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Within my confession post last week, I made a promise that the BON Basketball Headshed would be cranking out a massive roundtable at the beginning of this week.  Tonight, that promise is officially fulfilled.  Myself, PB, Wiggo, and Big Roy each took our turns addressing some of the major issues facing this team as it potentially enters "the" season for UT Basketball.

If I made a confession last week, then I'm issuing a challenge this week.  I challenge each and every reader of this website to read this article and deny feeling a flood of excitement about the possibilities for the basketball team this season.  Honestly, I've already read through this discussion--and prepare yourself, because it's long--five times already, and it has me worked up into a tizzy.

After the jump, I invite each of you to read what is probably my favorite post in my time here at BON...

Txtwstr7: Gentlemen, let's do this...


1) Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this team is the staggering depth of the roster.  With the additions of Brown/Bradley/Hamilton and the return of Wangmene, the team has added four substantive "Hyperizers" to replace the losses of Abrams and Atchley.  In analyzing the roster from top-to-bottom, what jumps out at you?

Txtwstr7: Until you really look at the depth chart, I think it's easy to underestimate how stockpiled this roster has actually become.  When viewed separately, the additions of the three freshmen, the transfer of Jai Lucas, the enrollment of J'Covan Brown, and the return of Dexter Pittman and Damion James are all very nice additions to the roster--cumulatively, their effect is jaw-dropping.  Seriously, look at the depth chart and try not to salivate:

PG: J'Covan Brown, Jai Lucas, Dogus Balbay

SG: Avery Bradley, Varez Ward, Justin Mason

SF: Jordan Hamilton, (Shawn Williams--likely redshirt)

PF: Damion James, Gary Johnson, CWH

C: Pittman, CWH

CWH is for Chapman/Wangmene/Hill.  I think what jumps out at me is the overall completeness of the roster.  Rick Barnes might have had teams with better individual players, but I don't think he has ever had a group of individual players who create a better team.  The starting line-up of Brown-Bradley-Hamilton-James-Pittman is just ridiculous, but the focus on the starters overshadows the players sitting behind them.  With the exception of SF (assuming Williams gets redshirted), we have capable back-ups at every position, if you assume that one of CWH will make substantive progress this season.  What say you, Wescott?

GhostofBigRoy: I see many of the same things that you do. For the first time since I've been a Texas basketball fan, the losses pale in significance to what the team gains. A team that last year only had one perimeter threat now has some excellent options from the outside with the additions of Lucas, Bradley, Hamilton, and Brown. With better perimeter shooting, the Longhorns will be able to better space the floor offensively and stretch the defense, while opening up entry passing lanes to actually get the ball to Sexy Dexy when they want to. In other words, Texas will go from a poor offensive team to, hopefully, one of the most explosive offensive teams in college basketball.

PB: I thought talking third would be no fun, but neither of you mentioned the first thing that jumped out at me when I scanned the roster: the defense on this team is going to be special. Somewhere along the line Rick got the reputation of being a super defensive coach who struggled with offense, but the fact is that Texas hasn't had a strong defense since Gibson, Aldridge, and Tucker were around; conversely, three of the last four UT squads have been high elite offensive teams (KenPom Adjusted Offense Rating of #4 in 2006, #5 in '07, and #3 in '08).

At least defensively, this year's squad probably adds through subtraction with the departure of A.J. Abrams, who was useful when he put his quickness to work, but an overall liability at five-feet, three. Looking at who's back and who's arriving, the defensive potential of this team is obvious - certainly if you factor in the return of Wingman and the enormous improvement we saw from Big Sexy starting in February of last year. Bradley and Balbay may prove the two best on-ball defenders in the conference, V. Ward's defense only looks light in comparison, and Damion James can be a pill when he wants to be. It'll be fun to watch this team grow and jell offensively, but I fully expect them to be drowning opponents with defense from the get-go.

Awiggo: I agree with all of that, especially the staggering depth, the likelihood of a Williams redshirt, and the potential to be an elite defensive team. But, let me throw out another observation on the potential for even deadlier and more efficient offensive attack.

