Who Needs To Improve?

Typically, players make jumps in their games between seasons. LonghornDigest.com looks at the three most-needed improvements by returning Texas basketball players.

1) DeMarcus Holland finding his jump shot

Even if neither Sheldon McClellan nor Julien Lewis had transferred, both would have faced an uphill battle to beat Holland out of the starting lineup. The coaching staff loves his effort level, but also is enamored with his defensive potential. There's just one problem — it's hard to exist at this level with a non-point-scoring entity at a wing spot, especially when the Longhorns don't have an elite point producer anywhere in the lineup. There's no Jordan Hamilton (more on this later) or J'Covan Brown. That means that Texas will likely have to get the job done with a combination of several guys scoring between, say, seven and 13 points per game. Holland has outstanding quickness and can get to the bucket. But his inconsistent jump shot is holding his scoring game back. If he can find the range to become just an average shooter, to where teams can't pack the paint and play off him, he could cement his spot in the lineup as more than just an effort guy and defender. Remember, he shot just 17.4 percent from the three-point line, and was basically not a mid-range presence at all a year ago.

2) Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh learning to make their free throws

Here's the thing: Texas struggled to make free throws from every post position. Connor Lammert made 60 percent. Jonathan Holmes was at 58.9 percent. Jaylen Bond was at 46.2 percent. And yet those players were practically Larry Bird compared to the freshman center duo. Ibeh made 15-of-40 freebies, just 37.5 percent from the free throw line. And Ridley was worse, making 28-of-84, or 33.3 percent. This killed Texas in multiple ways. The first, and most obvious, is simply that they left points on the board. Together, they made 43-of-124 shots. Considering a 75-percent shooter would make 93 of those free throws, the Longhorns left 50 points on the court in a season where Texas lost a number of close games. Then there's this — Ridley and Ibeh were two of the biggest components toward Texas having an elite-level defense for much of the season, only they were often pulled when Texas got into the bonus because the Longhorns couldn't afford to continue to give away free points. So their lack of free throw shooting actually cost Texas DEFENSIVELY as well. And finally, there's the fact that the best part of both Ridley and Ibeh's offensive games is the fact that both excel at earning free throws. Ibeh drew free throw attempts on 78.4 percent of his field goal attempts … Ridley was at 71.8 percent. Not only were those two rates tops on the Longhorn team, but they were among the best rates in the country. Had both players had enough attempts, Ibeh would have ranked 14th nationally in free throw rate, with Ridley coming in at No. 30. So both players are dominant at getting to the line, and totally questionable once they get there. If they can fix the question mark of that equation, they could both 1) see their scoring averages increase and 2) see their time on the court bump up as well, increasing the Longhorns' chances of having a strong defensive lineup on the floor.

3) Ioannis Papapetrou blossoming into a versatile scorer

In Jordan Hamilton's freshman year, he served as an added scoring option off the bench behind more established scorers like Damion James. He made 46.1 percent of his twos and 36.5 percent of his threes. Then he improved both rates to 48.1 and 38.5 in becoming the Longhorns' main scoring option as a sophomore. Papapetrou could face a similar route. As a freshman, Papapetrou was rarely Texas's No. 1 scoring option, but could find himself in that role in his second season. And his freshman rates of 48.5 and 35.9 are pretty close to those put up by Hamilton as well. Both were bigger small forwards who could cause opponents trouble because of their abilities to handle the ball, get to the basket or can shots from distance. And get this, even their free throw percentages were the similar. Papapetrou made a surprisingly low 58.3 percent of his free throws as a freshman. Hamilton was actually slightly lower at 57.8 percent. But both were players that you figured could shoot free throws better, in fact Hamilton's rate increased about 20 percent as a sophomore, while his two-point and three-point percentages went up a couple of points. If Papapetrou can make a similar leap, to where he's shooting 50.5-37.9-78.3, he has a chance to really increase his scoring average. And while Papapetrou's more deferential nature makes it hard to believe he'll average 18 points per game next year, if he can score in the 15-16 range, it would be a huge boost to an offense that is wondering where the points will come from. Especially given that many believe — the coaches among them — that Holmes is capable of averaging, say, a 12-8 over the course of a full season, that would give Texas two really nice offensive options to build around. Somebody has to emerge as the No. 1 scorer. And with Papapetrou's skills, it might be best for the Longhorns if he takes that bull by the horns, so to speak.

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