One of the primary tenets of improvement is consistency. And by that, I mean that coaches can often point to a player's best performances the previous year, and hope — for that next season's improvement — that they can replicate those kinds of performances on a more consistent basis the next year.
Does that mean that we should expect Javan Felix to improve to the point where he's dropping 26 points and nine assists to one turnover, as he did against Baylor, on a consistent basis? Of course not. But that performance does show the kind of potential he has when things are going his way. Likewise for Jonathan Holmes and his 15-point, eight-rebound showing against North Carolina. While I don't expect Holmes to drop a 15-and-eight nearly every night as a junior, it's not inconceivable that he could match his strongest string as a sophomore, where he averaged 11 points and 7.7 rebounds over a seven-game stretch, while hitting around that 15-and-8 twice (he had 15-9 against Iowa State).
Still, it's hard to gauge a guy's potential without knowing where he's at when he's at his best. So below, I've listed the top performance for each of the potential Longhorn returnees from this past season.
Without a doubt, this was the strongest performance delivered by a Longhorn at any point in 2012-2013. Down by 22 with less than eight minutes remaining, Kabongo stirred up a ferocious Texas comeback, hitting an absurd game-tying shot at the buzzer in regulation, then scoring or assisting on 11 of Texas's 15 points in overtime. From Amath M'Baye's dunk with 7:54 left in the game through the overtime period, Kabongo scored 24 points on 7-of-7 shooting and 8-of-10 shooting from the free throw line, while also grabbing five boards. For the game, Kabongo dropped in a Texas season-high 31 points while grabbing eight rebounds, dishing out six assists and making four steals. Kabongo is expected by most to jump to the NBA Draft, but even if he comes back, he'll have a hard time matching that February night against the rival Sooners.
Many also expect Lewis to leave the 40 Acres after this season, probably to transfer. But it would be a shame if he did so because 1) he's such a steady game-in, game-out performer and 2) the Longhorns would really depend on his scoring a year from now. The latter factor is especially true after the way Lewis ended up his sophomore season, leading Texas in scoring in each of its last three games and averaging 19 points per game over those contests. And he did so in an efficient manner, making a fantastic 52.6 percent of his three-point attempts and 84.6 percent of his shots from the free throw line. He still has to get better on his two-point attempts, as he made just 34.8 percent of those shots during those three games, but that's still a fantastic stretch, especially for a team in need of outside shooting and more consistency at the line. As for his best performance, it came in the season's final game, when Lewis took 19 shots, making 10 of them, including 3-of-6 three-pointers. He was also 2-for-2 from the line and grabbed four rebounds.
Jonathan Holmes — North Carolina
As I noted above, Holmes actually had slightly better box score numbers against Iowa State, because he corralled one more rebound. But his performance against the Tar Heels was better for multiple reasons. For one, he swung the game's outcome more, serving as a major reason that Texas beat North Carolina, while the Longhorns lost to the Cyclones by 20. For two, he was much more efficient, taking three fewer shots to get his 15 points, hitting 6-of-9 attempts and 2-of-3 three-pointers against Carolina. But he also helped to swing that game with his physical play, boxing out well and fighting for everything that he got. And the underrated part — especially for Holmes — is that he wound up with just two fouls. Holmes had a tendency to take himself out of games with silly fouls. But against Carolina, he was honed in, scored well and efficiently and played aggressively and confidently while serving as a force on the boards.
Javan Felix — at Baylor
Up to this point, the Longhorns had tried to run more of a flex-type offense, based around Texas's shooters, Lewis and Sheldon McClellan, curling around picks for jump shots. But it wasn't working, the big men hadn't developed as planned and Texas entered its first conference game, on the road, in serious need of some offensive identity. So the Longhorns handed the ball over to their oft-maligned freshman point guard, allowing him to use his savvy in the pick-and-roll to try and find openings to either get to the basket or knock in his patented floater. The result? Felix took a whopping 23 shots, not a single one of them a three-pointer, hitting 11 of those looks for 26 points. But he wasn't just ball-hogging — Felix also dished out a sublime nine assists to one turnover. And along the way, he helped to carry a Texas team lacking in confidence to overtime against one of the league's most talented teams. Felix played a whopping 43 of 45 minutes, nine more than his Baylor counterpart, Pierre Jackson, and that wear-and-tear seemed to get to him late. He missed both of his free throw attempts in overtime, along with his last three shot attempts. But without Felix going 11-for-20 and 4-for-5 from the free throw line to that point, Texas might not have been within single digits of the Bears at the end of regulation.
