On last week’s CBS Sports Eye on College Basketball podcast, CBS Sports college basketball writer Matt Norlander suggested the most recent Texas basketball recruiting class, headlined by No. 2-overall player Mohamed Bamba, but anchored by four 4-star, top 100 recruits, could be the base of a team that could dethrone the Kansas Jayhawks as Big 12 regular season champions.
In two or three years, he added.
With Monday’s news of former McDonald’s All-American Andrew Jones returning to Austin, could that come as soon as next season?
(Big 12 media members snicker and scoff at the above statement)
Sure, let’s pump the brakes just a bit. Texas is still coming off an 11-win season (that’s good for college football, bad in college basketball). Kansas has been to back-to-back Elite Eights.
But it’s not totally far-fetched that Texas could be the team to end the streak next season.
Here are a few of our reasons why and why not Texas could dethrone the Jayhawks in 2017-2018:
Why: Texas’ star power
Kansas could likely start a lineup that features three former McDonald’s All-Americans in sophomore transfer guard Malik Newman, sophomore center Udoka Azubuike and freshman forward Billy Preston. That doesn’t include senior-to-be Devonte’ Graham, the 2016 Big 12 Tournament MVP and three-year starting guard.
But Texas will likely start two former McDonald’s All-Americans and possibly the best and second-best NBA prospects in the Big 12 in Bamba and Jones. Throw in three-year rotation players Kerwin Roach and/or Eric Davis, top 50 recruit Matt Coleman, talented transfer Dylan Osetkowski, and Texas has a lineup and rotation that could give Kansas a run for its money on the court in terms of star power, athleticism and talent.
Why not: Kansas’ backcourt could still be the best in the league
Yes, Kansas is losing Big 12 Player of the Year and consensus national player of the year Frank Mason. But Kansas still returns a likely preseason All-Big 12 point guard in Graham and welcomes the former No. 8-rated player in the 2015 recruiting class, Newman, to the backcourt. Kansas coach Bill Self expects big things for Newman, who began his career at Mississippi State, where he fought through an injury-plagued freshman season before declaring for the NBA Draft and ultimately deciding to transfer to Kansas.
Coleman and Jones could be as good as Kansas’ group, but expecting Coleman to out-perform a senior, two-year starter in Graham could be a tall order.
Why: Texas is deeper
Texas has one more available scholarship, but if last year is any indication, Texas’ roster could be set, opting to keep a scholarship open in case of emergency. Take out transfer Elijah Long, and Texas still has 11 able bodies to work with this coming season, and the Longhorns are suddenly loaded in the front court and on the wings.
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks are awaiting news on Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and whether he’ll stay in the NBA Draft. Mykhailiuk put up some of the best 3-point shooting numbers at the recent NBA Combine before spraining his ankle, and local reporters believe that he’s likely to remain in the draft. If that happens, Kansas will also have an available scholarship.
The difference? Kansas gave three of the 13 scholarships to transfers who can’t play next season. A fourth scholarship player, Sam Cunliff, isn’t eligible until the second semester next season. If Mykhailiuk stays in the draft, Kansas could begin next season with just eight scholarship players available, making Kansas’ margin of error the slimmest of the 13-year Big 12 title run.
Why not: Depth is overrated in college basketball
Just look at Kansas in 2016-17. The Jayhawks went 31-5 overall and 16-2 in conference play while using a rotation of mostly seven players. Now, one of those players was the best in college basketball and another will likely be drafted in the top five of the NBA Draft, so let’s not get carried away.
But other teams, like Villanova in 2016, won a national championship (let alone conference title) with a short rotation.
In fact, many college basketball teams can sometimes struggle to find consistency until they cut minutes to some players and shorten the rotation… unless you’re John Calipari, and it’s 2015. Then you just hockey-style subs.
Why: Shaka Smart has a roster completely of his making
Havoc could return. Or the Big 12 could see something completely different. Texas was still in the top 25 of defensive efficiency last season. The issue was the offense was horrific. That will happen when a college basketball team doesn’t have a strong point guard.
Even if Coleman takes his lumps during a freshmen season, he’s still likely a better option than last season. What could be even scarier is if Jones, who played some point guard last season, has developed more at that position and the Longhorns start two players capable of running point, which is one of the under-the-radar trademarks of Self’s best Kansas teams (Sherron Collins and Mario Chalmers, Josh Selby and Tyshawn Taylor, Mason and Graham).
Why not: Texas and Kansas, possibly, aren’t even the two best teams in Big 12
Texas has the best group of incoming players, and Kansas could have the most talented potential starting lineup, but West Virginia guard Jevon Carter, considered one of college basketball’s best defenders last year, withdrew from the NBA Draft last week. With Carter returning to run “Press Virginia” the Mountaineers have a loaded roster that includes Esa Ahmad, Daxter Miles, Elijah Macon and more contributors from last season’s team back.
TCU is also loaded as the defending NIT Champs and are likely to return every starter from last season’s team, including stud forward Vladimir Brodziansky and guard Kenrich Williams.
Oklahoma welcomes the top Big 12 freshman point guard, McDonald’s All-American Trae Young, as well as most of their starters and rotation players from last season. Baylor has Manu Lecomte, Jo Lual-Acuil, Terry Maston and more back.
Also consider that the biggest deficiencies Kansas and Texas could have next year (especially if Mykhailiuk stays in the draft) is both teams could lack reliable 3-point shooting next season.
UPDATE: West Virginia’s Elijah Macon has decided to stay in the NBA Draft and will not return to college.
While Kansas is No. 2 on CBS’ preseason way-too-early ranking, Texas doesn’t even crack the top 26, and this ranking is updated frequently.
Double why not: Bill Self has put his soul in a horcrux and hidden them throughout the Big 12
Seriously. This streak should have ended years ago, and the only explanation could be magic. During this streak, Kansas has lost games that should have resulted in them not winning the conference title, only to see the next closest teams also lose. It happened this past season when Iowa State beat Kansas at home but inexplicably West Virginia and Baylor also lost. At home.
In 2013, Kansas lost to Baylor 81-58 in the season finale. All Kansas State needed to do was beat Oklahoma State to win the conference outright and end the streak. But they didn’t. Kansas won a share of the conference and was 2-0 against Kansas State that season.
My theory: until each coach finds each of Bill Self’s horcruxes, the streak will continue.
If that sounds ridiculous, so does 13 straight conference titles.
News on Bevo Beat is free and unlimited. Access to the rest of Hookem.com is included with an Austin American-Statesman subscription in addition to Statesman.com and the ePaper edition. Subscribe today at statesman.com/subscribe.