Texas Basketball Preview: #5
Overall Rank: #5
Conference Rank: #2 Big 12 Conference
2008-09: 23-12, 9-7
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Rick Barnes (270-105 at Texas, 472-239 overall)
The 2008-2009 season was not what Texas fans have come to expect. The team struggled to a 9-7 conference record and was home by the end of the first weekend of NCAA Tournament play. A poor assist-to-turnover ratio and a complete lack of consistent outside shooting did them in, but Coach Rick Barnes hopes a year of experience and a talented group of newcomers can change all of that.
Key Losses: G A.J. Abrams, C Connor Atchley
Jai Lucas, a transfer from Florida, could put an end to the point guard concerns once he is eligible after the fall semester. He is not a true point guard and will do his fair share of scoring, but Lucas is a talented ball handler who will run the point at times. Avery Bradley has improved greatly over his last year of high school and is ranked among the best recruits in the nation. He will attack the basket with ease and has a nice mid-range game, but it might be asking a little too much to expect him to replace Abrams outside shooting. J’Covan Brown will add some quality depth on the perimeter. The wings get a couple potential stars in Jordan Hamilton and Shawn Williams. At 6-7 and 6-6, respectively, those two will bring some size to the backcourt.
Dogus Balbay improved as last season progressed, but the 6-1 junior only started 13 games. He is not much of a scorer, but he did dish out 3.1 assists per game and only turned the ball over 1.4 times. Justin Mason filled in much of the time at the point, leading the team with 4.0 assists per contest, but he does his best work off the ball. Mason struggled to score because he spent so much time on the ball. Mason is not much of a shooter either, but he can be a very dangerous scorer if Balbay and Lucas can handle the point. Varez Ward, another potential starter at point guard, had a decent freshman campaign and has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and get to the foul-line.
Hamilton and Williams may battle for the starting small forward spot if Coach Barnes wants to play big, but the 6-7 Damion James will likely spend most of his time at the four spot. That leaves Dexter Pittman as the starter at the five spot. Pittman, a 6-10, 290 pound center, emerged as a relatively consistent scorer around the basket and a capable rebounder and shot blocker. Gary Johnson averaged 10.0 points per game while coming mostly off the bench. With a player of Johnson’s caliber, assuming he can stay healthy, able to come off the bench will make this frontcourt nearly impossible to stop. Add Clint Chapman, Matt Hill and Alexis Wangmene to the mix and this group has a ton of quality depth.
Who to Watch:
But it is still James who is the star of this team and when he pulled out of the NBA Draft, Texas’ expectations went through the roof. After tallying 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds a year ago, James will be a consistent double-double threat. James is only 6-7, but he is a strong 225 pounds who is obviously not afraid to mix it up in the paint. Yet, James can also step outside and hit the long ball.
Williams might be the best pure shooter on this team and his versatility will be a big plus. But can he and Bradley turn a team that finished last in the Big 12 in three-point field-goal percentage into a team that can knock down the long ball to compliment their already established interior scorers? That appears to be a bigger issue than the point guard situation which should at least be serviceable with Balbay, Lucas and Mason.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Varez Ward, Sophomore, Guard, 4.2 points per game
Justin Mason, Senior, Guard, 6.1 points per game
Shawn Williams, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Damion James, Senior, Guard, 15.4 points per game
Dexter Pittman, Senior, Center, 10.1 points per game
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