Texas coach Rick Barnes doesn’t have Brandon Mouton, Royal Ivey, Brian Boddicker and James Thomas to fall back on anymore.
But he does have sophomore Ryan Tucker.
The 16th-ranked Longhorns will be relying heavily on Tucker when they open the season against visiting Texas State on Friday.
After reaching their first Final Four since 1947 two seasons ago, the Longhorns made it to the round of 16 last season before losing to Xavier. The defeat marked the end of an era as Barnes bid farewell to his four foundation players.
Now, he’ll ask Tucker, a dynamic low-post threat last season, to take on a leadership role for a team that features a strong balance of returning veterans and highly touted incoming freshmen.
“We’re expecting big things from him. The biggest challenge for him is playing perimeter defense because he’s never played out there before,” said Barnes, who has moved the 6-foot-5 Tucker into the small forward spot after he played most of last season at power forward.
“He’s going to give us a guy who can play inside and out. Offensively, I’m not too concerned.”
Tucker, who averaged 10.4 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds as a freshman, said he’s ready to take on his new role after working on his outside game.
“My shot was horrible last year,” he said. “I’m still going to try to get in the paint and try to jump and shoot over guys, but at the same time, I’ve still got to be able to knock down the open 15-footers.”
Texas returns three seniors in center Jason Klotz and guards Sydmill Harris and Kenny Taylor, and juniors Kenton Paulino and Brad Buckman.
Incoming center LaMarcus Aldridge, guard Daniel Gibson and forward Mike Williams all were McDonald’s All-Americans last season and are expected to make an immediate impact.
Aldridge considered heading to the NBA after high school but opted for college at the last minute. At 6-10, he has already impressed his teammates with his defense and his ability to run the floor.
“He’s kind of a freak. It’s kind of scary,” Klotz said.
Expected to run the offense at the point, Gibson also has a reputation as an excellent shooter capable of filling the scoring gap left by Mouton’s departure.
After taking on Texas State, an opponent they have defeated 15 consecutive times, things will get significantly tougher for the new-look Longhorns. They will play in the Maui Invitational before Thanksgiving and meet Seton Hall, Wake Forest and Memphis before the start of Big 12 play Jan. 9 against Baylor.
“Our younger players are going to learn quick what it’s going to take to compete at the highest level,” Barnes said.
The Bobcats, who last beat the Longhorns on Dec. 7, 1937, are led by senior Josh Naylor.
As a transfer from Northern Oklahoma College last season, Naylor averaged 11.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He also led the Southland Conference in free-throw shooting, making 93.3 percent (56-of-60), and was third in the league in 3-point shooting (41.6 percent).
Texas leads the all-time series 33-5.