When the Texas basketball team rattled off an electric five-game winning streak to save its NCAA tournament bid last season, redshirt junior guard Andrew Jones said the trio of him, senior guard Matt Coleman III and junior guard Courtney Ramey began to gel on the court.
“We needed to trust each other,” Jones said in a Thursday teleconference. “We’re all three really ball-dominant guards … , so once we learned how to trust each other, rely on each other and not feel like we have to make the superhero play all the time, that’s when we started to click.”
In order for Texas to reach their preseason expectations this season, including a No. 19 ranking, those three guards will need to be a consistent spark for the Longhorn offense. Texas ranked 153rd in offensive efficiency out of all 353 Division I teams during the 2019-20 season and ranked 24th in defensive efficiency.
Much of the Longhorns’ offensive struggles came in the half court, where head coach Shaka Smart relied on his guards and their streaky shooting to generate offense. When Coleman, Jones and Ramey were hot, the Texas offense was as well. But when that trio of guards was cold, the offense was stagnant and inefficient.
With senior guard Jase Febres expected to miss the season opener because of injury, the trio’s play will be even more crucial, especially when it comes to playing together in two-guard or even three-guard lineups.
“In practice, coach (Smart) has put us on the same team so that we could just get a feel and build the chemistry of playing with each other alongside each other,” Coleman said.
Smart recognizes the importance of the guards, and last week, the head coach said he was giving Jones the green light to shoot the ball.
“He needs to shoot as much as he can,” Smart said.
After the Longhorns ranked last in the Big 12 and 292nd out of all 353 teams in pace in the KenPom rankings last season, Coleman said the team put an emphasis on pushing the ball and playing fast.
“Everybody’s strength on this team is getting up and down the court fast,” Coleman said. “Just getting out in transition, less dribbling, more passing and allowing guys like Kai (Jones), Donovan (Williams) and Greg (Brown) to excel in their strengths. We just don’t want to be stagnant.”
Throughout preseason workouts and scrimmages, Smart pinpointed his three guards as three players making substantial progress on the court, especially when it comes to communicating with each other and their teammates.
“Courtney is learning how to communicate with his teammates differently,” Jones said. “So he has a greater understanding now than he did when he first got here on how to make his teammates better, what will make his teammates click.”
When Texas kicks off its season Nov. 25 against UT-Rio Grande Valley, all eyes will likely be on the play of highly touted newcomer Greg Brown.
“(Greg Brown) asks questions,” Coleman said. “He’ll text me every day after practice and asks me, ‘What did you see out there? What can I do better?’”
Almost every offense relies on its guards to generate buckets, but Smart and the Longhorns are particularly pinning the majority of their scoring and playmaking on Coleman, Jones and Ramey. UT-RGV senior guard Javon Levi, who earned All-America Defensive Team honors the last two seasons, will be the first in a long line of impressive backcourts the Texas trio must outplay to meet high expectations.
“At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to: making more plays than the other team and making life easy for one another,” Coleman said.