Texas is faced with a tall task.
On Wednesday, Shaka Smart officially embarked on the latest installment of his tenure as the Texas Longhorns head coach — life after Mohamed Bamba.
Duplicating Bamba’s 7’10 wingspan, elite rim protection, and overall presence in the paint is a tall order, and one that the current players on campus can’t fill.
So, Smart is taking a different approach. Instead of trying to find the same defensive output from a big man currently on the Texas roster, Smart is dispersing the responsibility in the paint to everyone on the floor.
“We definitely, as a team, have to make sure we are aware that we don’t have that guy in the (paint) that (can block shots),” Smart said during Monday’s media availability.
That might be the biggest understatement of Smart’s tenure at Texas. The Longhorns, who totaled 168 blocked shots in 2017 by averaging five rejections per game, have just one player over 6’10 on the roster heading into this season — 6’11 true freshman Jaxson Hayes.
Two 6’9 forwards, senior Dylan Osetkowski and sophomore Jericho Sims, will join Hayes in the frontcourt.
But neither of the aforementioned big men were as vital nor as productive in the paint on defense as Bamba, who made his debut in the NBA on Wednesday night.
In fact, the context in Texas shot-blocking statistics from 2017 is quite alarming when considering just how different this Longhorns defense is going to have to play this season.
Of the 168 Texas blocked shots in 2017, 111 of them belonged to Bamba.
One hundred eleven. That’s nearly 70 percent of the Texas rim protection, and it’s gone.
By comparison, Sims and Osetkowski were responsible for 18 and seven blocks, respectively, in 2017.
The block percentage of the two returning players creates an even more stark comparison — Bamba ranked No. 5 nationally by blocking 13.2 percent of the shots taken when he was on the court. Sims was solid at 3.1 percent, but those seven blocks by Osetkowski resulted in a block rate of .6 percent, lower than that of guard Kerwin Roach II.
Longhorns basketball has never truly morphed into the “Havoc” defense, a trademark characteristic of Smart’s game plan prior to taking the Texas job. The rim protection the Horns had on defense last season caused havoc for opponents, but it still wasn’t that trademark sell-out-and-risk-bodily-harm type of defense Smart is credited with nearly perfecting.
But this year could be the resurgence, or return, of havoc defense.
Smart mentioned during Monday’s media availability the type of players the current roster has listed on it — fast and energetic. That wasn’t the description, verbatim, but Smart made clear that he likes the athleticism available heading into this season.
And that is going to be the sweet spot for a Texas defense that will have a tremendous drop off in the paint guarding the rim.
Unlike last season, Smart also has better depth at guard and at forward, as well as a more experienced lineup that can maintain the necessary intensity to play fullcourt defense on a regular basis.
In addition to seeing more trapping and pressing, expect to see a Texas defense that plays with a higher sense of urgency and awareness in the paint and on the perimeter.
Last year, Texas could count on Bamba to bail it out of tough situations such as a failed trap or press or when a defender simply got beat on a drive to the basket. The key to life after Bamba is that awareness that the big man is no longer there, yes, but also a dedicated effort to picking up the slack and understanding the biggest adjustment this year will be working together to fill the giant void in front of the rim.
“The biggest change (this season) is not so much any type of one-on-one defense,” Smart said. “You have to be more sound as a team with your help defense as opposed to counting on one guy to erase your mistakes.”