After losing to Northern Iowa at the buzzer in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Texas' basketball season is over. And now the off-season begins.
For Shaka Smart, the next few months are critical. With the departure of five seniors, Smart will have some significant holes to fill in his roster. And with a recruiting class that is not yet final, and his top junior contemplating making a go at a professional basketball career, it looks to be an eventful spring for Texas basketball.
Let's take a look at what is in play, and consider all of the various moving parts.
The state of Texas' roster
As of now, here is what Texas' projected roster of scholarship players for the 2016-2017 season looks like.
Seniors: Kendal Yancy (Guard), Shaquille Cleare (Post), Isaiah Taylor (Guard -- if he chooses to pass on the NBA draft)
Sophomores: Kerwin Roach (Guard), Eric Davis (Guard), Tevin Mack (Swing)
Freshmen: Jacob Young (Guard), James Banks (Post), Andrew Jones (Guard)
Things look a bit thin at the top. This is partly because of program attrition that has occurred over the last 18 months. The senior class lost both Martez Walker (who withdrew from the university while facing assault charges) and Damarcus Croaker (who transferred to Murray State).
The junior class was also wiped out entirely. Myles Turner went to the NBA after his freshman year, while Jordan Barnett transferred to Missouri this winter when he couldn't crack the Longhorn rotation.
Depending on what Isaiah Taylor decides to do this spring (more on this below), Shaka Smart could potentially come into the 2016-2017 season with only two scholarship juniors and seniors. This is not a good situation, as the recent history of Texas basketball has demonstrated.
The state of the roster puts a huge amount of pressure on Texas' strong trio of rising sophomores, who will all be counted on to carry a significant load for the Longhorns, particularly if Taylor heads off to the NBA. It also potentially makes Texas a sensible destination for a graduate transfer.
Smart and his staff will be able to offer playing time to incoming recruits, particularly if they run on the taller side of things. James Banks is for now Texas' only committed big man in next season's freshman class, and Shaquille Cleare and Tevin Mack are the only two returning Longhorns who played inside.
Isaiah Taylor's NBA decision
This spring, Isaiah Taylor has an important decision to make. He has to decide if he wants to enter his name for the NBA draft and start his professional career, or if he will return to Texas for his senior year.
Recent rule changes will make the decision a bit easier for Taylor. This year, players have until May 25 to declare for the NBA draft, which allows Taylor and other underclassmen contemplating their professional future to attend the May 11-15 draft combine. Further, the NCAA rules now allow underclassmen to work out for one NBA team without forfeiting their eligibility.
This is substantially more favorable for the players than the previous rules, which required the declaration to be made in April, before any workouts could be arranged.
The result of this is that Texas isn't going to know if it will have its best player back for his senior season until the end of May.
If Taylor comes back, he will be the only returning first team All-Big 12 player in the conference. If he doesn't, it will leave a huge hole to fill in the Texas offense.
Closing out the 2016 recruiting class
Shaka Smart and his staff aren't done recruiting, and we should expect that they will likely take a few more players in next fall's freshman class. Right now, the biggest fish of all is 6-9 Jarrett Allen, who attends St. Stephen's Episcopal in Austin, Texas.
If Allen ultimately ends up coming to Texas, he would have the chance to play significant minutes right away. Allen clearly has the length to play inside at the college level, and can help the Longhorns next season, but when looking at his highlight videos I have a hard time convincing myself that he is going to be the type of freshman that one features in a D-I offense. He isn't a player with the polish of someone like Myles Turner.
With or without Allen, it is hard to imagine Texas' next freshman class being complete at this point. While five-star wing Terrance Ferguson recently reopened his recruitment, after decommitting from Alabama, no one is projecting him to end up at Texas. Any additional players added to this class are likely to come from lower on the recruiting rankings lists.
Transfer season will soon be here
It is a little too soon to figure out if any transfers will be in play for the Texas Longhorns. As of now, there are a number of players who have already declared their intent to transfer, but there will be many, many more. Of particular interest to me will be graduate transfers -- particularly big men -- who find their way onto that list.
Over the next month or so, a lot of players will declare their intent to transfer. The Longhorns have available scholarships and a young roster. I have no information on if Texas will be taking any transfers, aside from the occasional unfounded rumor that finds its way into my inbox, which I generally disregard because it is way too early to know. All I can say is that Texas would be a sensible destination for a player in search of a chance to play.
On the other hand, transfer season can go both ways. Again, I have no information on any current Texas players looking to leave the program, but transfers have become so common in D-I hoops that if someone did decide to leave it wouldn't be tremendously surprising.
The off-season is long, but there will be a lot to keep track of
With yet another college hoops season coming to a close, I am contemplating my other hobbies. Last summer, I started to learn to play the mandolin. This year, I think I am going to get into sausage making, and have some plaster repair work in my house to attend to.
But for Shaka Smart, the work continues; he has little time for hobbies. There will be a lot of activity to keep track of in the Texas basketball program in the coming months.