March 22, 2010

Texas Hoops - What's Next?

It's time to push away from the rise to No. 1 and that 17-0 start as well as the 7-10 finish in UT's 24-10 season. Time to move on from the NCAA first-round flameout, the missed free throws and missed layups and ever-changing rotations and figure out where things go from here.

LOST STARTERS:

G Justin Mason


09-10 season totals:
--3.6 ppg
--40.7 percent FG
--23.5 percent 3-pt FG
--50.9 percent FT
--19 mins per game
--2.0 rpg
--59 assists
-- 32 turnovers

SUMMARY: Of Mason's four years at Texas, his worst year statistically was as a senior. His FG percentage, FT percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio all were career lows. He started 31 of the 33 games he played in this season because he's the kind of junkyard dog Rick Barnes has always had somewhere on his team. He's a guy who gave everything he had on the defensive end. But even Mason's steals (29) were the second lowest of his career to his freshman year (22). Mason ended up starting 132 of 141 career games in his time at Texas. Not bad for a guy who never did anything consistently on the offensive end (not shooting from outside or even driving to the basket).

F Damion James

--18 ppg
--10.3 rpg
--50.1 percent FG
--38.3 percent 3-pt FG
--67.4 percent FT
--30.3 mins per game
--33 assists
--69 turnovers

SUMMARY: James leaves Texas as the all-time leading rebounder in school and Big 12 history. He played at a national player of the year level through the first 17 games and kept his game at a high level throughout the year. Easily James' best season from a consistency standpoint, and he probably helped himself with the NBA in that area. He is still not the defender he needs to be for the NBA's tastes, and the NBA will question his leadership on a team that self-destructed over the last 17 games. But he's a guy who can innately track down a rebound, and that has big value in the NBA. It certainly had big value for Texas. With the exception of his assist-to-turnover ratio, James' numbers were the best of his career this season. He will be missed incredibly.


C Dexter Pittman

--10.4 ppg
--5.9 rpg
--65.4 percent FG
--55.6 percent FT
--19.1 mins per game
--63 blocks
--17 assists
--60 turnovers

SUMMARY: Pittman got off to a great start this season when Barnes was using his entire bench, getting up and down the floor and subbing Pittman frequently to keep him fresh. Pittman was great against North Carolina (23 points, 15 rebounds in 26 minutes) and Arkansas (20 points, 9 rebounds in 27 minutes). But as Barnes continued to play Justin Mason and Dogus Balbay together in Big 12 play, teams began to sag off the guards and crowd Pittman. His confidence took a blow. He became tentative, and he never really recovered. Still, Pittman put up his best numbers in points and FG percentage this season and commanded double teams all season, which should have opened things up elsewhere.


RETURNING:

G/F Jordan Hamilton, 6-7,will be a sophomore, 10.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg

OUTLOOK:
Hamilton proved as the season went on that he could take coaching. His shot selection and ability to make the extra pass improved as the year progressed, and his minutes reflected that. He still looked unsure at times in Barnes' random ball screen offense. Hamilton had 16 in the first half and helped bring Texas back from a double-digit deficit against Wake Forest. But he didn't even get a shot until the 8:35 mark of the second half of that game, which Texas lost in overtime. Unbelievable. He is a gifted, gifted scorer if he can pacify Barnes by doing the "other" things Barnes wants him to do. His decision to say he'd "definitely" be back next season was probably a little surprising, considering Hamilton might have the most NBA upside as a 6-7, two guard in the NBA. We'll see if he stays firm on that.


G J'Covan Brown, 6-1, will be a sophomore, 9.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg

OUTLOOK:
Brown's off-season could be the most important of any returning player simply because it was so obvious he and Barnes were on opposite sides of the spectrum at the end of the season. Brown's minutes were almost non-existent until it seemed Barnes needed some offense. See the Wake Forest game in which Brown played only 3 minutes in the first half and ends up leading the team in scoring with 20. Brown played fearlessly down the stretch in that game (as he always seemed to - remember the shot at home to force OT against Texas A&M before UT pulled that one out?). It was some kind of cruel hoax on Texas that Brown, the best FT shooter on the team, would miss two in the final minute of that Wake game. But the kid is gifted offensively. Barnes really struggled with Brown's body language and mood swings and wants Brown to carry himself more like a leader. (Barnes at one point this season was ready to start Brown in a game and didn't like his body language in the pre-game locker room and didn't start him.) We'll see.

