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Shaka Smart, Texas Longhorns, college basketball

Texas Longhorns: Three story lines for the college basketball season

Texas brings in more revenue than any Division I athletic department. The expectation for the coaches it employs is winning Big 12 titles (minimum) with a national championship the biggest goal.

The men’s college basketball team won the NIT last season but being the best of the rest hardly matters in March Madness storylines. What the title run did was bring confidence to a program that has been struggling and give Shaka Smart a winning record (71-66) in four seasons. UT basketball has been nothing but mediocre.

The buyout for Smart’s contract is nearly $13 million which will require a big gulp to make a coaching change. When he arrived in Austin as a Hot Young Coach, it was thought to be the perfect marriage of coach and program. Despite an NBA lottery pick big man each of the last three seasons, Smart has been unable to gain traction. Year Five could be a make or break season.

Top 3 story lines

Consistent guard play. Junior guard Matt Coleman was a 4-star hyped recruit but his first two seasons at Texas have been decidedly average. As a sophomore his playing time dropped about four minutes a game and his scoring and assists dropped. Last season, freshman Courtney Ramey was arguably the best point guard on the roster. They’ll need to play together and share running the game.

Andrew Jones. The redshirt sophomore guard has missed almost all the last two seasons after he was diagnosed with leukemia in early January 2018. He practiced with the team last season despite having a stent in his arm used to deliver chemotherapy. The 6-foot-4 Jones has been cleared medically and he led the team in scoring in a closed scrimmage with UT-San Antonio. Smart expects Jones to play “significant minutes.”

Two non-playing newcomers. Smart made two significant staffing hires. First, he brought in Luke Yaklich as an assistant coach. He earned raved reviews as an assistant at Michigan under John Beilein. Yaklich specializes in defense. UT also hired strength coach Andrea Hudy, one of the best in the business. She spent the last two decades at Kansas and many close to that program say she was Bill Self’s secret weapon. Smart needs both to make a difference, STAT.

Number to know

Texas lost 10 games last season decided by six or fewer points including six games decided by three or fewer. Coming close but not closing the deal has been a disturbing trend during Smart’s tenure.

Reasons to hope

The Longhorns believe the reason why they won the NIT was because they decided to play free and easy. That’s a difficult mindset to maintain and carry through a regular season that features 18 Big 12 rumbles, but playing without pressure might change the culture.

Reasons to doubt

There are no proven front court players. Will Baker, a 6-foot-11 freshman, is the top recruit but he’s more of a stretch-five type player. Jericho Sims, a 6-foot-9 junior, had flashes as a freshman but was injured much of last season. Kai Jones, a 6-foot-10 freshman and Kamaka Hepa, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, should be in the front court rotation but are unproven as reliable producers.

KenPom.com preseason rank: 32.

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