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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Three Big 12 Storylines to Follow this Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2016

Whether you’ve noticed or not, college basketball is almost here. The league schedules have been released, public practices like Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog and Iowa State’s Hilton Madness have either come and gone or are on the horizon, blurbs are emerging of players losing weight or adding muscle, and coaches are talking about how they want to play faster and take pages from NBA teams’ playbooks. Even though college football, the NFL and baseball’s playoffs tend to dominate the national sports conversation this time of year, it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to start looking at the hoops season ahead (and let’s be honest, any time is a good time to talk hoops around here). We’ll have much, much more to come over the next month as the season draws near, but in the interest of keeping things simple at the opening tip, here are three storylines that will define one of the nation’s top conferences in 2016-17.

Bill Self's Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Self’s Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas goes for #13 – The Jayhawks lost one of the Big 12’s elder statesmen in Perry Ellis as well as two other mainstays in Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, but Bill Self‘s team is going to be loaded once again. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are back as the two-headed monster in the backcourt, Landen Lucas will hold own the center spot after running away with the job last season and Svi Mykhailiuk returns to provide an X-factor opposing coaches will have to respect, even if he only sees 10-15 minutes per game. Oh, and the potential #1 overall pick in next June’s draft in Josh Jackson will slide easily into Selden’s old spot, bringing versatility, rebounding and that #motor to the wing that Self loves so much. This team isn’t without questions — particularly how effective Carlton Bragg will be as a sophomore — but while there’s usually a token competitor who contrarians pick to upend the Jayhawks in the Big 12, the reality is that there’s no good reason to bet against Kansas matching both Gonzaga and the John Wooden-era UCLA teams with 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Read the rest of this entry »
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Texas: Rising Fast But Not Yet a Big 12 Contender

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2016

Monday night night, Texas rolled into Waco and beat Baylor, 67-59, earning one of those quality road wins that are so critical for NCAA Tournament resumes. For such a low-scoring game, it was an intense and fun matchup. The Bears and Longhorns fought to a draw in points in the paint (22 each) in a game that was highlighted by an entertaining and occasionally chippy battle between Rico Gathers and Prince Ibeh. In the backcourt, Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor dissected Baylor’s zone with precision to the tune of 14 assists against just two turnovers. While big games from Gathers and Taurean Prince kept the Bears alive until the final minute, a Connor Lammert three with 44 seconds remaining ultimately sealed the win. The victory thrust Texas into a heap of second-place teams in the Big 12, a dogpile that also includes Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor. It also left some to wonder whether the Longhorns may now have a realistic shot to win the conference. It’s not a completely crazy thought, but while Texas under Shaka Smart has taken some important first steps over the last few weeks, a back-loaded league slate will leave the Longhorns with more work to do before they can be taken seriously as Big 12 title contenders.

The Longhorns are on the rise, but don't call them Big 12 contenders just yet.(John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

The Longhorns are on the rise, but don’t call them Big 12 contenders just yet. (John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

First, let’s acknowledge all the positives. Perhaps the biggest key to the Longhorns’ season thus far has been their improved ball-handling. Texas currently leads the Big 12 in offensive turnover percentage during league play and ranks 24th nationally, a year after finishing a dreadful 245th. The turnaround in that category is made all the more impressive in that Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner — the two rotation players that Texas lost from last season — were actually the team’s most reliable ball-handlers in 2015. In other words, the Longhorns have reversed their turnover fortunes this year with largely the same personnel that made turnovers such a huge issue a year ago. Smart preached good decision-making with the ball while at VCU, and the Rams finished with top 30 offensive turnover percentages in four of his six seasons in Richmond. He’s been successful in bringing that same discipline with him to Austin.

