A couple of years ago, my Pretend We’re Football co-host Tim Preston got us to start playing a game called ‘30/10’, where we have to go through the roster and say if each player is a 30-minute/game contributor or a 10-minute/game contributor. The idea is that we’re assigning a relative importance to each player (the math isn’t supposed to add up to 200 minutes per game) and fleshing out our ideas of who will be the biggest cogs in the team. The first year we did this, it went pretty quickly; the second year we did it, it took more time and we disagreed on a player or two. This year is going to take awhile, which is without question a good thing and a sign of the depth of this team.
While I think four players have a good stranglehold on their starting spots to begin the season, there are three to five other players who could rise up and challenge them depending on what kind of lineup the Texas Longhorns coaching staff decides to roll out on a given night. With depth comes flexibility: this team can put together a solid four-guard lineup; three guards, a stretch-four, and a big lineup; three guards and two bigs lineup; a lineup with a pair of guards, a pair of wings, and a big; there are options a plenty for this coaching staff. Let’s look at each of these (with an example grouping in parentheses) and discuss their merits.
Four Guards (Courtney Ramey, Matt Coleman, Jase Febres, Andrew Jones, Jericho Sims)
I am going to talk about this one first because it is the one I’m most interested to see, it gathers together some serious offensive firepower and adds in a big capable of playing the PnR game with any of them. They have four shooters on the floor who defenses have to respect at all times, which means the defense either has to switch everything to stick to the shooters (thus opening up defensive mismatches if you run through multiple screens quickly) or they play strict man (thus opening up a number of potential PnR exploits). If Texas can play with pace this season - Texas will join 352 other D-I schools who have announced they intend to play faster this year, so...yea - then it can open up some holes on most defenses in the country. Defensively, this lineup could be a mixed bag depending on the opponent; if the other team chooses to stick with two bigs, it could prove problematic for Febres or Jones if they’re matched up with a true stretch-four. I know the team is working on a five-out variant to their offense, so if you put these guards/wings with a big like Will Baker they could ostensibly play five-out for a few minutes a game. That sound you just heard was me letting off a barely-within-human-hearing-range ‘squeeeeeeeeeeee’ thinking about this lineup.
Three Guards, A Stretch-Four, and a Big (Ramey, Coleman, Febres, Kamaka Hepa, Sims)
If I had to guess, this type of lineup is the one Shaka Smart and crew would prefer to put on the floor because it means a couple of things have happened: there’s a bit more size on the floor to help with rebounding and some of the guys they recruited to be stretch-fours are actually starting to come into their own. There are few bigger advantages in high-major basketball than a 6-8+ guy who can hit a three, and if one or more of Hepa, Gerald Liddell, or Will Baker can prove a more reliable threat from three than Dylan Osetkowki then this lineup could be the most utilized of the options mentioned. It also helps that this lineup is the most “hot-swappable” of the ones I’m going to discuss; on a given night Jones, Donovan Williams, and Brock Cunningham could sub in for Febres, Kai Jones, Liddell and Baker could sub in for Hepa, and Baker, and Royce Hamm Jr could sub in for Sims. It’s the lineup most resilient to foul trouble from an individual player.
Three Guards and Two Bigs (Ramey, Coleman, Febres, Baker, Sims)
This lineup feels like a lineup with some problems to me; or to put it another way, it’s a lineup that happens because the coaching staff is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Say Sims isn’t rebounding very well and Baker isn’t hitting threes...well, you now have last year with a taller Osetkowski and you’re hoping Baker can rebound somewhere near the rate of DO. Or say Jones and Hepa don’t give you much this year, so you need to go to a more conventional lineup to vanilla things up. (I don’t know if anyone outside of Utah has ever intentionally vanilla’ed anything up, it sounds incredibly bland. HEY EVERYBODY, I TOOK ALL THE SOY SAUCE OUT OF THIS CHINESE FOOD, EAT UP.) This seems like a fallback lineup to me.
Two Guards, Two Wings, and a Big (Ramey, Coleman, Liddell, Kai Jones, Sims)
Kai Jones as a wing may sound counterintuitive, but given Shaka Smart has said he doesn’t expect Jones to play the five much and Jones’ perimeter shooting is unproven enough I don’t want to call him a stretch-four; so he’s a wing. A, uhh, really tall wing. A stretch-wing...a string? (I’m already talking myself out of this idea.) The offensive prowess of this lineup could vary really wildly as it has a lot of questionable-to-unproven offensive players in 3/5ths of the starting spots, so scoring could be problematic. On the defensive end though, it could be kinda…..havoc-y? Imagine Ramey and Coleman at the head of a man press with the length of Liddell and Jones roaming as interceptors behind them, or imagine last year’s zone press with a guy of Jones or Liddell’s length and athleticism stalking the first passing lane after the trap in the corner. It could be a terror in short bursts, the kind of lineup that flips a handful of possessions in a tight game.
I mentioned the depth earlier; it’s nice for the interchangeability in some of the options listed above, but it also pays dividends in another way: Texas is less reliant on freshmen than it has been since Shaka Smart’s first year in Austin. Will Baker is a five-star recruit and could really make an impact if he lives up to his billing, but if he can’t it doesn’t derail the season. Imagine how things would’ve gone if Mo Bamba hadn’t turned into much or last year if Jaxson Hayes hadn’t blown up (or just how appalling the 11-win season would have been if Jarrett Allen was a bust); even if Will Baker, Donovan Williams, and Kai Jones all spend the year on the bench, there’s still a solid seven to eight man rotation to work with here. A starting lineup of Coleman, Ramey, Febres, Hepa, and Sims can win compete with any team in the Big 12 on a given night. Moreover, it’s a starting five that could be together for two years in a row. That’s a level of continuity Texas has not had in a long time.
The minutes listed below are a ballpark idea of what I think they’ll average over the season, but I expect as conference play cranks up it will probably get trimmed down to an 8 or 9-man rotation and the numbers will adjust accordingly.
|Royce Hamm Jr||6|