2007-08 Texas Longhorns Basketball Preview
Overall Rank: #16
Conference Rank: #2 Big 12
2006-07: 25-10, 12-4, 3rd
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
It is easy to say that Texas would have been nothing without Kevin Durant or that the team could not win big games. However, the bottom line is that this team won the games they should have won and that is rare with such a young team. And this is still a young team, but they have proven, with or without Durant, that they can play with the big boys. They may not be any better this year with Durant off in the NBA, but they will be consistent and a year wiser.
If you do not know how good Durant was his only year at the collegiate level, then you have not been paying attention to college basketball. He averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and has more trophies from one year of hoops than most of us garner in a lifetime. His 25.8 points was nearly one-third of the teams scoring output, but the Longhorns will not even try to replace those numbers. Instead, look for the team to run a little less and set up the half-court offense more often. Craig Winder averaged 7.4 minutes in 30 contests off the bench as a senior.
Somebody who will try to replace Durant is power forward Gary Johnson. However, he has nowhere near the same game as Durant, as Johnson is a tough rebounder who will battle in the paint. He does not have much of a perimeter shot, but he loves to run the floor and finish above the rim. Johnson has a heart problem that may limit, or even sever his playing time. If he is healthy, Texas would benefit greatly from his rebounding and defense. Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman will add more depth up front. Wangmene will not help out much on the offensive end, but he is a smart player who can grab some rebounds. Chapman needs to add some strength and develop a post move or two, but the Canby, Oregon native is a decent shooter and will be a solid inside-out player once he accepts the fact that he is a 6-10, 245 pound big man who happens to be able to shoot and not a 6-10, 245 pound guard. The Longhorns are in desperate need of a backup point guard and Turkish international Dogus Balbay should do just fine. He is not just a point guard and he will do plenty of scoring, play solid defense and even help out on the glass.
Who to Watch:
Balbay is so important because point guard D.J. Augustin averaged 35.6 minutes per game last year. Even the greatest athletes are bound to get tired with numbers like that. Augustin will be the new star of this team and the sophomore will improve on his 14.4 points per game now that Durant is gone. Augustin can hit the outside shot but getting to the basket is his forte. He went to the line 5.1 times per contest as a freshman and when he cannot find an open man, he will take it himself. Texas hopes the open man this year will be A.J. Abrams. The 5-11 junior is an excellent long range shooter and can handle the ball. He scored 15.5 points per game and will take most of the big shots. Justin Mason started 31 games last year, but he may lose that starting job. Coach Rick Barnes will be forced to employ a bigger lineup without Durant on the floor to grab rebounds and that leaves the 6-2 Mason as the odd man out. At times last year Damion James guarded the opposing center. That is not a good thing for a player who should be on the wing. James, who averaged 7.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, could easily play at the four spot if the frontcourt cannot handle the two frontcourt positions.
There are a lot of options in the paint, but none are proven. Connor Atchley, Matt Hill and Dexter Pittman join the newcomers to try and turn the frontcourt from a question to a strength. Atchley has the most experience, earning four starts last season and averaging 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds. Hill played an important role off the bench early in the year before seeing his playing time dwindle. It was his lack of defense that will cause problems, but Hill is a decent scorer in the post. Pittman has slimmed down to a smooth 299 pounds. The 6-10 sophomore has surprisingly good footwork for his size and was a decent scorer when given the opportunity to play last year, but he will need some drastic offseason improvement, and conditioning, to make much of an impact this year. At the least, the Longhorns have another big body to eat up some minutes in the paint, but at some point, somebody has to step up and be more than a big body.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
D.J. Augustin, Sophomore, Guard, 14.4 points per game
A.J. Abrams, Junior, Guard, 15.5 points per game
Damion James, Sophomore, Guard, 7.6 points per game
Matt Hill, Sophomore, Forward, 2.2 points per game
Connor Atchley, Junior, Forward, 3.9 points per game