With Star Recruit Mohamed Bamba Cleared, Texas Could Be Big 12 Sleeper

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 5:05 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jul. 12, 2017 5:05 PM UTC

One would think that an NCAA basketball program with all the resources of the University of Texas would be an annual Final Four contender. That hasn’t been the case for at least a decade but things are looking up in Austin.

Texas Should Be Great Every Year

No school in the NCAA has the financial resources of the University of Texas. It has some of the richest boosters in the world and prints money thanks to its football program and Longhorn Network. So why isn’t the basketball team an annual national title contender?

Certainly part of the reason is football – that sport is first, second and third in importance in the Lone Star State and casts a huge shadow over the rest of the athletic programs at UT. Schools like Kansas and Duke, meanwhile, are exactly the opposite as those are basketball schools. Kids want to go where their sport gets the most attention.

That said, plenty of football schools have found success on the hardwood. Texas has been to three Final Fours in school history but not since 2003. When Coach Rick Barnes was let go following the 2014-15 season, Texas scored big in landing Shaka Smart from VCU, which, frankly, had become a better hoops program than Texas.

However, Smart’s first two seasons haven’t gone as hoped. The 2015-16 Horns were a solid 20-13 but were upset 75-72 by Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Last year, Texas had one of the worst seasons in school history at 11-22 and a last-place finish in the Big 12 at 4-14. It was the Horns’ worst Big 12 record since the conference began competition in 1996-97. Texas finished 0-11 in true road games, failing to win one for the first time since 1983.

Yet things could get much better in 2017-18.

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La Bamba

The big news in college basketball this week was the NCAA clearing Texas five-star recruit Mohamed Bamba of any wrongdoing following his brother's allegations that he accepted improper benefits from a private equity investor. Last month on a weird Facebook Live rant, Bamba’s disenfranchised older brother accused Greer Love, a Detroit private equity investor and mentor, of supplying his Mohamed with illegal gifts, including a $200 weekly stipend, providing funds for a trip and more.

The brother said that Mohamed would never play college basketball because of what he knew. Love previously worked in New York and was involved in youth sports in Harlem, where he got to know Bamba’s family. That long-standing relationship with the family was what cleared Bamba.

Assuming nothing changes between now and the start of the season in November, Mohamed Bamba is a game-changer.  The 7-footer (with a 7-foot-8 wingspan) is one of the highest-ranked recruits ever at the school, generally ranked No. 2 in this year’s class. He’s already in the conversation to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Texas won his commitment over the likes of North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky.

Bamba is part of the nation’s No. 5 overall class, easily the best in the Big 12. By comparison, Kansas’ ranked just 21st. Bamba is joined by four-stars Matt Coleman, Jericho Sims and Royce Hamm.

Texas lost last year’s leading scorer Tevin Mack, who was suspended multiple times last year and has transferred. Center Jarrett Allen was a lone bright spot as a freshman but was an NBA first-round pick.

On the bright side, guard Andrew Jones elected to withdraw his name from the draft. During his freshman season, Jones played in all 33 games. He tied for the team lead in assists (117, 3.5 apg) and ranked second in steals (41), third in scoring (11.4 ppg) and tied for fourth in rebounding (3.9 rpg). Smart also adds Tulane transfer Dylan Osetkowski. The forward averaged 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Green Wave in 2015-16 and sat out last year.

Texas is currently a +6600 long shot on 5Dimes NCAA basketball odds to win the national title. I’m not predicting that, but the Horns could be in the mix for the Big 12 title and should get back to the Big Dance if Bamba is as good as advertised.

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