The Texas Longhorns are off to their best start since the Rick Barnes’ Elite Eight runs in 2006 and 2008. This is certainly their best start under Shaka Smart, who they hired away from VCU six seasons ago. Over the first five seasons, the results haven’t exactly matched the expectations with just two bids to the NCAA Tournament; but, this season, Texas is 10-1 and ranked No. 4 in the country. While the team is fantastic, the athletic marketing department at Texas needs to take advantage and reach out to Mars Blackmon to see if he will do a reboot of his “it’s gotta be the shoes” commercials he did with Michael Jordan. Their success comes down to one thing, “it’s gotta be the hair”. Smart, who has been known for going the bald route during his career, is now sporting a brand-new do.
Before last season, the best finish for Texas under Smart was a fourth-place finish in 2015-16; but last year, they were in third in the Big 12 and 9-9 in the conference when the season was canceled. Right now, the No. 4 Longhorns are a four-point loss to Villanova away from being 11-0. After beating West Virginia on Saturday, they now have road wins over Kansas and West Virginia in their last three games. After beating the Mountaineers, they are riding a six-game winning streak into Wednesday’s game with Texas Tech; and, they solidify themselves as the second-best team in the Big 12.
How it all changed
One of the remarkable things about this turnaround for the Longhorns is that they are doing it with essentially a six-man rotation. The guard trio of Matt Coleman III, Courtney Ramey, and Andrew Jones, who is one of the sport’s best stories after beating cancer and returning last season has led the Longhorns offensively. Coleman is one of just two seniors in the Texas rotation. The 6’2 guard from Norfolk, Virginia has averaged 13.6 points, and leads the team in assists and steals per game with 4.4 and 1.3, respectively. Ramey is the team’s sharpshooter, knocking down 42.6% of his three-point attempts is adding a team-high 13.8 points per game. At 6’4, Andrew Jones pulls in 4.4 rebounds per game and is third on the team in assists with 2.4 and his 13.4 points. The frontcourt for Smart consists of a consistent senior and two young guns with freshman star Greg Brown and senior Jericho Sims holding down the starting spots, while sophomore Kai Jones being the only reserve averaging over 18 minutes per game.
Small class, big numbers
Smart’s recruiting class consisted of just one player, but Brown was the No. 9 ranked prospect in the country. The 6’9 forward has paid off this season, leading the team in rebounding with 7.9 boards per game. He adds 12 points per contest, but it is his athleticism and versatility with an improving three-point shot that makes him such a dangerous weapon. Sims and Kai Jones give Texas some length and beef in the frontcourt at 6’10 245lbs and 6’11 218lbs. They also combine to give the team 15.5 points and 11.5 rebounds.
This should no doubt be Texas’ best team under Shaka Smart; there are many reasons: Ramey’s shooting, Sims and Kai Jones upfront, or Brown are as good as advertised. Truth be told, the biggest reason has to be the Longhorns’ secret weapon: it’s gotta be the hair.