Texas will have one of the youngest teams in the country with only two upper classman on the roster- seldom used seniors (Andrew Dick and Dean Melchionni). But don't shed too many tears for the Longhorns. They have stockpiled a great deal of young talent which should be the foundation of Rick Barnes' 15th straight NCAA team at Texas. And if they can avoid defections to the NBA (Kabongo is the one expected to go), they should have a national title contender in the years to come.
They have a talented point guard- Myck Kabongo- who was voted a preseason 1st team All Big12 player. They have athletic wings- Sheldon McClellan; Julien Lewis; Ioannis Papapetrou. They have physical, skilled forwards- Jonathan Holmes; Jaylen Bond; Connor Lammert. They have a couple of young promising centers- Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh. They will be a fascinating team to watch develop.
Rick Barnes has established a long track record of success at Texas. He has taken Texas to 14 straight NCAA tournaments. And he has done this despite having his roster depleted by NBA defections in recent years. His recruiting at Texas has been stellar. He has had a host of 5-star recruits come through the program in the last decade which has led to 14 current players on NBA rosters including one of the top 5 players in the league- Kevin Durant. Only Bill Self in the Big12 has had more high profile recruits. This has led to lots of consistency in the program. Barnes is 333-130 at Texas (158-63 in conference play).
Still there have been some ramblings of discontentment. Barnes is 2-6 against Scott Drew in the last 8 contests. He is 5-11 against Bill Self. He has missed on a lot of the top prospects in Texas in recruiting battles. At Texas where excellence is expected, Barnes is starting to feel some pressure to go further than just an NCAA appearance.
His current staff is made up of Rob Lanier- third year at UT. Prior to that Lanier was a top assistant at Florida. Russell Springmann- a guy I played against in high school in Maryland. Springmann is regarded as one of the top assistants in the game- he has been at Texas for 14 years. And Chris Ogden who played at Texas and has coached there for 8 years.
6-1 180 lbs Myck Kabongo (SO)
Myck came to Texas as a 5-star point guard expected to spend a year at Texas and move on to the NBA. He had a solid freshman year but not as effective as previous freshman point guards at Texas- TJ Ford; DJ Augustin and Cory Joseph. He averaged 10 points and 5 assists. But he also had 3 turnovers per game and had mediocre shooting numbers- 39% FG (32% 3 pt) and 68% from the foul line.
He has exceptional quickness which helped him get to the free throw line often- 5 attempts per game. He has the potential to be an outstanding defender with his quickness and long wingspan (6'7"). His last five games were a bit concerning. He averaged 36 minutes during those contests against OU, KU, ISU, Missouri and Cincy. But he averaged 2 points and was 8-39 from the floor (2-16 from 3 pt range) in that stretch. Texas fans are hoping this is an aberration and not a sign of things to come- one worry is how effective he will be with defenses focusing on him. J'Covan Brown was such a dynamic scorer that defenses had to channel so much effort into stopping him. Will Kabongo be able to handle the increased pressure?
5-10 190 lbs Javan Felix (FR)
Felix is a solid all around point guard who may have some adjustments to the speed of the college game. He reminds me of Tweety Carter- a guard that beats you with his basketball IQ and strength versus athleticism. He is a winner and should be a guy that gets some time as a freshman but a more important piece in years to come. He's a competitor that knows how to attack a defense and is an aggressive on the ball defender despite average quickness.
6-3 190 lbs Julien Lewis (SO)
Lewis averaged 8 points and 4 rebounds last year as a freshman. I thought his defense was a strength when I watched the Horns last year. His free throw shooting was solid- 77%. His shooting numbers were typical of a freshman- low 30s. I like his competitiveness and aggressive mindset. I would not put it past him to be the leading scorer on this team. He has the attack mode mentality that is necessary in close games. McClellan has more talent but I prefer the mindset of Lewis in the small sample size that I have watched the Horns closely.
6-4 200 lbs Sheldon McClellan (SO)
McClellan averaged 11 points and 3 rebounds as a freshman. He along with Kabongo did a good job getting to the foul line- 3.5 attempts per game. He shot 76% from the line. He was 45% from the field (31% from 3 point range). One glaring question is will the Horns get consistent scoring from 3 point range from their sophomore backcourt? J'Covan Brown made 80 three pointers. Kabongo, Lewis and McClellan had 94 combined- making less than 32% of their attempts. Freshmen become sophomores so those numbers usually improve.
