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Five Questions for... Texas Longhorns

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Texas lost a lot from last year. Is J'Covan Brown ready to take the reigns of Texas' scoring load?
Texas lost a lot from last year. Is J'Covan Brown ready to take the reigns of Texas' scoring load?

 

Welcome to Five Questions for... Texas Longhorns.

Here you'll see five of the most pressing questions for the Longhorns and our response to them.  Feel free to contribute your answers in the comments section.

1. What happened to Texas at the end of last season?

2. Rick Barnes gets a lot of heat for being a mediocre coach, but after these articles from Burnt Orange Nation, does the public need to change its tune?

3. How legit is Myck Kabongo?

4. Texas made its money last year with great defense. Who are the key players on the defensive end for the Longhorns this year?

5. A lot is frankly unknown about this year's Texas team. What are the floor and ceiling for this team?

See the answers after the jump...

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1. What happened to Texas at the end of last season?

Evan Pfaff: The Horns relied heavily on Jordan Hamilton and his breakout year. He started missing a ton of shots at the end of the season and the youth and inexperience couldn't help them overcome his faltering. On that note, I was amazed that Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph both declared, still am. Even though Tristan went 4th overall, I thought they both needed an additional year of honing their skills before making the jump. And now with the lockout, they aren't playing against the level of competition that they should be to improve, so I'm fearful both might have limited NBA careers.

E. Carnes: Texas' formerly rock-solid defense fell apart toward the end of last February. The Horns stopped blocking shots, failed to grab defensive rebounds, and allowed opponents to get to the free throw line way too much. At times, it seemed like Dogus Balbay was the only player hustling on D. It's hard to pinpoint the reason for this. Not being aggressive enough? Not enough depth? Personnel issues? Karmic payback for the Longhorn Network? Who knows.

Nathan Kotisso: It was the same thing that crippled their team two years ago. Towards the end of last season, key players like Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton seemed more focus on the upcoming NBA Draft rather than the Horns making a deep run in March. Back in 2009-10, Avery Bradley, Dexter Pittman and Damion James (who all oddly played the same positions) looked forward to the draft, instead of the season at hand, and consequently saw the one-time #1 team in America flop in the first round of the NCAAs. Hopefully it doesn't happen for a third time.

Matt Patton: Agreed all around. I, for one, was surprised that the defense fell apart as quickly as it did. The offense was admittedly streaky, but Rick Barnes had all the pieces of an elite defense. I was bullish on the Longhorns last season, but they never bounced back. I think youth definitely played into it, and Hamilton showing weaknesses didn't help. But still...

2. Rick Barnes gets a lot of heat for being a mediocre coach, but after these articles from Burnt Orange Nation, does the public need to change its tune?

EP: Barnes is the best recruiter in the conference, but that doesn't necessarily translate well to coaching. With the amount of talent that has gone through Austin in his tenure, Barnes should have more tournament wins than he does.

EC: I'm not sure anyone can call a coach who has 16 consecutive NCAA appearances "mediocre." Barnes does take a lot of flak for not being an Xs and Os coach, for having his offense be an afterthought - charges these great BON articles help disprove. While I'm a fan of Barnes, I don't think that playing an NBA-style offense and snagging high profile one-and-done recruits is the best way to win a national championship. As cool as it is to see players like Kevin Durant in burnt orange, I'd rather have a group of guys who will stay around for a few years to develop as a team.

NK: I never thought Barnes was a mediocre coach. Each of his teams at UT have made the tournament including two Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights and a Final Four. Every head coach in America yearns for a team that can play lockdown defense and last year they did just that. Sooner or later, Barnes will win a national title in Austin, maybe not this year, but as long as the top-flight prospects keep coming in and he continues to preach defense.

MP: As an ACC fan, I've always been a little biased in my opinions of Rick Barnes. He's one of the top recruiters in the country and--with Bill Self's recent recruiting taking a slight slide--almost definitely the top recruiter in the conference. I also am now on board with Barnes as a defensive mastermind after transforming Jordan Hamilton into a defensive factor last season. But on offense, I've always felt like Barnes' teams fail to adjust (for an extreme version of this, check out Scott Drew's Baylor team against Kansas last year). They've got the talent, but his offense is very dependent on playmakers.

3. How legit is Myck Kabongo?

EP: Legit. He is another from the Findlay Prep to Texas pipeline (Avery Bradley, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson) and maybe the best of the bunch. The others were one and done, so it'll be interesting to see if Myck sticks around.

