Basketball

Embarrassment of Riches

Rick Barnes at the Drum. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Rick Barnes at the Drum. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Preseason Post #12: An Embarrassment of Riches and how Barnes Should Handle It

There are 200 minutes in a regulation game of college basketball.

That’s not exactly news to anybody, but it’s the crux of the matter as to how this season ultimately will play out for the Longhorns.

The NCAA allows for any program (save for ones on probation) to have 13 full scholarship players during any given season. Teams are permitted to have less, but no one can have more than those 13.

Texas, after the loss of Martez Walker, has 12; and one of those twelve, Shaquille Cleare, will be taking a mandatory redshirt season for this school year as he sits after his transfer from Maryland.

Which brings us to the number 11. Barnes has 11 players at his disposal this season. They break down thusly:

1 Point Guard: Isaiah Taylor
2 Combo Guards: Javan Felix and Kendal Yancy
2 Guards: Demarcus Holland and Damarcus Croaker
1 Wing: Jordan Barnett
1 Combo Forward: Jonathan Holmes
2 Forward/Post Combos: Connor Lammert and Myles Turner
2 Posts: Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh

Those 200 minutes will be spread amongst those 11 players, somehow…some way.

Isaiah Taylor. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Isaiah Taylor. (Will Gallagher/IT)

A few notes:
• Since the 2001-02 season, point guards under Rick Barnes have played an average of 32.1 minutes per game
• Right now, Felix and Yancy are the main competitors for backup minutes at the point

Analysis:
Regarding Taylor: he’s going to play big minutes and he should. He’s arguably the best true point guard (Staten is more of a combo) in the Big 12 and probably a top 10-15 lead guard in the country.

If Taylor was TJ or DJ, I would encourage Coach Barnes to limit those minutes a bit, but Isaiah has enough work he still needs to do in Texas’ halfcourt offense to be truly efficient that I expect those minutes to be in that area (or higher, honestly) pretty much the entire season (competition or winning/losing margin be damned.

Regarding Felix: Javan’s limitations are what they are, but he can be a capable backup in small stretches or when foul trouble is an issue.

Regarding Yancy: Kendal’s the most intriguing option at the backup point guard spot and don’t be surprised if he even gets minutes bringing up the ball even with Taylor on the floor to allow Isaiah to be an outlet valve and to attack the defense on skips or to provide him more open looks as he progresses as a perimeter shooter.

Regarding Holland: while it’s possible Holland will be given opportunities to bring the ball up the floor, it’s unlikely he sees more than a minute or two a game where he is the sole ball handler on the court for Texas.

What Barnes should do, philosophically:
Play Taylor 30 minutes a game and give the rest to Yancy. This works with significant premises. First, Yancy offers comparable-to-better ball handling, playmaking and passing to Felix and significantly better defense. Second, playing Yancy at the point limits the amount of time Felix and Holland spend on the floor together.

What Barnes should do with the minutes:
Taylor: 30
Yancy: 9
Felix: 1

Javan Felix. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Javan Felix. (Will Gallagher/IT)

A few notes:
• Last year, Holland averaged 29.6 minutes per game, most all of them coming on the wing (sometimes at the two, often at the three in a three guard lineup). The likelihood that his minutes reduce, noticeably from that threshold is pretty small.
• The expectation is that all of Felix, Yancy, Croaker, Barnett and even Holmes will log some time at this position

Analysis:
This is where the largest logjam exists. Taylor is the only natural point guard on the roster. The problem is that Barnett is the only natural small forward on the roster. That leaves Holland (6’2”), Felix (5’10”), Yancy (6’3”) and Croaker (6’1”) all vying for the final 10-ish minutes at the backup point guard position and then whatever other minutes can come at the two after Holland has taken his (likely) 25+.

Regarding Holland: whether through hard work, production or, last year, both, Holland has cemented himself into Barnes’ permanent plans at the shooting guard position. Expect him to start and garner significant minutes all season long.

Regarding Felix: his gunner role last year will almost certainly diminish (at least to a certain extent) because it’s unlikely he’ll find the 26 minutes he did last year. That’s a function of Texas likely using fewer three guard lineups with the arrival of Turner and Barnett. Something’s going to get squeezed here and Javan’s minutes (to me at least) would to be at the top of that hypothetical list, regardless of what the staff has said about him this preseason.

