Texas returns just three scholarship players from a year ago — J'Covan Brown, Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman — and just two who played a year ago, with Chapman taking a redshirt season. According to Texas coach Rick Barnes, that has led to more of a teaching preseason than normal.
"I said it once yesterday, I've probably said it five times: that we're going to get good at something," Barnes said at Thursday's Big 12 Media Days. "At least one thing. I don't know what it's going to be yet. But they would tell you right now, they would think it's probably going to be defense because we're doing a lot of teaching."
That defense should emerge as a strength of a Barnes-coached team shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. But with the 2011-2012 Texas basketball roster, it should also be viewed as a positive. The Longhorns return just one proven scorer in Brown, and even he isn't proven in terms of providing points on a game-in, game-out basis.
"We know he can score," Barnes said. "We're going to count on him to score. He's going to be a marked man wherever we go play; people are going to try and take it away from him. So he's going to have to work, and we've talked to him a lot about his conditioning, taking care of himself all the time, because he's going to play a lot of minutes.
"I've probably only been in one situation that I can remember where maybe we're going to count on a guy as much as we're going to count on him to score, and that was when I was at Providence with Eric Murdock and he led the league in scoring," Barnes said.
The rest of the team is somewhat of an unknown, with the Longhorns boasting a strong freshman class of six players. Myck Kabongo will likely be the team's point guard from the word 'go', while Sterling Gibbs will fight for minutes behind he and Brown. Some combination of Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis will combine out on the wings, with Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond aiding Wangmene and Chapman inside.
"We've always set the bar high at Texas," Barnes said. "We're not going to change that. And we've told those guys that they came to the University of Texas because where our program has been, and we still want more.
"The expectations for all of them are extremely high, because they're going to have to play," Barnes said. "And they're going to have to get out there and go after it. They've shown that they're willing to compete and they want to get themselves improved as individual players. But we're going to need every one of them."
Setting the bar high means Texas will strive, yet again, to compete with Kansas at the top of the Big 12 standings. And this year, for the first time, they'll play twice within the conference season. Barnes talked about the budding basketball rivalry.
"What makes rivalries is a consistently competitive situation played well at a very high level," Barnes said. "And that's what I think the Kansas/Texas game has been. We've talked about in the past and kidded about maybe even playing (Kansas in) a non-league game because we think that Texas/Kansas playing twice is … I know our fans are excited about it.
"I think it has been, and I think it will even get better, with being one of the best rivalries in college basketball," Barnes said.
Barnes said he looked forward to coaching this year's team.
"We can play a lot of different ways, and we've got some interchangeable parts that we're going to do," Barnes said. "We've got to teach this team to be a smart team. And I do think we'll be in a lot of close basketball games. We're going to have to work really hard at being able to get a stop in the closing minutes.
"We're going to have to be able to find a way to score, especially when they're probably really trying to work hard to take a guy like J'Covan Brown out of the offense," Barnes said. "So along with teaching these guys how to work, we're going to have to teach them, again, how to play."