The Baseline Report

It may be the off-season, but there is a lot of excitement for next season with an ultra talented freshman class on the way and the return of Dexter Pittman and other key parts. Burnt Orange Beat answers subscriber questions about the basketball team.

It's never too early to start talking about the 2009 Texas basketball season, the off-season that goes into it and how the newcomers will fit into an experienced team. In our second installment of The Baseline Report, those questions and others will be answered.

Q: Do you anticipate any "chemistry issues" on this year's team...not trying to jinx anything? Have you known Barnes to have such a problem on one of his teams?

A: I don't think there will be a chemistry issue with this group on the court or off. I actually think that Dexter Pittman will take pressure off of the freshman and that presents a scenario in which Bradley and Hamilton feel like they have to force shots and score the ball, which could be an issue on an experienced team. Pittman is also an unselfish player.

The selfless play of Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas will also be very key in next year's team in terms of on court and off court chemistry.

Q: Making the assumption that James stays in the draft, what is your projected starting line-up and how do you break down the minutes?

A: My line-up looks like this:

PG Dogus Balbay
SG Avery Bradley
SF Jordan Hamilton
PF Gary Johnson
C Dexter Pittman

Of course, Jai Lucas isn't eligible until December, so he doesn't figure in at this point.

Hard to make a legit guess on minute distribution until the status of J'Covan Brown is known, but I do expect Justin Mason, Varez Ward, Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman to get the bulk of the reserve minutes. Shawn Williams' size and ability to shoot the ball could give him a chance to work into the mix.

Q: What do guys like Gary Johnson and Clint Chapman need to do to improve their game?

A: Gary has to keep improving his face up game, especially with Pittman coming into his own as the post up player on the team. Gary has to move the ball a little more this year too.

He can improve on the defensive end as far as consistency and help defense. His strength is hedging on ball screens. As a rebounder, he has to become more of a rebound chaser and not just a location rebounder. Chasing rebounds will be a key on next year's team should Damion James stay in the draft.

On Clint, it's all about adding strength in the lower and upper body, continuing to build stamina, giving consistent effort on a daily basis and the confidence that comes with strength gains.

He simply has to finish at a higher rate this year, show the ability to knock down the elbow jumper, run the floor and continue to build on his back to the basket game. The ability is there to become a very good player the next two years, but this is a key off-season in terms of making the gains needed to allow for the improvement on the court.

Q: If Ward stays, do you think he takes over Justin Mason's spot next season?

A: Ward is a better offensive player and will improve as a shooter with a full off-season to get up thousands of jumpers. His ability to put the ball on the floor will fit well with the talents of Bradley and Hamilton, but he has to be more solid with the ball. He often times drove into helping defense and put himself in a tough spot. His ability to make quality post entry feeds will get him on the court with Pittman if he shows improved perimeter shot making ability.

His ability to defend the ball will also keep him on the court.

Mason, if he doesn't show the ability to knock down some catch and shoot jumpers next year and build confidence, will have a tough time because he isn't as good of an on the ball defender as Balbay, Ward or Bradley will be. In past seasons, he was the top on the ball defender. Mason can still bring rebounding, team defense and loads of big game experience to the team, but he has to score the ball better to hold off more talented offensive players.

Q: If J'Covan Brown makes it in, what do you think that we should realistically expect from him next season?

A: As of right now, expectations should be fairly low until it's know what type of shape he can work his way into if he is cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse. He isn't close to being in basketball shape as far as the demands of the off-season program, rugged practices and what is required to be a major minute college basketball player.

That is expected with the lay-off of more than a year. Todd Wright has shown the ability time and time again to get guys in shape in a short amount of time at the guard/wing position, so it's not out of the question he can work his way into legit playing/practice shape in a short amount of time.

After getting into playing shape, he will have to adjust to the big competition jump, handle that adversity, pick up and apply what Coach Barnes desires and then handle everything that goes into being a college basketball player (tough schedule, academics, etc..)

Q: What do you perceive as the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the team assuming James is gone?

