When was the last time a team went from #1 to potentially unranked in the same year? I don't know, but there's a good chance Texas will be. There, I said it. As shocking as it seems to say this about a team that was ranked #1 for a week this year, its a question that has to be asked. More importantly, should we reevaluate our expecations of the program over the next several years?
First off, I'm an objective basketball observer. While I habitually drink the kool-aid regarding our football team, the coaches, and our prospects, I'm far more objective about basketball than football. Perhaps its because its what I grew up playing throughout school, in summer leagues, and at camps. Whatever the case, the truth is that the short run doesn't look good. It pains me to say that, but honestly step back from what we've done over the past two months and evaluate the situation. Stats don't lie, and neither do your eyes, its ugly and its going in the wrong direction. In college ball, you either have to be able to shoot from the perimeter or score in the low block with regularity. The good teams, like Kansas, do both. Texas does neither well.
I expect we will drop 2 to 3 more games, most likely @ A&M, @ Baylor, and either @Mizzou or in one of our upcoming home games (OU or OSU). If that's the case, we will probably find ourselves ranked somewhere between 20 and 25 come tournament time and most likely in the 5 to 7 seed range.
What are the issues and what does the future hold at each position? -- here we go.
Center/Power Forward - Dexter Pittman has gone from potential lottery pick to undrafted free agent in 24 games. The lofty expectations probably weren't fair to begin with and we can't fault Dex for them, however we can fault his inability to stay out of foul trouble, and his lack of a low post game. While his story has been an inspirational one of overcoming the odds through perseverance and great coaching, we can't let that sugarcoat our assesment of him. Dexter routinely fails to get on his block in time to establish low-post position. His skills rapidly diminish each step he takes away from the basket and he does not have the ability to turn and face the basket which you have to be able to do to be a successful bigman in the college or pro game. Let's not begin to talk about Chapman, Hill, or even Wangmene because none of the three provide enough on either side of the court to really merit playing time.
2010 Outlook- Dexter's departure will deal a huge blow this team next year because we will have absolutely no presence on the low block. Chapman and Wangmene will be back, and Texas will add another big body in 6-9 P/S Forward Tristan Thompson out of Findlay. Although he's young, Thompson will have significantly higher upside than either of the seniors and we should expect him to start down low. When 2010 tips off, the low post position will be a tremendous void and In no small measure the success of the team next year will be based on how quickly Thompson can have an impact.
Small Forward - There is nothing negative you can say about Damion James. The improvement in his game has been staggering, especially when you think about how much of a liability he was shooting the ball as a freshman and sophomore. Gary Johnson provides some much needed energy, although his size limits the effect that he can have on either side of the court. Johnson doesn't have the touch to become the kind of shooter James has become either. Jordan Hamilton is a bit of an enigma right now. When Hamilton is on, he can be deadly. The problem is he keeps shooting outside the flow of the offense even when he's not on. You want shooters to have that "no memory" metality, but not at the expense of costing his team quality shots. Hamilton may be suffering from the transition from the HS to the college game, where he cannot just impose himself on weaker defenders. In my opinion he needs the most coaching out of the bunch because his reaching his potential could add 10 to 15 ppg for this team. Williams' loss was unfortuntunate, but we can't say whether or not he would have had an impact. Through the handful of games he played, Williams appeared to be the longterm project of the bunch.
2010 Outlook - Another position where we have to set our expectations lower for next year than for they were this year. I'm optimistic that there is enough time for Hamilton to improve his game, but I'm worried that Barnes and the coaches may not be reaching him at the moment. Hamilton and Johnson will get the bulk of the minutes at the position next year, and Williams or Chapman could contribute a bit here too depending on matchups. Overall, the talent is there and hopefully the commitment is there too. No prospects are committed at the position at the moment.
Shooting Guard - Bradley has probably slightly under-achieved up until now as far as his overall game goes. Defensively, he's solid but not excellent (yet). Offensively, he doesn't look for his shot with confidence off the dibble, he doesn't move well without the basketball, and he's not a good free throw shooter. The one positive is that he's willing to take an open set shot, and he can knock them down occassionally. The outlook for the rest of the year shouldn't be to expect much more than what we're getting. Mason has come to be what we expect him to be, and Barnes has abandoned the idea that Mason can provide a "spark". Losing Ward really hurt here in my opinion. Ward was the only one of these three players who Barnes could have injected into the game to keep the same level of defensive intensity while providing a spark on offense.
2010 Outlook - Along with SF, this is probably the best position for the Horns next year. Bradley has all the tools to be an effective SG and he needs some confidence on the offensive end to be able to be a consistent contributor. Nothing that Bradley needs to do can't be done in a solid offseason. Getting Ward back will be big too. There are no SG commits at the moment.
Point Guard - At PG, the best player we have is Brown. His pluses include his ability to shoot both set and off the dribble, and he's an above average passer although he's no DJ Augustin or TJ Ford. His minuses are an inability to consistently finish near the basic, his defense which will be a liability in the future, and perhaps most importantly his unappreciable impact on the pace or flow of our offense when he's in the game. The latter point is critical -- Brown has not figured out how to steer this offense (I'll get back to this later). The good news is that he can turn his minuses into pluses, the bad news is that all of that can't be done during the season. Dogus is a defensive specialist and otherwise a liability on the floor. Lucas is a bust at this point with extremely limited potential.
2010 Outlook - Between now and the end of the season, Barnes needs to keep J'Covan in the game as much as possible and grab him by the shirt every time he comes in and out of the game. Barnes' teams are at their best when the PG is an extension of the coach and right now its clear that relationship doesn't exist. Texas has not recruited another PG at the moment. While I'd like for us to have another PG in the mix, we aren't in as bad of shape at the position as we are at others.