Non-conference foes could pose challenge to young team

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Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Baseball will take hold of the sports world soon enough, as we enter the dog days of summer, which means one thing: It’s time to look ahead to the next college basketball season.

The Texas roster has started to take form as the signing period and transfers come to a close. This offseason, the Longhorns saw backup point guard Sterling Gibbs take his talents to the East Coast, deciding to transfer to Seton Hall University. Texas will also lose the services of the enigmatic J’Covan Brown, leaving the task of competing in the Big 12 to a group of freshmen and sophomores. All the while, Texas basketball released its non-conference schedule last Wednesday.

Among the Coppin State and Texas State matchups slated to occur early in the 2012 season, the Longhorns will face at least three top 25 non-conference opponents in UCLA on Dec. 8, North Carolina on Dec. 19, and Michigan State on Dec 25. In fact, they play four out of five games in a row in December versus top tier opponents depending on how Georgetown’s roster shapes up by the time of their Dec. 4 meeting.

These potentially large matchups might worry the Longhorn faithful knowing the trouble that ranked opponents gave the team last season. Texas was 1-9 vs. ranked opponents, with five of those games being decided by five points or fewer.

That’s where the new guys of the 4th ranked recruiting class in the nation come in. Texas ranked 2nd to last in defensive rebounding last year in the Big 12 at 22.79 rpg and near the middle of the pack in scoring defense, giving up 66.8 ppg because they couldn’t defend the paint efficiently. Knowing that, Rick Barnes grabbed the No. 8 ranked recruit in the country in 6-foot-10 center Cameron Ridley.

“Cameron is a true post who sees himself as an interior player,” Head Coach Rick Barnes said.

Texas also added highly touted forwards Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert, who both check in at 6-foot-10 as well. 6-foot-8 swingman Ioannis Papapetrou also joins the Longhorns, giving the team much needed length on the perimeter.

Texas also had some sloppy play last season, averaging 12.5 turnovers to 12.3 assists per game. Barnes countered that by bringing in better ball-handlers in guards Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland.

“Demarcus brings versatility to our backcourt and improves our skill level and ball-handling,” said Barnes. “When we look at our roster, we see skill, character and work ethic, and we’re excited to have them get on the floor together this summer and get to work.”

The Longhorns will need these new players to fit in right away if they hope to take the next step from their last two NCAA tournament bids, which ended in a second and first round exit respectively. One more component that they will need is second-year swingman Sheldon McClellan to score more consistently to replace the Big 12’s top scorer J’Covan Brown, who entered the NBA draft.

Ridley could alleviate some of that pressure with his ability to score in the post, and the size added by Ibeh and Lammert could pose problems for smaller teams in the conference. With a roster mostly composed of freshmen and sophomores, more growing pains are ahead, but the future looks bright.