Writer: Lucas Garza
The Longhorns had their worst season in program history last year, finishing the season 11-22. After the team had lost one of the most productive senior classes in college basketball, along with Isaiah Taylor, the Longhorns struggled on the offensive side of the ball all season. NBA Draft Pick Jarrett Allen had a few memorable dunks and blocks, and was able to quietly able to post double-doubles in many games, but he was not a good passer and turned the ball over too much. Texas had no true point guard, but Andrew Jones proved early in the season that he was the best guard by far. Kerwin Roach was not a powerful ball handler, and Kendal Yancy was plagued with an injury for the majority of the season. The team’s leading scorer in the first half of the season, Tevin Mack, was suspended indefinitely in January after a locker room incident with Kerwin Roach, and then released from his scholarship at the end of the season. Mack was the only reliable shooter from the beyond the arc, and the Longhorns’ offense struggled to score even more after he left the program. Shaka Smart is most likely in a make the tournament or get fired situation, but he is ready to face that challenge.
It is well-known that Smart is a defensive coach, and Texas will have one of the best defenses in the country this season. Kerwin Roach, Andrew Jones, and Jacob Young are all great perimeter defenders, and should be able to keep up with any guard. Kerwin Roach is one of the best athletes in the country, and has set a goal to be National Defensive Player of the Year. Highly touted Freshman Mohamed Bamba is expected to have a huge impact down low, along with transfer Dylan Osetkowski. Osetkowski is mean player on the court, and a big guy who can put the ball on the floor and make good passes. Bamba has some question marks on offense, but he should still be able to get easy looks under the basket t 7’0”. It will be hard for Texas to ever have a big man duo as effective as Prince Ibeh and Cam Ridley were during their sophomore and the first half of their senior seasons (Myles Turner ruined their junior year), but Texas should have one of the most athletic big man rotations they have ever had. Bamba will share playing time down low with Osetkowski, Jericho Sims, and James Banks, all athletic guys who can run the floor. Jericho Sims, a freshman from Minnesota, has impressed coaches in practice with his athletic ability and how prepared he was to play college basketball.
Texas’ offense should be improved from last season. Matt Coleman, a big point guard recruit for Shaka Smart, is the only true point guard for the Longhorns. He is not yet a developed shooter, but he is able to see the court well and drive inside the paint. Kerwin Roach has clearly been working very hard on his three point shot, something that the team desperately needs. Andrew Jones can shoot the three ball well, but his teammates will need to step up from long range if they want to have a dynamic offense. Eric Davis Jr. had a rough sophomore season last year after having a great freshman season. Smart expected Davis to be the Longhorns’ go to guy at the beginning of last season, but Davis Jr. lost his shooting ability. Shaka limited his playing time, but the two worked hard to fix Davis Jr.’s problems, and it was obvious that Eric was playing better and really enjoying the last few games of last season. Hopefully, Eric Davis Jr. will be able to fulfill the potential the coaching staff knows he has.
Jacob Young loves to shoot the three. He absolutely loves it. Shaka Smart trusted the freshman last year a little too much, and gave Young the green-light to shoot from anywhere. Young, who was supposed to be the best shooter on the team and shot well during practices, missed shot after shot last year, both from beyond the arc and from the free throw line, but that did not disrupt his confidence. Young kept shooting, making a few here and there, and made his presence known on defense after he took numerous intercepted passes down the court for layups (he did not make them all). Jacob Young and Eric Davis will be the core of the Longhorns’ bench, and can have a huge impact on the game if they make their shots.
Texas opens up their season against Northwestern State this Friday. After two other home games, the team will travel to Portland for the PK80 Invitational. Texas has a date with Butler in the first round, a team who took care of Texas in the first round of the NCAA tournament three years ago. A win against Butler would more than likely put the Horns against #1 ranked Duke, a program who has given the Longhorns some serious trouble and woes during this century. In December, Texas will take a trip to VCU to play Shaka Smart’s old team, and then comes back home a week later to play Michigan. Texas will end their non-conference schedule against Alabama (in Birmingham), before coming back home to begin conference play against Kansas before the New Year. Kansas is eyeing their 14th straight Big 12 regular season title, and every year the media says they will lose their crown. The Big 12 is the best basketball conference from top to bottom, and the double round robin home and away games make the conference the most fun to play in. The conference has some of the most well known arenas in the country, and Texas will have to take care of business in a few of them if they want to get the NCAA Tournament bid in March.