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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 hoop-math.com. 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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.02.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 2nd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. After a long, long wait, freshman Cheick Diallo finally made his debut for Kansas as the Jayhawks rolled to a 94-61 win over Loyola (MD). It took Diallo a few minutes to get comfortable on the floor, but as we predicted yesterday, he looked every bit like the rim protector and finisher the Jayhawks desperately need, finishing with 13 points, six rebounds and four blocks in 16 minutes of action. He also committed four fouls, showing that he’s far from a finished product, but he was otherwise fantastic. What stuck out most about him was how increasingly confident he appeared with every successive trip down the floor. By the end of the night, he was hyping up the crowd, hitting pull-up jumpers and showing off on coast-to-coast dunks. Yes, Loyola was picked to finish in the bottom half of the Patriot League this season, but Diallo clearly showed what the fuss was all about. He’ll have his growing pains, batching him progress with Kansas (and vice versa) this season is going to be a lot of fun.
  2. Texas avoided another early loss last night, needing overtime to beat UT-Arlington, but the Longhorns showed that Diallo isn’t the only uber-athlete in the Big 12. Freshman Kerwin Roach provided the biggest highlight of the evening, as he’s now the clubhouse leader for dunk of the year with this posterization of Mavericks’ guard Jorge Bilbao. (Prayers.). While Shaka Smart certainly enjoyed the play, he is more concerned with his team’s lack of focus on the glass, as the Longhorns were outhustled 49-35 in that department.
  3. Monte’ Morris continued his personal showcase in Iowa State‘s 84-54 romp over North Dakota State, going for 18 points, five rebounds and six assists against the Bison. There was a scary moment in the first half as Georges Niang went down holding his right knee. He had to be helped off the court, but fortunately, he returned to the game after being diagnosed with just a contusion. Niang went on to reassure the Cyclone faithful by kickstarting a 9-0 Iowa State run that put Iowa State ahead at halftime. Iowa State has one more tune-up against Buffalo before they square off with in-state rival Iowa next Thursday.
  4. Perhaps taking a page from Kansas’ playbook, Oklahoma State is rolling with a two-point guard lineup for now as Phil Forte continues to recover from an elbow injury and Tavarius Shine nurses a right shoulder bug. Sophomore Tyree Griffin and freshman Jawun Evans combined for 14 assists in last Friday’s win over Long Beach State, but they’ll face a big test tonight when 4-2 Tulsa comes to town. The Cowboys’ small lineup is made smaller with 6’2″ Jeff Newberry playing out on the wing, but the Pokes seem to be holding things together as they slowly get back to full strength.
  5. Texas Tech‘s frontcourt took a hit when it was announced on Tuesday that sophomore Isaiah Manderson had the team to continue his basketball career elsewhere. Manderson was a cog in the Red Raiders’ interior last season, playing in all 31 regular season games, contributing 4.4 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. His role figured to increase this season after he played well during Tech’s Canadian tour over the summer, but it wasn’t meant to be. A 6’10”, 255-pound center, Manderson played his high school ball in Florida and had offers from four SEC schools, so it will be interesting to see if he resurfaces in that conference.
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Big 12 Preview: Texas’ Burning Question

Posted by Chris Stone on October 26th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Shaka Smart turn Texas into a basketball school?

College basketball feels like it’s engaged in a constant search for the next big thing. The one-and-done rule has turned college hoops into a temporary pit stop for the next great NBA player, and in a similar fashion, athletic departments at power conference schools are often looking to find the next mid-major head coach who can transform a struggling program into an overnight success. While many highly touted coaches including Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall have resisted the calls from power five schools, Shaka Smart has finally taken the plunge, and the Big 12 is better for it.

Shaka Smart is poised to lead Texas' turnaround. (Daulton Venglar/The Daily Texas)

Shaka Smart is poised to lead Texas’ turnaround. (Daulton Venglar/The Daily Texas)

After an impressive six-year tenure at VCU, Smart signed a six year, $22 million deal with Texas in April. The Longhorns’ athletics program has been in a bit of a rut lately. Although it made the NCAA Tournament in all but one year under former head coach Rick Barnes, Texas hasn’t played in the event’s second weekend since D.J. Augustin led the Longhorns to the Elite Eight in 2008. The school’s football program has experienced a similarly disappointing slide since losing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in 2010. Charlie Strong was brought in to inject life into the program, but in two years has been largely unsuccessful as rumors swirl regarding the team’s overall lack of talent. The cherry on top was the recent dismissal of athletic director Steve Patterson in September. Patterson lasted less than two years in Austin, during which time he alienated boosters and long-term employees alike.

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