A Three-Part Fool's Errand: Projecting the 2013-2014 UT Basketball Team


Generally speaking, projecting a team's productivity is a fool's errand for the non-statistician. Pile on another layer of foolishness for projecting on a Texas Longhorns team where the top 2 scorers left & is again one of the youngest teams in the country, and in I walk as the Resident Fool, happy to stare at numbers & pretend like I know where they're going to go after a tumultuous off-season with a hundred question marks. So let's just get this part out of the way: I'm probably going to be wrong. These projections are half-educated guess & half-wishlist, so chances are I'm coming in a bit on the optimistic side. Having said that, I think I've got a puncher's chance of being in the ballpark on these guys when I consider the advancement sophomores tend to make combined with Barnes' track record using freshmen. Then again, I named the spreadsheet I'm using "UT Basketball Unfounded Hopes" for a reason.

I'm going to break this up into 3 parts so that maybe I don't get too far into the weeds. One will talk about the overall team, one will focus on the frontcourt, and the final part will look at the backcourt. Let's get to it, shall we?

The team:

Relevant 2012-2013 stats (D1 rank, when available):

65.6 ppg (220th)
65.6 ppg allowed (145th)
41.3% FG% (267th)
38.4% FG% allowed (10th)
65.9% Free Throw % (276th)
37.3 Rebounds per game (N/A)
11.5 Assists per game (263rd)
14.7 Turnovers per game (279th)
0.78 A/TO (292nd)
4.8 Blocks per game (36th)

Let's be honest: even with a full season of Myck Kabongo, this team wasn't making the NCAA tournament. When you look back at last year's statistics, one thing becomes impossible to avoid: this offense was abysmal. Even by Rick Barnes' standards this was a stagnant & error-prone team. They ranked in the bottom 20% of all of D1 in both turnovers(an even 500 for the year) and their assist/turnover ratio(0.78). Would Myck have helped? Sure, but the sloppy play emanated from nearly every player on the team. Javan Felix - a guy that did his best in an impossible situation - is the only returning player with more than 50 assists last year, and also the only player with more assists than turnovers. Some of this can be attributed to having such a young team - I believe Fran Fraschilla mentioned this anywhere from 5-12 times per broadcast - and having to learn on the fly, but it's still an eyesore. The defense was actually pretty good for most of the year, though it tailed off as the season wore on. That can be attributed to a variety of factors, most notably a team full of freshmen hitting the freshman wall at the same time. (Again, it's hard to overstate the effort Javan Felix put in while spending most of a season not knowing if/when Myck was coming back. The kid was a warrior that simply ran out of gas.)

The bright side of this kind of singular offensive ineptitude is that it's not hard to make significant improvement. Even bringing this team up to the level of a median offense would put the team in the realm of the NCAA bubble, and with the news of the off-season along with some timely production from a couple of incoming freshmen, that's not a difficult projection to make.

2013-2014 Team Projections(D1 rank if it happened in '12-'13):

74 points per game(35th)
14 assists per game(90th)
13 turnovers per game(149th)
1.077 A/TO (97th)
38 Rebounds per game(N/A)
5.3 Blocks per game(17th)
6.7 Steals per game(163rd)

As you can see, I'm projecting improvement in almost all areas of the offense. Without getting into the player-by-player specifics(I'll leave that for the next 2 parts of this series), there are a couple of reasons I'm expecting/hoping for this level of improvement. For starters, several of the most important pieces to this team have had an off-season to work together on communication & refining their teamwork. They've also had another off-season of working on conditioning with Todd Wright, and another off-season of learning their positional responsibilities. There's also addition by subtraction, as the two leading scorers of a year ago(Sheldon McClellan & Julien Lewis) were the very definition of volume shooters. As you will see in the subsequent posts, I don't have a single player averaging 20 points/game or 10+ rebounds/game. I'm not projecting a massive improvement of any one player(though I'm about to turn into a complete homer for Ioannis Papapetrou) so much as incremental improvements in most players that results in a large improvement in aggregate. If Felix takes a little better care of the ball, if Prince Ibeh starts anticipating a couple more missed shots a game, if Cameron Ridley learns to set his position in the low block a little better...suddenly lanes start opening up, the team gets another easy putback, turnovers drop a little, and the close losses become wins. Little improvements yield big results for a team that was objectively terrible in close games. (Count the number of 'IFs' in that paragraph. Such is the life of a UT basketball fan.)

Defensively, I expect this team to be on par with last year's group, perhaps even a little better. I expect better defensive awareness from Ridley & Ibeh to increase the number of blocks per game(an area where they're already fairly good). I do expect some regression on the steals, though how much will depend on the defensive production from the incoming freshmen.

Part 2: The UT frontcourt(coming soon)

Be excellent to each other.

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