The Texas Longhorns Menâ€™s Basketball team opens the season on Friday night against Incarnate Word at the Erwin Center in Austin. While the Longhorns finished the 2015-2016 campaign with a respectable 20-13 final record, Shaka Smart’s inaugural season in Austin had a little bit of everything thrown in it. A mix of experienced veterans and exciting freshman set the Longhorns up for a very good season and possibly a deep run in the NCAA tournament until â€œthe shot.â€
With six key players from last yearâ€™s team not returning due to graduation or leaving early for the NBA, Smart had several roster spots to fill. The Longhorns brought in guards Andrew Jones and Jacob Young, along with big men Jarrett Allen, James Banks, Mareik Isom, and Tulane transfer Jacob Osetkowski (Osetkowski is not eligible to play this season due to NCAA transfer rules). This transition sees Texas going from a team with five seniors and one junior, to just three seniors.
With inexperience comes opportunity, which means Texas will once again have minutes up for grabs. Expect the Longhorns, at least early, to feature a nine, maybe even ten-man rotation. With the abundance of combo guards and the forward/center type of big man, Texas will feature a variety of lineup combinations to see what works best. The one certainty with this Texas roster is that there is no shortage of athletes – just the way Shaka Smart likes it. Texas will be able to truly play the havoc defense that made Smart famous at VCU, something he had to shy away from at times last season due to the lack of correct personnel to run it. The Longhorns will also be able to get up and down the floor very quickly, featuring lots of outside shooting that will keep other teams on their heels. With that being said, the go-to lineups and rotation are far from set.
Here is a quick synopsis on the ten players I expect to see in the rotation early in the season.
Kerwin Roach Jr. (So.): Probably the most athletic player on the team, can jump out of the gym. Not a great shooter, but good instincts that could help him in his increased point guard role.
Kendal Yancy (Sr.): The leader, and junkyard dog. Yancy will guard the opposing teamâ€™s best player on any given night. Has shown some ability to get to the basket, but isnâ€™t someone youâ€™d go to on the final play of the game.
Andrew Jones (Fr.): The prized freshman from Irving MacArthur. Jones is the closest thing the Longhorns have to a point guard on the roster, displaying good handles and playmaking skills. Jones and Roach will be splitting the vast majority of the point guard duties, and it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, takes the majority of the minutes.
Eric Davis Jr. (So.): Davis is the most skilled offensive player on the Longhorns. With a sweet shot from deep, and the ability to slash and get to the basket, a lot of the Texas offense will be run through Davis.
Tevin Mack (So.): Mack will see a lot of time at the power forward spot, although he is more of a natural small forward. Mack is a high volume shooter who can get hot at any time. When he is on the floor, Texas will be able to spread the ball out more, and will make opponents keep one eye on Mack.
Shaq Cleare (Sr.): Cleare was one of the surprises on the Texas roster last season, stepping in nicely when Cam Ridley went down with a broken foot early in the season. Cleare is a nice post presence on both ends of the floor, and is a good rebounder as well. Being the only senior in the frontcourt with experience at Texas, Cleare will see plenty of playing time throughout the season.
James Banks (Fr.): Banks is perhaps the biggest â€œprojectâ€ on the Texas team. With freakishly long arms and an impressive 6-10 240 build for a Freshman, Banks has the makeup to be successful at Texas, although it might take him some time to get acclimated to the college game.
Jarrett Allen (Fr.): The top ranked center in the country coming out of high school, Jarett Allen is a potential lottery pick in next yearâ€™s NBA draft. Allen, another 6-11 235 freshman who is as athletic as they come. With his ability to run the floor and hit the mid-range jumper, along with his rim protecting and rebound skills, Allen will be a starter very early for this Texas team, for good reason.
Mareik Isom (Sr.): Isom played his first three years at mid-major power house, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Bringing NCAA tournament experience and an outside shot that must be paid attention to. Isom shot 39.6% from deep last season at ULAR, a mark that will make defenses turn their heads.
Texas heads into the season ranked no. 21, the third highest ranked Big 12 team out of four, behind Kansas (3) and West Virginia (20). The expectations are high for this team on the 40 Acres, and they should be. It will take some time for everyone to get used to each other and adjust, but by the time conference play rolls around, Texas will be a very good basketball team. Their ceiling is as high as they want it to be, and we get to see the first chapter of the 2016-17 season on Friday night.