Basketball season is nearly here, and Texas hoops fans are hungry for information.
Thankfully, the team played a public scrimmage several weeks ago. Even better for those of us who live far away from Austin, a copy of the footage of the scrimmage is finally making the rounds. You may have already read the take of our friend over at Barking Carnival, who rather mysteriously ran across the same copy of the game that also found its way into my inbox.
I found the scrimmage rather instructive, and think that we can learn some things that give us a decent idea of how the team will play in the coming season. For me, six things really stood out.
1. Connor Lammert is going to be a very important player for this team
I have spent some time over the summer going back and watching old footage of coach Shaka Smart's teams at VCU. While I was watching these games, one thing that struck me rather clearly was that Connor Lammert seems to be an outstanding fit for Smart's approach on offense.
Whenever possible, Smart's teams at VCU had four players who were legitimate threats to shoot the ball from long range on the floor. This makes a player like the 6-9 Lammert exceptionally useful. He has the ability to shoot threes on offense, as well as functioning as an effective interior defender and rebounder on the other end of the floor.
I think this is a year where it is quite likely that we will see Lammert come out of his shell. During the open scrimmage, he was exceptionally active on offense, playing off of Kerwin Roach in the ball screen game, and finding clean looks from three point range.
The fact that Lammert is a good passer, and can also put the ball on the deck and make a play for someone else is a nice asset as well. During the scrimmage, a lot of the offense for the White team was run through Lammert.
2. Kerwin Roach can handle the ball
When I was watching video of Roach from high school, I really liked him a lot. To me, he looked like a late bloomer (his growth spurt came in the second half of his high school career) with a solid stroke and unbelievable athletic ability. He seemed like the basketball recruiting equivalent of a bargain.
But I didn't buy him as a Division I point guard. After the scrimmage, I think I have to revise that opinion somewhat. Roach's handle seems tighter than the one I saw in his Internet videos, and he did a nice job of seeing the floor and making plays for others.
I am sure he will have some struggles against pressure defense at times, but I can see him not being a disaster coming off the bench and handling the rock for a few minutes a game this year.
On the defensive end of the floor, Roach did well guarding Isaiah Taylor, and was a disruptive ball hawk. Roach played on the same side as Demarcus Holland, and the pair gave Taylor and Javan Felix a lot of trouble.
3. Shaquille Cleare is a black hole (I mean this as a term of endearment)
When the 6-8 Cleare announced after the 2013-4 season that he was transferring to Texas, I immediately pulled up and watched every logged post possession he had in the Synergy database. I came away from the exercise with a favorable impression of his back to the basket game.
Cleare can score the ball from the low post, even if he seldom got the chance to show it at Maryland. He has multiple moves, decent touch around the basket, and he uses his 285 lbs rather well.
He is also an absolute black hole, in the sense that once the ball goes into the post, it isn't ever coming back out.
I am of course exaggerating with the black hole talk. Cleare made a couple of nice passes, including a pretty touch pass in transition that resulted in a Jordan Barnett dunk, and another pass out of the post that resulted in a wide open three point shot for Demarcus Holland (the shot missed). But when Cleare gets the ball down low, scoring is his number one priority.
I don't know how many minutes Cleare will play this season, but I won't be shocked if he ends up leading the team in shot attempts per minute. Which brings me to item number four.
4. Texas is going to put the ball inside
During Smart's introductory press conference, he commented on the fact that he was going to get the ball to his big men in his first season. This statement was consistent with his history at VCU; while Smart's later teams were more perimeter oriented, in VCU's 2011 Final Four run the primary offensive option was low post scorer Jamie Skeen.
During the Orange and White scrimmage, the Longhorns ran a variety of sets where the first option was to put the ball inside. The Texas offense during this open scrimmage was a mix post touches and ball screens, with the very first possession for each team in the scrimmage including a post touch.
Texas is going to play inside-out a fair amount, as well as playing off of Lammert at the elbow area. The big guys will be involved heavily in the offense, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
5. Texas is deep, but lacks stars
Texas has exceptional depth on its roster, with five seniors and two juniors, multiple ball handlers, more size than just about any team in D-I, and several credible outside shooters. What the team does not have is a single exceptional offensive scorer in the way that Kansas, Iowa State, and Oklahoma have.
Junior point guard Isaiah Taylor is perhaps the closest thing that Texas has to this player. While he wasn't great in the scrimmage (more on this below) he is a difficult person to stay in front of. But if his shot hasn't improved (and while it is too soon to say, the scrimmage didn't do much to change my opinion here), then it is hard to see him becoming an offensive threat on the same order as the other top guard in the Big 12.
6. That said, I wouldn't read too much into Isaiah Taylor's struggles during the scrimmage
Here is the thing. Isaiah Taylor didn't play all that well during the scrimmage. But the deck was sort of stacked against him.
Taylor was being guarded by Roach and Holland, who both gave him trouble. He was paired with Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh, who played together much of the scrimmage. The combination of two non-shooting big men made the Orange team's spacing problematic for Taylor, who is a player who thrives when the floor is spread and he can attack wide gaps in the defense. And Taylor's teammates missed some shots when he had made a nice play to set them up.
You can only get so much out of watching a scrimmage like this, which puts unusual player groupings together on the floor in the interests of making things competitive.
But we will get another public look at the team during this Friday's exhibition game against Tarleton State, before the season tips for real in Shanghai a week later.