Especially now that Damion James has decided to return to Austin for his senior season. He was a borderline first round pick, but really needs to improve on his ability to play the perimeter before he merits a guaranteed contract.
So once again, the Longhorns are going to be stacked across their front line. It starts with Dexter Pittman, Rick Barnes' gargantuan center who is already returning for his senior year. Pittman was one of the most improved players in all of college basketball last season. The 6'10" center was a force in the paint by season's end, but the problem was endurance - he scored 10.1 ppg and grabbed 5.5 rpg in just 16.6 mpg. Another off-season of conditioning should mean that Pittman can play major minutes. We could be looking at a first team all Big XII performer.
Alongside Pittman will be the versatile James, who can play both forward positions, although given the wealth of talent that Texas is bringing in along the perimeter, I would expect James to play the four quite a bit more often than he did this past season. Coming off the bench will be Gary Johnson, who is one of the most underrated players in the conference, and be sure to keep an eye on Clint Chapman, an active 6'10" center that showed some flashes as a sophomore.
If you saw the 'Horns play at all last season, than you should know that the front court is not where their issues were. The biggest problem they faced was the fact that they did not have a legitimate point guard on the roster.
Justin Mason, who did do a solid job when he was asked to run the point, is not a natural point guard. Dogus Balbay, while equally decent in his time as the lead guard, is such a poor shooter that at times the 'Horns were almost playing 4-on-5. AJ Abrams might have been the best point guard on the roster, but he was also really the only guy that could put up points as well.
Barnes solved that problem by landing Florida transfer Jai Lucas. Lucas averaged 8.5 ppg as a freshman, but left the school in November because he did not feel like he was going to get enough minutes, not with Nick Calathes and Erving Walker on the roster, and Billy Donovan bringing in Kenny Boynton this season.
Lucas will be eligible after the first semester.
Just as important is the freshman class that Barnes has landed. 6'3" guard Avery Bradley and 6'7" wing Jordan Hamilton are both consensus top 10 recruits. They should provide a nice scoring punch for the 'Horns from the wing, something they have really been lacking since the days of Kevin Durant.
And don't forget about Shawn Williams, a top 100 recruit himself (Rivals #67). Williams is another big wing (6'7"), who is known for his athleticism.
Last year, Texas relied a lot on a their defense and toughness to get by.
They were forced too. They just did not have the offensive firepower to put up points with the likes of Oklahoma and Kansas. As good as guys like James, Mason, and Johnson are, the fact remains that they aren't scorers first. They are role players, junkyard dogs by nature.
Bradley and Hamilton? Those guys are scorers. Lucas? He is a pure point guard.
So not only does Texas bring back their toughness, they add the offensive firepower that they were lacking last season.
By the end of the year, the Texas line-up will look something like this:
- G - Jai Lucas
- G - Justin Mason, Avery Bradley
- F - Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson
- F - Damion James
- C - Dexter Pittman
- Bench - Clint Chapman, Dogus Balbay, Shawn Williams, Varez Ward