F Gary Johnson, 6-6, will be a senior, 9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg

OUTLOOK:
Johnson took his game to a new level from a consistency standpoint and became a dependable scorer on the low block. Even though Johnson's scoring average dipped slightly from the 08-09 season (10 ppg), he was much more efficient. He converted 54.7 percent of his shots from the field this season compared to 44.8 percent last season. His FT percentage of .691 was second-best on the team behind J'Covan Brown's (.883). Where he'll have to improve the most is going and getting rebounds to help make up for the loss of Damion James. But he will be a front-line starter on next year's team.

G Dogus Balbay, 6-1, will be a senior, 3.8 ppg, 3.1 apg

OUTLOOK:
Balbay says he'll be back for his senior season after rehabbing from a torn ACL in his left knee, which means Texas should once again have one of the best perimeter defenders in the country (a.k.a. The Turkish Prison). The question with Balbay is if he'll ever get to a point where he feels comfortable shooting. It didn't happen this past season, and when Texas got out of its up-tempo mode, the Horns really suffered in the half-court offensively with Balbay. Like Mason, Balbay is most effective when he drives and creates for others. He needs work on finishing around the rim and hitting FTs. But he brings a lot of confidence to the defensive end.


G Varez Ward, 6-2, will be a junior (a sophomore if he gets a medical redshirt), 6.7 ppg, 2.3 apg

OUTLOOK:
According to players and coaches, Ward had a great off-season and seemed primed for a breakout year before tearing his quadriceps tendon in a layup line before the team's game against Pittsburgh on Nov. 24. Ward has never shot the ball particularly well (he's a career 39 percent shooter) and is 3-of-27 (11 percent) career from 3-point range. (He's a career 65.5 percent FT shooter.) So he's almost identical to Dogus Balbay except that Balbay is a career 45 percent shooter. Barnes loves Ward's defense and toughness. (Ward is a former option quarterback in high school who helped his team reach the 6A state finals in Alabama.)


G Jai Lucas, 5-10, will be a senior, 2.7 ppg, 1.4 apg

OUTLOOK:
Lucas fits into a rotation if Barnes gets back to an up-tempo, full-court style that requires a deep bench. Lucas got more minutes late in the season, and finished the year as the team's best 3-point shooter (12 of 26, 46.2 percent). Before the season, the coaches loved Lucas' ability to protect the ball and make good decisions. Lucas finished with a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But he's 5-10, and that's not going to change.


G/F Shawn Williams, 6-6, will be a sophomore (a freshman if he gets a medical redshirt), 1.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg

OUTLOOK:
Coaches really like Williams' basketball IQ. (They like most of the IQs of most of the players who went to Duncanville and played for Phil McNeely). Williams played in seven games before an ankle injury sidelined him the rest of the season. Who knows how much ground he can make up this off-season, but the coaches have said they really like his upside. And they think he can fill it up from long-range. (He was just 1-of-5 from 3-point range this season in seven games.)


F Alexis Wangmene, 6-7, will be a junior, 2.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg

OUTLOOK:
He played in 30 games this season, and served as the first option off the bench for Dexter Pittman early in the season. As the year wore on, Wangmene's minutes became less predictable. His offense consists of put-backs. He's physical with long arms and could develop into a reliable defender. But time will tell.


F/C Clint Chapman, 6-10, will be a senior, 1.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg

OUTLOOK:
Chapman had some nice moments in very limited reserve duty. He only played in 16 of 34 games this season. But he upped his FG percentage considerably from 36.3 percent last season to 58.3 percent this season. He's still got a long way to go on the rebounding front, but he made some improvement this year.


C Matt Hill, 6-10, will be a senior, .7 ppg, 1.1 rpg

OUTLOOK:
Hill played in 23 of 34 games this season and is a sturdy screener who plays consistent position defense. He actually had a huge sequence with a block and a couple rebounds in the North Carolina game that helped break that game open in the first half.


MAY BE BACK

G Avery Bradley, 6-2, will be a sophomore, 11.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 apg

OUTLOOK:
Bradley was considered one of the top recruits in the country last year and was incredible at times this season. But he was up and down offensively and seemed to wear down as the season progressed. Bradley shot only 43.2 percent and was just 37.5 percent from 3-point range. If anything, Bradley was tentative at first, literally trying to do exactly what Rick Barnes told him, instead of trusting his feel for the game. Bradley is projected as a first-round pick in several mock drafts. But he's not seen as a lottery pick. Rick Barnes has said if a guy is a sure-fire lottery pick, he should leave. If not, he should seriously consider coming back. Fran Fraschilla of ESPN (and a former Barnes assistant) says Bradley should return to Texas and get in better shape and take another step. But questions about if the NBA will have a work stoppage in 2011 could also play into this.


