Texas Basketball: 10 Bold Predictions for the Longhorns in 2011-12
It is truly an interesting time for the Texas Longhorns basketball program.
On paper, next season seems like a rebuilding year. The team will be without veterans Matt Hill, Dogus Balbay, Jai Lucas and Gary Johnson. They have also said goodbye to youngsters Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph.
Everything around the program, though, is looking up. After a few disappointing finishes, the Longhorns put things together well last season and went 28-8.
Coach Rick Barnes seemed re-energized and so did the players. They got contributions up and down the roster and everyone appeared to have a lot of fun playing together.
The recruiting is also up. Two seasons ago, Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton came to campus together as hotshot freshmen.
Last season, it was Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph. Now they are hoping this newest group of freshman, led by Myck Kabongo, will make their mark.
Here are my ten bold predictions for this upcoming season of uncertainty for Texas.
1. The Longhorns Will Lose at Least a Dozen Games
Given the results of last season and the high expectations surrounding a program like Texas, twelve losses seems like a lot.
With the personnel losses they will have to overcome and the gauntlet that is the Big 12 schedule, it's really not all that many, though.
Six of the top seven scorers from last season are gone. So are the top five rebounders. You can't reasonably expect the returning players or newcomers to completely replace that production. If that isn't reason enough that they will lose more games, the schedule is.
Even though we don't yet know the full schedule for next season, we know enough to see where the losses might come.
In the non-conference part of the schedule, the Longhorns have games with Vanderbilt, Oregon State and North Carolina State as part of the 2011 Legends Classic in November.
With games last year against the likes of Pittsburgh, Illinois, Michigan State, North Carolina and Arkansas, we know that there will be plenty more tough games in addition to that tournament.
Couple the out of conference slate with their annual games against Texas A&M, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor and you have the recipe for losing some games.
2. Texas Will Still Finish in the Top Three in the Big 12
This prediction might seem contradictory to the first prediction of at least twelve losses, but it's not. The Big 12 is going to be down next season.
Kansas, the class of the conference for quite some time now, is going to be losing the Morris brothers, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Josh Selby. That's a large percentage of their output.
Kansas State won't have stars Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly and I'm not convinced they have the talent otherwise to win the Big 12 anyway.
Texas A&M is a scrappy team that is consistently better than their talent would indicate, but they will be breaking in a new head coach. Missouri is in the same boat as they are when it comes to breaking in a new coach.
Baylor is coming off a tough season and they will be losing volume scorer LaceDarius Dunn.
While Texas might be taking a step back, much of the rest of the conference will be stepping back with them.
3. The Longhorns Won't Miss Cory Joseph
Much like Jordan Hamilton two seasons ago, Cory Joseph came in as a much-hyped freshman with high hopes.
Also like Hamilton, he failed to impress in that first season on campus. Unlike Hamilton, though, Joseph will not return for another season.
Joseph never really seemed comfortable in the offense. He is a point guard by trade, but he was never really asked to be a true point guard. He often played off the ball at shooting guard.
He managed to average 10.4 points per game, but those more often came off of plays created by his extraordinary athleticism and not on plays within the flow of the offense.
More than the Longhorns would like, Joseph became a spot up shooter. He made 41.3 percent of his threes, a good number, but surely they wanted him to be more than that as a player.
The team will miss the scoring ability of Jordan Hamilton, the post presence of Tristan Thompson and the rebounding acumen of Gary Johnson, but the long range shooting of Cory Joseph is by far the most easily replaced.
4. Jordan Hamilton Will Be Missed the Most
I'll admit that this prediction isn't all that bold. Hamilton was, after all, named the team MVP after the season. I just think you can't overstate how much he brought to the table.
He averaged 18.6 points per game, 5.5 points more than the next highest player. Those points came in a variety of ways. He could drive the lane, play above the rim, post up smaller defenders and shoot the long range shot.
He made 44 percent of his field goals, a good percentage given how many shots he was taking. He sank 38.5 percent of his three point shots, just enough to make teams defend him all the way out to the perimeter. You couldn't hack him either as made 77.9 percent of his free throws.
More than anything else, Hamilton was buying what Rick Barnes was selling. Hamilton had a tough freshman year where he struggled to fit in. He often resorted to chucking contested three point shots when he couldn't get a shot elsewhere.
Coming off that tough season, he could have bolted for the NBA or become defiant. Instead, he went back to work and bought into the plan that Barnes had for him. Rick knew what kind of player that Jordan could be.
Hamilton became that player last season and it's that player that the Longhorns will sorely miss.
5. Myck Kabongo Will Shine Immediately
Myck Kabongo from Findlay Prep in Nevada is the latest in a line of highly-touted freshman to come to campus in Austin. It has been a mixed bag overall for Texas. Avery Bradley and Cory Joseph largely disappointed.
Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton worked out well. Myck Kabongo will be closer to the latter group.
