Rick Barnes has proven he can recruit talent, but in the past two seasons, his teams have nose-dived at the end of the year. This season, Texas must replace three very valuable seniors and two players who chose to leave the program early; one for the NBA and the either via transfer.
There is a massive void left inside by the Big 12's all-time leading rebounder Damion James and the big-bodied Dexter Pittman. Talented 6-8 freshman Tristan Thompson will try to pick up some of the slack. He is talented scorer and should be able to beat out the likes of Clint Chapman, Matt Hill and Alexis Wangneme for playing time inside. Senior Gary Johnson figures to start at the four. Johnson plays with a lot of energy and has a nice mid-range game, but is undersized at 6-6.
At the beginning of last season, the Longhorns were faced with a good problem of having too many bodies in the backcourt. That will not be a problem this year with Mason, Bradley and Ward all gone.
Senior Dogus Balbay is coming off a season-ending ACL injury but brings poise and experience to the team. The Turkey native is not a pure scorer, but knows how to run the offense and is a pest on the defensive end. Cory Joseph signed with the Horns late in the spring period and will be another impact freshman. He just has too much talent not to see playing and could run the point or play off the ball.
Jai Lucas never found his niche when he became eligible after the first semester and should be better acclimated to what Texas is trying to do. J'Covan Brown is combo guard who can play the point or the two but needs to show better shot selection in his sophomore season and not be such a chucker.
Speaking of chuckers... swingman Jordan Hamilton is a talented pure scorer and should see a significantly increased role as the likely starting small forward. Redshirt freshman Shawn Williams sat out last season, but was a highly recruited member of the 2009 class and will be a solid role player.
Do not expect a blazing start from Texas like they had last year as it might take them a little bit to figure out their rotation. As long as the Horns can have their roles settled by the beginning of Big 12 play and actually play their best ball at the end of a season for a change, they should be a factor in the conference race. Though it is unlikely the burnt orange can keep up with Kansas State or Kansas.
Player to Watch: Jordan Hamilton, G/F
From a pure talent standpoint, Hamilton has all the tools to be an extremely effective scorer. As a freshman though, he forced too many shots and was often times more worried about getting his shots than helping the team. There is not a shot that he won't take, which can be a huge asset when Hamilton is feeling it but extremely discouraging when he is having an off night. With an expanded role expected, Hamilton needs to be more patient on the offensive end, work for better shots and not settle for jumpers all the time. If he does that, he will be a valuable weapon and could be heading to the NBA next summer.