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Texas ranked highly in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25

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Chris Beard and his staff landed a handful of the nation’s top transfers, and with some key pieces still in Austin, Texas is in a good position ahead of Beard’s first season.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When Chris Beard was introduced as the Texas Longhorns new head basketball coach, he didn’t hesitate to proclaim that this wasn’t going to be a rebuild in Austin — he intends to win now.

At the time, those expectations certainly seemed lofty given that Beard was set to face significant roster turnover with four of the team’s top six contributors departing for the NBA Draft, while numerous others entered the transfer portal. Less than three full months later, though, and the immediate outlook of the roster and program is much different — it’s much better.

As anticipated, Beard and his staff struck gold on the transfer market, landing the likes of Kentucky guard Devin Askew, Utah forward Timmy Allen, Creighton forward Christian Bishop, Vanderbilt forward Dylan Disu, and Umass center Tre Mitchell. Now, suddenly, Texas’ roster looks the part of a potentially formidable group, and ESPN expects them to enter the 2021-22 campaign as such, ranking Texas No. 10 overall in the outlet’s Way-Too-Early Top 25:

“Chris Beard was never afraid to use the transfer portal during his time at Little Rock and Texas Tech, but he has taken it to a new level since arriving in Austin,” ESPN’s Jeff Borzello said. “As mentioned, the Longhorns have five of our top 30 transfers — and it will be interesting to see how Beard manages all that talent, especially in the frontcourt. The latest coup for Texas was nabbing Tre Mitchell, who at the time was the highest-ranked uncommitted transfer still available. Mitchell earned first-team All-Atlantic 10 honors after averaging 18.8 points and 7.2 rebounds for UMass, including a trio of 30-point performances. Mitchell should immediately slot into the starting lineup, but that means the likes of former Vanderbilt forward Dylan Disu — the SEC’s leading rebounder — and Creighton transfer Christian Bishop — who averaged 13.0 points and 10.3 rebounds in the NCAA tournament — could come off the bench. Or Beard could go with a bigger lineup and move Kentucky transfer Devin Askew to a backup role. These are all good problems to have in Year 1 at a big program.”

With much of Texas’ departing talent being impactful forwards and a center in Greg Brown, Kai Jones and Jericho Sims, respectively, Beard filled the Longhorns’ most notable voids with much of the same and more with the quartet of Allen, Bishop, Disu, and Mitchell, who collectively averaged 62 points and 29.2 rebounds last season.

That kind of productivity should certainly help make up for what Texas will be missing from last season’s roster, and elsewhere, Askew remains a high-upside guard who, at the least, could provide depth behind a starting backcourt featuring Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey. To help fill in the gaps, Texas also returns senior sharpshooter Jase Febres and gritty wing Cade Cunningham, and adds one of the top 10 small forwards in the 2021 class in Jaylon Tyson.

On paper, at least, Beard and his staff have put together a roster that should be able to remain formidable in the Big 12 and nationally next season, as well. But whether or not Texas can ultimately look the part of a top 10 team as ESPN projects them to be will depend on whether or not Beard’s returning starting guards can take another step, especially offensively, if his flurry of prolific transfers can mesh, and if his defense came with him from Lubbock.

There’s a lot to learn about this Longhorns roster that looks drastically different than it did just months ago, but there’s also a lot to like about what it can become if the pieces fit.