Rick Barnes and the Texas men's basketball team begin their march toward the Final Four with a home opener tonight in the Guardian's Classic against Southern. We have already previewed the season but we have a few more questions we will be looking to answer as the season progresses.
*We know the Horns will be strong inside, but what about the outside shooting?
Outside shooting could be this team's weakness. I'm not terribly worried, though. It is kind of like saying Texas' linebackers are our weakness on defense.
Daniel Gibson is a scoring point guard and an excellent shooter from deep. Kenton Paulino will likely start at shooting guard until Craig Winder or J.D. Lewis emerges. In the past, I have been a huge critic of Kenton for his defense and ball handling. However, he has always been able to shoot, and Barnes consistently says he is the best shooter on the team. Lewis, meanwhile, has drained threes in both pre-season games. He may not be quick enough on defense, but could shine in a niche role ala Syd Harris or Brandy Perryman. All that said, most teams who can play zone would be wise to sit in a deep 2-3 to take away Aldridge, Buckman, and Tucker and force Texas to beat them from the outside.
*Barnes is a man to man guy but last year we were so thin late in the year that he was forced to play more zone, primarily a 2-3. How much zone will we see this season?
I don't think we will see too much half court zone. Barnes loves man to man and will play at least nine guys until conference season. We are too deep to sit back in a lazy zone. I do see Texas playing a full court trapping zone after made baskets. The trap will force turnovers, speed up the game, and further magnify our advantages in depth and athleticism over just about every team we face.
*PJ Tucker is back. During his phenomenal freshman season he played primarily the power forward position like he did in high school. But with the arrival of LaMarcus Aldridge last season, Tucker was forced to the small forward spot. How successful will PJ be at the 3 spot, scoring and facing the basket?
Tucker hit a few jump shots in each of the two pre-season games. He even had a couple of successful dribble drives. But he still seems much more comfortable with his back to the basket. Tucker is an amazing basketball player. Look for Barnes to use him at the power forward position if Aldridge or Buckman have off nights or get into foul trouble. If PJ can develop better ball handling and a 10-15 ft jump shot, he may very well be NBA bound.
*Daniel Gibson and LaMarcus Aldridge are both absolute studs. ESPN's Andy Katz even alluded to both leaving after last season if Texas had made a deeper run in the NCAAs and if Aldridge had stayed healthy. Will either or both have solid enough seasons to ensure a jump to the NBA at season's end as lottery picks?
I hate to say this, but I don't expect Gibson or Aldridge to be at Texas next season. Both have NBA talent right now. Aldridge flirted with the NBA coming out of high school and would have declared if not for an injury that prevented his participation in workouts and pre-draft camps. Barring another injury this season, LaMarcus will head to the NBA as a lottery pick with tremendous upside at the end of this season. I also see this as Gibson's last year. After Tucker and Aldridge were lost for the second half of last year, Gibson became the on court leader of the team. He continued to improve throughout last season, even as defenses keyed on stopping him. His improvements peaked with a 27 point, one turnover masterpiece against Oklahoma in February. Gibson is the best point guard in the country and will be the key to a Final Four run in March.
*How many fans will show up?
If the first two games are any indication, then most UT fans will be watching from their couches. The texassports.com recap put the attendance at 10,985 for the game last week against Lenoir-Rhyne. That number represents tickets sold, including all season tickets holders. The turnstile said 5,319. So, we were only missing about 5,000 season ticket holders. Impressive. UT fans usually don't start showing up until after football season has concluded and conference season has begun. Hopefully, this year will be different.