2009-2010 Texas Longhorns Season Preview
By Ryno of Predictem.com
Last Season: 23-11 overall, 9-7 Big 12, NCAA Tournament Second Round
Head Coach: Rick Barnes
Key Losses: A.J. Abrams, Connor Atchley
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jai Lucas 5-10 Jr.
SG: Avery Bradley 6-2 Fr.
SF: Gary Johnson 6-6 Jr.
PF: Damion James 6-7 Sr.
C: Dexter Pittman 6-10 Sr.
Key Reserves: Dogus Balbay 6-1 Jr. PG, J’Covan Brown 6-1 Fr. SG, Jordan Hamilton 6-7 Fr. SF, Justin Mason 6-2 Sr. PG, Shawn Williams 6-6 Fr. SF, Varez Ward 6-2 So. SG.
Texas started last season strong with wins over UCLA and Villanova, but after a loss at Arkansas the Longhorns struggled for much of Big 12 play and only got a real quality win over Oklahoma. The Longhorns lost in the Big 12 tournament to Baylor and then lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Duke after defeating Minnesota in the first round. The Longhorns return a quality cast of players and bring in five impact newcomers. Kansas is the consensus No. 1 team this season, so the Longhorns aren’t even the favorites in the Big 12, but they have as good of a chance as anybody at reaching the Final Four and cutting down the nets in April. This could be the year that Rick Barnes’s excellent recruiting finally pays off.
Who’s In/Who’s Out
Texas lost its leading scorer, A.J. Abrams, who averaged 16.6 points per game last season and won many games for the Longhorns during his career with his outside shooting. But they have plenty of capable guards to replace Abrams. Jai Lucas, the son of former NBA great John Lucas, started his career at Florida after being highly recruited and a McDonald’s All-American. Like Abrams, Lucas stands at just 5-foot-10 and has terrific quickness. The Longhorns also lose center Connor Atchley, who had a disappointing senior season after shining as a junior. Atchley gave them size inside and a versatile big man who could step out to the 3-point line. The most important addition is freshman Avery Bradley, one of the top recruits of the 2009 class. Bradley is a combo guard who can score at will. He is excellent at creating his own shot and getting into the lane. Jordan Hamilton is also an elite recruit. The 6-foot-7 wing has incredible length and athleticism. Freshman Shawn Williams also has great length and athleticism and will see some playing time off the bench. J’Covan Brown was a coveted recruit last year but was ineligible for all of last season. Brown is another scoring guard to add to the mix, as Barnes all of a sudden has an impressive crop of guards to choose from.
Lucas enters the fray, but the Longhorns do have other capable point guard options in Dogus Balbay and Justin Mason. However, Lucas gives them a better scoring option at the point guard spot. Mason is a solid senior floor leader who is especially the team’s best defensive guard. He scored 6.1 points per game last season, but he plays excellent defense and runs the offense well (4.0 assists per game). Balbay did a nice job running the point last season as well with 3.1 assists per game, but he has virtually no jumper. Defenders usually play off of him when he has the ball on the perimeter, lessening his effectiveness. Mason started every game last season and could be the starter this season as well, but either way he and Lucas will both get a lot of playing time. Brown is a scoring guard with terrific speed and quickness who excels on fast breaks. Bradley will carry much of the scoring load for the Longhorns from the get-go. He will instantly become one of the top players in the Big 12. Bradley will likely play around 30 minutes per game, so Mason, Lucas, Balbay and Brown will have to share the remaining minutes. Mason and Lucas will get a lot of minutes at point guard, so Balbay and Brown may not get as many minutes as they would like. The Longhorns could go with a three-guard lineup at times with so many talented guards, but with all of those guards standing 6-foot-2 or shorter it won’t be a regular occurrence. Varez Ward averaged 4.2 points in 15.1 minutes per game as a freshman last season, but he will likely see a decrease in minutes because of the team’s depth in the backcourt.
Damion James is one of the top returning players in all of college basketball. He flirted with entering the NBA Draft, but he eventually decided to return to Texas for a chance at a national championship. James is a versatile combo forward who can step out and hit jumpers or dominate down low. James is very strong and athletic, and is probably the best offensive rebounder in the country. He averaged 15.2 points per game last season, many of which came on putbacks after offensive rebounds, and 9.2 rebounds. Returning to the center spot is Dexter Pittman, a powerful 6-foot-10, 290-pound senior. Pittman averaged 10.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season. He really developed into a quality player last season and should be even better this season. Gary Johnson, a 6-foot-6 small forward, had some serious hype coming to Texas but he finally broke out last season as a sophomore. Johnson, who averaged 10 points and 5.2 rebounds last season, is versatile enough to play on the perimeter but he does most of his work down low. Hamilton and Williams are both long, athletic wings with incredible potential. Fortunately for the Longhorns, they have very capable forward in James and Johnson, so the freshmen will be able to come off the bench and learn from the upperclassmen this season.
The backcourt for Texas is vastly different than it was last season. The Longhorns only had Mason and Balbay to rely on to play alongside Abrams. Mason and Balbay aren’t terrific scorers, so that was a slight issue. Now, they have an influx in serviceable guards with the addition of Bradley, Lucas and Brown. Barnes will never have a problem putting a quality point guard on the floor and getting points from his backcourt. Rebounding is certainly a strength when James and Pittman are on the floor. The two of them can rebound with any frontcourt duo in the country.
The Texas backcourt is stacked, but that could also be a weakness. Barnes will have a tough time finding playing time for everybody and that could somehow hurt the team. If Hamilton and Williams aren’t ready to play right away, the Longhorns could have a lack of depth in the frontcourt. Pittman and James are the only true big men on the team, and that’s true only if James is considered a big man, as he is more of a small forward.
Betting Odds and Projections
Texas is listed on Bodog with 12-1 odds to win the national championship. That’s great value for a team with a serious chance to win the title. The depth and talent on the Longhorns roster rivals any team’s roster in the country. But every year, Texas falls short of expectations. Will this season be any different? It’s hard to imagine this team not having a very successful season and going deep in the NCAA tournament. Because of Texas, Kansas isn’t nearly a lock to win the Big 12. The Longhorns should have a chance to win the conference title and stay in the top 10 all season long. The extent of the Longhorns’ success this season will depend mostly on how good Bradley and Hamilton are as freshmen.