A: The strengths, dependent on Bradley, Hamilton and Williams being as good as I think they will be, is more size on the perimeter and a much better 2-3 zone and 1-2-2 three quarter court trapping team. They will have much more versatility on defense, Texas will actually have the ability to run out a 2-3 zone with height and length Balbay (6-0/6-1), Bradley (6-2.5/6-7 wing span), Hamilton 6-7, Johnson (6-6.5) or Wangmene (6-7/7'3 wing span) and Pittman (6-9.5 big body) or Chapman (6-10). Throw in Williams (6-7) and the baseline will have the desired height and length. That will free up Mason to play up top when he is in the game and be in a position to be a ball deflector and turnover creator.

Texas should be a better perimeter rebounding team with Bradley and Hamilton adding to Balbay, Ward and Mason. That area should be much improved over years in which Abrams and Augustin weren't quality rebounders.

Texas should be a much better team off the bounce in terms of getting their own shot and not having to have to depend on sets when the shot clock is winding down. In an ideal world, the ability of Bradley and Hamilton to put the ball on the floor on the wings will make Texas much tougher to defend. Last season, Texas really struggled in that area.

The weaknesses will likely be rebounding, ability to dominate on the glass, as in the ability to chase rebounds and rebound a foot above the rim that will be lost if James doesn't return. That means Texas will have to have guys like Johnson, Wangmene and Hamilton chase rebounds to maximize their rebounding potential as a team. Pittman will be a location rebounder and not expected to expend a lot of energy attempting to chase rebounds, which would also result in bad fouls and time spent on the bench.

Also free throw shooting will again be a weakness. Pittman's free throw percentage dropped as he played more minutes and was winded at the free throw line. It will be a surprise if that is not the case this year playing even more minutes. Gary Johnson has to keep improving. Balbay must get up to the 60% area and Bradley and Hamilton must be able to take their 75-80% to the college level without much drop off.

Mason hasn't been good throughout his career, so it's hard to expect him to make huge gains as a senior. Chapman was bad last year and has to improve.

Jai Lucas will help in this area.

Texas will very likely shoot under 70% again next year.

Q: Who do you see as a leader of the team next year?

A: That is a tough call at this point. I like Pittman, Lucas, Balbay and Avery Bradley as the top candidates. Justin Mason, if he plays heavy minutes, has that ability.

Q: Will there be a full list of who is attending the elite camp and reports on the camp?

A: As has been the case in prior years, I'll be reporting on the Elite Camp and providing updates on who checks in and takes part. The early lists, for me, are just possibilities as some kids end up at a camp (NBA Players Camp) or at different events.

If 80% of the prospects show up expected, it would be a very successful year. The quality and quantity of the 2011, 2012 and even 2013 classes should be off the charts.

Q: Will you have a Todd Wright break down of the current roster as you have done in years past?

A: Yes, I will be interviewing Coach Wright in June and will produce the Q and A format that I have in past years.

Q: When will we know about Dogus' summer plans?

A: Balbay is back in Turkey. He has a lot of pressure to return on a yearly basis, so that decision was expected. He may be there for half the summer or the entire summer depending on his national team obligations.

That hurts Balbay as far as working on his weaknesses on a daily basis in the gym. He was getting up hundreds of jumpers on a daily basis off the catch and one or two hard dribbles and raising up in the elbow area.

Q: How close is Texas to KU in terms of competiveness for next year?

A: Great question. You have to give the nod to Kansas at the start of the year with Collins and Aldrich coming back and some experienced players (Tyshod Taylor) around them. Add in the immediate impact of Xavier Henry and Kansas should be very good out of the box. Add in transfer Jeff Withey at center/power forward and Kansas has a terrific roster.

The improvement of the Morris twins and Quintrell Thomas on the interior will likely hold the key for their national title hopes. If Kansas has talent and depth on the interior, they will be double tuff as the perimeter will be strong.

Texas will have to work in key offensive parts in Bradley and Hamilton that could end up the #2 and 3 scorers on the team by the time conference rolls around. Add in Lucas not being eligible until December and Texas won't likely come together and maximize their ability as a team until the last half of conference play.

Kansas should be the pre-season #1 in the conference without a doubt.

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