Contrasting Charlie Strong taking over the football team, Shaka Smart has picked up a deep, veteran roster that has seen some success in its time. And while the overall size of the roster, and the number of lumbering big men, doesn't seem a natural fit for Smart's Havoc system, the Horns' new head man is not dogmatic in his approach to basketball. Seeing how he fits his style to the available roster, and how he integrates a complementary class of freshman, will provide plenty of intrigue in the early part of the season.
Returning guards look to pace Smart's attack.
Easily the biggest offseason news following the hiring of Shaka Smart was the potential entry of Isaiah Taylor into the NBA Draft. Despite Taylor's outside chances at being drafted, and the obvious fit of Taylor's skills and Shaka Smart's system, it took a bit of a sales job for Smart to convince Taylor to be the lead dog in Smart's inaugural season. Whether running the purest form of Havoc, or situationally pushing tempo, Taylor will be the straw that stirs the Longhorn's drink in 2015-2016, as he has been throughout his career.
Could you name the Longhorn with the best 3-point FG percentage in 2014-2015? A few years ago, it would be hard to believe the answer is Demarcus Holland. But tons of offseason work and smart shot selection led Holland to a 46.4% 3-point percentage in his junior year. If he can bring steady outside shooting in addition to his scrappy defensive presence, Holland would be hard to take off the court.
Unfairly or not, senior guard Javan Felix has frequently been the subject of Texas basketball frustration since arriving in Austin. Myck Kabongo's suspension forced an early, heavy load upon his shoulders as a freshman. Since then, Felix has been miscast as an offensive spark plug and volume scorer. But Felix provides plenty of value for this offense as a veteran ball handler and solid outside shooter, and it will be up to Shaka Smart to get the most out of Felix.
Kendal Yancy is a very intriguing player. Arriving in Austin, Yancy was considered a well rounded athlete without a clear role. He started the 2014-2015 season quietly, and was largely MIA to begin conference play, before sparking a rally in Austin against Iowa State when he blew up for 29 points. He finished the season strong as a legitimate scoring threat and dangerous outside shooter, and I'm interested to see where he fits in this season.
Post players provide weapons on both ends of floor.
Connor Lammert enters his senior year with plenty to prove. Well skilled to be a weapon as a stretch 4, Lammert's 3-point percentage (29.5% in 2014-2015) undermined that belief and 63.6% free throw percentage leaves a lot to be desired. He's well suited to play alongside centers Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh, and has been an effective rebounder in his time, but will need to produce offensively with his minutes to validate that expectation.
Shaquille Cleare comes off the redshirt season he sat out following his transfer from Maryland. Looking like something of an odd man out in 2015-2016, Cleare may provide some helpful depth behind Cameron Ridley as another hulking post before stepping in for 2016-2017 year in place of the three to-be-departed big men.
Jordan Barnett provides an intriguing weapon for Shaka Smart. He brings the size and athleticism to give the Horns some schematic flexibility: go small with three guards and Barnett in the post, or go big with Barnett at small forward and two big men. If he can work on his outside shot (Barnett was only 7 of 21 from 3-point range in 2014-2015), he can become a crucial piece of Smart's first Longhorns squad. Regardless, Barnett will be an interesting piece to watch as the Horns settle in to form.
While Isaiah Taylor may be the most obvious beneficiary of the change at head coach, Prince Ibeh may be the biggest benefactor. If the Horns choose to press defensively, Ibeh can be a weapon as a back line defender erasing anything that leaks through the pressure. A wide open offense could also lead to more put-back opportunities for Ibeh and some open lanes for highlight dunks. The biggest key for Ibeh heading into the season will be cutting back on the personal fouls. Last year, Ibeh was 3rd on the team in personal fouls (68) and only 9th in minutes played (359), picking up a foul every 5.28 minutes of play. For reference, Myles Turner picked up a foul every 9.20 minutes of play last season.
Cameron Ridley gets one final opportunity to bully the Big 12. If tempo is going to be a significant portion of the Horns attack, then Ridley's conditioning will again be tested, but a deep front court should be able to spell the big man. If Smart can manufacture some spacing on offense, and find outside shooting, Ridley could have his biggest season in Austin as a senior.
Freshmen address needs.
|10||Eric Davis, Jr.||6-3||165||Fr.|
|12||Kerwin Roach, Jr.||6-3||160||Fr.|
Much like Jordan Barnett, Tevin Mack provides valuable length on the wing that could open up tons of schematic options for the Horns in 2015-2016. The advantage Mack brings to the table is he's a dangerous scorer and effective outside shooter. Combined with the size he brings to the defensive end, Shaka Smart's first commitment in Austin might be his most impactful early on.
Eric Davis provides one crucial skillset: shooting. If the veteran options prove ineffective at spacing out the offense for Taylor and the big men, Davis may find himself some playing time.
Kerwin Roach will likely spend the next season or two grooming as a back-up PG behind Isaiah Taylor. He's a raw player that could be valuable when the Horns decide to pressure full-court and ratchet up the pace. If he can step in as a primary ball handler and give Isaiah Taylor some crucial rest, a luxury Taylor has not had the last two years, then Roach will have a huge impact on the team's potential as the season wears on. Roach is rangy and explosive as a guard, capable of super human feats:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Them boys up to something they just not just bluffing <a href="http://t.co/SRYjH9Ca9x">pic.twitter.com/SRYjH9Ca9x</a></p>— K2 (@KLR_doce) <a href="https://twitter.com/KLR_doce/status/649037191084044288">September 30, 2015</a></blockquote>
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I'm thinking Shaka Smart could find a way to deploy that.