Texas has questions it needs to answer this season, but precious few of them have to do with the backcourt. The combination of Courtney Ramey, Matt Coleman, and Jase Febres with a possibly resurgent Andrew Jones waiting in the wings is a formidable group of guards on par with just about any team in the Big 12 outside of Lawrence, Kansas. Last season Texas had the second-most efficient offense in the Big 12 in no small part because of the proliferation of guards who took care of the ball; all of Ramey, Coleman, and Febres were above-average or better at avoiding turnovers. With the departure of Kerwin Roach II and Elijah Mitrou-Long, this unit could be top 10% nationally in turnovers. Defensively, this group should be up to the task of limiting any offense in front of them if they can consistently show the sort of focus and execution they displayed in the NIT.
Courtney Ramey (6-4, Sophomore)
With all due respect to Tim Preston’s adopted son, Matt Coleman, this is Courtney Ramey’s team this year. Ramey topped Coleman in a variety of metrics: three-point shooting, assist rate, offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and block rate are all better than Coleman. To be clear, Matt Coleman was good last year; Ramey was just better in all of these areas. Ramey has a fire that burns somewhere between Godzilla Scream and Homelander Orgasm which might need to be contained just a smidge if he doesn’t want to lead the country in double technicals this year. Playing with an edge is good and Ramey has zero fear on the court - I get misty-eyed thinking he might be distantly related to J’Onions - so you want him to tap into that, but all it takes is one cranky ref on his 12th game in 13 days overhearing the wrong word to get tossed so it’s incumbent upon the coaches to channel that energy. For Ramey to take the next step he needs to improve his turnover stats from decent (his freshman turnover rate was roughly similar to Coleman’s freshman year) to great, he needs to finish at the rim more consistently (his Synergy stats at the rim were not good), and he needs to raise his free throw percentage into the 70s. Given that Ramey was a 40% three-point shooter in conference play, I suspect his free throws will come around. Defensively, Ramey is very good with a potential ceiling of first-team all-conference defender; by the end of the season, Shaka Smart was putting Ramey on the opponent’s best guard and Ramey was tenacious at the point of attack. Synergy ranked Ramey in the top 16% nationally as a defender as a freshman; imagine what an off-season of conditioning work and technique taught by Smart and Luke Yaklich could unleash with this guy. I am as excited about Ramey as I’ve been about any Longhorns guard in a long time.
Matt Coleman (6-1, Junior)
While I’m excited about Ramey, I’m equal parts intrigued and concerned about Matt Coleman. Maybe concerned is too strong of a word, but I have questions. Coleman has spent the better part of his basketball career as a lead guard, building his game to be the type of ball-dominant point guard who orchestrates an offense and initiates everything while handling the ball 30+ minutes a game. But that’s not what Texas is now, and that’s not his role; Neill Berry’s offense is less about having one guard direct traffic and more about interchangeable guards who can all handle the ball a bit, shoot a bit, and drive the ball a bit. This isn’t a Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook offense where the point is the quarterback - speaking of which, good luck, Rockets - it’s a system that appreciates pace and quick decisions. That’s not to say Coleman can’t be a good player in this system; he has the speed to get into the lane, he has a passable three point shot, and he’s clearly adept at finding the open man. It’s just that Coleman hasn’t yet consistently shown the ability to excel in this system. Coleman just kinda disappears at time; consider that last year Coleman scored less than 10 points in 20 games last year. Some of that is due to Ramey and Jase Febres shouldering increased scoring loads, but some of it is because Coleman isn’t being consistently assertive. If I were basketball Zeus, I would put Coleman’s brain inside Ramey’s body and create a malevolent force that would murder the Big 12. As it is, I haven’t taken any medical courses - I can’t until they level the Drum, expand the Dell Medical School, and also allow subpar Gen Xers to take whatever courses they want - so I guess I’m just going to sit here and think about various Frankenstein experiments. Imagine PJ Tucker’s amygdala inside Coleman, or Rick Barnes’ charisma inside Tom Herman. Oooh, what if we put the ability to accept modern medicine inside the brain of Jenny McCarthy. NOW WE’RE COOKING WITH GAS. Coleman has shown elements of being a real on-court leader in practices thus far so I might be overthinking this, if he’s taken full ownership as a leader then he could really shine this year.
