For the first time in a long time, there really isn’t a ton of hype surrounding Rick Barnes’ basketball team. After losing three first round picks, Barnes has to rebuild his roster, and Kevin Durant isn’t about to walk through the door. He starts the season with just three players who have college experience.
That isn’t to say that Texas won’t field a solid team this year, with junior J’Covan Brown leading the way. Brown was more of a role player last season, but will be leaned on heavily on the offensive end this season. Brown will be joined in the backcourt by freshman Myck Kabongo, the latest Canadian to wear the Longhorn uniform. This will be one of the smallest Longhorn teams in recent memory, with just one player on the roster taller than six-foot seven. The Longhorns will rely on redshirt senior Clint Chapman and fellow senior Alexis Wangmene to control the paint.
Scoring could be difficult at times this season for Texas, especially down low, so Rick Barnes will need to ratchet up his trademark defense even more than usual. Without his best defensive guard, and inside defensive anchor, that is asking a lot. No doubt this is one of his biggest coaching challenges to date.
J’Covan Brown is being forced to take on a major role this season. Going from backup point guard and scoring spark off the bench, to the team’s go to scorer is a difficult transition. Still, Brown is most likely up for the challenge. He came alive in the NCAA tourney last season, and managed to average 10 points a game despite averaging only 20 minutes of playing time a night.
Brown will get the benefit of playing mostly off the ball, as freshman sensation Myck Kabongo will handle the point guard duties. Most reports say Kabongo is a capable shooter, but that his greatest strength is court presence. With Kabongo running the offense, there should be plenty of quality shots for the rest of the Longhorn players.
Filling out the backcourt are three more freshman, Sterling Gibbs, Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan. Gibbs is a combo guard who can score and defend, and will play a valuable role with the second team. Lewis’ knock out of high school is that his shot comes and goes, but he brings a strong body and scoring ability. He will need to use that body even more on the defensive end. McClellan is the second highest rated freshman after Kabongo, and brings great slashing ability on offense.
While there is a ton of potential and excitement in the Longhorn’s backcourt, it is difficult to say the same about the big men. Freshman power forward Jonathan Holmes will eventually inherit the role of inside scorer, but there will be some growing pains along the way. He’s on the skinny side (just 220 pounds at 6-8) and could take some punishment from more developed interior players.
For now, Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman will have to carry the load inside. They are much more important on defense, but will need to be capable on the offensive end in order to help the guards stay open. Wangmene was a contributer on defense last year, and will need to step up even more this season. Chapman redshirted last year, and is the only player on the roster taller than six-foot seven. Barnes will need him to rebound and bang down low all season long.
Texas is clearly down, and rebuilding. Still, Rick Barnes has put together another solid recruiting class, and he has enough talent to make it an interesting season. Last year Texas won because of great defense, and just enough offense. Given Barnes ability to coach defense, that should be the goal again this year. If Brown and Kabongo can develop a solid chemistry on offense, while Wangmene and Chapman hold it down on defense, the Longhorns could still sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Those are a lot of “ifs” though.
Rick Barnes is never afraid of a good out of conference schedule, and this year is no exception. Texas will play at UCLA and at UNC in December. They join NC State, Vanderbilt, and Oregon State in the Legends Classic. Big 12 play could get off to a hairy start too, with a four game opening stretch of @Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and @Missouri.