INCOMING TALENT

F Tristan Thompson, 6-9, 235

OUTLOOK:
Thompson is a power forward who should add some much-needed length and athleticism to a frontcourt that could use some with Damion James moving on. Thompson can guard three positions, including the perimeter, so he brings versatility. But he lacks a go-to move, has limited range and needs to improve his ball-handling (turnovers). Perhaps Thompson's biggest contribution right now might be convincing fellow Findlay Prep teammate PG Cory Joseph to come to Texas.


POSSIBLY INCOMING TALENT

PG Cory Joseph, 6-3, 180

OUTLOOK:
Texas is hot and heavy after Joseph, which could make things really interesting at the point guard position next season. He's a true point guard and has 3-point range and a strong defensive presence, which is a must for Rick Barnes. He's not as athletic as you'd think, maybe not even as athletic as Ward or Balbay, and he's not a great finisher. But the key words in all that is he's a willing defender . And those words are intoxicating to a guy like Barnes, who lost his mind this season with a defensively challenged PG like J'Covan Brown. Joseph is also from Canada, like Tristan Thompson. They are teammates at Findlay, just as Avery Bradley was. So Texas feels like it has a real shot at him. Joseph is also seriously considering UConn, Minnesota, UNLV and Villanova.


FINAL ANALYSIS:

Barnes has a lot of soul searching to do about what he wants this program to look like next season and if he has the personnel to run his random ball screen offense without more direction by the coach. The random ball screen offense is hard to defend, but if the point guard or guys running it don't know the finer points of it, it looks like goulash. Such was the case this past season.

Does Barnes turn over the point guard position to J'Covan Brown next season? Does he keep going with Dogus Balbay or Varez Ward? We know Barnes will be tempted to go with one of his junkyard dog defenders in the starting lineup (Balbay or Ward). If he puts both in the lineup, he'll have the same predicament he had last season with Mason and Balbay in the starting lineup playing 3-on-5. This time, however, there will be no Damion James to help bail Texas out.

If Texas lands Joseph and hangs onto Avery Bradley, they'll have some serious ball handlers and a group that can run, run, run. Picture Tristan Thompson at the 5, Gary Johnson at the 4, Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton and Shawn Williams rotating at the 3, J'Covan Brown and Jai Lucas at the 2 and Varez Ward or Dogus Balbay at the 1 with Joseph rotating in. (There are multiple combinations at the 1, 2 and 3, but you get the point that there will be lots of talent to work with.)

Texas has to hope Thompson can come in and rebound because Texas will miss James' ability to track down second-chance points on the glass as well as limit opponents to one shot. Thompson has shown to be a good traffic rebounder because of his long wingspan and athleticism. But rebounding at the college level is a whole new ballgame when brutes are pounding on you.

How comfortable will Barnes be with guys like Hamilton and Brown next season? Will Thompson and a guy like Joseph be able to adapt quickly or no? If the answer is no, next season could look a lot like this past season.

With Pittman, James and Mason moving on, Tristan Thompson will assume one of those scholarships. So will Jai Lucas, who paid his own way this past season. The third scholarship is being held for Joseph, if he'll bite. If Bradley or anyone else moves on, there would be more scholarships available. But in any case, it looks like there will be rich talent on the roster. Will it meet all of Barnes' demands? Will the talent mature the way Barnes wants or will Barnes have to bend to accommodate young talent? Time will tell.

--Kansas loses Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins and possibly Xavier Henry.

--Baylor loses Tweety Carter, Josh Lomers and possibly Ekpe Udoh and LaceDarius Dunn.

--Kansas State loses Denis Clemente and Luis Colon.

--Texas A&M loses Bryan Davis, Donald Sloan and Derrick Roland.

--Missouri loses J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor and Keith Ramsey.

--Oklahoma State, which finished tied with Texas at 9-7 in the Big 12 even though UT swept OSU, loses Obi Muonelo and probably James Anderson.

So there will be opportunity to move up from a sixth-place finish in the Big 12.

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