newcomers who will be expected to make impacts. Newcomers Jericho Sims and Royce Hamm provide additional depth down low to make up for the losses of Allen and graduate transfer Shaquille Cleare, as will transfer Dylan Osetkowski, who averaged 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds for Tulane in 2016. As much as Coleman’s addition will help facilitate the offense, a group that finished at the bottom of the Big 12 in offensive efficiency still needs to prove itself. There’s every possibility that Jones, Roach and junior guard Eric Davis will improve, but it’s a steep climb back to respectability even after factoring in an injection of top-end talent. It’s tough to expect the Longhorns to rise quickly enough to tangle with Kansas and West Virginia over the course of this season, but anything short of an NCAA Tournament bid for Smart’s team this year will be considered a big disappointment.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

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

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