Yes, it's here, hoops fans. Monday night marked the official beginning of the college basketball season across the country. The NBA might be locked out, but there is no locking out the college hoopsters. The Longhorns have been hard at work getting prepared for the 2011-2012 season that officially begins on Sunday against Boston University. With all of the new faces, Longhorn fans are certainly viewing this season with uncertainty and probably lowered expectations. Texas coach Rick Barnes won't be doing the same. How will Barnes' Longhorns look? Orangebloods.com takes a long look at the offense, defense, and a scouting report on a group of freshmen that are going to be expected to contribute heavily and quickly in the first edition of "The Fast Break."
Last season, the Longhorns averaged right at 75.0 points per game, which ranked 36th in the country, and were one of the better offenses in the nation. Texas was an explosive scoring group in 2010-2011 thanks to the talent assembled. However, a large chunk of that talent is gone. More importantly, virtually all the offensive production is gone.
That's the percentage of points per game lost to the NBA draft or graduation from last year's UT squad. It's almost a little overwhelming to think about for Longhorn fans. Texas had five players that averaged double figures last season, and four of those players have moved on. Only J'Covan Brown (10.4 points per game) remains from last year's bunch.
Mainly, this applies to Brown. He has to score in order for Texas to be successful this season against quality opponents. Last year, the 6-1 junior had a knack for coming up big in UT's biggest games. This year, that knack is an expectation for the player that is going to be depended on to lead the Horns in scoring. Does Brown need to average 20 or more a night? No, and that's something that most college players simply can't do. But he does need to be able to provide around 16 points per game with the ability to be a go-to-scorer down the stretch.
As for Kabongo, it's more about the freshman scoring to prove that he is a threat, especially in transition, off the dribble-drive and in the pick-and-roll game. In the past when Barnes had an elite point guard on the roster, he liked to put the ball in that player's hands a lot offensively. That meant a heavy dose of high screens and rolls with the trust put into that point guard. Will that happen this year? It could. Or Barnes could stick with the flex motion he implanted last season thanks to time well spent in Utah with NBA legend Jerry Sloan. He'd probably be better off doing more of the latter than the former. Regardless, all-everything freshman Kabongo has to prove he can get to the rack, finish at the rim, create and knock down mid-range jumpers.
Yes that list is four true freshmen, but that's what this season is going to be about for the Longhorns - youth. The youth is going to have to grow up, and the youth is going to have to score.
Of those three players mentioned, the most buzz lately from all of the UT closed practices and scrimmages has been around Bond. The 6-7, 224-pound forward from Philadelphia was originally planning on going to Pitt before the Horns swooped in. Obviously, everyone needs to take a wait-and-see approach with these freshmen. But if the buzz around Bond is accurate, his addition could be the difference between being competitive each game in the Big 12, or missing the NCAA tournament. You could make the argument he'll eventually be a guy that has to score, and that he'll be the most explosive player in a Texas uniform this season. Heck, he might need to be in that group right now. For Texas, Bond should present an athletic, above-the-rim presence along with being a physical, inside-outside forward that can handle the basketball.
The duo of McClellan and Lewis should provide UT with two skilled scorers with range and the ability to knock down mid-range jumpers consistently. Texas will need one of them to provide some scoring bunch each game, and it would be great for the Horns if both showed up consistently. If given the opportunity, both players should really excel at knocking down open jumpers and creating in an up-tempo offense. Each time these two stepped onto the floor wearing a high school or summer league uniform, they were a threat to possibly go off for 50 points on the offensive end. It will take some time for them to adjust, but the ability to contribute in double digits consistently could emerge for either one of these youngsters.
It would be REALLY nice for UT if
It is able to get any sort of low-post scoring presence from Clint Chapman or Jonathan Holmes. Yes, you could include Alexis Wangmene there, but he's proven to be a much more effective defender than anything else at this point in his career. From the looks of things right now, Texas is going to have to get a massive amount of its offensive production from the guards and those guards are going to also have to create opportunities for the bigs as well.
Also, it would also be really nice for Texas if it gets an established big - Bond, Chapman, or Holmes - to be the established pick-and-roll player that is a threat to catch the basketball and score.
The chances of Texas getting consistent scoring from somewhere in the paint is slim, but if it does happen it would make a significant difference from this team. A guy like Chapman averaging around eight points a night would be huge for Barnes and the Horns.
