Michigan manhandled the Longhorns in a 79-65 loss during the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, but the team can still fly home from Milwaukee, Wis., with a few ounces of moxie intact.
After all, the future is bright at Texas.
No. 2 seed Michigan proved to be a 3-point shooting buzzsaw against the Longhorns. The Wolverines converted a school tournament-record 14 treys and shot a blistering 50 percent behind the arc.
They played almost perfect offensive basketball and stymied a team that’s had issues scoring consistently all season. The Longhorns are a scrappy, young group but they cannot be confused with the most talented bunch.
Saturday, the Longhorns ran into a supremely talented unit on a great day. It was nothing more than that. Texas can only go so far on effort, and without further developed talent, it hit its ceiling for the season against Michigan.
But next year, that ceiling may prove to be the floor. With a roster boasting only one scholarship upperclassman — junior forward Jonathan Holmes — Texas will return every scholarship player. It’s a group that gelled well together all season, and an additional offseason of working with each other could reap significant benefits.
The team remaining intact is the foundation of Texas’ future success, but the individuals that comprise the roster will provide the greatest growth.
Freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor has been a spark plug for the Longhorns all season. An unheralded recruit entering college, Taylor finished his season among the top freshmen in the country in a group populated by future lottery picks. With an offseason of work, Taylor can develop his shaky outside shot, which would make him an even better offensive threat.
And Taylor is far from being the only freshman guard who should develop nicely. Martez Walker, Kendal Yancy and Demarcus Croaker all have noticeable holes in their games but will elevate their skills by working with head coach Rick Barnes. Walker is the player to watch: He’s shown an aptitude for the spotlight late in the year, and it would not be surprising to see him getting the start over sophomore guard
Javan Felix next season.
Still, it’s Texas’ frontcourt that stands to make the biggest jump.
Sophomore center Cameron Ridley transformed from a pudgy freshman into one of the Big 12’s best players in 2013. At 6-feet-9-inches and 280 pounds, Ridley has the potential to be a force next season as his endurance and range of post moves continue to improve. It’s as Barnes said of Ridley: his next step is to “dominate.”
Elevated play from Ridley and Taylor would give Texas a one-two, inside-out combo that could take the team far.
After missing the tournament for the first time in 15 seasons last year, expectations were nonexistent at the beginning of the season and Barnes’ job was on the line.
Now, after a pleasantly surprising year, this energetic, hard-working team can hold solace in the future. And the Big 12 Head Coach of the Year honoree is here to stay.
Expectations for Texas basketball have returned. This team has earned them.