Last week, we asked you to submit your questions for the upcoming basketball season. JC & myself picked out a handful of questions and answer them below.
Cirque Du Salado: Beyond the arc, Felix has been the least reluctant to pull the trigger from way out, but his shot is inconsistent and he a liability on defense. Might someone else … say Yancy or Croaker …. take a step forward to help punish the sagging defenses Texas is sure to see? Holland? Holmes? Taylor?
jc25: Since conference play started last year, Demarcus Holland is 6-19 (31.6%) from beyond the arc. Prior to that, Holland shot 16-75 (21.3%). So...#BELIEVE? The right answer is that Barnes is counting on efficiency improvement across the board, but Javan Felix will still lead the team in 3PA. That said, Barnes has publicly stated that he has given Isaiah Taylor the metaphorical green light. I expect Taylor to attempt significantly more than the 19 3's he shot last year, and in fact, Barnes' history of lead guard development has borne that out (see stats of: Ford, Gibson, Augustin, Brown, Felix).
Kool Hand: Can you describe specific examples of how the 2013-14 team demonstrated improved chemistry on the court? What should we look for in early season games to indicate whether or not the additions (especially Turner) are in the same page as teammates and coaches?
BWG: Well, for starters they didn't have a wing player skulking around the edges shooting eye lasers at Rick Barnes, so there's that. I think one of the better methods for determining a team's buy-in is watching the bench, specifically the guys that play significant minutes. The walk-ons are all rah-rah towel wavers because that's as much as they can realistically contribute during most games, so I'm not really paying much attention to them for cues. If the big guys are watching the game, talking to the guys on the floor, and invested in the game, that's a good sign. Case in point, watch the reaction to Holmes' game-winner against KSU:
Who are the first guys up on Holmes when he sinks the shot? Damarcus Croaker & Ridley, who were both on the bench.
As for signs this year, I'd really watch the passing and how well(or poorly) they're anticipating the passes. If I could make a football analogy, think of it as the difference between a QB waiting for his receiver to get open and him throwing to the spot where the receiver will soon be open. There's a comfort level between guys who play together a lot, and if Taylor can get Turner/Barnett into that mix with the existing guys then they'll be cooking with gas on the offensive end. You could also watch any zone defense Barnes throws out there to see how quickly the teammates compensate for each other when the zone collapses/expands/rotates.
Scipio Tex: We have 120 minutes available at PG/SG/SF. It’s the end of the season. Who saw their minutes go up over the last half of the year? Who saw their minutes go down?
jc25: The two guard spots are easy to prognosticate. Taylor and Holland will average around 30-32 MPG, from the first to the last game of the year. Felix is the primary backup to both the 1 and 2 positions and keeps his 20-25 MPG, with Holland and Kendal Yancy serving as emergency ballhandlers if case of foul trouble or injury. Holmes will start at the 3, and I expect him to spend at least half of his 20-25 minutes on the wing. That leaves 30 minutes or less for Yancy, Damarcus Croaker, and Jordan Barnett. My autoregressive model forecasts Yancy to emerge victorious by year-end, especially if he can score consistently.
Jeffrey Haley: Will I be fielding questions about Shaka Smart by Christmas?
BWG: You won't stop hearing about Shaka Smart until you block my text messages and unsubscribe from the 'Shaka is My Shakual Shakolate" Facebook group I founded in 2011. I got a chance to hear him speak to other coaches a couple of months ago and it did nothing to diminish my man-crush on him as a coach; his FIST press technique is sound, well-taught, and designed to disrupt while minimizing vulnerabilities. It's the closest thing I've seen to Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of Hell" defense in a long time in terms of repeatable success at a high level. This isn't a novelty like Navy running the wishbone 30 years after its prime; the FIST(and it's trapping variant, the Double FIST) could work in any major conference. I would love to see Shaka in burnt orange some day.
