After nearly three years, the Longhorns men’s basketball team is ranked again. Texas enters a pivotal week ranked No. 25 in the latest AP poll, a number that will improve if they are able to slay Goliath and defeat No. 6 Kansas on Saturday. With this monstrous matchup looming, the two names every Texas fan needs to know are Cameron Ridley and Isaiah Taylor.
The 6-foot-9-inch, 285-pound Ridley is the first to draw attention. The sophomore center leads the team in rebounding and blocks and is quickly emerging as one of the most dominant centers to ever play for Rick Barnes.
Due to his gargantuan proportions, Ridley often draws comparisons with former Longhorn center Dexter Pittman. But, when it comes to games, there’s no comparison. Ridley averages 11.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, while also leading the team with 48 blocks — already surpassing his total from last year, when he led the team with 47 — Pittman never averaged 11 points or six rebounds per game.
Ridley’s numbers are far closer to what Tristan Thompson, the fourth-overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, posted during his freshman year at Texas. Thompson put up 13.1 points, grabbed 7.8 rebounds and rejected 2.4 shots per game. Ridley is averaging 2.4 blocks-per-game this season, which — along with Thompson — is the highest for any Longhorn player in 14 years.
Freshman point guard Taylor has been equally impressive. He has been a revelation, quickly putting himself in the exclusive company of past elite Texas point guards. This list includes T.J. Ford, Daniel Gibson, D.J. Augustin, Avery Bradley and Cory Joseph, all of whom played in the NBA.
Taylor has been an offensive spark plug, averaging 11.7 points and 3.7 assists per game. Last Saturday’s win over Baylor was his best performance of the season, in which he had a career-high 27 points. Although he has attempted only 11 three pointers all year, Taylor has had plenty of success attacking the rim — his 6.15 free-throw attempts per game are more than Ford, Gibson, Augustin, Bradley or Joseph ever averaged.
Taylor is averaging more points than Joseph and Ford did their freshman seasons and Taylor has more assists per game than Joseph and Bradley did. He also has a better assist-turnover ratio than Gibson, Joseph and Bradley.
Before Ridley and Taylor burst onto the scene, Texas basketball was at rock bottom. But, with new life and new leadership, this team looks like the real deal. We’ll know for sure if they are after they take on Kansas this weekend.