EC: Legit enough to garner preseason comparisons to T.J. Ford. If he's even half as quick as T.J., I'll be psyched. Barnes' teams tend to do better with an elite, playmaking point guard. From what I've heard and seen of Kabongo so far, he could fill that role. An early indication of Kabongo's importance to the Horns will be how he works with J'Covan Brown. If the two guards can work well together and play off each other, I think Texas could have a formidable offense.

NK: I'm sure he's as talented as every scouting service says he is. But the big question is who starts at PG with junior J'Covan Brown probably getting the nod in my opinion. I would be surprised if the Brown and Kabongo duo start on a regular basis even though they did in Sunday's game vs Boston University. It's like playing in a two quarterback system in football: a different look with each player can confuse opponents, but it makes it more challenging to have sustained chemistry and success overall.

MP: He's legit, but I'm not sure he's going to be "the man" this year. From all the scouting reports, he may be the best pure point in the 2011 class, but I suspect he'll take some time to get used to the college game. The good news is Texas has plenty of minutes to fill with Cory Joseph and Dogus Balbay no longer on the team. I think Kabongo will be one of the most exciting freshmen in the conference (but still a little streaky), and I'm driving the bandwagon for yelling "Kabongo!" after every play.

4. Texas made its money last year with great defense. Who are the key players on the defensive end for the Longhorns this year?

EP: UT lost their top six rebounders, five of their top six stealers and six of their top shot blockers. So I think the key for UT's D will be on the outside. If they can pressure the opponents guards they will be able to account for all that lost interior experience. So I think J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo are the keys to the Horn D.

EC: If Barnes has his way, every player on the roster will fit this bill by season's end. In the meantime, I hope we can see some defensive rebounding and shot blocking from freshmen forwards Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes. Hopefully, Kabongo will fill the on-the-ball defender void that Dogus Balbay left. I'm not holding my breath for significant contributions from senior big men Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman. I would love to be proven wrong on that, though.

NK: A lot will be expected form Alexis Wangmene who has the tough task of replacing lottery pick Tristan Thompson. Thompson's low-post presence was a major reason why Texas held the opposition to crazy low point totals a year ago. It may not come from fellow senior Clint Chapman either. Let's face it: he has been a disappointment since he stepped onto campus, but maybe with more playing time, Chapman can show off the kind of player he knows he is. So to answer your question, the key players on defense will be everyone who plays this year.

MP: Definitely agree on Wangmene. Not sure he will be able to match Thompson's shot-blocking, so Barnes needs him to crash the boards. Really having to replace everyone but J'Covan Brown from last year's main rotation hurts. Brown and Wangmene are especially important as vocal leaders and as tone setters.

5. A lot is frankly unknown about this year's Texas team. What are the floor and ceiling for this team?

EP: Every year Texas has amazing young talent. Every year they seem to rise at the beginning of the season and then falter taords the end. There isn't any reason to believe that won't happen again. So I feel that they will have a successful pre-conference campaign and then be mediocre in the Big 12, but good enough to make the NCAA tourney. So I'd say ceiling is 3rd in the conference and ceiling is 8th. There will be a bunch of conference games decided by a few points, toss up games if yu will, and that will determine their conference standing.

EC: Well, if the 2009-2010 season (where the Horns ascended to number one before free-falling off the rankings chart--something, as a Texas fan, I am still trying very hard to repress) has taught me anything, it's that you just don't know. There's a lot of raw talent on this year's team, but they're young and inexperienced - and Texas has a reputation for being inconsistent. That being said, I will be surprised if Barnes doesn't take the Horns to the NCAAs for the first time in his tenure at UT.

NK: For such a young team at key positions, it's out of the question that Texas would finish in the top 3 of the Big 12. But this would be a good year if the Horns win in the neighborhood of 20 games. Then they get the benefit of the doubt from the NCAA Selection Committee on Selection Sunday (because they're Texas) and therefore make the Big Dance. If that doesn't happen, Texas will find themselves in the NIT.

MP: I think Texas should finish in the top half of the conference despite its youth. But I can definitely see this team making the NIT because of consistency struggles. The Longhorns' ceiling isn't as high as some years, but don't forget: if you get hot at the right time, you can do some damage in the Big Dance. My guess is a low at-large bid (11 or 12-seed).