The starting five sets up perfectly as a four out-one in ballclub. With J'Covan, Bradley, Hamilton, and James all possessing the ability to slash to the basket with or without the ball and the consistency to knock down at least a mid-range jumper off the catch, if not the three ball, defenses will not be able to provide help on Dex. Dex's frequent foul troubles and stamina issues were certainly issues in his first couple of seasons, but the single biggest limitation on Pittman last season was floor space. With Mason or Balbay on the floor last year, Dexter was basically double teamed without the ball. Sexy Dex is a force but no one can score consistently through double teams before even seeing the ball in the half court. There is no way this will happen next year as the perimeter games of our newcomers will be too strong. This team has the chance to be nearly unstoppable on the offensive end.


2) The correlative problem with the depth of the roster involves the inevitable crunch for minutes.  One of the potential concerns for this team remains internal chemistry issues based on a lack of playing time for several talented back-ups.  Do you foresee this being a problem for the team, and how do you think Barnes should handle it?

Txtwstr7: It's a nice problem to have, but, yeah, I'm a little concerned.  However, moreso than perhaps anyone in this roundtable, I have complete confidence in Rick Barnes to handle the situation.  In attending several basketball banquets, I was struck by the level of frankness that Rick Barnes employs with each of his players in explaining their "role" on the team.  Every single player on the roster will know exactly where they stand with Barnes.  Furthermore, each player knows exactly what Barnes wants to see before he'll increase their minutes.  To some extent, I also think the concerns will be minimized by the talent level of the back-ups, who could actually play championship minutes for this team.  It's kinda pointless to give substantive minutes to Ian Mooney or Adam Graceley, but it's something completely different to give them to Varez Ward.  It also "helps" that Lucas wont be available until the Spring Semester.

As much as I trust Barnes, I'm a little concerned about what he'll do with the back-up minutes at the SF spot.  If Shawn Williams gets redshirted, we really don't have any wing to play the 3 when Jordan Hamilton is on the bench.  My concern is that the lion share of these minutes will go to Justin Mason or Damion James.  James floundered at the position last year--at least, relative to expectations--and Justin Mason shouldn't play much at all.  It's tough to see how far Mason has missed our initial expectations, but, at this point, he is what he is.

GhostofBigRoy: Definitely agree that Banes will communicate well with his players about their roles, and I think he's probably happy about the depth for several reasons. First, the depth gives the team a great deal of versatility - they can play big or small, they can focus on pushing the ball or they can be equally effective in the half court with Dexy in the middle. If Barnes wants to employ full or quarter-court pressure, he has a variety of different lineups that can play that defense, with the depth to tell the players to go hard for five minutes or so without having to worry about wearing someone out and not having a replacement. Second, Barnes loves to hold his players accountable and he has plenty of freedom to do that this season. If virtually any player on the roster isn't doing what he wants, they could quickly find themselves in the doghouse and drastically reduced minutes.

I think the small forward position is a little bit concerning, and I agree that Williams will probably redshirt. Hamilton will play significant minutes there, probably 30 minutes or more a game when he can handle it, so the Longhorns probably only have to patch together 10 minutes or so during every game. Damion James will surely have a shot, and while I'm far from convinced that he can handle the position after playing terribly there last season, perhaps with another off-season of working on his ball handling and decision making he can be adequate there for short stretches. I'm not holding my breath. I think the Longhorns will also play some three-guard sets, and they can have a little more height across the board if Barnes wants to play Brown, Bradley, and Ward together, which I think might be a great combination. In high school, Bradley loved to crash the boards and probably won't get a chance to do so in the two-guard lineups the Longhorns will trot out, but he would have some freedom to do that with two other guards out there to keep the court balanced.

PB: Anyone who doubts Rick Barnes' abilities in this area needs to get their head checked; there's not a shred of evidence to support any opinion other than a decidedly optimistic one. Hell, just think about the job Barnes did pulling together last year's team after the Maui debacle: they got things worked out, worked on finding their roles, had some up-and-downs getting things fit together, then peaked in late February-March, almost making the Sweet 16... again. I'm not concerned.