He immediately fills a need for Texas. Veteran point guard Dogus Balbay is gone as is Jai Lucas. Cory Joseph, who was technically a point guard, has also vacated the premises.
What went wrong with Joseph and Bradley was that sometimes they seemed to be trying to force the issue and do more than they were capable of.
It seems that they won't have to worry about that with Kabongo, as scouts rave about his maturity, leadership skills and ability to play within himself.
He is perfectly content setting up his teammates and focusing on simply not turning the ball over. On a team that is going to be lacking scoring punch, that's just what the doctor ordered.
Kabongo will also give the team more of an offensive presence, something they never could get out of Balbay. He shoots the ball well from two and three point range and is excellent at getting into the lane.
6. Alexis Wangmene Will Step into Gary Johnson's Role
Wangmene has been a raw, developing player for so long that most Longhorns fans have probably given up on him by now.
He has all the tools to be successful. He stands 6'7" and at 240 pounds, he is still quick enough to step out and guard post players that want to play on the perimeter.
Gary Johnson was a dirty work player for the Longhorns over his four years on campus. Barnes knew he wasn't going to get explosive scoring or above the rim play from him. What he could count on, though, was a high level of effort, solid defense and a ton of rebounds.
Wangmene could easily move into that role. Last season, he only averaged playing 9.6 minutes per game. In that time, he pulled in 2.3 rebounds. If you extrapolate Wangmene's rebounding numbers out over the playing time Johnson got, he would average more rebounds than Johnson did.
Johnson only got four more blocks and five more steals last season than Wangmene in three times more minutes, so there is even some evidence that Wangmene may be a better defender than Johnson.
The biggest thing is that you can't coach effort. The best component of Johnson's game was his motor that had no off switch. If Wangmene can simply match his level of intensity, the numbers will fall into place.
7. J'Covan Brown Will Take the Next Step
Over his three seasons on campus, J'Covan Brown has probably contributed more gray hairs to the head of Rick Barnes than any other player.
His run-ins with Barnes have been well documented. The frustration Barnes has with Brown is easy to understand. There are time when Brown is the best player on the floor. He can carry a team and did on occasion last season even with all that talent on the roster.
The flip side is that Brown will simply disappear from some games. If things aren't going well for him, he has a way of going M.I.A. His effort has to be questioned to some degree.
The reason for Brown's disappearing act is that he honestly believes that he should be the star on the floor. For his first three years, that attitude was a detriment to the team. He was clearly not the best player on the floor and the Longhorns simply needed him to fit in and fill his role.
Now, that attitude might serve him well. There will many times where he is the best player on the floor for Texas. They need him to be the star of the show to be successful. Last season, he averaged 10.4 points per game. Next season, I wouldn't be surprised if that average was closer to 20 points per game.
8. Expect Chemistry Issues Early on
Working off of my last prediction about J'Covan Brown, I think Texas will have to work through some considerable chemistry issues early in the season.
While learning how to be the go-to scorer in an offense, there will undoubtedly be games where Brown can't get anything going. He will start to fall back into old habits and the younger players on the team won't have grizzled veterans to look to.
The next best player on the roster might turn out to be true freshman point guard Myck Kabongo. He will be bringing the ball up the court a large percentage of the time and that's going to be asking a lot of a guy who has never played at this level before.
By the time conference play rolls around, the team will be running more smoothly, but don't be shocked if they drop some game early in the season because they aren't all on the same page.
9. Post Scoring Will Be Nearly Non-Existant
Post scoring wasn't the Longhorns calling card anyway. Big guys Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton spent more time on the perimeter than they did in the paint on offense.
Matt Hill and Gary Johnson were also more defensive players and rebounders than they were scorers.
The gap between perimeter scoring and post scoring promises to widen even more with next season's personnel. J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo will be the catalysts on offense and much of the scoring will fall to them.
Alexis Wangmene is the only returning post player and as I discussed, he is much more likely to be a defender and rebounder in the Hill or Johnson mold.
10. Rick Barnes Will Turn in One of His Best Coaching Jobs
Barnes has his work cut out for him. He will be missing much of last year's production in nearly every statistic. The schedule is unrelenting and every player on the roster will be taking on a new role next season.
My hunch is that Barnes will find a way to piece it together. Early NCAA tournament exit notwithstanding, Barnes turned in a great coaching job last season. He brought in several talented youngsters and successfully got them acclimated without alienating or reducing the role of any of his returning veterans.
Barnes looks to be as energized as ever. Coming into last season, several years of disappointment had seemed to wear him down. At some point prior to that first game, he turned a corner.
The players seemed happier, he seemed to be interacting with them better and the team responded.
On paper, the team next season should struggle from start to finish. If Barnes turns in the coaching job I think he will, though, he will have the Longhorns back in the Big 12 race and in a great position heading into the NCAA tournament.