Fifteen games into the season, and three into conference play, Texas is still searching for an offensive identity.
A late-game road collapse at the hands of Baylor exposed the team's lack of playmaking at the guard position without sophomore Andrew Jones. The Longhorns went scoreless against the Bears in the final five minutes, missing their last eight shots from the floor.
Now the Longhorns (10–5, 1–2 Big 12) return home on Wednesday night hoping to avoid a third straight loss to No. 16 TCU — Texas dropped both games to the Horned Frogs last season — but they will be without Jones for a second straight game. The team’s second-leading scorer returned from a wrist injury in the conference opener against Kansas. But he did not travel to Waco on Saturday due an undisclosed illness and will not suit up against the Horned Frogs.
Head coach Shaka Smart met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming homestand. There he declined to comment on Jones’ status.
“It's a tough situation,” Smart said. “But right now, out of respect for the family, I am not able to provide any information other than to say he won’t be playing.”
Without Jones, the reins to the offense fall squarely in the hands of freshman Matt Coleman. The young point guard has performed well through 15 games but looked out of rhythm down the stretch against Baylor. With Jones sidelined, Smart is hoping Coleman will embrace a more active role in the offense.
“I think this year for the most part (Coleman’s) done a really good job,” Smart said. “The Baylor game, we weren’t as organized. So he and I spent a lot of time together watching tape and getting ready for this next one.”
Texas has leaned heavily on its interior tandem of freshman Mo Bamba and junior Dylan Osetkowski. The pair of forwards have helped the Longhorns lead the Big 12 in blocks while providing plenty of offense both down low and from beyond the arc. But Smart and Texas need a playmaking point guard to create off the dribble. The coaching staff hopes it can unlock that in Coleman.
“I think for (Coleman) as a point guard, particularly when your team doesn’t necessarily have all of your guys, it is all the more important for you to help your team organize on the court,” Smart said. “And obviously that’s much more important in college, and much more complicated.”
With an expanding role comes more pressure for the freshman. Smart has worked closely with Coleman to help with the transition. But with no timetable for Jones’ return, the rest of the Longhorns’ season may hinge on Coleman finding his groove.
“There are two things I asked Matt going into this year to focus on,” Smart said. “Obviously as a freshman point guard you get hit with 2 million things instead of two. But to boil it all down, I said that you and I need to be connected, and you need to play with a level of joy on the floor.”