Regarding Yancy: the value Kendal brings at this position are defensive and as a slasher/penetrator/playmaker. The good news is that he’s come into the preseason shooting the ball well which follows how he finished last year. Low risk but, arguably, low reward guy at this position until he comes more into his own as a scorer.

Regarding Croaker: it’s no different than last year. Damarcus is a singular talent on this Texas team and one of the more gifted players at the shooting guard position over the last five years for the Horns. No one else brings his combination of athleticism, shooting prowess and ability on the move. Except it wasn’t enough last year, and he’s arguably sitting last in the head coach’s mind as far as comfort level and trust.

What Barnes should do, philosophically:
At the risk of being nasty, Barnes has got to fight the urge to get Felix big minutes. It’s fool’s gold. He’s just not a guy that can be counted on to impact winning. He had the worst +/- percentage on the team last year and it’s not as if that was because he was some unseasoned freshman thrown to the wolves.

Holland getting his minutes is fine. He wasn’t enough of a detriment to the team on offense that it allowed the rest of his game (which was considerable) to be difference making. Still, there’s not a whole lot that Holland could do in 25 minutes that he couldn’t do in 18.

The rest of the minutes, especially early, should be given to players who provide the most upside moving into the crucial part of the season…the end. While every game matters for seeding purposes, that’s becoming less important as time passes (last season saw a seven seed win the National Championship over an eight seed in the final).

What Barnes should do with the minutes:
Holland: 18
Croaker: 16
Felix: 4
Yancy: 2

Demarcus Holland. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Demarcus Holland. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Small Forward

A few notes
• Largely manned by Demarcus Holland last year in a 3-guard lineup
• Originally expected to be largely held by Jonathan Holmes, but that’s an experiment yet to fully happen.
• Freshman Jordan Barnett is the only natural small forward on the roster
• All of Lammert, Holland, Yancy and Croaker may see minutes at this spot

Analysis:
No sooner had Texas lost to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament than was Jonathan Holmes hinting to reporters that help would hopefully be on the way. That help, in the physical form of Myles Turner, would appear to signal the shift of Holmes from predominantly a power forward role to, predominantly, a combo forward one with a post and a face up four on the floor with him.

Now, perhaps that’s for 15 minutes a game; perhaps 25. Nonetheless, Texas will be shifting from mostly a smaller, three guard lineup look to a bigger, more traditional personnel grouping.

Regarding Holmes: his weight loss, a confirmed 20 pounds which drops him from 240 to 220, should make for a lithe, capable player who will now need to learn how to guard a perimeter oriented assignment. Running through screens, chasing around the perimeter, staying consistent with the ball in front of you against penetration, all of these things will be asked of Jonathan as he finds a comfort level on the perimeter in man.

On offense, the switch will be less pronounced as he’s proved over the last few seasons that he can play on either the strong or weak side as well as being a threat to score in playmaking situations with the ball.

Regarding Barnett: Texas would love for him to make this backup spot his own, but it would mean proving himself more valuable than Yancy or Lammert. Doable, but not something to expect right away. Still, physically and skill wise, Jordan is the future at the small forward position and has already earned minutes with the various lineups Barnes has put out during the preseason.

Regarding Lammert: has the skill to play here in a facilitating role on offense with his ability to pass and shoot from deep, but not really much of a threat as a dribbler and would only be able to defend this position in zone.

Regarding Yancy: a three guard lineup would likely see Yancy here. Can guard this position with effectiveness but, again, much of this is dependent upon the people you surround him with on the outside. Taylor and Croaker? Sure. Felix and Holland? No, thanks.

What Barnes should do, philosophically:
Holmes makes sense at the three. He can shoot, move and rebound well enough to be at that spot. Passing wise he’s going to be fine. It should work.

After him, though, it gets more worrisome. It’s no secret that good teams have consistently hurt this program with our inability to field lineups with the size to compete against true, lengthy small forwards.

If Holmes is at 15 minutes per game at three, that’s 25 minutes that will be crucial for us to exploit on both ends…or opponents will turn that on its ugly head.