Awiggo: I'm with PB here and am not concerned at all. The fact that we're even talking about this is a testament to how great a job Barnes has done building this particular team and this program into a legitimate national power. Too much talent? Too many guys who should see the floor? Just about every coach in the country would kill for this to be his problem.

That said, Barnes will be tested most in how he handles Justin Mason. Mason is a fourth year senior and a returning three year starter. He plays extremely hard, has saved this team countless times, and does everything that a coach like Barnes loves. How does Barnes treat a player like Justin in his final year whose upside is less than that of Brown or Bradley? How does Barnes tell a senior that his minutes just went to a 19 year old who took two years to get his grades and test scores in order, who got kicked off his high school team, and who hasn't played a minute of college basketball? I don't know, but I don't have to know. Rick will find a way.

Also, I disagree a little with Cody and Big Roy about the three spot. I see Hamilton getting 25-30 minutes at small forward and James getting the other 10-15, to go with 20-25 at the four. Damion's ball handling has to have improved after another off-season battling KD, Ivey, and company, right? At least, that is what I'm telling myself until I see otherwise. I will be disappointed if I'm wrong.


3) Of the three main additions to the roster (Bradley, Hamilton, Brown), who is the most important to this team?

Txtwstr7: It's gotta be Hamilton, right?  Bradley might be the best of the three, and Brown has become the biggest surprise of the three, but Hamilton is the player who represents the final cog in our offensive machine.  I'll let you gentlemen fully dissect the role of Hamilton on this team, but I want to make a potentially understated point about how Avery Bradley might impact this team in a different way--through his attitude.

At this point, it's become cliched to talk about how much Avery Bradley loves playing defense.  His quotes about playing defense resemble Ichiro's famous quotes about facing Daisuke Matsuzaka.  But a function of his defensive prowess is his overall attitude towards the challenge.  In watching Bradley play defense, it literally made me want to jump on the court alongside him.  This team has the potential to thrive off its defense, and Avery Bradley is going to be a major catalyst and significant leader in that department.  On a sidenote, how amazing is it that we attract potential one-and-dones like Kevin Durant and Avery Bradley?  Pure class acts who work their asses off, lead by example, and would run through a brick wall for Rick Barnes.  The more I read about Bradley, the more I want to stalk him and profess my undying affection for his game.  Anyone else getting the same feeling about Bradley, or are you guys instead enraptured by the prodigious talents of Hamilton or the emergence of J'Covan?

GhostofBigRoy: I'm not going to take the easy route here and say Hamilton or Bradley. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the games of both of those players in a way that I have few other players coming into the Texas program and I probably know their games better than any other players coming into the program. That being said, I'm gonna go with Brown because of the way that he changes the complexion of the point guard position.

Jai Lucas was a great addition to the team because he brings something that Dogus Balbay doesn't - the ability to shoot from outside and effectively run the pick-and-roll game. The problem is that no matter how fearless Lucas is - and most accounts say he is absolutely fearless - his height is still a problem and limiting for him as a player. Brown is the complete player that Balbay and Lucas can only dream about - he has excellent size for the position (unlike Lucas), can play defense when he puts his mind to it (and Barnes will have him putting his mind to it), but more importantly, he can create for himself (unlike Balbay) and for his teammates. In other words, with Brown finally eligible, Rick Barnes doesn't have to compromise any more at the point guard position.

PB: I'm going with Bradley, and not just because no one else has. The many tangible benefits Hamilton, AB, Brown, and Lucas bring to the team are all considerable, but when you ask who's the most important I keep coming back to Bradley, largely because of some of the intangible benefits I expect to accompany him to Austin.

For example, as deep and talented as is this roster, who's the team leader? One of the three seniors? Damion James is many things and a leader through his behavior, but no. Big Sexy? Again, the list of positives is a long one (more on him below), and he's a great teammate, but he's not a team leader in the sense of my question. Justin Mason? Another great teammate, but he's more or less a role player at this point, so no.

