Defense to be a staple of Texas basketball in 2013-14

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Criticize Rick Barnes all you want — believe me, the criticism is not unfounded — but the longtime Texas coach has built quite the resume for himself in his time with the Longhorns. He has been the head coach for 15 years, and in his first 14 years earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament in each year. Last year, however, was nothing short of a major disappointment. A fringe Top 25 team to begin the season with a surplus of talent, the Longhorns finished the year 16-18 — the only sub .500 in Barnes’ history as a head coach which spans more than 25 years.

That’s pretty impressive. But last season? Far from it.

Expectations are low for Texas entering the 2013-14 campaign, and the coaching seat hot for Barnes.

The offense wasn’t very good to begin with last season, and compound that with Texas losing Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis and Ioannis Papapetrou, it doesn’t figure to get much better. There are many uncertainties entering the season, with the primary one being who will actually score the basketball. Barnes told the Longhorn Network that he wasn’t sure “who would be that guy if we had to go get a basket.”

That’s pretty unsettling. Entering the year not knowing who was going to be “that guy” isn’t a good thing.

If there is one bright spot for Texas, it will be on the defensive end, according to Barnes.

The last season Texas was considered a top team and routinely in the Top 25 was in 2010-11; they were 28-8 that year and earned a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Much of their success that year could be attributed to their defensive play as they held opponents to just 29.5% shooting from 3PT and 42% shooting from 2PT — both top ten nationally.

Said Barnes, “We haven’t been good the last couple years. We will play harder and play better defense. With the size we have, we’ll be able to protect the rim.”

Rising sophomore guard Javan Felix will spearhead the effort to turn the program around and back to its winning ways. That’s a big onus for Felix, especially considering he is the top offensive threat returning from last season. Felix averaged 6.8 points and shot 35.4% from the field — both of those numbers will have to drastically improve.

With a dearth of proven scorers, Texas will need to hang their hat on the defensive end in order to find success.

Boise State loses guard Harwell to torn ACL

Leon Rice
Associated Press
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.

Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.

Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.