Texas Longhorns Serious Big 12 Contenders
As is appropriate for anything associated with Texas, the No. 10 Texas Longhorns men’s basketball team is big. The Longhorns play five players 6’8” or taller. Head coach Rick Barnes occasionally has four of those players on the court at the same time. It should be no surprise then the Longhorns are fourth in the country in rebounds per game and blocks per game.
The Longhorns do not just have a bunch of tall stiffs; all of their big guys can play. Jonathan Holmes, the Longhorns’ lone senior, has led Texas in scoring and rebounding for much of the season. Juniors Prince Ibeh, Connor Lammert and Cameron Ridley have all improved this season despite playing fewer minutes.
As well as the incumbents have played, most of the attention inside is devoted to freshman standout Myles Turner. Turner was widely considered the number two recruit in his class, and he is the best freshman Texas has had since Kevin Durant. Turner leads Texas with 7.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game while averaging 11.7 points and shooting .381 from three in just 21.7 minutes per game. Turner played a career-high 31 minutes in Texas’s Big 12 opener at Texas Tech, and his continued development will be one of the bigger storylines in Austin this season.
Despite all of the hype surrounding their big men, Texas’s hopes in the Big 12 and beyond likely depend upon the play of one of their shortest players. The only team that can match Texas’s size is Kentucky, and Texas outrebounded the No. 1-ranked Wildcats by 11 in their early-December matchup. It is fair to wonder if the outcome would have been different had sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor been healthy. Taylor is the only Texas guard who could have consistently gotten into the paint and found the open man. Taylor missed 10 consecutive games with a broken left wrist, but was able to return at Texas Tech.
Taylor has been deadly from the free throw line and beyond the arc in limited action this season, shooting .867 from the charity stripe and .444 from three-point range. Even more importantly, Taylor’s blazing speed on the break leads to easy points no one else on the roster can generate. Texas’s bigs are athletic enough to run the floor, but they need Taylor to put pressure on the defense and get them the ball where they can finish. Taylor’s 2.0 steals per game are also crucial to getting the fast break started. Without those turnovers, opposing teams have a much easier time getting back on defense.
Texas has big expectations, but the road to the Big 12 title is extremely treacherous. The Longhorns have not played the toughest schedule around, but that is about to change. The Longhorns play five of their next seven games against ranked opponents, including their next three home games. Tickets for those games are available on TicketCity, with a median ticket price of $38 for No. 17 West Virginia and $71 for a huge matchup with No. 13 Kansas.
The schedule is even scarier down the stretch as the Longhorns have five consecutive games against ranked opponents before ending the season against Kansas State. Getting easy baskets in those tough conference games will be crucial, which is why Isaiah Taylor is so important. If he can lead them to a Big 12 title, Texas’s shortest starter will be the big man on campus.