We needn't walk through the entire roster to realize where this ends: Avery Bradley. I've developed quite a habit of scavenging rabidly for online videos of AB and the three things that stood out that elevated my excitement from excited to out of control were (1) the quality, but even more than that the intensity of his defense; (2) what Jay Bilas might call Rise-a-bility or Hop-tuitive-ness - an explosiveness in his leaping that allows him to finish 50% more buckets than any mortal his size would; and (3) his competitiveness and eagerness to seek out, and conquer, challenges.

Around these parts you can do yourself a favor by giving the audience a football analogy: Avery Bradley is Aaron Williams - supremely athletic, talented, competitive, and eager to mix it up. When you play alongside someone like Avery Bradley, you follow his lead, bust your tail, and play to f*ng win. There are other reasons I'd select Bradley as the most important, but that's the most critical one.

Awiggo: Well, there is definitely no wrong answer here and all three of you made valid arguments for each of the three. I'll come to my answer but asking the inverse of the original question: who not being on the squad would hurt the team the most? If Brown never becomes eligible, Balbay continues to start at the point in the fall and, based on production, either runs the point through conference season or gives way to Lucas, a true but undersized point guard who can score but is more limited defensively. Overall, neither Balbay or Lucas are the complete one guard that a Barnes team needs but either, given the talent around them, would be more than serviceable. So, this team could succeed without J'Covan.

What about without Bradley? This one is a little more dicey. Barnes would probably go with senior Mason at shooting guard and hope to get enough scoring from the other four starters while asking Justin to get back to what he does best: rebounding and defense. If Ward plays anything like he showed against Duke in his second year in the program, then Barnes could manufacture 40 minutes of enough production at the two for this team to succeed.

Now, I come to Jordan Hamilton. Who plays the three if he chooses UCLA or is allowed to enter the NBA from high school? Gary Johnson? No thanks. James? For some minutes, sure but not for a full game, let alone a full season. Mason? And a repeat of a three guard lineup with Mason playing the wing of a 2-3 zone, I don't think so. Shawn Williams? I guess, but this would be a major drop off from Jordan's level. Hamilton is supremely talented offensively, a threat to score from 25 ft and in, and sure to love defense by the time fall practice concludes. With different rules, Jordan is preparing for his first game in the NBA right now. I love all three, but this team would not be the same without Hamilton.


4) What is the ceiling for Dexter Pittman?

Txtwstr7: As for his ceiling, I really don't know.  The recent videos showing a svelte Dex flitting around the court have caused me to erase my preconceived notions over his season.  Last season, we could immediately highlight Dex's conditioning and penchant for foul trouble as the primary limitations to his effectiveness.  However, in the last month of the season, Dexter made significant strides in both areas.  Over the last eleven games, Dexter played at least 20 minutes in ten of the games.  Additionally, in the last ten games, Dexter never fouled out and only reached four fouls twice--against Baylor and Duke in our last two losses of the season.  Based on these improvements, he averaged 15.1 points and 8.4 boards over the last eight games.  I don't know if that's his ceiling or the floor for this season.  Or maybe its neither.  I really don't know.

Outside of his breaking through his own personal limitations, the other variable on Pittman's season is how much his new teammates will help him avoid double-teams, rack up easy dunks, and actually be able to receive the basketball (which is kinda important).  Moreso than any other player on the team, Dexter has to be salivating about playing with the Hyperized roster.  Trips Right over at Barking Carnival has hammered this point home, even writing a column exclusively dedicated to the topic. I wonder if Pittman even remembers watching defenders guard Balbay from the free throw line.  I sure do.  : (

GhostofBigRoy: I'm a believer in two things with Dexy - his conditioning will be better this year because of his incredible work ethic in that arena, but that his foot problems may limit him more than his conditioning. Add the depth of the Texas team and I think Dexy probably plays 25-30 minutes this year to keep him fresh.

