Texas Basketball: Full Preview, Predictions and Storylines for 2012-13
Rick Barnes and the Texas Longhorns sure are ready for a fresh start, and they have the team to do just that.
Expectations weren't all that high for Barnes's squad last season, but after a first-round (OK, technically second, now) exit and 14 losses, which is the most the veteran head coach has ever had at Texas, it became time for a reboot in Austin.
Well, how's this for a reboot?
Leading scorer—by a lot—J'Covan Brown is gone. Role playing seniors Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene are gone. Six freshmen, which make up the No. 4 class in the country, are here. Five freshmen from last season have returned.
And that's it.
The Longhorns are about to take on the best in the nation with all underclassmen, but considering they're ranked No. 24 in the Coaches Poll, the young guns apparently bring with them a little bit of talent, too.
Let's take a look at what's in store for Texas in 2012-13.
PG Javan Felix (Freshman)
SG DeMarcus Holland (Freshman)
C Prince Ibeh (Freshman)
PF Connor Lammert (Freshman)
SF Ionnis Papapetrou (Freshman)
C Cameron Ridley (Freshman)
Not only is Rick Barnes bringing in quantity (all six true freshmen could conceivably make an impact this season), he's bring in plenty of quality (four are ranked in ESPN's Top 100).
Fort Bend native Cameron Ridley is the headliner, and it's not really hard to see why. The 6'9", 270-pound monster is not only a true center that will serve as a load to handle on the interior, but he adds a unique blend of energy and athleticism.
The man likely backing him up, Prince Ibeh, will bring some vesatility. At 6'10", 245 pounds, he has less bulky size than Ridley, but he's longer, runs the floor better, hits more mid-range jumpers and blocks a lot (read: A LOT) more shots.
Essentially, he's Serge Ibaka to Ridley's DeMarcus Cousins (that has nothing to do with personality, just style of play. Don't worry). The young center duo brings an important contrast of styles.
Next up is Javan Felix. With Myck Kabongo's eligibility in question, it looks like the 10th-ranked incoming point guard will start for the Longhorns right off the bat.
He doesn't have elite size, but the New Orleans native, who is drawing comparisons to fellow New Orleanean D.J. Augstin, is a true point guard with a high basketball IQ. He's the type of player who can start from Day 1 and not set your program back.
He doesn't have as much pure talent as Kabongo, but he'll keep the fort warm until the sophomore returns.
Lammert is a stretch power forward. Papapetrou, in addition to having one of the greatest names ever (pronounced pa-pa-PEH-troo), is a unique point-forward who could conceivably log time handling the ball without Kabongo. Holland is a combo-guard. He doesn't have great size (6'2", 170 pounds), but he has a scorer's mentality and can also fill in as a ball-handler.
J'Covan Brown (Draft): 20.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.2 spg, 35.6 mpg
Clint Chapman (Graduation): 7.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 21.9 mpg
Sterling Gibbs (Transfer to Seton Hall): 2.6 ppg, 7.5 mpg
Alexis Wangmene (Graduation): 4.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 21.5 mpg
The main loss here is obviously Brown, and with his unsuccessful departure to the NBA, the Longhorns have a lot of production to replace.
The dynamic point guard attempted a staggering 535 shots (15.7 per game) last season, which was seventh most in the country. He wasn't always efficient (.417 from the field, .369 from three-point range), but he still managed to pour in 20.1 points per game.
Somehow, he found time to chip in 3.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
Not only do the Longhorns need to replace the points, assists and anticipatory defense Brown provided, but Rick Barnes will have to find someone he trusts to take the shot in the big moment and be the go-to player on the offensive end.
It won't be easy replacing one of the best scorers in the nation, but a more efficient, more spread-out attack could benefit the Longhorns.
Chapman and Wangmene were solid role-playing seniors who rebounded well and played good defense, but Longhorn fans should soon forgot about them with the young, athletic talent coming into Austin.
Projected Starting Lineup and Depth Chart
Myck Kabongo is set to miss Texas' opener against Fresno State and it's unclear when he'll return, so for now, we'll just put him in the backup point guard role.
That leaves true freshman Javan Felix as the clear-cut starter. While it's never the best idea to start a true freshman, let alone one who isn't a "can't-miss" prospect, Felix has been receiving rave reviews about his ability to run the offense and his teammates have faith in him.
Throw in the fact that he'll have two solid wings in Sheldon McClellan (11.3 ppg, .448 FG%) and Julien Lewis (7.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg), and the Longhorns should be able to make due with Kabongo.
Having a young, talented frontcourt usually helps, too.
Jonathan Holmes averaged 7.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and just under a block and a steal in just 21.4 minutes per game last year as a freshman. The former Top-75 recruit is a hard worker and has a chance to be Texas' most reliable player, especially with Kabongo out.
