Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 8 Texas.
MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule
Head Coach: Rick Barnes
Last Season: 24-11, 11-7 Big 12 (t-3rd)
Key Losses: Martez Walker
Newcomers: Myles Turner, Jordan Barnett
– G: Isaiah Taylor, So.
– G: Demarcus Holland, Jr.
– F: Jonathan Holmes, Sr.
– F: Connor Lammert, Jr.
– C: Cameron Ridley, Jr.
– Bench: Myles Turner, Fr.; Javan Felix, Jr.; Kendal Yancy, So.; Demarcus Croaker, So.; Jordan Barnett, Fr.; Prince Ibeh
They’ll be good because … : The Longhorns will pair one of the country’s most underrated point guards with a big, powerful, deep front line. Let’s start in the back court with sophomore Isaiah Taylor, who you may not realize is coming off of a season where he averaged 12.7 points and 4.0 assists. He’s quick with the ball in his hands and he’s got the best floater in college basketball. If he can find a way to extend his range this season — he shot just 26.3% from three — and cut down a bit on the 2.4 turnovers he averaged, there’s a chance he ends up being the best point guard in the Big 12.
And that would be huge considering that he’ll be playing on quite possibly the only team in the country that can go big-for-big with Kentucky. Junior Cameron Ridley finally looked like a top ten recruit during his sophomore season while Jonathan Holmes somewhat surprisingly developed into a dangerous combo-forward that can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot. Connor Lammert reportedly got a start at the four during a secret scrimmage with Davidson, while Prince Ibeh blocked 1.7 shots per game despite playing just over 13 minutes last season as well.
The x-factor is going to be top ten recruit Myles Turner. Turner is a really bright kid with size, length and athleticism, but he’s still raw at this point in his development. His back to the basket game leaves something to be desired, and he has a tendency to float out on the perimeter, looking for catch-and-shoot threes. He’s got the talent to be a lottery pick, however, and if he plays like it, Texas will be scary.
But they might disappoint because … : There are two concerns that I have with this Texas group. First and foremost, the defensive end of the floor. When the Longhorns put their best five players on the floor, they will have a lineup where Holmes is playing the three. The 6-foot-7 senior has some perimeter skills and is a threat at the three-point line, but he’s still more of a college four than anything else. Can he defend someone like Kelly Oubre or Bryce Dejean-Jones? Those are the types of players that will be playing the three in the Big 12. And if he can’t, can Texas effectively play a 2-3 zone with their three bigs across the baseline?
The other concern is three-point shooting. When you have a lineup that is loaded with big men, it is imperative that there are players that can knock down perimeter jumpers to keep the floor spread. If there aren’t, than defenses can collapse on anyone that is posting up knowing that they aren’t going to consistently get hurt leaving shooters wide open at the three point line. Taylor shot 26.3% from three last season. Javan Felix shot 34.3%. Kendal Yancy shot 35.3%, but only took 17 threes. Damarcus Croaker shot 29.7%. Demarcus Holland shot 29.2%. Even Holmes shot a measly 33.3% from three. Who stretches the floor for Texas?
Outlook: Texas has the talent to once again play like the Texas teams that we grew accustomed to under head coach Rick Barnes. It was one of the best stories of the 2013-2014 season, as Barnes had all-but been fired by … well … everyone. Instead, this team built itself around defense and rebounding and got just enough offense from guys like Taylor and Holmes to finish third in the Big 12 and make the NCAA tournament.
The question now is whether or not the Longhorns will be able to grow this season. They essentially return the exact same team this season, only with the addition of a top five recruit and future lottery pick in Turner. Will Barnes find a way to take advantage of this team’s strengths while minimizing some of their (glaring?) weaknesses? That remains to be seen.
The Big 12 is tough this season, particularly at the top of the conference. I like the Longhorns’ chances of making a run at a regular season title.