All Barnes teams are normally strong defensively. Will that apply to this year's group? It should.
Now, Texas lacks in size - just one player is listed over 6-8 - but it doesn't lack in quickness and length. Facing teams with an established, big low-post presence will probably give Texas problems at times, especially when you consider the short bench and lack of fouls to give from interior players. Crashing the boards from all positions is something that will absolutely be a must for Texas because of that lack in size. Just because you're a guard doesn't mean you can get out and start running before hitting the glass.
But considering what Barnes has, I would expect to see a lot of activity in order to utilize his quickness. That means being more active with double teams, traps, and rotations. Will that translate into a lot of full-court press looks? It could at times, but the reality of that situation is that Texas simply doesn't have the bench to consistently offer that look for 40 minutes.
History has shown that the inability to play defense means the inability to get on the floor consistently under Barnes. It will be tougher for UT's coach to make knee-jerk substitutions and shorten his bench simply because a player can't be a strong defender. Still, you can bet defense is going to be hammered home because it is what Barnes does best, and it's more about effort than offense is.
This isn't a UT roster that is filled with guys that can't defend. In fact, there probably isn't one recruited player on the roster that can't hold his own on the defensive end when he puts his mind to it. That being said, there are going to be very frustrating moments for Barnes at times, and for UT fans when their team encounters an opponent that presents a matchup that Texas can't effectively handle on the defensive end. Unlike last year, the Horns won't be one of the best defenses in the entire country, but it still should emerge as the strength of this basketball team.
A STARTING FIVE
No one knows for sure, including Barnes, but the Texas lineup could look like this:
PG - Kabongo SG - Brown SF - McCllelan PF - Bond C - Wangmene - or - Chapman
That's a pretty small lineup, but the Horns are a small team. Plus, they need the offensive firepower on the floor. If Texas wanted to go big, it could move Bond to the three and plug in one of Chapman or Holmes at the four.
A LOOK AT THE FRESHMEN
Myck Kabongo - An extremely quick, dynamic playmaker at the point guard position that keeps the basketball on a string. The five-star prospect dominated high school and summer competition with his elite skills and high IQ. His range is still developing along with a more consistent mid-range game, but it will be tough to find a better freshman point guard in the country. Oh, his combination of long arms, quick feet and good hips make him a strong on-ball defender.
Sheldon McCllelan - At 6-4, the product of Bellaire High School in Houston is a talented scorer that can do a lot of things well on the offensive end. He's got very good size for a guard, and is probably at his best in the transition game because of his ability to finish with his frame. McClellan is strong in the mid-range game, and can knock down three-pointers when given the time to square up and shoot. He has the tools to be a strong defensive player that should be able to rebound strong from his guard spot.
Julien Lewis - Like McClellan, Lewis is a guard that can really fill it up. The 6-3 freshman plays smaller than his classmate, but that's not a bad thing because of his ability to handle the basketball well. Lewis, who attended La Marque, had no problems creating his shot in high school, and had no problems showing off his deep range with a quick release.
Jaylen Bond - Comparisons to former Longhorn P.J. Tucker have been thrown around for Bond, and UT fans would certainly like that. He's one of those players that can jump out of the gym and come out of nowhere for a putback slam. He's also a more advanced shooter than people will probably anticipate, and Bond handles the ball well for a 6-7 forward. His ability to really defend on the ball will be tested. However, Bond should provide a rebounding presence because of his excellent athleticism, physical nature and he should emerge into a potential shot-blocker, especially from backside rotations.
Jonathan Holmes - Like Bond, Holmes also has the ability to be an inside-outside threat, but unlike Bond, he's more of a traditional power forward with the ability to play the five if needed. Texas lists the freshman at 6-7 and 239 pounds but he'll play bigger than that with ability to defend taller players in the paint.
Sterling Gibbs - Gibbs plays with a "New York State of Mind" meaning that the New Jersey/New York area product is extremely tough with ability to handle the rock and finish. Originally expected to sign with Maryland, Gibbs will provide UT with another player that can handle the basketball and create. He's more of a set shooter with a line drive stroke, but Gibbs does have three-point range. His toughness translates on the defensive end where Gibbs should provide Texas with the ability to defend on the ball well. Offensively, he's not going to be extremely explosive with Kabongo-like quickness, but he can be effective in a crafty way. The freshman is very savvy and certainly won't be intimidated.