Smart, Texas must forget about loss, move to future

Akshay Mirchandani

The Longhorns won’t get over what happened Friday night, at least not in the immediate future.

The half-court heave that sent Northern Iowa to the round of 32 and broke Texas’ hearts will haunt the team for a while, particularly the five seniors.

“I’m just disappointed about tonight, how it went,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “I wanted our guys to be able to keep playing, especially our older guys.”

But no matter how Texas lost, or which round it lost in, the next question was always going to be the same — where do the Longhorns go from here?

Texas showed signs of what it could become in Smart’s first season in Austin. The Longhorns had success against some of the top teams in the AP poll and stayed afloat in the Big 12 after losing senior center Cameron Ridley for an extended period.

But the Longhorns struggled in the final weeks of season and lacked momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament. Still, despite the crushing events on Friday, there is much the Longhorns can build on from this campaign, but also plenty of holes that will need filling.

Ridley and fellow senior center Prince Ibeh won’t be around next season, leaving an enormous void at center. Ridley was terrific before he broke his foot, and Ibeh became a defensive stalwart after Ridley’s injury.

Senior guard Javan Felix became the Longhorns’ second leading scorer this year and delivered the shot that beat North Carolina in December, while senior forward Connor Lammert was an X factor with his shooting as a power forward. That’s two more starters gone.

Junior guard Isaiah Taylor nearly bolted for the NBA Draft last year before Smart convinced him to stay in Austin. Taylor faces the same decision again this season, and the possibility that he leaves still exists.

What the Longhorns really need is their freshmen to make leaps as sophomores. Freshman guard Kerwin Roach Jr. showed potential with his raw athleticism, and freshman guard Guard Eric Davis Jr. had some big moments with his shooting and confidence. Both could very well compete for starting roles next year and will certainly have more minutes.

Among the freshmen, guard/forward Tevin Mack struggled the most this season, but showed flashes of his shooting ability. He will compete with junior forward Shaquille Cleare for Lammert’s starting spot.

The 2016 recruiting class is still coming together, but more holes, such as those at center, could be filled depending on how the rest of the year shakes out.
No matter what, the Longhorns can’t afford another first-round burnout next season. The goal should be to make the tournament and then make a deep run in Smart’s second year.

The talent and potential is there. They just need to forget about Friday night.