The fewer minutes for Holland at this spot, the better.

What Barnes should do with the minutes:
Holmes: 18
Barnett: 12
Yancy: 6
Lammert: 4

Jonathan Holmes. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Jonathan Holmes. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Power Forward

A few notes:
• Would be easy to pin this as a Turner/Lammert combo with Holmes moving to the three, but it’s likely not that simple
• As of last week, the belief was that Lammert was actually running ahead of Turner, but I still think Turner ends up in the starting lineup when push comes to shove
• All of Holmes, Ibeh and Barnett could get minutes here

Analysis:
Regarding Turner: has the tools of a prototypical pick and pop four man in the random ball screen system and is a threat anywhere you put him on the floor on offense. Defensively, expect him to be used as a rover and for switches between him and Ridley/Ibeh to be purposeful to keep the big men as close to the basket as possible.

Regarding Lammert: highly underrated in this author’s eyes. Best high-low passer on the team and a progressing help defender, especially as his body catches up to his skill set (remember, he’s young for his grade…like younger than both Isaiah Taylor and Damarcus Croaker who are a year behind him in classification).

Regarding Holmes: is a known commodity in most ways at this position. The hope is that his weight loss doesn’t hurt his effectiveness when fighting for rebounds and helping as a weakside defender.

Regarding Barnett: may get some spot minutes every few games, but has the physicality and length to guard this position if need be.

What Barnes should do, philosophically:
This should be the strongest position on the floor every game for the Longhorns. There are no teams in the country (not Kentucky, not Kansas, not Duke, nobody) that can platoon three players like Turner, Lammert and Holmes at the four position. Not only that, but they all have the ability to shoot, pass, rebound and defend.

I don’t see how Barnes could go wrong with basically any of his options here.

What Barnes should do with the minutes:
Turner: 16
Lammert: 16
Holmes: 7
Barnett: 1

Cam Ridley. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Cam Ridley. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Center

A few notes:
• Should platoon to be a top 5 shot blocking center piece
• In two years, Ridley and Ibeh have combined to hit only 51% of their 382 free throw chances (that’s 184 points left on the floor). Clearly that needs to get better (even though it did improve significantly from two years ago to last)

Analysis:
Regarding Ridley: Cam’s ability to stay on the floor and be both an offensive and defensive force on the low block make him one of the best true post players in the country. His back to the basket game is already All-Conference caliber, now Texas needs him to get more comfortable facing the hoop out to 8-10 feet. Adding Holmes at the wing and Turner as a stretch four should accentuate his ability as a passer.

Regarding Ibeh: still raw on offense (he really only needs one move over both shoulders to be fine), Prince’s effectiveness comes from his energy and dynamic athleticism. Will be strictly a screen and slip guy on offense when on the strong side. Defensively, can slide over and guard some fours but best when within 5-7 feet from the rim.

Regarding Turner: his minutes in the post will be something to watch because he his length and skill level on the low block make him a tough matchup for even the best post defenders. Will the coaches find 3-5 minutes a game to steal for him at the five?

Regarding Lammert: likely only gets time at the five in blowouts or when foul trouble makes it a necessity.

What Barnes should do, philosophically:
I think there’s merit behind the idea of redshirting Ibeh, but that looks like a non-starter so there’s no reason to follow down that road if it’s not going to happen.

Besides that, there’s not much mystery to position. Ridley should get 24-26 minutes, Ibeh should 12-14 and Turner will mop up the rest.

What Barnes should do with the minutes:
Ridley: 25
Ibeh: 13
Turner: 2

A recap of how I believe the minutes should breakdown:
Taylor: 30
Holland: 18
Yancy: 17
Croaker: 16
Felix: 5
Barnett: 13
Holmes: 25
Lammert: 20
Turner: 18
Ridley: 25
Ibeh: 13

What Barnes should do with the defensive possessions (over the last five years, Texas has averaged 68 defensive possessions per game):
Man: 40 possessions
2-3 Matchup: 10
1-2-2 Halfcourt Trap: 8

***These are my thoughts, and mine alone, and I don’t pretend to say that this is even sort of likely as to how things will actually play out. Just that I think this is the way they should***