By John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer
Editor’s note: John Fanta is counting down his top 15 college basketball teams leading up to the start of the 2022-23 season. Checking in at No. 12 is Texas.
Is Texas back?
Wait! Before you stop reading, we’re not talking about the debate created every single September by college football pundits. We’re talking about the Longhorns’ basketball program.
There’s momentum down in Austin. Texas has one of the coaching stars in the sport, with Chris Beard entering his second season. The Horns won an NCAA Tournament game last season, snapping an eight-year drought on the dance floor. They return their top two scorers from a 22-12 team and usher in the nation’s No. 3 ranked recruiting class according to 247 Sports. Beard and his staff executed in the transfer portal as well with one of the splashes of the offseason.
To cap it off, the program is opening up a new home building this season, the Moody Center, which will sit in the middle of campus and should give the Longhorns a stronger home-court advantage than they’ve had in the past, something that an alum like Beard is passionate about.
There are many reasons to buy stock in Texas in the upcoming season, with a bevy of talent and the right leader in place. Will the Longhorns reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008?
Let’s take a deeper dive into the team ranked 12th in the country in our preseason rankings.
Which players are back?
There’s no shortage of returning talent to work with, including three starters who each landed All-Big 12 honors last season. Better yet, all three players are in their fifth year of college basketball.
Marcus Carr will help lead the backcourt after averaging 11.4 points and 3.4 assists per game in his debut season following his transfer from Minnesota. The question with Carr is if he can get closer to the numbers he achieved two years ago for the Golden Gophers when he averaged 19.4 points and 4.9 assists per game.
Texas also has dynamic 6-foot-6 wing Timmy Allen back. An All-Big 12 second-team selection last season, the Utah transfer averaged 12.1 points and 6.4 boards en route to all-league second-team honors.
In the frontcourt, Texas returns Christian Bishop, a 6-foot-7 forward who will be asked to do more after posting 7.0 points and 5.6 boards per game last season.
The other pieces back are 6-foot-9 senior forward Dylan Disu and 6-foot-6 senior wing Brock Cunningham. Neither was able to do much on the offensive end, but both played double-digit minutes per game for Beard. Disu came into the program from Vanderbilt after he averaged 15.0 points and 9.2 boards in his sophomore year. Could he grow into a bigger role after an offseason of development? We shall see.
Who’s new on the roster?
The Longhorns have a top-three recruiting class in the country because Beard secured a pair of five-star commitments.
Texas will have no shortage of firepower on the perimeter, as 6-foot-7 wing Dillon Mitchell (No. 5 recruit in 2022 rankings) and 6-foot-3 point guard Arterio Morris (No. 17 recruit in 2022 rankings) both enter the program.
Mitchell is a long and versatile small forward who is one of the most athletically gifted players in this freshman class. With his speed, ability to attack the rim, and a solid defensive skill set, the Montverde Academy product is a natural wing. His defense is what Beard found so appealing when recruiting him, and all signs point to him starting.
As for Morris, he will likely serve in a rotation role and can offer Texas a different dimension with his quick burst and ability to get downhill.
As for the transfer portal, Beard and his staff had a top player on their board to step in for the departed Ramey and Jones, and the Longhorns reeled him in.
Iowa State transfer Tyrese Hunter, the reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year, was one of the biggest names available in the spring. He chose to stay in the conference by heading to Austin. His decision, which became official on May 27, made a wave of headlines across college basketball. It’s a major reason Texas is sitting at No. 12 in our preseason poll because what Hunter did in his first year in a difficult Big 12 spoke volumes.
A 6-foot guard, Hunter helped lead Iowa State to a surprising season and the NCAA Tournament, averaging 11.0 points, 4.9 assists and 3.0 boards along the way. If he can build on his 39% mark from the field last season, watch out.
At his size and skill set, Hunter is not really an NBA Draft prospect, but that’s to Beard’s benefit. The Wisconsin native put up quite a freshman year, still possesses a high ceiling and likely will be around for two or three seasons. It’s a total win on the recruiting trail.
The other addition made by Beard in the portal was New Mexico State transfer Sir’Jabari Rice. Yet another fifth-year player on the Longhorns roster, Rice is a winner and could be an underrated weapon. The 6-foot-4 guard helped the Aggies to a WAC Tournament championship last season, plus a first-round upset over UConn in the NCAA Tournament. Averaging 11.9 points, 5.1 boards and 3.1 assists, he brings 111 games of college basketball experience to the program and knows what winning looks like.
The Key Questions …
For the Longhorns, much of what they do this season will be determined by how Beard manages the blend of returning experience and high-impact additions. There’s no shortage of talent on the roster.
What Carr ends up doing will be huge for this team. At his best, he can be an All-American caliber talent. The expectation is that Allen and Bishop will make up the starting frontcourt, and it’s also integral that Bishop, a Creighton transfer, makes a leap in his second season with the program.
Defense is never a concern for a Beard-led team. Texas ranked 14th in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency last season.
It’s the offense, and what happens from the perimeter, that will be a big key. Texas lost its top-three shooters in Jones, Ramey and Febres, and even with them, the Horns were not particularly strong from beyond the arc. They finished sixth out of 10 in the Big 12 with 6.6 made 3-pointers per game, and were fifth in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage at 33%.
Can the Longhorns find different ways to beat a defense with the additions of Hunter, Mitchell and Rice?
The other big question: How will life in the Big 12 fare? The Longhorns may be No. 12 in our preseason rankings, but they are just the first of four teams from the league in this countdown. This conference is stacked, and Texas will have no shortage of challenges.
Non-Conference Schedule Highlights
How about a Nov. 16 game in Austin against Gonzaga? That’s the non-conference highlight for the Longhorns, who will also be at home for a potential top-10 team, Creighton, on Dec. 1. Five nights later, Texas will head up to New York City to play Illinois in the Jimmy V Classic. On Dec. 18, there’s a matchup in Dallas with a Stanford program that could be a contender in the Pac-12.
In the middle of their conference gauntlet featuring the likes of Kansas, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech, the Longhorns also have a big road test against Tennessee in the SEC / Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 28.
Top 15 countdown:
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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