Improvement in college sports can be gradual. As much as we'd all love that guy who averaged 5.0 points per game as a freshman to come back and make the leap to a 20 PPG scorer, it just doesn't often work like that.
So what can we expect? Looking at recent history, slated improvement can come from two things: 1) a player achieving his previous season's peak more consistently and often and 2) a player having a slightly higher peak than what he had the year before. Take Javan Felix. As a freshman, he had three 15-point games, including two 20-plus point games and a peak of 26 points against Baylor. This year, Felix hit the 15-point mark more consistently (12 times), topped the 20-point mark more often (four times) and had a slightly higher peak, scoring 28 points against Oklahoma and 27 points against Oklahoma State.
So, to see what we can expect, it's important to determine each player's peak performance. So here are each Longhorn's best performances of the year.
It's tough to pick a best game for Taylor, but I'll go with his 23-point performance in the Longhorns' win against Kansas. The stage was the biggest, and Taylor responded, making 6-of-12 two-point attempts, 1-of-2 threes and shooting 8-of-8 from the line, scoring those 23 on four fewer shots than it took him to score 27 points against Baylor. His offensive rating for the game of 133 was his second-highest of the season to when he scored 15 points on six shots and dished out eight assists to no turnovers against Texas State. If there was one fault with Taylor's Kansas game, it was that he didn't have any assists. That's something he'll have to do better next year. When looking at the complete picture, Taylor scored 26 points against Iowa State (though he shot just 8-for-20), grabbed seven rebounds and dished out eight assists to one turnover.
Felix was called upon to be Texas's No. 1 shooter this year, a role that he struggled with at times. But he didn't in putting up an absurd 163 Offensive Rating in the Longhorns' win over Oklahoma State. Felix hit 9-of-14 shots, including 6-of-8 from three, and scored 27 points, showing what the Texas offense looks like when Felix is hitting on all cylinders. From a playmaking standpoint, his best game was probably against West Virginia, when he scored 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting while grabbing three rebounds and dishing out six assists to one turnover. It will be tough for him to match those production numbers next year as the Longhorns' wing players continue to mature and earn more time.
Guiding the Longhorns through a closer-than-anticipated 72-69 win over UT Arlington without Jonathan Holmes, Holland showed off his improved shot by scoring 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including a 2-for-4 night from three. He also had 11 rebounds and played his regular defense. Honorable mention should go to his Kansas game, where he only scored four points on 1-of-4 shooting, but logged what Texas coach Rick Barnes called one of the most impactful non-scoring performances he's seen. Holland had 11 rebounds, dished out three assists, had two steals and guarded lottery pick Andrew Wiggins as Texas pulled out a big win. It's also tough to beat his 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting against Arizona State.
Holmes saw his efficiency go through the roof this year, something he displayed in a 20-point, 7-rebound, three-assist night in just 18 minutes played against West Virginia. He could also be counted on in big games: Holmes threw up a 15-10 with three blocks against North Carolina and had 22 points, four rebounds, three blocks and three steals against the Jayhawks in Austin.
Ridley was another tough one to pick. He was a huge part of Texas's win over Iowa State by scoring 16 points, grabbing 11 boards and blocking five shots. But his best game in operating from the post came when he dominated Baylor's post players with a 20-10, two-block effort. And despite going against a seven-footer in Jordan Bachynski, Ridley scored 17 points, including the game-winner, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots against Arizona State, while also dishing out two assists from his post spot.
Lammert was at his scoring best against Houston Baptist, scoring 13 points while shooting 2-for-3 from two, 2-for-2 from three and 3-for-4 from the free throw line. He also grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots in that game. But it's hard to pick against his double-double against TCU, where he scored 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
Ibeh didn't have too many double-digit scoring performances, though he was consistently a force on the defensive end. Ibeh did it all against BYU, scoring 11 points, grabbing six rebounds, blocking two shots and making two steals. And his effort, along with Holland's, helped Texas get past UT Arlington, thanks to his 11 points, three rebounds and five blocks. And last, but not least, Ibeh had 11 points, six rebounds and four blocks — including a couple game-savers — in Texas's overtime win over Temple.
Good news for Longhorn fans: Walker got better as the year went on, with arguably his top two games coming in the season's last two contests. Against Arizona State, he was the model of efficiency, scoring 16 points on just four shots from the field, making three of those shots (including 1-for-1 from three). He also went 9-of-10 from the free throw line. Against Michigan, he was a bit more multi-faceted, putting up a 14-point, seven-rebound performance. His defense also came a long way, with Walker becoming a much better help defender.
Yancy's best game came early on this season in Texas's big win over Vanderbilt, when he scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes. But while it wasn't his best game, he also earned kudos for his effort in the Big 12 Tournament loss to Baylor, when Yancy scored 12 points on 4-for-11 from the field. He made three three-point shots, grabbed three rebounds and had an assist, but mostly he impressed the coaches with his ability to fill in the blanks and impact a game with his raw effort level. Yancy has a lot of similarities to Holland from a year ago, though Holland is a quicker, Yancy is bigger and a bit more skilled.
Croaker's top games came in back-to-back contests at the start of Big 12 play. First, Croaker tossed in 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting (5-of-8 from three) against Oklahoma. Then, in his next time out, Croaker scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting (2-of-6 from three) at Oklahoma State. Croaker saw his playing time diminish as the year goes on, largely as Walker emerged as a more appealing all-round option. But it's worth noting that somewhere in there is the guy who, for two conference games, averaged 13.5 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.