With that out of the way, I think Dexter's potential in college is like a mid-career Shaq was in the NBA. He's got some remarkable quickness for his size, though not in the same realm as a young Shaq, because that was just freakish, but no one in the college game can really handle his size. Where Dexter far surpasses Shaq is his touch - reports from the off season have him working on a counter to his favorite moves over his left shoulder. The new move is a turnaround little short jumper that I think will make him almost unstoppable. Combine that with his willingness to pass out of double teams and I think viewing Dexter as a less athletic, more offensively sound Shaq with the same ability to find open teammates is not too much of a stretch. Dexter's gonna be great this season.

PB: Well, this officially makes it four straight years that I'm calling for Dexter to break out. No seriously: I so quickly fell so in love with his soft hands and sky-high ceiling that just seven games into his freshman year - when he couldn't run the court six times consecutively and averaged three fouls per minute - I was chiding Rick Barnes for not having the good sense to force 25 minutes out of the big fella. Dexter was young, and so was I.

However unrealistic my freshman season hopes for Pittman, I absolutely thought a big breakout was in his future, though I underestimated how long it would take him to add the stamina and footwork he needed to put it all together. So it took longer than I hoped, break through he did, in February of last season, and especially from the Oklahoma game on. If we factor in further gains in stamina and footwork this offseason, we're looking at Dexter Pittman-Plus from the end of last year, when he was a nightmare for opponents when Texas didn't struggle to get him the basketball.

What's his ceiling? That probably depends a bit on how teams decide to guard him, but the beautiful thing for Texas fans is that it's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation: single defenders will struggle to keep him out of position without fouling, while doubling Big Sexy will get the ball out of his hands but the excellent passer has proven to be more likely than not to make the right dish at the right time. I guess I wouldn't put much past Big Dexter for his senior year. I could see him on the All-American team, to be honest, though it's more likely he'll "merely" be an All-Conference player. In any case, I fully expect him to have a strong regular season and, more importantly, think he's as important as any piece of the puzzle to cutting down the nets in March. At his best, he changes the complexion of the game, forcing teams to react to Texas rather than assert themselves.

Awiggo: The ceiling is probably an All-American season averaging 22 pts and 11 boards in 25 minutes a game and the addition of a move over his right shoulder. This isn't the most likely scenario but anyone who can't envision this, needs to dream a little bigger. Like I mentioned above and PB just touched on, if defenses elect to play him straight up, it's over.  He is too big, too strong, and will be too experienced for just about any forward or center one-on-one. It is a stupid cliché but we could see a man among boys if Texas' ability to score from the perimeter becomes as good as advertised.


5) Who is your "surprise player" for this season?

Txtwstr7: This is a tough one if you avoid the obvious answer of J'Covan Brown.  Outside of Pittman and James deciding to return to school, Brown's emergence is still THE news of the off-season.  I'm tempted to pick Gary Johnson, but I think he's just underrated and won't really surprise anyone with what he's going to do for us.  Additionally, Gary's minutes might be cut by Damion James returning to the PF position.  I'll go with Varez Ward, who I hope will pick up where he left off last season.  Barnes absolutely raved about Ward last off-season, and, with the exception of a few stretches where he sat in the doghouse, he played more than I remembered.  In fact, Ward played only a single minute-per-game less than Pittman last year, finishing with a total of 15.5 minutes-per-game.  This, of course, was half as many minutes as Justin Mason played last year, whose total should be dramatically cut down this year.  Ward's ability to play either guard position should also help his chances to steal minutes, especially if Balbay still can't shoot.  The focus is squarely on Bradley and Brown right now, and I think people might be sleeping on Ward and what he did last season.  Kid can play, and he doesn't back down from anybody.

With Jai Lucas sidelined until the Spring, my hope is that Varez will be able to carve his niche into the backcourt rotation prior to Lucas' arrival, hopefully at the expense of Mason.  If Texas decides to go small, how does a line-up of Brown-Bradley-Ward-James-Wangmene sound?