Jase Febres (6-5, Junior)
There are few people on this team who stand to benefit more from Courtney Ramey going full death blossom than Jase Febres. Having a second high-level perimeter threat will help keep defenses honest on Febres, and he doesn’t need much room to get his shot up these days. If Febres can continue to improve his ability to drive intelligently, it will give him yet more room to do damage from the perimeter. Also it will mean he’s more than a guy Texas plants in the corner, he would become a legit wing on a team with relatively few of those. Defensively, Febres is average and is unlikely to become an all-conference defender, but incremental improvements in how well he guards the three-point line will help Texas bolster their most glaring defensive deficiency last season. There are enough great shooters in the Big 12 that take advantage of even above-average defenders that there is only so much improvement that can be expected in this area, but Febres is plenty capable of ‘good enough’ defense. The math on him is pretty simple: he can give up 12 if he scores 16. If he goes off for 26 on 8-10 from three like he did against Iowa State, he can give up my 1Password master password for all I care.
Andrew Jones (6-4, Senior...kinda?)
Yes hi welcome to the section where I vainly attempt objectivity before tossing objectivity in the trash and proclaim Andrew Jones will take 250 threes and hit 180 of them. All of the 40 Acres is rooting for Jones, and they should be, but it seems like Jones is going to start the season coming off the bench. Part of this is because he’s still not 100% what he was before cancer; he’s probably 95%, but that 5% is big at high-major D-I basketball. 5% is the difference between starting and being the 7th man in a rotation, or the difference between me and ever touching the rim. It’s not *that* much, but it looks enormous in context as I attempt to untangle my severed ring finger from the knots in the basketball net. Can one of you guys hit it with the basketball to knock it loose? I’m getting a little woozy from the blood loss. Jones is probably going to be called upon to be instant offense off the bench, because even though he may not yet be quite as springy as he was a couple of years ago he’s still got a hell of a shooting touch. He could also log some minutes as a backup ballhandler, though I don’t foresee a lot of moments where both Coleman and Ramey are off the court so this could be mostly as a tertiary guard option.
Jones is as of this writing technically a senior, though the Texas roster shows him as a redshirt sophomore despite nothing being announced. Given how capricious the NCAA is, it might be a bit premature to assume they’ll grant the hardship waiver Texas is trying to get, much less the medical redshirt they can’t technically apply for until his eligibility is up. We’ve seen them rule in worse ways to people equally as deserving of the exemptions, so fingers crossed but don’t count your chickens just yet. The end result is that Texas and the Jones family are hoping Andrew will get at least 2 more seasons of eligibility, and there’s reason to think that could happen. If so, Texas could have the services of a once fringe NBA talent on the roster for way longer than anticipated.
Donovan Williams (6-5, Freshman)
Andrew Jones isn’t the only Texas player with a WNBA sister; Donovan Williams’ sister is Kelsey Bone, a former McDonald’s All-American and WNBA first round pick, Williams probably lost his fair share of games at home. Williams is a rail-thin - his “stretch” nickname is well-earned - rangey guard/wing with the potential for a solid outside shot if he can refine his release. Williams may not make a lot of noise this year on account of the depth in front of him, but there is a lot of potential in his game; he had offers from Georgia, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech before choosing Texas. I suspect Williams’ minutes will be highly dependent upon how much (or little) Andrew Jones contributes to the team this year.
Drayton Whiteside (6-0, Senior)
Drayton Whiteside has never missed a shot in a D-I game, and Texas is undefeated in games where he has played. I don’t know what more you could want in terms of statistical evidence that Whiteside should be the starting point guard at Texas. The fact that Whiteside has only played in eight games at Texas is a stunning piece of evidence that Shaka Smart does not know how to coach. Whiteside plays, Texas wins. It’s science.
I’ll get into how the minutes are distributed across the team in an upcoming piece.