Carmeron Ridley — UCLA in Houston
Tagged as one of the Longhorns' biggest games on the schedule from the moment it was scheduled, many felt like Texas would be overwhelmed by the young Bruin talent. But the best player on the floor for much of the game was Ridley, who scored 14 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots. Ridley had other games where he impacted the low-post area, like when he had eight points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in 19 minutes against Mississippi State. But the stage was bigger against UCLA, and so was Ridley's aggression level. He only took six shots, making five, but three were dunks and another was a layup that he converted into an and-one. Ridley made such an impact against an NCAA Tournament opponent, without moving far from the bucket, that it offered a tantalizing glimpse into what he could become if he were it better shape and if his motor ran hot. Even then, Ridley made just 4-of-7 free throws, meaning the performance could have been even better.
Ioannis Papapetrou — Baylor
And here it is that I admit that it is darned near impossible to pick a peak performance for Papapetrou. Why? Because he's such a versatile talent. You're talking about a guy who played some emergency point guard early in the year, but threw up a 10-point, 10-rebound battle in the paint against North Carolina. Somebody who scored 13 points and grabbed nine boards against TCU, but also had a 15-point, four-rebound, five-assist, no-turnover, two-steal game against Texas Tech. And the same guy who had such a tremendous all-around impact against Oklahoma State that he paced the Longhorns in points (15), rebounds (seven), assists (four), blocks (two) and steals (four). That's crazy. But as great as that box score is, I'm going to have to pick a game where Papapetrou didn't leave so many points on the floor from the three-point line (0-5) or the free throw line (5-8). Papi was at his offensive best against Baylor, scoring 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 2-for-4 from the three-point line. He also made both free throw attempts. Oh, and it wasn't like he slacked off in other areas. Papapetrou had four rebounds, dished out two assists and helped to protect the rim against the taller Bears by blocking three shots. The takeaway is that Papapetrou is somebody capable of impacting the game in so many different ways. How many other players this year scored 18 points in a game, grabbed double-digit rebounds in a game, dished out five or more assists in a game, blocked three or more shots in a game and had four or more steals in a game and played every position from point guard to center? I'm guessing not many, and certainly not many freshmen.
Prince Ibeh — at Houston, CBI
It's a sign of how poorly a lot of other guys played that Texas had two players put up their best performances against Houston, but the Longhorns still lost the game. Still, nobody should sleep on what Ibeh was able to accomplish in that contest, recording career highs in points, rebounds and blocks. The Garland Naaman Forest product came in with a reputation as a raw player, especially offensively, but he scored 12 points against the Cougars while grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking five shots. Ibeh could have had even more points had he done better than his 4-for-8 night from the free throw line, especially considering that he hauled in seven offensive boards in the contest. If Ibeh can start to harness some of that raw material, and if he can begin to make his free throws at a higher percentage, the Longhorns could have an outstanding center tandem for years to come with he and Ridley.
Connor Lammert — Iowa State
Lammert was a tough player to choose for because so much of his game goes unnoticed, from setting picks to making entry passes. And the Longhorns weren't especially great at entering the ball into him, despite Lammert being the team's most polished low-post scorer. Still, the job he did against Iowa State was a nice indicator of things to come. Lammert scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while knocking down one of his two three-point attempts. Lammert also pulled down six rebounds and dished out four assists to just one turnover. But even more than that, he was a factor on the defensive end more than normal. Lammert blocked three Cyclone shots, while also making a steal in a close overtime win. Lammert is capable of putting up those kinds of numbers … he had 13 points (on 5-of-6 shooting) and seven rebounds a week later against TCU, to go with three assists and a blocked shot.
DeMarcus Holland — Oklahoma
Yet another player whose impact doesn't show up on the stat sheet, Holland largely makes his hay by pestering opposing guards to death. And he did just that against the Sooners, while at the same time scoring 10 points, dishing out two assists and making two steals while blocking a shot. Holland's own shot has been inconsistent, to say the least, but he's an able finisher on the break, and he made 4-of-8 shots against Oklahoma, including 2-of-4 from behind the arc. If he can bring that kind of offensive output more consistently, he'll be hard to take off the court. Because, in large part to Holland's defense, Sooner guards Sam Grooms, Steven Pledger, Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins shot just 8-for-25, or 32 percent. Holland spent time this season spelling Felix at point guard, but moved into a wing spot when Kabongo returned. The main question: does he have what it takes to earn more minutes at the point in the future? Or can he consistently score enough to become a nice play at the two? Only the offseason will tell.