GhostofBigRoy: With that lineup you mention at the end of your comment, I think you might have hit on the full-court press lineup that Barnes may use this season. To answer the question, though, I like the pick of Ward and would have gone with him had you not chosen the sophomore from Alabama. To avoid repetition, I'm going with the Wingman, Alexis Wangmene. As a freshman, he was the best interior defender that Texas had with his long arms and natural strength. After two years with Todd Wright, I expect him to be even stronger and more explosive. Back to the defense, though - the Longhorns will have to go through Kansas probably twice this season to win regular-season and Big 12 Tournament championships, as well as possibly facing Demarcus Cousins and Kentucky late in the NCAA Tournament.

As a result, the Longhorns will need some stout interior defense and Dexter can get in foul trouble quickly against both Cousins and Cole Aldrich. Enter Wingman. Besides his defense, at the end of his freshman season he started showing some nice post moves and a soft touch - the Longhorns could have two effective low-post scorers this season and I'm looking for Wangmene to really start capitalizing on all his potential.

PB: How about Dogus Balbay? He was almost a bit cartoonish last year, so bizarre were his various strengths and weaknesses. But I pinned the team's late season surge chances on his shoulders for a reason and he returns with the same foundational strengths, a vastly different role and set of pressures/expectations, and a full offseason of time to work on his weaknesses.

I seem to be higher than most on Balbay, and may be proven overly-optimistic yet, but I tend to think all offseasons are not equal - the time to work helps everyone, but the amount you can improve overall depends on the particular hurdles you have to clear to get there. Dexter Pittman, for example, needed to lose half his body mass and train himself how to use that body so as not to go all Pamplona each time out, racking up fouls at historic paces. As for Balbay, I tended to view his weaknesses as being at the "easier to improve" end of the scale. He's oozing with the stuff you can't teach; as he continues to acclimate himself to the college game, the defenders will remain just as helpless trying to stay in front of him, while Balbay will continue getting better knowing what to do once he's on his way. Throw in his stellar defense and fans who think Balbay can't log substantial minutes amongst the other talented guards may be surprised to see how effective he'll be, easily worth playing for 20 minutes a game.

Awiggo: Sorry PB, I am not with you on that one. There are only 80 total minutes at the two guard spots and with Bradley replicating Dogus' defensive ability, Ward coming on strong late, Brown and Lucas possessing far superior offensive games, and Mason being a senior, it is hard to see Balbay on the floor much at all. You've always like him a lot more than I have, though. We shall see.

I'll keep my take short. Big Roy nailed it with Alexis Wangmene. Wingman should be the first one off the bench to spell Pittman, has all the raw physical skills that you can't teach, and probably wants it more than anyone else after his troubles both on and off the court over the last year. I'll take the hungry Cameroonian as my surprise.


6) Based on the new roster, what offensive and defensive strategies do you see the team employing this season?

Txtwstr7: Once again, I'm going to defer to the professionals for the chalk talk.  I'll just say that I've spent so much time daydreaming about various line-up combinations that I think I finally understand how Bill Simmons feels about the NBA Trade Machine.  Even to a laymen fan like myself, it's easy to see how the athleticism and various skillsets within the roster should cause significant match-up problems for our opponents.  Speaking of Bill Simmons, I roundly criticized him for letting his appreciation of Kevin Durant cloud his judgment on Rick Barnes' coaching ability.  That said, if Barnes cant adequately exploit the plethora of talent on this roster...well, let's hope it doesnt come to that.  Wescott, do your thing with the x's and o's.

GhostofBigRoy: I already mentioned being able to run whatever type of backcourt pressure the Longhorns choose to apply, so I won't get into that too much right now. Where this Texas team can far outstripe any other recent Texas team is in playing zone defense. In the past, Barnes went to the zone defense as a matter of desperation - the Longhorns didn't have the personnel to play the shutdown man that Barnes likes to play, so he played zone. The major weakness of that zone for the last several seasons was the length, both out on top with players like Abrams and Augustin and on the baseline with Mason at only 6-2 or so.