PokelahomaCRFF: Why can't Barnes recruit elite talent?
jc25: This might have been a semi-facetious poke at BWG(ED: it was entirely facetious), but I think Barnes finally has his recruiting strategery the way he wants it. A few years ago, we posited that Barnes had shifted his strategy to (A) refocus efforts in Texas, (B) find and develop multi-year starters, and (C) target a solitary one-and-done difference maker per class. To that end, Barnes has recovered nicely from the ill-fated 2011 class. A few factors have helped. (1) Bringing back Rob Lanier and adding Jai Lucas to the staff has worked wonders on the recruiting trail. (2) Barnes has wriggled his way into previously closed doors, landing Yancy from a notoriously anti-Texas AAU program and building connections to Houston's alternative AAU scene (i.e., non-Houston Hoops) with Isaiah Taylor and Shaquille Cleare. (3) Finally, don't discount the John Lucas and T.J. Ford notoriety in the Space City. Huge.
Super D: How good or bad is Turner's free throw shooting?
BWG: It's surprisingly difficult to track down stats on high school players online beyond your basic PPG-type categories, so take this info with a grain of salt. In his U18 FIBA games, he shot 75% on 12 attempts. A handful of other games I've found put him somewhere in the 75% range in an admittedly small sample size. When you consider his ability to shoot from outside, it wouldn't surprise me to see him hit in the 70%+ range from the charity stripe this year. He's raw in a few areas but this one seems relatively polished, or at least as polished as you get from an AAU star.
Texitect: More comprehensively how bad is the team's free throw shooting?
BWG: It will be mediocre, which is a substantial improvement from the last couple of years. The worst offenders from the line last year were Ridley, Holland, Prince, & Yancey; all 4 shot under 65% and Ridley is the only one to crack 60%. If Ridley & Ibeh can continue to improve at the line(Ridley's conversion rate nearly doubled from his freshman year & Prince was up significantly, so they're capable of making the necessary adjustments) and the other two can get into the 60s or even low 70s, the team as a whole will improve. A.J. Abrams isn't walking through that door, but he may not have to.
kool hand: Do the Aggies, #they run this state in basketball too?
jc25: The old recruiting adage is that "package deals don't exist." But in today's post-LeBron world, balling with friends has become as commonplace as Snapchatting. To that end, the Aggies made massive headway into this year's class by offering a scholarship to Avery Johnson late in the 2013 cycle. Johnson, who played for Texas Titans AAU, led to the Aggies being this year's trendy team in DFW. However, wins are the currency of long-run sustainable, and I'm agnostic as to whether Billy Kennedy can keep this up.
Heapinhelpin: The Ridler – any chance he’ll be fit enough to become an above-the-rim player by his senior year? a few less pounds to carry this year should really help. has his offensive game improved any? does he have moves? or is he still just a rebounder, shotblocker, and powerdunker?
BWG: The only way Cameron Ridley becomes an above-the-rim player is if somebody lets him borrow a trampoline. That's not his game, and it doesn't really need to be; he'll be 55 years old and backing down dudes in a local YMCA and there isn't anything wrong with that. Cam has been working on his touch and extending his offense out to 10-15 feet because, well, if he wants to play pro ball that's a necessity. We will see how well he's able to do that this season; I have high hopes for Cameron because he's got All-American potential, but none of those hopes involve him being a high flyer. Side note: I don't expect him to be here for his senior year. He might be, but if he improves like I'm hoping there's a good shot he gets drafted.
Wulaw Horn: If we aren't a top 3 seed in the big dance the regular season was a let down, right?
BWG: I've been hemming and hawing over this question because the engineer in me is loathe to plop down a pronouncement before Texas has played a single game, but given the talent and potential of this squad I think a top 3/4 seed is a reasonable goal. Is it the end all, be all of the season? Not for me; I don't care if they're a 15 seed if it ends up with a deep run in the tournament. This is about as far as I'll go: if this team doesn't have major injuries or a significant loss due to academics/Martez-level knucklehead behavior, the floor for this team should be the Sweet 16. I'll get into this a little deeper in an upcoming piece.
Stay tuned for more preseason pieces over the next couple of weeks as we look at the roster, the non-conference schedule, & the program as a whole.