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End of Season Grades for Texas Basketball

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NCAA Basketball: NIT Final Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

I was reminded this week that I had mentioned doing end-of-season grades for the basketball program by my fan.

James is good people, I guess; I’ve never met him. He might strangle hobos between tweets for all I know, but I have to do something to kill time until the Battle of Winterfell on Sunday so here we are. Needless to say these grades are going to be understandably mixed. It’s worth mentioning that the overall grade may not add up to the average of the other grades because not all portions of the seasons are created equal and also nobody’s college admission is riding on this math working out so let’s all just relax and enjoy the inevitable arguments that will follow.

Offense: B+

Nonconference: C+

Conference: B+

NIT: A-

I’m starting with the offense because it showed the most improvement of any aspect of the team. By most any tempo-adjusted number, this was the best offense Texas has had since 2011. Their year-end adjusted offensive efficiency (113.5 points per 100 possessions) was 29th in D-I, putting them in the neighborhood of Kansas (27th) and Texas Tech (25th) and well ahead of teams like TCU (64th) and Kansas State (98th). Their three-point shooting percentage (34.8%) was the highest it has been since 2011, their free throw percentage (69.9%) was the third-best since Kevin Durant went pro, and their turnover percentage (16.2%, 36th in D-I) was excellent. There were some rough stretches in nonconference play as Texas was trying to go faster than the team was comfortable going and it wasn’t until the coaching staff slowed down the tempo that the team started to read the floor rather than execute predetermined moves for the sake of speed. Texas had the second-highest offensive efficiency in the Big 12 during conference play, only Baylor was more efficient. There was a lot to like from the offense, but it has room for improvement. Getting another shooter who can make 37%+ from three will open up the floor even more; thankfully Jase Febres and Courtney Ramey look to be shored up on that front by Andrew Jones and a potentially much more potent Kamaka Hepa next season, plus the subtraction of Dylan Osetkowski’s Night King in the Polar Vortex cold streak capability could help raise things up on its own. The team needs to finish at the rim better as well; Jaxson Hayes and his “I Will Dunk Everything You Get in the Area Code” field goal percentage is likely in the NBA next season, so the guards and bigs are going to have to step up and make more bunnies. This is where I would mention DO’s yips leaving being a potential counterbalance if I were being mean, but I’ve turned over a new leaf just kidding how does a guy miss that many layups though? Texas could stand to lower the number of times they get their shots blocked as well, they were 248th in D-I getting a shade over 10% of their shots altered.

I know some people think Shaka can’t coach offense, but the team was legitimately better in this area and most of the players responsible for the improvement are back in the fall so there’s reason for guarded optimism on this front.

Defense: B-

Nonconference: B+

Conference: C

NIT: A

The irony of the season is that the section of the team Shaka had under control for his first three seasons was the section that seemed to elude him this year; while Texas was solid defensively in nonconference play and some sections of Big 12 action, the bottom really fell out the last 6 weeks or so of the regular season. The offense was (usually) scoring enough to win if the Longhorns played defense the way they are capable, but they weren’t generating enough stops for it to result in wins. The defensive efficiency on the season as a whole (94.4 per 100 possessions, 26th in D-I) looks good, but if you narrow it down to conference play it balloons to 105.2. The net difference between AdjO (108.8) and AdjD (105.2) in conference play is 3.6 points per 100 possessions; in other words, in a given 70-possession game Texas played about 2.52 points better than their competition, so any team who could nail an extra shot or two tended to beat the Longhorns. That’s a margin for error which lends itself to a team finishing about .500 in conference. Huh, look at that, Texas was 8-10 with four losses being by 3 points or less. Ain’t math something?

The reason this grade isn’t worse is because Texas rediscovered their defensive aptitude in the NIT; they locked down multiple good offensive teams in a relatively short span. TCU was flustered so badly Jamie Dixon spent halftime texting his agent about UCLA, Lipscomb’s Dollar Store Jimmer Fredette Garrison Matthews was held without a bucket for 32 minutes and eventually left the game with a physical and emotional limp, and Texas tossed Colorado down an abandoned mine shaft before pouring napalm on the carcass and flicking a lit cigarette in the hole. The Longhorns hunted a couple American animals to near-extinction in the span of a couple of weeks. That was elite defense regardless of the level of competition, and I hope the players figured out that this kind of effort is possible on a regular basis.

Coaching: C+

Nonconference: C-

Conference: C

NIT: A

I guess this is somewhat covered in the previous sections as they’re the ones pulling the strings on the various aspects of the team, so I’ll keep it relatively brief. The coaching job was a decidedly mixed bag:

  • It took a 3-game losing streak in nonconference play before they made major offensive adjustments BUT they made the right adjustments and the offense got better.
  • They kept giving Kerwin Roach the ball in high-leverage late-game possessions BUT eventually started moving him out of the plays later - much, much later - in the season. BUT THE KANSAS GAME sorry that final play is going to be etched on Snoop’s grave and I am going to have a hard time letting it go.
  • Their short-term game management of Andrew Jones was questionable BUT they did preserve his redshirt options down the line, if he wants them.
  • The defense escaped them down the stretch BUT showed out in the NIT.

It’s all a jumbled bag of pros and cons and so they’re getting a barely passing grade of C+ on account of the way they got the team rolling on the way to the NIT title. This grade would be significantly lower otherwise.

A Note About Darrin Horn

Darrin Horn is reportedly heading off to Northern Kentucky to become their head coach as John Brannen has left for Cincinnati. Horn has tinkered with the idea of leaving before, he was almost re-hired at Western Kentucky a few years back, but ultimately stuck around. I guess Horn really loves living in Kentucky. This kinda sucks, as Horn was a good recruiter and excellent developer of bigs. I would imagine his departure likely closes the door on Jaden McDaniels, however small those chances were, though I don’t know enough about the recruitment to say that definitively. I will miss Horn’s once every other fortnight tweets, he really knew how to retweet what Texas Basketball tweeted without adding any comments of his own. RIP Horn tweets. Having said that, this might not be the worst time for him to move on? The 2020 Texas class is probably going to be tiny; the only potential senior next season is Eli Long and it’s relatively unlikely any of the other players head pro early, so there just aren’t that many spots available. If Texas needs to replace a recruiter, this offseason is one of the better times it could happen. If Jai Lucas sticks around (still TBD) then between Shaka, Jai, and Neill Berry they can recruit pretty well in the interim. It’s incumbent upon Shaka to find a coach who can help fill Horn’s shoes, but it’s not an insurmountable task.

Overall: C

Nonconference: C

Conference: C+

NIT: A

This season was a disappointment, without caveat. Other seasons you could point to some sort of tremendously unlucky event - Andrew Jones getting cancer, Cameron Ridley’s effectively season-ending injury, the whole Tevin Mack thing - that altered the season’s trajectory. This year they just blew it; yes, Roach was suspended, but that was his own doing. This season falls on the staff more squarely than any of the previous years. Having said that, the job they did rallying the team for the NIT was remarkable and better than I think any of us had a right to expect. They have a good story to tell the players going into next year, they have the possibility of building upon a good ending to make some progress next year, and they have most of their major contributors returning to see it through. So there’s hope, if they do this right. They may fuck it up entirely though, so it’s very reasonable for fans to go into next season with a “show me” attitude. You’ve been burned before, you might get burned again. We’ll find out in a few months which way this will go. In the meantime, I need to emotionally prepare for Tormund’s death. Please excuse me while I build a shrine to The North’s Greatest Wannabe Husband and sob at the sight of large jugs of milk.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by Drumcomplex.