The Texas Longhorns were able to punch tickets to the NCAA Tournament in 16 of 17 seasons under former head coach Rick Barnes. Barnes was fired this off-season as former VCU coach Shaka Smart was hired as his replacement.
After the Longhorns finished in a three-way tie for sixth in the Big 12 with an 8-10 record, the culture has changed in Austin, TX.
One of the key returnees from a year ago is junior point guard Isaiah Taylor. Taylor should thrive under coach Smart, who helped Eric Maynor become the first VCU point guard get selected in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2009.
Taylor missed 10 games last season due to a wrist injury. He still led the Longhorns with 13.1 points, 4.6 assists and 31.6 minutes per game. He’s one of 12 players who are back in the fold and that will be big for Smart’s chances to create a contender in Year One.
Ranked No. 30 in CBS Sports’ list entitled: Top 100 and One College Basketball Players for 2015-16, Taylor initially thought about a move to the NBA before ultimately staying for another year with Smart in town.
Smart said that he wants his team to faster than they did in the past and that includes the two fastest guys in the Texas backcourt.
“We want to take advantage of some of the speed of our guards,” Smart told the Dallas News. “I think with Isaiah Taylor and Kerwin Roach we have two of the quicker guards in college basketball.”
Roach joins Taylor after excelling at impressive high school program, Houston-Yates. He’s 6’4″ and Taylor is 6’3″, so if Smart wants to be creative he should be able to find a way to use them together more often than not.
One of the three freshmen, Roach is a four-star recruit. He can learn next to Taylor or behind him as Smart grooms him as the next big thing at Texas.
The Longhorns were able to find to earn a second round appearance after going 20-14 overall a year ago. A 56-48 loss to Butler knocked them out and with Taylor fully healthy, Texas has a big shot at making a run into the tournament.
Under Smart the sky is the limit even in a tough Big-12 conference. Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma all rank in the top 10 in Today’s U Top 25 preseason rankings. Baylor is the fourth Big-12 team on the list at No. 21.
Taylor is the face of Longhorn basketball for one more season and possibly another one if Smart can convince him to stay. Right now the focus will continue to be on physicality and intelligent basketball, two subjects Smart preaches day in and day out.
“Coach Smart says he needs me here to be the floor leader,” said Taylor via Burnt Orange Nation in April. “I love our team, and I love The University of Texas.”
With the top scorer and point man on board it will not only make Smart’s transition smoother, but it will make all of his teammates around him better.
Taylor was one of two Longhorns to post double-digits in that postseason game against Butler last year. He had 14 points while the now departed Jonathan Holmes had 15.
For Texas to be as successful as they want to be, Smart has to find consistency outside of Taylor. Guard Javan Felix and power forward Cameron Ridley return after both averaging eight points or more per game last season.
The Longhorns are a team on the rise with their core intact and a new crafty coach now in place.