6-2 190 lbs Demarcus Holland(FR)
Holland was thought of as a mid major recruit who rose in status late. He is a combo guard who has a decent shot. I would expect his minutes to be limited this year unless there is an injury to one of the four guards mentioned above. He was a teammate of Prince Ibeh- which probably didn't hurt Texas' chances in landing him.
6-7 239 lbs Jonathan Holmes (SO)
I first saw Holmes in an AAU tournament playing for the San Antonio Rohawks. I loved his aggressiveness attacking the rim and his competitiveness on the boards. He got a lot of experience last year- 21 minutes per game. He averaged 7 pts and 5 rebounds. He is country strong. Despite their youth, Texas should have one of the more physical front lines with Ibeh, Ridley, Holmes and Bond.
6-7 224 lbs Jaylen Bond (SO)
Bond played an average of 15 minutes per game last year. He averaged 3 points and 5 rebounds per game. His rebounds per minute were the best on the team. His defense and rebounding will likely endear himself to Barnes who values such things like most coaches do.
6-8 225 lbs Ioannis Papapetrou (FR)
Texas beat Kansas in a battle for his services. He is the son of a professional player in Greece. He is scrappy- high basketball IQ. Good shooter and scorer on the drive. He played AAU ball for Nike Team Florida and caught a lot of attention with his play. He averaged 22 points for the Florida Air Academy in high school. Euros are hit and miss with the athleticism needed to play Big12 ball effectively.
6-10 245 lbs Prince Ibeh (FR)
Ibeh has a lot of similarities to Ekpe Udoh for Baylor at least on the defensive side of the ball. He is an elite rebounder and shot blocker and is a rare big man on the high school level that thinks defense first. He has the potential to be a dominant college defender. His offense is raw but defensively he is a game changer and will likely log significant minutes as a result. His wingspan was measured at 7'4"
6-9 270 lbs Cameron Ridley(FR)
Ridley is another 5-star recruit for Barnes. He reportedly showed up to Texas over 300 pounds. But is now listed at 270. He is a strong, physical big man who can wear down opponents with his aggression. I saw him play Texas Pro in an AAU tournament where Daniel House- a 6'5"guard/forward had to try and guard him in the post. The smaller House frustrated Ridley with his quickness. Ridley scored on many possessions but also was hindered by turnovers and slow footwork. I'm much higher on Ibeh personally, but scouts who evaluate for a living have Ridley rated as the better prospect. He did play well in the all-star games that I watched him.
6-9 232 lbs Connor Lammert(FR)
Lammert is a really bright prospect for the Longhorns. He may surprise me and play this year. But my guess is that he is a year or two away. He has a nice touch on his mid range jumper. He should be an effective pick and pop guy. He has a nasty streak- highly competitive player.
Outlook and Questions
Texas is loaded with high end talent like they are most years. They five talented sophomores returning and they are mixing them with four impact freshmen. They are expected to be an NCAA tournament team, capable of going much further. They have a well balanced roster.
Five questions for Texas heading into the season:
1. How will Kabongo handle the pressure of being the main focus this year? I am assuming he will be cleared from a current NCAA investigation/inquiry into receiving impermissible benefits. Kabongo is a smart, charismatic player. I asked the same question on Marcus Smart. He tends to be a bit theatrical when contact is made like Smart. Many of those calls went his way last year. The NCAA officials claim they are going to clean up a lot of the flopping this year. Will this lead to foul trouble for players that are used to the old way of doing things? Will Kabongo be able to adjust to the rule change?
2. Will they have a consistent perimeter threat? My theory is that good teams have at least two players that can average two made three pointers per game. This is poison for a defense when they have to extend coverage to the three point line. Lewis, McClellan and Kabongo will all need to improve their shooting numbers to open up the inside game.
3. Barnes has had four straight years where Texas has failed to get to the Sweet 16. There have been some rumblings that players have not enjoyed their time playing for Barnes- James, Hamilton, Bradley. Will this start to take its toll on the program or will Barnes put together a deep tournament run in a year when most aren't expecting it?
4. Who is the go-to scorer on this team? In the past 10 years, Texas has always seemed to have a guy that relished having the ball in his hands when the game was on the line. Guys like Ford, Durant, Abrams, Hamilton and Brown. Will Kabongo or someone else step up and be that guy this year?
5. One of the really surprising things to me in researching this is that Rick Barnes teams (according to KenPom) have been more effective offensively than defensively. They have been pretty good at both, but have on average been more effective on offense. In the last 10 years, they have had two top 20 teams defensively. They have the DNA to be a great defensive team this year. Will they live up to that?