As noted in the diaries, Andy Katz has Texas as his pre-pre-season #1 team for 2008-09.
If DJ Augustin comes back.
Andrew and I think DJ's headed pro, but let's pretend he's not and talk about it for a few minutes, both because it'll be fun and I need a break from work.
The 2008-09 team would look exactly like this year's team, minus a couple dozen minutes from JD Lewis and Ian Mooney, both of whom graduate. Texas would replace those two with two superior guards in J'Covan Brown and Dogus Balbay.
Both are 6'2 Brown is 6-2, Balbay 6-0, and both can handle the ball, instantly upgrading our depth at guard by 67%.
Texas is still in the mix for a couple other big name recruits, but under the assumption that DJ and Damion return, there's a scholarship problem. Either someone like Harrison Smith would have to go off scholarship, or there'd need to be a transfer. For now, we'll just cap the roster as is; anyone else that comes aboard would be gravy.
Texas did a lot well on offense this past season. We were off the charts protecting the ball, solid beyond the arc (38%), and surprisingly strong on the offensive glass, securing nearly 37% of our misses (40th best nationally).
What didn't Texas do well? We were a below average team shooting twos (48.5%) and we struggled all season to get to the free throw line. Texas' 21.8% Free Throw Rate was 271st in Division 1 basketball. (Good news caveat: none of this season's Final Four participants finished in the Top 50 in FTM/FGA, and only North Carolina finished in the Top 100.)
Mostly, it was an outstanding year on offense, as evidenced by Texas' Adjusted Efficiency of 123.8, third best nationally. Looking beyond the stats, though, for two straight years Texas has struggled when its undersized guards have been smothered by long, athletic defenses. We saw it for the first time in February 2007, when Kansas State came to the Erwin Center and muscled around DJ and Abrams, stealing the upset. The same problem plagued Texas in the second round of the '07 tournament, as Texas' guards were handcuffed by a bigger, more athletic USC squad. And we all just saw what Memphis did to the Longhorns in the regional finals.
Part of the solution next season would involve bench help from Brown and Balbay - allowing us to rest better our starting guards - but the bigger solution involves improvement in the frontcourt. Texas will certainly have depth in that regard, so much so that the competition for minutes should be fierce. Gary Johnson, Connor Atchley, Dexter Pittman, Alexis Wangmene, and Clint Chapman all return, and Matt Hill should be all the way back from the foot injury that sidelined him for '07-'08.
That's a good problem to have, allowing Barnes both room to experiment with different lineups, an ability to play different match ups based on opponents, and some margin for error should any of Texas' forwards befall injury (or fail to develop). One thing you had to love about this year's national champion Jayhawks was their ability to succeed with a variety of personnel groupings. Bill Self could go long and fast with his big guys or insert a Jumbo package with big bodies to bang.
Texas will have some of that ability next year. Texas can run with DJ-AJ-Mase-Connor-James, it can go a little bigger but still athletic with DJ-Mase-Gary-Connor-James, Barnes can go big with DJ-Mase-James-Gary-Wingman, or Barnes can go Jumbo with Pittman-Wingman-James and two guards. And those are just a few of the possibilities. Hell, if we had flash cards with Texas' roster, we could spend an entire afternoon playing Line Up Musical Chairs.
This roster should help Texas on defense, as well. Not only will Rick have more options, but he won't be forced to play DJ and AJ for 38-40 minutes a game. As we all know well, Abrams is a very useful college player. But he has limitations, and when Texas finds itself matched up with an opponent which is going to take away the things he can contribute, we can just change our look. That's not just better for our offense; it's huge for our defense, where AJ is often a liability. (To his credit, AJ improved a lot this year. Still, there's only so much you can do at 5-10, 160 pounds against Memphis-type guards.)
The roster flexibility helps the defense in other ways, as well. With more bodies at his disposal, Rick can experiment with full court pressure without worrying that he'll be gassing the only guards on his roster. For a team that gave team after team hell because of our quickness, we weren't able to do much full court pressuring because we had three guards we counted on for 35+ minutes and no back ups to speak of. Barnes (wisely) played to avoid foul trouble or fatigue, but if DJ returns, this roster would give him a lot more options.
Don't forget, too, that the next time we see these guys will be after another offseason working with Todd Wright. The impact of that probably can't be overstated.
It's fun to think about another year with this group, isn't it? Give this year's squad a couple back ups at guard, a year of maturity, and another offseason of strength and conditioning and you can imagine this team being incredibly special. Things to consider as we await DJ's decision:
- Zero percent chance that DJ Augustin doesn't see Andy Katz's article. Any chance the prospect of returning as preseason #1 has any effect on his decision? Not saying it should, but... hey, who knows.
- Dogus Balbay, assuming he's at full health, is going to surprise Texas fans. When I was trying to get the scoop on Kevin Durant's decision last offseason, I chatted on the phone with a draft expert who - after breaking the bad news that Durant would be leaving - went out of his way to make sure I understood what a strong player Texas was getting in Balbay. He would have made a big difference this season. If he's at full strength next year, I expect good things.
- Whether DJ returns or not, I'm fascinated to see what happens with the Texas front court next season. What's the next step for Pittman? For Johnson? Clint Chapman is intriguing as hell. When WingMan gets the game to slow down, he's going to be incredibly useful.