Add in the offensive-defensive combo of Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh at center, along with the elite rebounding and defense of Jaylen Bond (when he gets back from an ankle injury), and the Longhorns will be tough to beat on the inside.
|Point Guard||Javan Felix||Myck Kabongo|
|Shooting Guard||Julien Lewis||DeMarcus Holland|
|Small Forward||Sheldon McClellan||Ioannis Papapetrou|
|Power Forward||Jonathan Holmes||Jaylen Bond/Connor Lammert|
|Center||Cameron Ridley||Prince Ibeh|
I may have already given it away, but the Longorns' biggest strength lies with its biggest boys.
Rick Barnes's teams have had success in the past because of tough, hard-nosed, physical defense combined with keeping opposing teams off the glass, and after falling to 44th in defensive efficiency last season, look for him to get back to that style.
That means more Jonathan Holmes, a, powerful big man whose block percentage landed him in the Top 20 in the Big 12 last year.
That means more Cameron Ridley, who doesn't have elite rim-protecting skills, but has a body that will take up half the key, thus forcing guards to think twice before penetrating.
That means more Prince Ibeh, the long, shot-blocking specialist who can run like a guard.
More Jaylen Bond, who, according to Rick Barnes (via ESPN), "can be one of the best defensive players we've ever coached at Texas."
There's a lot of versatility, a lot of athleticism and a lot of big, NBA-looking bodies on this front line.
Teams are going to want to bring their three-point shooters if they plan on beating Texas, and even then, Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan aren't slouches as perimeter defenders.
Say it with me: Seven freshmen, five sophomores, no juniors, two seniors. Of the players who realistically have a chance to contribute: Six freshmen, five sophomores.
You may point at Kentucky and say teams can win without real experience, but this Texas squad isn't exactly riddled with 5-star recruits, although there are a couple. If most of the key pieces stay, the Longhorns are going to be scary good, but they are still likely at least a year away.
Additionally, it's a bit of a question mark as to where the backcourt scoring will come from in J'Covan Brown's stead.
Sheldon McClellan, who poured in 11.3 points per game at a solid 45 percent clip last season, is a good bet to see a large uptick in numbers, but after that, who's going to step up?
You can't rely on Kabongo right now.
Julien Lewis is the next leading returning scorer, but his 7.8 points on 8.2 shots per game is the epitome of inefficient. It's important to remember he was thrown into the fire as a freshman, but if he doesn't improve that shot (.324 from deep), you don't really want him seeing more attempts.
This problem will be solved if Kabongo finds his way back onto the court, but as it stands, there just aren't a whole lot of backcourt options for the Longhorns.
Storylines to Watch
Kabongo or No Kabongo?
This is a development that can potentially make or break Texas' season.
Not only does having Myck Kabongo simply improve the Longhorns' backcourt depth and make it so true freshman Javan Felix can come off the bench while adjusting to collegiate play, but the sophomore is also extremely talented.
The former 5-star recruit struggled with inconsistency last season, but he still managed to average 9.6 points and 5.2 assists per game while hitting plenty of big shots. There was pretty much no question that he was going to be the leader of this Brown-less squad.
Texas still has plenty of intriguing talent without Kabongo, but with him in the lineup, the Longhorns are a Top 10 team.
Pay close attention to how the NCCA rules on his eligibility.
Keeping the Young Guns in Tact
I'll admit I'm a little gun-shy on the Longhorns this year, especially without knowing Kabongo's status, but if they can keep this core together, they are going to special next season.
Like, No. 1 in the nation special.
If Myck Kabongo is cleared to play, there is a good chance this will turn into a very successful squad, no matter how little experience it has.
The offense might struggle at times, but let's imagine, for a moment, everything goes right.
With an extra year on their belts and decidedly less pressure, Kabongo, Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan have the potential to take massive steps forward as sophomores. Inexperience is a word tossed around a lot, but don't overlook sophomores who played major minutes as freshmen.
They aren't really as inexperienced as you might think.
Should those three improve like they can, and if Cameron Ridley sheds a few pounds and becomes the offensive force that he's capable of in the middle, the Longhorns will have the perfect inside-outside mix to score a lot of points.
Combine that with what we've already established as a lock-down defensive squad, and a surprising Final Four run isn't out of the question.
Unfortunately, the bottom for this team is pretty low. I've just seen too often teams with immense talent and major youth struggle to click together.
There are just so many things that could wrong.
Kabongo could be ruled ineligible for the season or he could miss a large portion of time. Any of the sensational freshmen could fail to quickly adjust to the new level of play. The sophomores could fail to take that next important step in their development.
If some combination of those things happen, it could be a, ahem, long season for the Longhorns. I think there's too much talent here to miss the NCAA tournament, but a low seed and an early exit in March is possible.
Regular Season Prediction
21-10 (12-6 Big 12), Tied for Third in Big 12
The Longhorns certainly won't lack a strong schedule.
After facing Chaminade, then USC or Illinois and then potentially North Carolina in the Maui Invitational, the Longhorns take on Georgetown, UCLA, North Carolina and Michigan State.
That's OK, though, because they get to relax by entering Big-12 play, which is stacked with talented teams like Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma, while squads like West Virginia and Iowa State also have the pieces to surprise.
For such a young team, though, this type of schedule is only going to prepare the Longhorns and make them very dangerous in March, no matter the seed they enter with.