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The Athletic ranks Texas basketball No. 3 in the Big 12 for 2019-20

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At long last, the Longhorns will finally have experience and shooting in a make-or-break season for Shaka Smart.

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NCAA Basketball: NIT Final Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, The Athletic released the way-too-early Big 12 basketball rankings for the 2019-20 season, in which the author once again predicts that the conference will rank No. 1 nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric for a seventh consecutive year.

There are still plenty of moving parts for quite a few teams — NBA Draft declarations who could return to school, high school or junior college prospects still left on the recruiting boards, and, of course, graduate transfers who could change the course of projections for programs like Kansas or Texas Tech.

In the estimation of writer CJ Moore, Baylor has a chance to take over as the league’s top team, as assertion that is difficult to find much fault with given that the Bears add two transfers and return a lot of production, including Tristan Clark, who only played in 14 games last season due to injury.

For No. 2 Kansas, there are more significant questions, as guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson have declared for the 2019 NBA Draft, but could still return under new rules if they aren’t selected. The Jayhawks are also pursuing graduate transfer possibilities while waiting for a ruling on the appeal of Silvio De Sousa’s suspension, which runs through this season.

So there are a wide range of possibilities for Kansas based on what happens in the coming weeks, though head coach Bill Self was recently able to welcome Udoka Azubuike back for his final season.

Texas slots into the third position and the last team in the top tier of contenders.

“The problems every year for Shaka Smart seem to be not enough shooting and not enough experience,” writes Moore. “Hey, he’s finally got both!”

Indeed, Smart has struggled in both areas since his initial team featured five seniors and junior point guard Isaiah Taylor. The increased experience, shooting, and a higher level of retention, at least currently, mean that Smart doesn’t have any more excuses in his fifth season at Texas.

Even if the Horns suffer a key injury or two, Smart is at a point in his tenure where he would simply need to overcome it — this is the demarcation point. He will own everything that happens next season and should justifiably face the ultimate consequence for failing to improve on a sixth place finish in the Big 12 and 16-16 record heading into the NIT.

And the standard should be finishing in the top four in the conference standings and winning at least one game in the NCAA Tournament. The experience and shooting are finally available, so it’s time for the Horns to build on the NIT championship and become conference title contenders.