The Starting 5: Texas Longhorns Finding Their Way
Between now and the beginning of conference action in Big 12 men’s basketball, HeartlandCollegeSports.com contributor Matthew Postins will watch at least one game for each Big 12 team and assess where each team stands in the final weeks before league action. Today it’s the Texas Longhorns.
Let’s talk Mo Bamba
Bamba had 13 points in 33 minutes with 13 rebounds and 4 blocks in the game I watched against Virginia Commonwealth. The 6-foot-11 freshman definitely has skills the Longhorns can use. That 7-foot-3 wingspan makes him a daunting presence in the paint, and he forced VCU to recalibrate how it did things on offense to remain competitive. That’s his greatest value right now, if you’re the Longhorns. His defensive presence is imposing and his rebounding ability should allow him to lead, or be close to the lead, in rebounds per game during Big 12 action. Offensively he has to make progress, and I’m not talking about his athleticism. I’m talking about being more around the basket and relying less on his sheer height to make things happen. I’ve already seen two Big 12 players that I know have the ability to push him around in the paint. VCU didn’t push him around much because it didn’t have the size to do so. Teams like Kansas and Iowa State have that size.
Bamba is developing strength and he’ll learn to play with college-level leverage as the season goes on. On paper, he’s a 50 percent shooter. That’s a misnomer. He’s 2-of-13 from the 3-point line. So, in reality, he’s better than 65 percent. He needs to stay away from the 3-point line and work on his free-throw shooting, which is at 60 percent right now. He’ll draw more fouls in Big 12 play and he’ll need to make teams pay for that. I saw a player with a great foundation of skills who has the potential to grow quickly once league action begins. But he’s not going to be a 20-point per game scorer this season. But averaging a double-double while averaging 4-5 blocks per game? Very possible and that’s rare.
Texas has the point guard they needed last year
Matt Coleman, another true freshman, has a history with Texas coach Shaka Smart. Smart coached both Coleman and Bamba on Team USA during the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in 2016. So, Smart knows Coleman’s game, and that is one of a true distributor. Smart really had no choice but to start Coleman right away and he’s delivered with 32 assists in 8 games (that’s 4.0 per game). That’s not at the level of, say, Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham, but Graham is a senior and Coleman is a freshman. But their games have similarities when it comes to distributing the ball, finding good passing lanes and playing above-average defense. When he must get better is outside shooting (but that’s true for many Longhorns right now). He’s firing just 33.3 percent from the field and 28 percent from the 3-point line. Coleman will drive, kick and defend. But until his outside shot improves teams will sag on him defensively and that’s bad news for other players. Now, the good news is the fundamentals are there. The shooting should get better.
Andrew Jones will be this team’s leading scorer by season’s end
He already is (15.4 ppg) and I don’t see that changing, barring injury. Jones, of course, thought about the NBA last spring, went through the NBA Combine and then withdrew his name. I think that was smart on his behalf and the Longhorns are going to benefit. Jones’ 3-point shot caught fire in this one against VCU, hitting three in the first half — all from the corner — and shooting 60 percent from the field for the game (he ended with four 3-pointers). He’ll benefit the most from Coleman’s ability to draw defenders and kick it out. Jones is very good on the dribble, has a good floating jumper in the paint, is a solid defender and runs the floor with purpose. Right now, he’s averaging 15 points per game. I could see that average go up during Big 12 play. Teams better start guarding him on the baseline if that jumper continues to heat up.
Dylan Osetkowski is the most interesting player on this team
A Tulane transfer, watching him play is a joy. The 6-foot-9 forward does everything well — shooting, rebounding, defending and moving without the ball. He’s not quick, but as quick as the rest of this team is he doesn’t need to be. Everything he does is fundamentally sound and VCU had trouble with him outside and inside. Because he’s so functional Smart can use him at both forward spots and, in a pinch, at center. I’ve watched three teams to this point and he may be the most versatile player I’ve seen. Now, that versatility is to a point. Up until the VCU game he had been horrible from distance (he hit three 3-pointers against VCU). He’s had two double-doubles, but those came against Northwestern State and New Hampshire, so I don’t see him registering many in Big 12 games. I see him as a productive player in Big 12 action who will be hard to match up with because he can do so many different things and take defenders places they don’t want to go.
Push the pace
That’s what Smart’s teams — both at VCU and Texas — like to do. And their game with VCU was no different. With Jones, Coleman and Kerwin Roach II (who I really didn’t write much about here but is probably their best on-ball defender to this point in the season), the Longhorns have a lot of options to push the pace. But Mamba can make a real difference here on the fast break. The most dangerous player on the break is the big guy that trails the play. Mamba is quick and athletic for the center position and on a couple of occasions he beat VCU as the trailer. Between their quickness and Mamba’s ability trail the break the Longhorns have plenty of options.
This is an intriguing Texas team. I love the pace of play and the additions of Mamba and Coleman gives them some real juice. Their tepid shooting start to this season is concerning, but I think they can improve in that area. They’re a solid group defensively, too. But as they’re so young they’ll need to develop a killer instinct fast. They were up on VCU double digits in the second half and surrendered the lead before winning. Their free-throw shooting must improve, too. But this won’t be an 11-22 team like a year ago. Smart’s recruiting this past offseason has paid immediate dividends.
Next: Pete Mundo will tackle Oklahoma, while I check in with Oklahoma State.