Texas basketball is back! Or is it? The Longhorns have a new coach and a revamped roster, but can they really win a national championship?
Riley’s Ranking: 9th
A quick recap of Texas basketball coach Chris Beard’s offseason:
After luring him from Lubbock, Texas compensated its new head coach handsomely. Beard’s seven-year, $35 million contract made him the third-highest-paid coach in the sport. On top of that, he received an enormous budget to fill out his staff. To start, Beard convinced two active head coaches in Rodney Terry (UTEP) and Chris Ogden (UT Arlington) to join as assistants. Then, he managed to poach Jerrance Howard from conference rival Kansas! Talk about a haul.
In keeping with the Breaking Bad motif, think of the Texas athletic department as Gus Fring and Beard as Walter White. Similar to Fring offering Walt $3 million to construct his underground empire, Texas has provided limitless resources for Beard to build a basketball power. Those resources, combined with his pedigree, might make Beard the scariest coach in the country to recruit against.
Beard already proved his mettle by retooling the roster for the Texas basketball team this summer. No one worked the portal like him, as he landed sought-after players on a near-weekly basis.
His biggest prize came in the form of Minnesota transfer Marcus Carr. Over the course of Carr’s career, the 6-2 senior put up gaudy numbers for horrendous teams. But now, with reliable teammates and a brilliant head coach, he could emerge as the nation’s best point guard.
A gifted iso scorer, Carr uses his extensive dribble package to generate offense. He shakes his man via crossovers, in-and-outs and hesitations, but he also looks impressive once he gets to the rim. Though he isn’t some wild vertical athlete, he finds a way to hang in the air, deftly finishing around defenders.
Maybe most importantly, Carr has established himself as a model of durability. Over the last two seasons, he hasn’t missed a game and has led the B1G in percentage of minutes played. That stat becomes even more impressive when his insane usage rate is taken into account.
However, with the players alongside him in the guard/wing rotation, Carr won’t have to carry the offense like he did for the Gophers. Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones return for their senior seasons, giving a boost to the Texas offense. Ramey, especially, will shine as the side-Carr. The 6-3 guard gives the Longhorns another dynamic playmaker who creates shots for himself and for his teammates. While his long-distance shooting sticks out as his most notable attribute, his passing will prove indispensable for Texas basketball. Ramey routinely nails skip passes, connects on outlets in transition and makes smart reads out of the pick-and-roll.
Jones, on the other hand, is a gunner who confidently knocks down 3s off the bounce and off the catch. Though his shooting can be streaky, Jones has displayed a knack for clutch performances throughout his career. However, due to his porous defense, Beard may bring him off the pine.
If the coach opts for this route, don’t count out sophomore Brock Cunningham to earn a starting spot. He may be as bland as bran flakes, but he plays determined defense and makes unselfish plays for teammates.
A last note on the perimeter: Kentucky defector Devin Askew could see significant minutes as the backup point guard. Now more grounded and experienced, the Mater Dei product hopes to put last season’s nightmare behind him.
Turning to the frontcourt, Beard recruited the portal just as strongly — throughout the summer, he accumulated a glut of versatile forwards. Utah transfer Timmy Allen sticks out as the headliner, and he anticipates a feature role as a small-ball 4.
Simply put, Allen did everything for Utah last season. He led the team in scoring, minutes, usage rate and free throw attempts, and he finished second in defensive rebounding rate, assist rate and steal rate. Beard will welcome his well-rounded game, taking advantage of his skill on the block and his effectiveness as a slasher.
Next to Allen, Beard will deploy either Vanderbilt transfer Dylan Disu or Creighton transfer Christian Bishop. Of the two, Disu is the more gifted offensive player. The 6-9 junior optimizes his length whether rolling to the hoop from a screen or attacking off the bounce. More than comfortable on the perimeter, Disu also cashed 36.9 percent of his 3-point attempts last season. But don’t let his modern style fool you — I’ve never seen a guy on a nine-win team play with a motor like his. Disu dives on the floor for loose balls and relentlessly assaults the glass. Note his stats last season, when he finished top 10 in the SEC in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates.
Conversely, Bishop shines more on the defensive end, and he fits perfectly into Beard’s patented “no middle” scheme. Against PnR, in particular, he wreaks havoc. Whether he hedges, traps, or switches, the former Bluejay blows up opponents’ action before it even starts. He’s not without skill on offense either — Bishop has the potential to be the top rim runner in the conference.
Finally, UMass transfer Tre Mitchell adds depth to the post. The two-time Atlantic-10 All-Conference honoree brings many of the same perimeter skills as Disu, plus a polished post-game. Though similar to Jones, defensive shortcomings likely relegate him to a reduced role. Still, I don’t think Beard will complain too much about a guy with his scoring ability leading the second unit.
So, with its excellent roster composition and elite coaching, you may wonder why I’m lower on Texas basketball this year than my fellow Heat Check CBB writers. Well, most of my hesitancy centers on shot distribution and fit for Beard’s system. Regarding the former, note the usage rates of the incoming transfers and impact returners:
Who sacrifices shots from this group? How will the team’s chemistry play out? Are these players so desperate to win that they’ll trust Beard’s judgment no matter what? ESPN’s Jeff Borzello detailed the coach’s plan for buy-in — and I gotta say, it’s compelling. But as Borzello points out in his feature, “chemistry problems generally don’t arise in October, of course. It’s much easier to have a happy locker room before a game is played.”
Potential chemistry issues compound my concerns about the fit. Observe Beard’s time at Texas Tech, where he ran a methodical motion-type offense. Contrast that to Carr, who comes from a PnR heavy scheme that gave him zero constraints. Similarly, Ramey and Jones experienced three years of nearly-unbridled freedom under Shaka Smart.
Chemistry issues are not just between players, either. Texas Tech never ranked higher than 231st nationally in adjusted tempo during Beard’s tenure. But just look at this roster, which is full of incredible athletes. I’m begging you, Chris — unleash these guys in transition!
Now, Beard clearly has the coaching chops to make this team gel. Just remember — we’ve seen what the floor can be for “super teams” that just slap a bunch of big names together. I do admit, however, that the Longhorns‘ have a national championship-level ceiling. So, I understand if Texas fans are cool with the gamble.
Projected starters: G – Marcus Carr (Sr.); G – Courtney Ramey (Sr.); G/F – Brock Cunningham (Jr.); F – Timmy Allen (Sr.); F – Dylan Disu (Jr.)
Projected bench: G – Andrew Jones (Sr.); F – Christian Bishop (Sr.); G – Devin Askew (So); F – Tre Mitchell (Jr.); G – Jase Febres (Sr.); G/F – Jaylon Tyson (Fr.)
Strengths: Shot creation; depth; guard play; versatile frontcourt
Weaknesses: Chemistry concerns; shot selection
Best player: Carr
Breakout player: Bishop