"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Texas Preview, 2023-24

Texas Longhorns

December 6, 2023, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Rodney Terry (22-8 at Texas, 185-165 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 13.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 15.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 13

Projected Starters: PG Tyrese Hunter (6'0" Jr), SG Max Abmas (6'0" 5th), SF Dillon Mitchell (6'8" So), PF Dylan Disu (6'9" 5th), C Kadin Shedrick (6'11" Sr)

Brock Cunningham is the last Shaka Smart recruit at Texas

Photo by Will Gallagher | Inside Texas

The Longhorns were 7-1 with a pair of massive wins over Gonzaga and Creighton before Chris Beard was suspended and later fired for domestic violence charges. Rodney Terry's tenure as interim coach had a rocky start, narrowly escaping a guarantee game loss when they beat Rice in overtime, but they rebounded nicely as the Longhorns went 12-6 in the Big 12, good for second in the league, won the Big 12 Tournament for the second time in their history, and made it to the Elite Eight before falling to Miami. Terry's interim status was removed and Texas moved forward with him as their head coach.

Tyrese Hunter is back to lead the offense, likely taking more of an on-ball role like he had at Iowa State. He's joined by Oral Roberts transfer Max Abmas, who has averaged over 20 ppg for three straight seasons in the Summit League and, with 2,561 points scored, has a good chance to become a 3,000 point scorer, finishing in the top-10 all-time. Dillon Mitchell and Dylan Disu both started every game they played for Texas and comprise an athletic, high-energy front court. Shedrick comes over from Virginia where he was an occasional starter the past two years and despite high efficiency couldn't establish himself in the lineup. Off the bench, expect to see Brock Cunningham, a versatile experienced wing, and fifth year transfer Ithiel Horton, most recently at UCF. Cunningham can guard 1-4 while Horton will likely be expected to provide reserve scoring.

Under Beard, Texas ran a heavy motion offense. Players would move constantly off the ball, passing around the perimeter until someone got free inside for an easy layup attempt. It requires everyone to have some guard skills, using cuts and screens to open up space and passing lanes inside. But now Beard and his offensive guru, Bob Donewald, are gone. So will Terry stick with the motion system, or go back to the slow-down, ball control style he employed at Fresno State and UTEP? Defensively, they will likely stick with the no-middle system that Beard helped popularize in the Big 12. Deny the middle of the court and prevent ball reversals. Challenge everything, pressure the ball, and lock down passing lanes.

Texas regrouped brilliantly last season, but their top three scorers are gone in Marcus Carr, SirJabari Rice, and Timmy Allen. Abmas fills a big scoring hole, but this is also a big step up for a guy who has historically struggled against top level competition. His surrounding cast should help, but this will likely be a team finding their way on offense early on. The biggest question, however, is Terry. He did an excellent job last year, but had he not been sitting on the sideline when Beard was fired, he likely would not have been in the mix for this job. On paper, this should be a top-25 team with the quality and depth to be a factor in the Big 12. But what Terry did last year was with Beard's roster and sustaining that will be a difficult task. Their trip to Milwaukee will be their first true road game on the season and is an excellent chance for Marquette to tally a quality win early on.

Marquette Connection: Let's address the elephant in the room, which is Texas taking on their recently-departed coach Shaka Smart. Smart spent 6 years in Austin, going to three NCAA Tournaments and winning the school's first Big 12 Tournament title in his final year there in 2021. However he failed to win a single NCAA Tournament game and when Marquette came calling, Texas didn't stop him from leaving. Suffice to say, it's been a wild two years since, with Marquette returning to the top of the Big East under Smart while Texas is on their second coach post-Smart but finally found winning ways in March under Terry. This will be one of the marquee games of the Big East-Big 12 Battle as much for the connections off the court as the talent on it.

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