Remember that sick zone defense that Syracuse had in 2003 when they beat the Longhorns? Hakim Warrick and Carmelo on the baseline? Yeah, that's gonna be like the length Texas can deploy this season with their zone defense and Jordan Hamilton and Damion James in the corners, Dexy in the middle, and at least one taller, longer guard like Bradley or Ward at the top. Barnes will use the zone to keep Dexy fresh and out of foul trouble this season and you can bet that he's can on the horn with Boeheim talking shop. You can also bet that more than once during those conversations Boeheim was sporting a little envy boner.

PB: Offensively, Texas will continue running the dribble drive system in which guys like KD and Augustin so thrived. The difference is that this roster is approaching 2008 Memphis-level good in terms of being ideally constituted to run it. I haven't any idea whether the SID's keep this stat, but if they do, I predict Texas finishes with the most dunks in the Rick Barnes era.

Defensively, y'all covered most of what I'd say. I think the depth and athleticism of the roster gives Rick some freedom to mix-and-match lineups, experiment with different sets for different situations, and so forth. We could be a strong defensive team playing man, zone, press-n-run, you name it. It's a fun roster to contemplate.

Awiggo: I think yall nailed it again. Basically, we can do just about anything with this roster on either end. We can go small and fast and press the hell out of teams without having to worry about running out of gas. We can go big, control the glass on both ends, and pound it to Dex. We can play man, we can play zone, we can fast break it, we can play four out-one in, and we can stick with our more traditional high screen and roll sets with Bradley and James or Lucas and Wingman or Ward and Dex. Wow, I'm getting too excited.


7) Ok, let's wrap this up...any random scattershots or comments you want to make about the team, season, etc?

Txtwstr7: I want to reiterate a point that's been made across the interwebs.  We've been "one player away" for seemingly forever.  The phrase "if only ______ would have come back" has haunted this fanbase for years.  But not this year.  Instead of focusing on what we lost, the narrative for this season is solely built around what we have.  From my perspective, what we have is the most talented and complete team of the Rick Barnes era.  This team has a legitimate chance at immortality, and I cannot wait for the season to start.

GhostofBigRoy: Hallelujah for putting to rest the "if only" talk for at least one season. First time in forever. First time for me, actually. How about another one? Hallelujah. One more for good measure. Hallelujah. Okay, I'm into the realm of digression here.

I haven't seen this team together on the court yet, but I know deep in my heart that I'm absolutely going to love this basketball team in a way that I've never loved a Longhorn basketball team before. Growing up as an Illini basketball fan, the team that I've loved more than any other, by far, was the 2004-05 team that lost to North Carolina in the championship game. Truly a team that was greater than the sum of their parts. As for this Texas team, if Rick Barnes can manage to mold them into more than the formidable sum of their parts, I have a feeling the season could end even better than it did for my beloved Illini.

PB: I'll just echo Cody here and, rather than rehash what I spent 2,000 words saying last March, re-direct folks here for the full exposition on why for Rick Barnes and Texas this year is substantively different than years' past.

Txtwstr7: I've never seen that comment before,, some heavy stuff in there.  It took me a little while to get oriented to that link, but the substance of that comment is truly superb.  Really one of your best efforts, which is saying a lot.  I wanted to post a money quote from that article, but I dont think it's fair to post a section of something so well-written.  I can't believe you didnt spin that into an entire post.  Anyways, let's wrap this up...take us home, Wiggo.

Awiggo: On BON, we've talked about what it will take for the basketball team to move to the next level. The next level where the football program has lived, realistically or not, for a long time. The next level where good is not good enough and great is expected every season. Rick Barnes' arrival and subsequent recruiting successes have made this discussion possible. The alignment of young talent combined with the decisions of Dex and James to stick around for another season make this season the arrival of that level.

The season ticket holders may still stay home till conference season, the press may not pay attention until after Pasadena, and even most BON readers may not feel the passion, but this is the season. If moving to the next level means demanding and expecting a championship, then let me say that is what I expect. I know that March is crazy and anything can happen in a single elimination tournament. However, if this team is healthy in March, then I expect to cut down the nets in Indianapolis.

Txtwstr7: Chills, Wiggo....the last paragraph gave me chills.  Anyone pass my challenge?


Hook 'em!